A friend of mine spent an entire month participating in a live-in healthy weight loss program last summer. The group met with a nutritionist every day and had healthy balanced meals prepared for them on-site. A trainer worked them out six days a week, five to six hours a day both indoors and out.
I was very proud of him that he made a lifetime commitment to his health (and lost a few pounds,) however, the clinic just didn’t seem like much fun especially for an entire month. I thought to myself, instead of booking a month at a boring weight loss clinic, why not put together your own weight loss skiing plan for a month at Deer Valley ski resort? Let’s face it, skiing is a blast and burns a boatload of calories.
Personally, I didn’t lose any weight this ski season. When I stepped on the scale, the needle never budged. But everyone kept asking me if I lost weight. I didn’t but what I lost this ski season was inches — two pant sizes to be exact. Even my feet have shrunk, (which is kind of creepy by the way) and I am buying shoes a half size smaller. Seriously, who cares what the scale says!
The weird thing is I haven’t done anything differently … except for skiing. I still am addicted to pretzels and wheat thins. I drink wine, eat pizza, cookies and chocolate — all in moderation. No deprivation diets in my house! Even so, my pants hang on me and my suits need altering. My body composition has changed with fat being replaced by muscle which is not reflected in the scale. The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is skiing.
Since I had so much fun this ski season, I skied whenever I possibly could even when it was five degrees or snowing. Once I was there, I stayed out until I absolutely had to come in — my inner child wanted to continue playing in the snow! This practice helped me lose inches without even noticing and could work easily for everyone. Anyone wanting to lose their “muffin top” could put together a do-it-yourself weight loss plan and call it the “playing in the snow” program.
According to Livestrong, downhill skiing with moderate effort for a 150 pound person burns about 400 calories per hour. Taking into account the downtime riding the lift, you could easily ski three full hours in a day even with frequent breaks and burn about 1,200 calories a day. You only need a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. So with a ski program, you could lose inches without severely limiting calories.
Here are some ideas on how to put it together:
Ski three days on and take a rest day the fourth day – repeat for an entire month.
Try cross country classic or skate skiing to mix it up and burn even more calories.
Incorporate a specialty clinic like the women’s ski weekend where you ski three days in a row with the same group and same instructor.
Eat healthy lunches like the “natural salad bar” or “turkey chili” at Silver Lake Lodge or Snow Park.
Pile your plate high with good healthy delicious food at the Seafood Buffet or Fireside Dining.
If you want to eat the cherry pie, ski an extra half hour that day and indulge with a small portion.
On your rest day, go to the spa at Montage, Stein Eriksen Lodge or St. Regis and get a massage, sit in the sauna, and/or steam room to relax, revitalize tired muscles and pamper yourself.
Now that’s my kind of a weight loss program! You learn a new sport or improve your skills. When you are having fun, of course, you are going to get out there earlier and stay longer. Getting slim by playing in the snow worked for me. Do you think it might work for you?
Sons have a special bond with their mothers. Well, at least when they are little since when most kids enter high school they are embarrassed to be seen with their parents. I remember begging my mother to park down the street when she picked me up from school so I didn’t have to be seen getting in the car with….gasp…my mother. She refused, of course. I dreaded the time when my kids didn’t want to be seen with me.
It didn’t happen in high school with my youngest son, Rick (now 23). He seemed to actually like having me around. In fact, he would even dangle his arm over my shoulder at…gasp….the mall! I thought we had bypassed the “my mom is embarrassing” stage until he came home from college saying things like “You aren’t going to wear THAT, are you?” I guess certain things are unavoidable in life.
We came full circle recently when he came to visit. He is now a college graduate and a contributing member of society. He is also a snowboarder but wanted to switch it up and ski with me at Deer Valley. His last memory of me skiing was not a good one – it was well over a year ago when we first moved here and before all my lessons! He even took embarrassing photos of me traversing back and forth across the run and falling since my technique was so poor. He and his brothers ditched me after one run. Who could blame them?
This time was different. He was on skis instead of his board and I had been practicing, taking lessons and attending clinics. He started off on the Wide West run using the “magic carpet” people mover to get his “ski legs” since it had been 12 years since he had been on skis. Once he had the basics down, we headed up the Carpenter Express chairlift to Success.
I planned on taking the Rosebud cut off since it would be a bit easier for him for his first run. He didn’t see me and stayed on Success where the bottom is a tad steeper. I caught up with him and as anticipated, he had some initial challenges and stopped halfway down.
This was my opportunity – one that rarely comes and I wasn’t going to lose it. You see, Rick is a good athlete, and I knew he would quickly pass me up. I wanted to show off my hard work and newly found mad ski skills. So I did what any self respecting mom would do — I executed a controlled sideways slide then an abrupt hockey stop spraying him in the process.
With a straight face, I said, “Let’s face it, I am better than you.”
Then I took off.
We had a great laugh as he told the story to family and friends at Snow Park Lodge. Rick and I skied the rest of the afternoon with my friend Michelle and in no time, he was skiing beautiful turns, enjoying himself and waving at me as he passed me by. His wave, however, was one of respect.
It takes hard work and determination to learn to ski especially when you start after age 50. To be able to spend the day skiing with my son and have him dangle his arm over my shoulder again is a wonderful feeling and definitely worth the effort.
In my December blog, I was trying to see into the future and guess what the new ski season might bring. If you read that piece, you might recall that I had no specific goal in mind. I was just going to “play it by ear” as I had done it for almost six decades. Now, peeking into the crystal ball is over. It’s time to look into the rear view mirror…
One truth I learned this season is that each ski day – just like our fingerprints or our irises – is totally unique. People often say, half-jokingly that there’s “no bad day skiing” and while I subscribe to this truth, I can also assert that each daily ski experience teaches us something remarkable, provides us with one-of-a-kind sensation and makes us constantly view the sport under a fresh angle.
When you live near a ski paradise like Deer Valley Resort, it’s very easy to become spoiled and only go out when all the ski planets and stars are in perfect alignment. It’s so easy to become very picky and, often times, far too demanding. If we don’t keep our attitude in check, we might surprise ourselves muttering “I only do perfect blue-bird days, and today there are just too many jet trails in the sky…” then dismiss another beautiful opportunity to make some great turns. Thank heavens, I have not yet reached that level of decadence!
This said, going out skiing when you live in a ski town truly requires a certain fortitude and discipline. Plus some extra tenacity that can make a whole world of difference between a fun-filled ski season, in which one can get up to speed and enjoy the sport to its fullest, and a succession of sporadic outings where the “ski legs” never seem to appear, even on closing day. Like many, I love powder and was rewarded earlier in April when we received some 18 inches of outstanding new snow. I was able to re-live the soft, forgiving and all-absorbing feelings that come with a generous cushion of genuine Utah dry powder.
Unlike the way I was used to (until last year) when I could get my fix of “pow” on a near daily basis, I made do this season with looking forward to the next snowfall and was quite appreciative when there were only six inches of fresh under my skis instead of the 24 I had come to expect. At this point, I would open a technical parenthesis and say that with the new, extra wide skis, “bottomless” powder has lost its seminal meaning. Moderns skis won’t sink, but for a few inches, no matter how far the hard bottom actually is from the surface!
Of course, I’m not a “dyed-in-the-wool” corduroy guy either, and I remain more attracted by the rough and tumble terrain, the one that is peppered with hidden obstacles like trees, “Volkswagen bumps” and small cliffs, the one that also requires tight turns and accepts the occasional “friction” between rocks, stumps and ski bases. I am talking about the kind of terrain that abounds on the west side of Lady Morgan, Daly Bowl and Chutes, and Son of Rattler, just to name a few famous Deer Valley spots!
All this to say that in a winter with less than average snow, skis used in that type of terrain generally take a beating and, to avoid it, I have overstayed the allotted time I normally use “rock skis,” and extended their short, transitional lives to almost a full season. Of course, in March as the snow turns to spring quality, I had plenty of opportunities to try my brand new skis on Deer Valley’s legendary corduroy, but for the most part, I spent a season taming some very unruly and hard to control “rock skis”.
I do believe that adversity makes us tougher as well as better and this is precisely what this season did to me. After skiing on my sub-par skis for months on end, I had an epiphany when I tried the new boards I had set aside, on some groomed runs or tested them on the April 9, miracle dump! This means I wasted no time: While agonizing on my old skis, I was just getting better and doing my utmost to push-back my own technical decrepitude!
Oh, yes, I almost forgot! There was another great lesson I learned this winter. Early January as I was filming Heidi Voelker, the new snow was beautiful but had blown into the open areas, which combined with a low visibility made skiing tricky, if not treacherous. Filming a fast skier like Heidi on bumpy terrain with a helmet cam isn’t easy either as the main objective is to keep the head – hence the camera – steady, constantly aimed at the skier and of course, try my best to stay in control. Suffice to say that I took at least two spills that cost me tons of energy. I discovered that, at my age, getting back on my feet is much harder than it used to be!
In conclusion, while I didn’t quite make it to the century mark in terms of days I skied this season, I still came quite close to that number with quality and fun-filled skiing, and this is perfectly fine with me. I had some wonderful moments, great memories, not one single bad fall and no collision either; my body is still whole. I am now ready to rest for a few months with the firm intent to do much, much better next season!
In any skier’s typical day, each chairlift or gondola ride always involves a Lift Operator. This key employee is constantly making sure that everyone is safe and well cared for. The constant interaction between Lift Operators and skiers has perked up my curiosity and prompted me to know more, and understand better, what motivates these seemingly tireless mountain workers.
Late this season, one early morning, just before his shift, Kevin Combs, one of the many Deer Valley’s Lift Operators, took the time to listen to my questions and shone a rather enthusiastic light on his daily life:
JF: How long have you been a lift operator? Kevin:This actually is my first year.
JF:What was your occupation before that? Kevin: I was a machinist, back east, in Massachusetts. I moved to Utah in November.
JF: How do you like working with Deer Valley Resort? Kevin: It’s fun. It’s a great experience being here, lots of great people to work with, everyone has a smile on their face and always ready to serve our guests and makes sure everyone has a great experience, whether we’re talking about guests or fellow employees.
JF: Were you a skier before you came here? Kevin: Oh, yes! I have been skiing since I was 12 years old.
JF: So, I guess you learned and skied in New England? Kevin: Oh yeah, I skied the ice, which is something you have to learn on the East Coast. I can guarantee that it makes a good technical skier out of anyone who learns over there!
JF: How often to you get to ski? Kevin: That’s what makes the job so exciting: I get to ski every day; whenever I get a break, I ski, it’s great!
JF: Even on your days off? Kevin: You bet, I ski every day that I can, I wouldn’t miss a beat!
JF: Where, on the mountain, do you work? Kevin: I am working out of Empire Canyon. I either work on Empire or Ruby Express chairlifts. I also help around on the mountain when another lift is short of people. I’ll rotate as needed.
JF: Since this was your first season, have you visited other Utah resorts? Kevin: I’ve almost skied them all; the only ones I think I haven’t skied yet are Solitude, Powder Mountain and Snowbasin.
JF: When you’re skiing Deer Valley, what’s your favorite run? Kevin: I’m into extreme skiing so I love to ski a lot around Lady Morgan, because of its great tree skiing and its cliffs. I’m particularly fond of Centennial Trees, and of course, I ski off Empire Express in places like Daly Bowl and all the surrounding Daly Chutes. When I happen to find an untouched area, I just “drop-in…”
JF: Are you skiing alone or with buddies? Kevin: I do a lot of skiing by myself. This said, I have a lot of friends who ski with me; I do my own things in the morning, and then I hang with them in the afternoon because sometimes they can’t quite follow me. But I like to ski with everybody and together, we always have a great time; I guess that’s what skiing is all about!
JF: What would you say are the skills required to do your job well? Kevin: Before anything, you need to be a great people person. You need to be concerned about skiers’ safety and comfort, especially those who are less advanced and aren’t always familiar with riding lifts. Sure, it also helps to know a little about things mechanical, the lift itself, because it’s a big piece of machinery. For instance I pay attention to noises that may come from the lift; with my mechanical background, I can alert Maintenance to a problem if there seems to be one. Of course, the job also demands that one is a decent skier so you can ski to and from work, can relate well to our guests and have a wonderful interaction with them.
JF: Does a healthy passion for skiing help? Kevin: Oh yes, most definitely! If you work as a Lift Operator and are not really here for skiing, you miss out a lot. Of course you can take the job just for the love of the mountains, but a passion for skiing shows and makes all the difference. Working no longer feels like work!
JF:What would be your next professional goal with Deer Valley Resort? Kevin: I’d probably love to move up to Ski Patrol, because I like to help people and be on skis. For me, being outside and helping people are the two main reasons why I love with my life at Deer Valley!
JF: If people reading this blog were interested in a position like yours, what kind of advice would you give them? Kevin: Don’t be scared by the responsibilities and by all the impressive machinery; the work is totally doable. The training Deer Valley provides is great, everything is fluid, all the kinks have been purged, and of course, there’s all the skiing!
JF: What will you do this summer? Kevin: I’m planning to get a job with an online sport equipment supplier in the Salt Lake Valley. During my spare time, I also plan to mountain bike a lot here and around Moab!
JF: Sounds exciting! So, you’re looking forward to another winter season with Deer Valley Resort? Kevin: I think so; I’m now convinced Deer Valley is the place to be. It’s a lot of fun here. We’re surrounded with lots of great, helpful people all the time. I’ve never had a bad day here, which is simply… amazing!
11:30 p.m. April Fool’s Day: The snow is dumping into my back yard, sticking. I feel the familiar flutter in my stomach, the tickle in my throat: the first signs of Powder Flu.
6:30 a.m.: April 2. Jeff utters the only sentence that can seal my fate: “There are 14 inches of fresh powder on the resort.” My response: “And there’s only one cure for the Powder Flu–skiing!”
Like a madwoman, I begin texting our visiting friends at their hotel. I’m willing to ski (gasp) another resort, if it means that we can get out together. No response. I begin to worry about their well-being. Did body snatchers come for them in the night?
8:05 a.m.: I have no time to worry. That old skier’s saw, “No friends on a powder day,” is ringing in my ears. I’ve made breakfast for my family, revoked allowance, rewarded compliance, kissed two sons and one husband goodbye for the day, slurped down a protein shake, and called the gym to cancel my reservations for back-to-back spin and strength conditioning classes. I’m selecting late-season base layers (running tights and a long-sleeved running t-shirt), grabbing necessities, loading the car.
8:23 a.m.: I’m thinking it could be worth skiing that other resort. I call a friend who is as die hard about “her” mountain as I am about mine. She has to work. I am sitting in traffic. It’s possible that my little Powder Flu is an epidemic. I notice that the “other mountain” is socked in, but I see Deer Valley with blue sky above it. A sign. I leave messages for two DV pals, and then start to grin as I approach the parking lot.
9:05 a.m.: I glide my MomWagon into the space, and raise my arms over my head in victory. Then, a car pulls in next to mine. I hop out and scream the name of the driver: “Donna McAleer!!!!” Just when I had resigned myself to skiing solo (figuring I could post my arrival on Facebook and find a pal or two), Donna simply pulled into the space next to mine. “I heard your voice and thought, I just wrote your name down to call you later. Ineed to ask you about a few things.” Within moments, we’re on Carpenter Express chairlift.
“I believe in signs,” she confides. “Do you?” I tell her that I’ve never been a single adult, but I would have made a HIGHLY annoying singleton. I would have seen “signs” of destinies better left unwritten, everywhere. We laugh, and then dive in to our catch-up.
I have just about 90 skiable minutes in this day. Kindergarten pickup is at the unforgiving hour of 11:15 a.m. We determine to make the most of it. Instinctively, throughout the morning, we divide our discussion into chunks that can be expressed in the length of a chairlift ride and digested in the trees.
We have a quick conference about our trail plans. Donna is not only a veteran ski instructor at Deer Valley, but she’s a veteran of the US Armed Forces. I know better than to second guess her knowledge of the mountain, or her strategic advice. “We’ll go to Empire, it won’t be crowded,” she says.
Then, as we approach Quincy, I notice all the skiers coming down Hidden Treasure seem impossibly short. Wait…they are all of average height, but skiing in knee-deep powder. Wow. “Did you see that??!” I am shrieking. The line and lift attendants are laughing at me. “We have to ski that. NOW!” So much for deferring to Donna.
Hidden Treasure, as always, delivers. My quads are wishing I’d gone to the killer spin class, but I’m thrilled. As we board the chair again, our plan is to head over to Empire to ski in Anchor Trees. I have a fleeting thought that we should check out Guardsman’s Glade. Donna, it turns out is also a mind reader. “Bari Nan! What about Guardsman’s Glade?” Boom. We’re there. We make second tracks. It’s bliss.
Next up, Empire. We scoot down Orion. I lose sight of Donna, call her and tell her to take Anchor Trees without me—I’m having too much fun in the moguls. (Ok, I’ve skied that Orion-to-Anchor combo a zillion times, and somehow, the fog in that section of the resort conspires to make me doubt my line to the gladed entrance.) As it turns out, my mojo turns on in full force in the second stretch of bumps on Orion. I’d do laps on that run, if I had more time today. I reconnect with Donna as she comes out of the trees on the mid-trail run-out, and then we’re down another pitch of moguls like we were born to ski it. We ride one last lift together. “I’m going back for one more run,” she says, as we part.
10:30 a.m.: I hit Hidden Treasure once more. It’s decidedly choppier than an hour ago. I crush it. Then it’s up Judge, and on to the Silver Lake Express (my quads thank me), because I know the conditions on the lower mountain will not meet my powder snob standards, today. I enjoy the view. I look down at some favorite runs, longingly, feeling a pang of regret for my sensible decision. I click out at the bottom, hustle to my car, jump out of my gear and into the driver’s seat.
11:05 a.m.: I have hit three red lights, and I’m more than 10 minutes away from my kids’ school. I start speed dialing other kindergarten moms. Voicemails. My epidemic suspicions are confirmed. I reach Lisa, and she says she’s happy to wait with Seth for an extra few minutes.
11:18 a.m.: The phone rings as I’m pulling off the highway. It’s Michele, another mom in the class. “We are just coming out of the parking lot at the mountain…” I interrupt her, tell her that I’ll wait with her son, and pull in to find our boys. She and her husband arrive five minutes later, and we compare notes on our skiing, give ourselves a pat on the back for capitalizing on the Powder Flu. “I’m in need of some sunscreen for my gums,” I tell them. “I can’t stop smiling!”
Post Script: 1:45 p.m. I’m on Highway 224, driving toward Kimball Junction from town, when I look to my right and see Donna, still in ski gear, behind the wheel of her car. Of course I call her, and she says, by way of answering the phone, “I kept saying, just one more run.”
While I certainly don’t agree with it, I can understand why many people wouldn’t venture to learn to ski after age 65. The older you get, the more you realize that life (and your body) is fragile. It doesn’t help that everyone loves to tell skiing horror stories, either. You might ski a hundred times and have an amazing day after day but do you share those stories? Of course not.
Everyone tells the story of their most dramatic day that either involved extreme fear, pain or a combination of both. For example, my brother told me the story of when he skied in college as a novice with his buddies in California, his friends took him in the trees instead of staying on groomed runs. He fell flat on his face with his skis sticking straight down and he couldn’t get back up! His toe nails turned black and eventually fell off since his boots were too tight. Unfortunately, this happened to be my first introduction to skiing, and I was left with a less than favorable impression.
Another favorite storytelling subject is “falling” which involves ledges, trees and collisions with other skiers. Then there is the story of a friendship ending day when someone is taken to a black diamond mogul run, chute or bowl that is way too advanced for them. The friend ditches them and leaves them to somehow slide or trek down alone, scared and angry.
Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Doesn’t really make you want to grab your gear and head to the lift. Why would you put yourself through this at 65? Well if you read this previous blog, you’d know why my husband is doing it. He wants to ski next season with our three year old granddaughter. He also wants to do it right so he can enjoy himself and minimize his chances of injury. At 65, he also certainly can’t afford to waste time learning things the wrong way and then having to relearn them. He wants to do it right.
We called in the professionals. We booked a couple one-on-one private lessons with one of Deer Valley’s professional ski instructors. Since Mary Lou Mignot helped me bump up to a solid intermediate skier at the Women’s Ski Clinic Weekend, we asked for her to put together a Beginner Boot Camp for Jay.
Mary Lou got Jay from surface lifts on Wide West to the Carpenter Express chairlift in a matter of a few hours but more than that, he got a solid foundation in balance and control that will stick with him forever. The lesson began with helping Jay get a feel for the skis and enjoying the slide. He then learned to take the wedge to more of a parallel turn and control his speed.
By the second lesson, he was very comfortable on the lifts and enjoying runs following Mary Lou’s ‘S’ shaped turns and having her follow him observing and providing tips to improve. He even kept his cool when some pint sized skiers went flying out of the trees within a couple feet of him. They didn’t faze him one bit and he passed his first test for skiing with grandchildren.
There were no dramatic stories of run-ins with trees, crashes, or cliffs. He did catch the bug, however. You may know it well. It’s the bug that changes your whole perspective on life; the one that makes you excited when it snows on April 1st, where you count the number of ski days left in the season and you no longer talk of events in years but in terms of “ski seasons”. You know what I am talking about.
It makes all the difference in the world to start your ski experience off well. Especially as you get older, you don’t take anything for granted … especially a ski season at Deer Valley.
True story: I’m “Facebook friends” with over 1,800 people. At least a dozen of those are people with whom I rode the school bus to Rutland Town Elementary School with from 1978-1986 in Rutland, Vermont. As the small world turns, I run into one of these pals, Julie, on a weekly basis at our favorite exercise class at the Silver Mountain Sports Club. Another friend, Tori, lives in Atlanta, and I’m used to following her adventures from afar—she and her family (including two young boys, not that far in age from my guys) travel a lot, and get to go to a lot of fun events, in far-flung locales. So, imagine my delight when I found a Facebook message from Tori, letting me know she’d be skiing at Deer Valley on the first Sunday of Sundance Film Festival.
“Smart move”, I told her. “The hotels are full, but the slopes are empty!” I promised to meet her by the ticket window after I dropped off the boys at Ski School, so that we could say hello in person—which we had not done in over 25 years.
I was so excited to see Tori and meet her husband and kids that I forgot to take a picture of us together. But I did score this great photo of her family enjoying their day at Deer Valley Resort. I’d say they fit right in, wouldn’t you?
Come back sometime soon, Tori and family… so we can ski DV together!
The weather was superb on the day I was going to find out how many of Deer Valley Resort’s runs I could ski in about seven hours. Usually, I’m not a morning skier; while I generally get up around 6 a.m. every day, I first spend time reading the news, doing some chores, going on my morning run and after a late breakfast, I always find a few more things to do. My morning goes by too fast and it’s already lunch time. This Monday was an exception to my otherwise slow-morning routine and my afternoon skiing.
While I was a bit apprehensive the day before, but I got up early and by 8:40 a.m., I was standing in the Snow Park parking lot, outfitted and ready to go. At 8:45 a.m. I was in the lift line waiting for Carpenter Express to open and by 8:58 a.m. I was already boarding the chairlift ready for my long ski day.
The weather was overcast but quite cool, the snow felt great on Little Stick, my first run; soon, I found myself on Deer Hollow, headed to the base of Mountaineer Express chairlift. My next big run was Jordanelle where I “flew” as I was among the first few skiers on a perfectly manicured run. I sampled the rest of the trails served by Mountaineer, doing a few “firsts” on runs like Keetley, Crescent and Dynamic.
Upon completing Little Stick and visiting Wide West, I was back riding the Carpenter chairlift. It was just 10:05 a.m. and I had 12 runs in the bag! From the top of Bald Eagle Mountain, I got to the Sultan Express and collected a large number of runs, both on groomed and bumpy trails, including Grizzly and Ruins of Pompei. Reminding me that fine corduroy and rough-and-tumble bumps were still a way to separate the men from the boys!
After another run on a groomer and a fast lap on Reward, I made it to the Wasatch Express chairlift at 11:59 a.m. I had already skied 25 different runs! After challenging myself with the tough moguls on Rattler, I relaxed on what are arguably the best, most popular and most enjoyable groomed runs of Deer Valley: Wizard, Legal Tender, Nabob, Keno and Birdseye. At the same time, I committed what should fairly be called a “Deer Valley Sacrilege” by eating my lunch on the Wasatch Express.
It was almost 1 p.m. when I boarded Quincy Express, on my way to Empire and Lady Morgan Mountains. There, I would mix some great cruisers like Orion or Magnet with the bumps that carpet Empire Bowl, on runs like Domingo and Solace as well as Argus or Hillside, off Lady Morgan. I also managed to pay a visit to one fun run that originates from the right of the bridge on Bandana, and plunges into what’s known by most young skiers as “Bucky’s Backyard,” the perfect interlude made of giant rolling bumps with peaks and valleys that never fail to capture all the attention of the most jaded skier!
At 2:21 p.m., I rode Ruby Express one last time to rejoin Flagstaff Mountain and its collection of fine groomed runs, beginning with Hawkeye, my 50th run of the day. Then it was time to hit these wonderful, pleasant runs that are Lucky Star, Lost Boulder, Sidewinder and Blue Bell. I paid a quick visit to the Silver Strike Express chairlift and after a few more runs off of the Red Cloud and Quincy chairlifts, I found myself riding the Crown Point lift. It was 3:45 p.m. and I could already claim 62 different runs!
Flying under the road bridge on Kimberly is something I love and consider to be a quintessential Deer Valley experience. I skied down Navigator and caught another ride on Carpenter Express. Descending Big Stick felt like a flash and enabled me to catch another ride up Carpenter just after 4 p.m. that gave me access to a swift, Solid Muldoon, and then, just in the nick of time, I grabbed the very last Carpenter chair of the day that brought my total of different runs skied to 67 out of some 100 possible. In the meantime, I had accumulated 62,100 vertical feet!
When I took my skis off at Snow Park, I was so excited that I did not even feel tired. Moreover, that night, after dinner, my wife and I went for a 2 mile walk; I guess I just needed to unwind a bit!
In the early days of winter it is easy to cope with the darkness and bitter temperatures through the wonders of powder skiing. After not skiing for so many months early bedtimes are no problem, the rest welcome and satisfying. We dine and sing our way through the holidays, all the while dreaming of February face shots and seamless groomers. Mid-winter finds us celebrating the milestones of our favorite future ski champions. Your child’s first true carve, and their exuberant laughter as they veer off trail for every powder patch they see mark the days of January. By the time of late February storm cycles our legs are strong, our spirits sated, and imaginations nearly refilled for another season.
Then the most magical experience in all of life begins; the tulip and Lily of the Valley bulbs stir just beneath the surface of the soil, the sun warms the breeze as trout begin to rise and swirl more often, and the familiar scents of spring flow through long shuttered windows.
Skiing in the sunshine of spring is not a continuation of the previous three months, not the same thread that wove our lives together in mittens and heavy coats. It is a new skin worn under sleeveless vests and sunglasses, embellished with cold beverages and decks filled with people randomly looking at the mountain, at the sun, and smiling.
Spring at Deer Valley is the time to stand atop the Champion bump course across from your lifelong buddy, like two teenagers in ’69 Camaros revving your engines at the same stoplight. Both of you looking all the way down the street to the deck of the EBS Lounge, knowing that somewhere down there a pretty girl is briefly looking up the hill, knowing you have only this one shot at glory.
And when the light turns green you both drop, accelerating through the same bumps that Brad Wilson burned down on his way to his first career World Cup podium in February. Your rhythm is just right, your pole plants just right, and in the back of your mind you already hear the sound of après applause from the EBS deck – just before leaning back ever so slightly.
Spring at Deer Valley, on the deck of the EBS, is a time and a place to give cheers to your best friends, to rub your knees and look back up the mountain at the bump line you almost had. To smile in the sunshine and wistfully hope for a few more face shots before summer, before next year when those high fives from fellow skiers on the deck will be yours.
~ I think I was supposed to be writing a bit more specifically about the menu and atmosphere of the EBS, but an hour basking on its deck last week caused my overactive imagination to free float through the crowd, and imagine what their day and winter must have been like. With live music on the weekends and an outstanding drink menu, including a simple yet delectable martini created by founder Edgar B. Stern, be assured you can satisfy your après spirit in comfort and style this spring. Cheers!
One late evening recently, I spent a couple of hours with Brian Johnson, Lead Groomer at Deer Valley Resort. Brian took me for a ride in his snow cat and I while doing that, I learned quite a few things about weaving white corduroy during the hours the slopes have been temporarily deserted by skiers…
JF: How long have you been a snow groomer?
Brian: Twenty-five years; it’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun!
JF: What do you do in the summer?
Brian: I work in construction, operating heavy equipment.
JF: Are you a skier?
Brian: Yes, I grew up in the Bay Area, but I learned to ski in the Sierras and began as an alpine and freestyle competitor before discovering Deer Valley.
JF: Does it help to be a skier in order to drive a cat like this?
Brian: Definitely! It helps understand what skiers need and want in terms of slope preparation and give us a much better understanding of how the snow feels, performs and the way it changes over time.
JF: Are all the other groomers skiers?
Brian: Yes, even though some of them no longer ski for a variety of reasons, most do. We pretty much have people who love the mountain environment, the snow and the ski industry. People who work with us have been doing it for a very long time and seem to come back to work with us, season after season. That means most of them have lots of experience, and still enjoy both skiing and grooming slopes. As a result, we rarely have to train new drivers and our new recruits are few. Most of them learn the job and generally stay with us, which is really good.
JF: How do you recruit and train your drivers?
Brian: Some have experience when they start at Deer Valley and others don’t. In both cases we train them to do the work, or if they already have experience, we train them to Deer Valley’s specific procedures and quality standards. It does take a long time to get very good and proficient at that work and training plays an important role.
JF: What makes a great snow groomer?
Brian: Experience and lots of it! Consider this: groomers can only do that type of work for about 22 weeks per year. With most professional trades it typically takes three to four years to become proficient. For a snow groomer, that translates into a full decade of work before one becomes perfectly skilled. That’s the technique then comes the art, when you consider an elusive material like snow. That’s right, snow is an amazing creation, it’s constantly changing, it never stays the same from the time it falls out of the sky; it remains in constant state of change and I guess that’s part of what keeps the job interesting.
JF: So there’s also an art in addition to a grooming technique?
Brian: That’s right. A groomer must understand where the snow is, where to find it during lean years, have a good eye for what needs to be fixed and so on. For a first-time groomer it’s essential to understand how the runs are laid out, especially at night. We never let new people groom alone during their first season, they always work with an experienced groomer.
JF: I see other snow cats working along with yours; do you always work in teams?
Brian: We’ll work in groups depending on the project and at Deer Valley, two cats working together is about the norm.
JF: How many drivers are needed for grooming all of Deer Valley runs?
Brian: To cover both shifts and days off requires about 30 people. We need a fair amount of personnel because we cover a lot of runs. Then, since conditions are everything and constantly changing, they always dictate how we will conduct grooming on any given night.
JF: Are there female drivers?
Brian: Yes, we currently have three female drivers with one of them being a Lead Driver on the graveyard shift
JF: In a typical night, how many runs does the team groom?
Brian: About 45 to 50, which is about half of the total number of marked trails at Deer Valley. We’re responsible for certain runs on swing shift because we want them to set longer overnight. We want the runs more durable during the day, especially on our high traffic runs. This applies to Bald and Flagstaff Mountains then our graveyard shift will complete the work and take care of all the lower runs and any other runs we can’t get to on the first shift.
JF: What do you mean by “setting longer overnight?”
Brian: It means letting the snow “rest” for a longer period; it makes for a much more durable skiing surface, which skiers really like. They feel more comfortable on a snow that’s consistent from top to bottom and get more enjoyment out of it. We call this “setup time” or “curing time,” from late afternoon until the next morning when the sun and skiers begin softening the snow surface and we start the whole process over again.
JF: How hard is it to drive a snow groomer?
Brian: First and foremost, it demands lots of attention. It takes time and experience to drive a snow cat. You must be looking everywhere, constantly. I look in my mirrors to see how the grooming is coming out of the back, I check my side-mirrors to make sure I have clearance on both sides; I look across at all of my front plates, how I’m cutting the surface in front of me. Your eyes are constantly looking in all places and behind you after you groom for a fair amount of times; it comes automatically. You’re just looking everywhere to avoid objects, to make sure your sidelining looks good and to see what needs to be adjusted as you go along.
JF: Do you run into wildlife when you work at night?
Brian: We see lots of it. Of course, it depends on the type of winter or snow fall patterns we’re having. Some animal will stay at different altitude depending on the snow conditions. We often see deer, moose, and many different birds, like owls. We have our fair share of coyote and occasionally we’ll see a fox.
JF: Over the years, how has grooming equipment evolved?
Brian: It has come a very long way. It’s been the result, I guess, of constant interaction between us, (the groomers) and the machine manufacturers. The manufacturers often come to see us, ride with us, and ask us how their equipment performs. We both interact and see how we can improve things. Manufacturers also come here to test their new products because they value our reputation, the way we work and the product quality we want to provide to our guests. In turns it helps them in refining their product, from cabin comfort, to overall reliability of the machines and grooming performance.
JF: What’s steepest run that you groom?
Brian: That would be Stein’s Way, is has an 88% grade! Generally groomers from other resorts that visit us never fail to be impressed by how steep the runs we groom are!
JF: How does a fresh snow fall impact your work?
Brian: Just like when you ski, new powder makes the work much more fun! We look forward to grooming when it’s snowing. Of course, the snow cats won’t climb or descend as well in new snow. We must be particularly careful when we’re going down: The machine can slide and the operator needs to control that slide. I find it to make our job much more challenging and fun!
JF: Have you told us all the secrets behind Deer Valley’s legendary “corduroy?”
Brian: Almost, I guess. But don’t forget that the best part of the story is to come out and experience it!