Carving Skis, Powder Skis and Skis In Between

I often look at my ski rack and wonder what I could change to make skiing even more fun and a little easier. In other words, which ski do I really need? This basic question conjured up so many parameters that just one simple answer seemed totally impossible. But I was determined to find out and what follows is the story of my search for the perfect ski.

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I began by visiting the Rossignol North American Headquarters, right here in Park City, Utah. I spent some time with Nick Castagnoli, communication and public relations officer for the brand. Deer Valley Resort works closely with Rossignol, one of the world’s leading equipment manufacturers, both at its Empire Test Center and also in all of its ski rental operations. Nick took me to the showroom where next winter’s collection was already on display. Needless to say that I was overwhelmed by the breadth of models available, but his expertise quickly brought some order to my confused mind.

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He first introduced the carving skis, Rossignol’s new Pursuit line. “These are pure carving tools,” said Nick, “Their mid-sole dimensions only range from 71 to 73 mm. These are fast edge-to-edge. You barely roll your ankle and you’re gone.” He immediately saw that this wasn’t quite my type of ski and explained that the carving and powder ski categories were bridged by a wonderful family of All-Mountain skis, called the Experience Series for men and the Temptation Series for women. “From coast-to-coast these skis represent the majority of our sales. They stand as benchmark of versatility for consumers. Not everyone skis deep powder.” added Nick.

I asked what might be the best width for me in the Experience line and Nick suggested that I try a few different versions at the Rossignol High Performance Test Center at Deer Valley Resort. I also asked what seemed to be the practical range of acceptable ski width (this is measured in millimeters under the foot at the mid-section of the ski) for the kind of skiing I was doing. Nick just smiled and said: “We’ve seen all kinds of widths in recent years, but the pendulum always swings back. Today from 85 to 110 mm seems to be where it’s at!”

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Nick skis on the Soul 7, a powder ski, the other flagship of the Rossignol line. “Skiers want a ski that’s versatile. Something that works for any occasion. The Soul 7 is an aspirational ski; Everyone wants to become a good powder skier.” He went on to explain the distinctive, longer lightweight (air) tip in that series of skis designed to minimize swing-weight and also match the rocker location. Nick explained, “weight is a big deal for us. Lightweight is the trend these days, so we are working hard at making both our skis and bindings significantly lighter, which in turn makes skiing much easier without compromising performance.”

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My meeting with Nick Castagnoli brought me one step closer to understanding what would be the perfect ski for me. But since I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, I returned to the Rossignol High Performance Test Center, located near the Empire Canyon Lodge at Deer Valley Resort. I had paid one visit in January and needed to refresh my memory.

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I wanted to ski again on the Soul 7, Rossignol’s best-selling freeride ski (the Savory 7 is the women’s equivalent). If you’re not familiar with the term freeride, simply equate it to powder or deep snow skiing. This very distinctive yellow ski spans over backcountry, freestyle and powder skiing. Its particular “rocker” design is meant to prevent tip flapping and brings an effortless flotation. Because of this the ski literally plows its way through the most challenging snow conditions, from bottomless powder to forbidding crud and even spring snow. The ski also does a decent job on hard-pack but this is not where I would primarily use it. I particularly liked its tip that projects higher up, offering an added feature when going over unknown terrain in fresh snow or extremely deep moguls.

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Since I don’t spend much time skiing hard-pack, I didn’t look at or test the carving skis that Rossignol offers in this product category. I was looking for the everyday Deer Valley ski, that I think I found in the Experience series. I just want my skis to initiate easily when I take them in tight forested spots and yet I need them to be stable when I happen to find myself on groomed runs, which is where I often end up during the early and late portions of the season. The rest of the time my favorite playground is natural terrain, trees, crud (mostly) and powder of variable depth each time mother nature programs a snowfall!

I remember trying both the Experience 84 and 88. The 88 was the one I liked the most. I found it to be very versatile for my type of skiing and solid enough in terms of quickness and stability. It can carve when it has to and is very responsive, perhaps because of its more subtle rocker design. I also found it quite stable and easy to control when it had to plow through changing snow conditions or transition from smooth to bumpy terrain.

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That’s it; I have determined that the Experience 88 is the perfect ski for me. Doing a little homework was worth it and made me confident that I didn’t have to make much compromise as I have done so many times before. I’m satisfied that I have made the perfect choice, found the right equipment for me, and can already look forward to the next ski season! I hope this helps you choose your perfect ski too. 

Best Memories from My 2014 – 15 Ski Season

Each passing ski season brings us more memories and more experiences, but if we don’t make a conscious effort to inventory them all while they’re still vivid in our minds, they’ll quickly vanish. Here are a few snapshots of events that, for me, have made this winter another one to remember and treasure.

My best spring skiing season ever!

When the powder settled, this season might be called the “Endless Spring” as spring skiing conditions had never been so good for so long. The incredible layer of snow blown earlier in the winter made for a long lasting and consistent base that comfortably took us to Deer Valley’s closing day with still plenty of skiing to be had. In late March, I ran laps everyday under Sultan Express chairlift from 9 a.m. until noon and had the time of my life, mixing smooth cruising runs with interludes on corn snow when the sun had just begun to bake its surface. It was the best spring skiing I’ve experienced in the thirty years I’ve lived in Park City!

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Exploring Bucky’s Backyard with my grandson

My seven year-old grandson likes skiing under the condition that the experience be “super fun.” Just sliding down any hill won’t do. Which is why, when Finn goes skiing with grandpa, the outing has to be worth the effort and must include some adventurous skiing. What better place to take him than down one of the children’s features at Deer Valley called Bucky’s Backyard? It’s replete with humongous moguls, gulleys, ups-and-downs , downs-and-up. It’s relentless, it goes through the trees and the smaller the legs the swifter the action! Finn asks to do it again more times than not. 

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Impromptu Doctor visit, audience with a Judge.

When I ski Deer Valley by myself, and return home, my wife never fails to asks me if I have seen people we both know. I proceed to tell her that Deer Valley is a big mountain and that it’s very hard to recognize acquaintances with their gear on. With helmets and huge goggles these days, identifying folks on the hill has become all but impossible. This said, I had two interesting, random encounters this winter while riding Deer Valley’s chairlifts.

The first one happened as my wife and I were boarding Wasatch Express chairlift and a “single” joined us for the ride. He looked familiar to us and we must also have looked the same to him. After a long moment of silence, we realized he was our family doctor and he recognized us as two of his patients! Never before had we had seen him on the slopes in his ski outfit!

The second one also happened on Wasatch Express chairlift when I was skiing alone and was joined by a Deer Valley Mountain Host. We immediately started up a conversation and my female companion told me about a mishap she just had with her car on the way to work at the resort. As I began to empathize with her, she picked up on my French accent and recognized me as one of her neighbors from down the street. I didn’t know she was a Mountain Host, I only knew her as one of our Summit County Judges!

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Face shots with my daughter

My daughter lives and works in Washington D.C. and whenever she comes to visit she must have some power over the jet streams and what’s inside the clouds, because it never fails to snow. Of course, new snow means powder skiing! She got to sample the powder with me in December when Empire Bowl opened and was shredding again Centennial Trees with her Dad in early March when some 18” of new snow brought us a welcome refill.

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Running into… wildlife!

I must say that this winter season has been full of surprising encounters with wildlife on, and off, the Deer Valley slopes. The first encounter happened in December when I spotted a sage grouse ambling on the edge of Birdseye ski run. The sighting recurred late March from the Sultan Express chairlift. I spotted another sage grouse crossing at the bottom section of Tycoon. In both situations the birds didn’t seem to care about the skiers and the snow they were carving. Like the proverbial chicken, they were “just getting to the other side of the trail.”

In December an imprudent ermine in his white camouflage took upon himself to cross the trail in the area of Tycoon and Perseverance. I almost ran over him if it were not for a the last second wiggling of my skis!

In February, I was skiing down Centennial Trees when I startled a large snowshoe hare that sprung ahead of me. Rather I should say that the hare startled me! I tried to catch up with the furry critter but he left me in the dust or better yet, in the powder!

I will leave the biggest and the best of these encounters for last. Late March as my wife and I where returning home from skiing and riding the Crown Point chairlift, we saw a large female moose either grazing or looking for some dropped ski poles, smart-phone or gloves, under the lift towers.

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Now, time for you to write your list down and share your best snapshots of the season!

Five Things I’ve learned this season

We learn a lot each season about skiing. As the 2014-2015 winter comes to a close, here are five of my key “take-away” that I want to share with you.

5.  Always Keep Hoping

Last December I was expecting countless days of bottomless powder that mother nature seemed to have a difficult time dispensing. All season long I kept looking forward to “face shots” in spite of an indifferent weather forecast, unexciting predictions from the Farmer’s Almanac and the fatalistic attitudes of many of my friends. To further protect me against the fear of drought, I pushed back any thoughts of perfect bluebird days (we got many of these) and tried instead to focus on that pesky jet stream. In hopes it would redirect its precipitation towards Utah. Obviously, none of my wishful thinking worked too well and I hope it didn’t upset Mother Nature. Since I’m an optimist, I don’t think I did. I was just doing a steady job hoping and in the end, it worked to a large degree because I skied plenty of good snow this winter.

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4. A bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

My main season’s objective was to ski 100 days! I had never done it before in a non-professional capacity, so I was determined to achieve it. I must admit that when one lives in Park City it’s extremely hard not to become complacent in getting out to ski. For many of us, the sky is never perfectly blue and the snow never fluffy or deep enough. This year became the “no excuse” winter. No matter what the weather or the snow was said to be, I went out, did my skiing and without one single exception ended up pleasantly surprised. I was always glad I did it! Each of my ski outings always exceeded my expectations and I have surpassed my goal!

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3. Skiing is All About Terrain and Exploration

Too much snow can make us a bit lazy. Normally curvy, bumpy and otherwise varied terrain, looks like a flat surface on top of six feet of snow. Conversely, a thinner cover exposes more of the terrain. It shows every single little detail and nooks and crannies come in full view. This is what tempts me to explore and play in new terrain. In fact, a little bit less snow than usual reveals more of the terrain’s true texture. It also forces us to discover subtle passages into the trees, a stash of powder that no one even knew existed, an interesting short-cut, or a new path that even the most seasoned Deer Valley skier never suspected.

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2. Don’t Let Your First Run Define Your Ski Day

This winter I sometimes found it difficult to warm up as I began my ski day. My first few runs were more awkward, not as smooth and more tentative than my last run from the day before. I had noticed some of this in the past but it seems that it came out much more acutely this season. After a few more runs, my normal feelings returned and took over for the rest of the outing. It might be the simple reality that we all need to warm up or recover this animal instinct that makes us ski, as if we had been secretly endowed with that wonderful skill at birth.
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1. Easy Does It

Skiing is a wonderful way to have lots of fun outside. For some skiers the experience can be one of contemplation. For many it’s the thrill of gliding and the sensation of freedom that feels like almost flying. For many proficient skiers, it’s a combination of speed, strength and perfect execution. It’s fair to say that most skiers over exert and use up far too much energy when they are on the slopes. For life-long skiers like myself who no longer are as young and vivacious, skiing can still be enjoyable as a fusion of smooth and efficient execution. It behooves us to remain super-light and always fluid on the snow. This is a bit difficult to describe. It’s a blend of minimalism, lightness and very subtle gestures. In fact smooth skiing resembles piloting. Skiers drive their skis where they want them to go and let the forces of gravity do the heavy lifting. Granted, they need muscle strength but mostly to resist compression, accelerations and maintain an edge. Skiing effortlessly, just like a feather on the snow, has become my ultimate creed!

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Chicks on Sticks 2015

Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and say it—whoever came up with the phrase “No Friends on a Powder Day,” never met my friends. I don’t want to brag, but I have hands down, the best friends, because they all agree that the best way to enjoy powder is with each other. Last year, our annual Chicks on Sticks outing occurred on an epic powder day, and it’s safe to say that the powder would have been less enjoyable without each other’s company.

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As it turns out, you don’t need tons and tons of powder to have an epic day—as long as you have great company. I met up with Miriam, Stacey, Mir and Kellie in Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley Resort. We lingered, just a bit over coffee, and then suited up. Stacey had been out most recently, and told us where the best skiing was. So, off we went to find it.

Let me say this, too. I had made sure to advertise the day as a mellow one—“Guys, remember, it’s all about lunch,” I wrote in one email. “So I don’t want to hear, ‘my knee hurts, so I can’t come,’ or ‘I can’t keep up with you!’”

Well, on the one hand, I meant every word of it. On the other hand—our definition of “mellow day,” may, in fact, contradict the term, “mellow.”

I could not wait to to try out my new boots. Mir was the first to notice: “Hey, you’re in the perfect position,” she said, as we skied down Star Gazer. “You’re skiing great.”

With my ego duly stoked, I set about ripping up the mountain.

In truth, our group skied quite companionably, and pressure-free, at our own paces. I think this is the secret to a good, social skiing day—coming down the mountain safely, comfortably, and at your own pace. The fact that I was trying to rip up the mountain, was, in fact, my own internal pressure meter pushed up to “high.” By the next day, this would prove to be a boneheaded strategy, but while I was skiing, I couldn’t have had more fun.

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The only thing better than the skiing that day was the chairlift rides. We mixed it up, and talked about everything from business to writing, kids and spouses, skiing and travel. And while some years we plan an elaborate sit-down lunch, this year, we decided that we felt like keeping it casual. We ate at the Snow Park Restaurant, where the awesome conversation continued.

Sadly, I had to cut out early to take care of a sick kiddo at home. I had planned to go home and then return to the mountain to pick up my healthy child at ski school, but my friends offered, generously, to ski until pickup time and bring him home for me. See? Told you, I have the best friends.

My Typical Deer Valley Day

There must be thousands ways to ski Deer Valley Resort, here is one local’s perspective. I am sharing with you my favorite way to navigate the mountain.

From my bed, I look out the window. I scrutinize the sky. If it’s not snowing I can see Bald Mountain in the distance and hear it calling me, “are you coming today?”

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This is the moment when I ask my wife if she feels like skiing. Depending on whether she will join me or not, my itinerary on the mountain may differ at bit, but we’ll get into this as the day unfolds.

Most of the time my day begins with a three and a half mile morning run around Park Meadows. I then eat a solid breakfast while still staring at Bald Mountain. I can now see the sun shinning off the top of the Sultan Express chairlift. Soon it’s time to gather all of my stuff, slip my pass around my neck, and get dressed. I drop my boots and helmet in the car. I load my skis on the rack, and am on my way to Deer Valley Resort.

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I make a quick stop at the unloading area to drop off my wife and our gear while I park my car. Since we always make a point of leaving home early, I usually find a convenient spot in parking Lot 2. I don’t even catch the skiers tram and instead jog back to the plaza to join my wife, pick up our skis and poles, and in no time we’re riding Carpenter Express chairlift.

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When my wife accompanies me, our morning always begins with Jordanelle ski run. We like to follow the sun around the resort. We ski down Little Stick ski run to Deer Hollow ski run where we catch Mountaineer Express chairlift. When we get there early in the morning we have the Jordanelle run to ourselves. We ski down this magical ribbon that sits above the reservoir below. There are not many ski runs like this one. If the crowds are light and the snow stays firm, we’ll repeat it, and sometimes we even do it three times.

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We then head to Bald Mountain and warm up on Nabob or Keno ski runs. Sometimes we stay there the entire morning. If I’m alone I go directly to the Ruins of Pompeii, Triangle Trees or Grizzly ski runs. I can stay there for hours on end.

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When I ski with my wife, we sometimes stay a little bit longer and include lunch in our ski day. Planning our skiing time with with a delectable goal in mind will inevitably bring us to the Empire Canyon Lodge. Perhaps it is because of its setting, cradled at the base of Daly and Empire Bowls. Most likely it is because we love the paninis that they serve. A valid set of reasons! While relaxing and enjoying our lunch break, I check the surroundings, ask questions, assess Daly Bowl and its surroundings, and depending on the conditions of the day, either ski there or check out Lady Morgan Express chairlift.

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When we’re done skiing on that side of the mountain, we eventually head back towards Silver Lake by way of Ontario Bowl. We love exploring new lines in the aspen glades all the way back to the Judge chairlift. I like this run best, it leads us effortlessly to the edge of the Nastar Race Course finish area and funnels us towards the Crown Point chairlift.

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I like riding this chair so I may turn around and observe the late afternoon skiers slaloming down the runs of Bald Mountain. I also like to stare at Empire Bowl, far in the distance, where moguls look like dimples on a golf ball and reflect the last sun of the day. Just a few days ago there was a moose eating bark off of a tree under that chairlift.

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From the top of Bald Eagle mountain, Kimberley ski run is always my favorite. I love to ski under the bridges on a trail that reminds me of a half pipe and transitions with downhill turns into Big Stick ski run. I appreciate Big Stick’s steep pitch and eventually slow down on my way to the resort’s base, I am thinking. “Another wonderful day at Deer Valley!”

#SkiTheDifference with Bari Nan Cohen

#SkiTheDifference is, quite possibly, my favorite hashtag because it represents everything I love about the Deer Valley Resort experience. To me, it means that it’s possible to feel, simultaneously, the satisfaction of a weary body, shredded by incredible terrain, and the unmitigated joy of having been pampered, throughout the day. As I wrote here recently, it can be a spiritual experience to #SkiTheDifference.

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For me, the “Difference” is in the details—many of which come into play before you’ve clicked into your bindings. I love the fact that ski valets meet me when I open my car door and offer to help with my family’s gear. I’m thrilled by the dedicated parking for the Children’s Center, because it’s one less hassle in the experiment of skiing with young children. And, trust me, each time is an experiment in patience, resilience and fun.

When you head for the parking lots there’s never any guesswork about where and how to park—friendly attendants wave you into open spaces and keep the lots from getting unruly. This year the additions of small structures over the staircases that lead from lots 2 and 3 to lot 1 ensure that the stairs don’t accumulate a lot of ice and snow. Another shift is the boarding area for the parking lot shuttles in the turnaround under the plaza. It’s was moved a few feet and benches that were up against the building are now arranged in a comfortable waiting area. When I discovered this change I thought, “I didn’t realize the waiting area was ‘broken,’ but someone saw a better way.”

The on-mountain experience has the same attention to detail. The Mountain Hosts who will tell you the skinny on the best terrain they skied that day and lift operators who brush off the seats of the chairs before you board. There is delicious food in every lodge, with friendly people there to make sure there’s a clean table at the ready. Thoughtful touches like hand lotion dispensers in the bathrooms, complimentary glove dryers in the lodges, and ski check corral near every lodge. Suddenly a ski day (itself, a treat) is elevated to a resort experience.

These are experiences available to every skier on the hill, from beginner to expert. For those of us lucky enough to live here, #SkitheDifference mean our kids know their way around the entire mountain. They know that they can ask, nicely, for help boarding a chairlift. #SkitheDifference means my family can ride a lift together and then divide and conquer: two of us can take an easy run and two of us can ski the bumps, and then we all meet up at the bottom to compare notes. It means that there is always something to please every palate in the restaurants (even if it drives me nuts that there are so many choices, and my kids default to pasta, almost every time).

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This is the mountain my family calls home.” The chefs at Snow Park kept me well-fed throughout the winter I was pregnant with my second child while my husband and our firstborn tore up Wide West ski run. When the boys were tiny it took an army of ski valets to help me schlep the stroller, the ski gear, the kids and the other “stuff” kids require into the lodge. I never asked for help, it was always handled before I realized that I needed it. When I ask my kids about their favorite restaurants, The Seafood Buffet tops the list. We’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries at Mariposa, entertained friends at Fireside Dining, toasted visitors at Royal Street Cafế , and destroyed chili fries at Silver Lake Restaurant. We’ve even shared breakfast with Olympic champions at Silver Lake Lodge, more than once, simply by happenstance. “When did they get so big?” is a familiar refrain in the shops and restaurants around the resort. #SkiTheDifference is a community. And that, for us, has made all the difference.


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Skiing is a state of…style

I’ve taken the idea that skiing is a state-of-mind to a new level this year. Some in my family would argue that this isn’t entirely a good thing. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to dress when you’re off the slopes, is in clothing that tells the world, “I am a skier. I love to ski. I even wear clothes with skiers on them!” Bear with me.

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Recently, my good friend Shari had sent me a photo of a cute sweater she found in the Talbot’s outlet. Neither of us are regular shoppers in that store, and yet, their sweater selections caught our attention. She popped into the store one afternoon and hit the jackpot: a sweater with a pattern that depicts a skier carving turns (stylishly, of course) down a tree-lined slope.

“That’s it!” I announced, I proudly showed the text message to my family. “I need the skier sweater.”

My style-minded spouse and oldest child looked at me, incredulously. But young Seth aligned himself with me and Shari. “You NEED that, Mom! It’s awesome. And you and Shari will MATCH.” He said with all the urgency only a seven-year-old can muster (which is to say, quite a bit). The other two looked on, quizzically, as we high-fived.

Fortunately, the doubting duo know to humor the person who makes sure that the ski bags are packed every night. [Which is how, on a recent afternoon, while Seth was at a play-date, they came to walk into Talbot’s with me, wearing their best game-faces.] To our delight, a dear friend’s mom was working in the store—and she produced not just the sweater, but also a turtleneck with a pattern of little skiers all over it. “Oh, and what about the skier scarf?” she asked, proffering one from a nearby rack. Sold, sold and sold. I grinned from ear-to-ear, as my middle-schooler shook his head in anticipation of the sheer embarrassment of being seen with me, dressed in theme clothes. (Silently, I reminded myself that if I’m not embarrassing my kid, I’m doing something very, very wrong.) My husband pointed out that I had owned a similar turtleneck, back when we first met, over 25 years ago. It occurred to me that he may not have meant this in a good way. Still, nothing could dampen my glee.

Once home I admired my loot and took a great deal of joy in photographing the apparel. I sent the photos to Shari, “I will take your skier sweater, and raise you a skier turtleneck and a skier scarf. I WIN!” She immediately wrote back that she’d be returning to the store to complete her own set. This emboldened me to send boastful text messages, photos included, to a few friends who have, like Jeffrey, known me since the last time I thought that these items were at the height of fashion. I would be lying if I told you that the responses were not filled to the brim with celebrations of my awesome style.

I will be modeling this look all over town. I have paired the scarf with basic black leggings and turtleneck, and the sweater with a pair of motorcycle-style jeans in a light blue that perfectly matches the shade of the sky on the sweater. Clearly, it’s not a “technical” piece, but what fashionistas (like, ahem, myself) would call “a statement piece.” So, I’m now on the hunt for retro-styled ski clothes—you know, Fair-Isle knits, and maybe a more technical version of the cute, printed ski-turtlenecks of my childhood. I draw the line at the neon-colored one-piece ski suit—for now.

What is your skiing state of style? Tweet me  or @Deer_Valley.

Meet Deer Valley’s Avalanche Dogs

If you have shopped at the Deer Valley Signatures stores, you may have noticed the Avalanche Rescue Dog Benefit Merchandise, also know as “Avy Dog.” If you are a frequent Deer Valley skier, you may also have encountered one or several dogs sporting the Ski Patrol logo on their back. To get their full story, I met with Chris Erkkila, Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol Assistant Manager, who told me everything I always wanted to know about these “mountain saviors.”

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The Deer Valley Avalanche Dog program dates back twenty years. From the time one of the resort’s patrollers worked tirelessly to get it off the ground to this very day, it has evolved to the point that Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol now has three avalanche dogs, with at least one on the mountain every day. These dogs are owned by their handlers and go home with them every night.

Let’s begin by meeting them. We have Ninja, a male Pointer/Lab mix, that is almost four years old; Piper a female Shepherd mix, an 11 year old veteran that also happens to be Chris Erkkila’s dog and Izzy, a female Lab/Boarder Collie that is nine years old. The Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR), a local non-profit organization oversees the training and certifications. Nine ski areas are member of the WBR, and account for a total of 30 to 40 dogs.

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A lot of work and training is involved with avalanche dogs. “When we select a puppy,” explains Chris, “we have a series of puppy aptitude tests. In every litter of puppies there’s an Alpha pup, the most aggressive and strongest of the litter. We generally look for the next pup down from the Alpha, one that doesn’t seem to be scared of anything, has strong senses, is apt to attach and interact with humans. We also want a dog that is very curious, has high energy and a strong drive.”

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Of course, there are other considerations. Some breeds are better suited than others for the job. A thick coat is definitely an advantage compared to a thin one; with it, a dog can stay warm longer, while thin-haired dogs may have to wear an extra coat. There are also breeds that have a higher sense of smell than others. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and boarder collies are better suited than most.

Size matters too; large dogs get tired faster because of the mass they must carry and may develop orthopedic problems faster. Then there’s the mere fact of getting around. Carrying the dog down the slope, loading it up on a chairlift, a snowmobile or a helicopter can be hard with larger dogs. Conversely, a small dog will have a harder time climbing on big chunks of snow or walking into deep powder. The happy medium seems to fall right between 40 and 60 pounds.

Once the puppy is selected, training begins at once with with socialization and obedience. Then training for search follows. It begins very progressively by using one of the dog toys and hiding it behind a tree, then burying it under the snow. This is followed by using articles of clothing like a scarf or a wool sweater scented by a human being, and slowly, the search training evolves to a real person. First, just by hiding behind a tree, before the person is actually buried under the snow. Some avalanche dogs can smell people that are buried under 15 feet of snow.

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A person’s scent permeates throughout the snow pack and eventually makes its way through to the surface. The surface scent may get to an area that is not necessarily the actual body location. The scent works its way trough a cone-shaped path that may follow a slanted trajectory depending on the snow structure. In addition, windy conditions or even just a slight breeze may affect how a dog will catch the scent coming out of the cone.

The dog must be led in relation to the wind. Upwind, it becomes impossible for a dog to catch the scent. Stormy and blizzard conditions may make locating very tricky and difficult. The same applies to terrain conditions that generally are always steep, rugged and involve snow density of varying degrees. Around an avalanche, the surface of snow can be rough and will tire a dog very fast. This is why dogs are often carried to the rescue site so as to save as much of their energy as possible.

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Dog certification is handled by the WBR. Three levels are offered: A, B, and C. Level C designates a candidate entering the program. Level B is for dogs capable of searching within the ski area boundaries. Level A is the full certification and applies to dogs capable of searching both within the ski area and the backcountry. Dogs cannot be tested for Level A until they’re at least 18 month old. For most dogs, it often takes two winter seasons of work and training to pass the the Level A test. Sometimes, it may take a dog three full years to reach Level A.

From that point on, dogs can expect to work on search and rescue until they are about 10. Piper, Deer Valley’s oldest dog, is 11 years old; she’s still going strong, but may be an exception amongst her peers.

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Training is a big endeavor that must be kept up. Deer Valley avalanche dogs stay active year-round. During the off-season, their handlers take them around the resort while mountain biking or working on trails. Their dogs must stay active and obedient while also receiving some agility training to mitigate an off-season sedentary time period. On occasions, outside agencies, like the Summit County Sheriff Department, may come up and expose the dogs to cadaver work, materials they don’t encounter on a daily basis. 

Having the dogs out in the summer help them familiarize themselves with the whole mountain environment; this way, they become closely acquainted with the terrain and their surroundings. Chris adds, “I can see the evidence of this in the winter as my dog recognizes the very details of the terrain she traveled back and forth during summer, she tends to follow her usual path in a winter environment.”

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I asked Chris if any of the three Deer Valley dogs have been involved in actual search and rescue operation: “Yes, we’ve been dispatched quite a few times to actual avalanche sites. One of the most interesting instances, happened late in May, near Sundance resort. We were flown up in a helicopter to Mt. Timpanogos where the search operations took place.”

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At Deer Valley, the “Avy Dogs” perform a very vital and necessary function. They can be seen as an extra insurance policy. Some might argue that these dogs are seen as “low-tech” assistants in a array of new high-tech devices that are being used to locate skiers or measure avalanche danger. “Sometimes dogs can pickup where high-tech left off,” Erkkila explains, “just a couple of years ago, we were all out doing avalanche beacon drills training, and low and behold the beacon batteries died. I had to bring my dog Piper, to find the beacon buried deep under the snow. She found it pretty quickly, so technology is as good as battery life, and with Piper we don’t have to worry about that!”

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With always one dog on the mountain on any given day, skiers have the opportunity to visit a Deer Valley Avy Dog at one of the patrol shacks. Just ask to find out where the dog or dogs are for the day. Chris Erkkila offers: “Come and say hi, collect one of our new trading cards that we created for each one of our dogs, and come take some photos!” 

World Cup Dual Moguls Competition 2015: Those Moguls Look High

From the bottom of the Dual Moguls World Cup course on Champion ski run, the moguls look big. In fact, they look really big even from far away. Imagine what they look like to the athletes facing them down the run.

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The skiers don’t go around them either, they slam right into the side of them one after the other. All the while, (I am assuming) contemplating their aerial moves and focusing on competing against another racer right next to them.

It’s crazy fun to watch.

I don’t know about you but I doubt I’ll ever ski this run or anything like it (other than carefully peering over the edge). So I decided to get some perspective on how high the moguls might look to the athletes by making some comparisons with items we see every day in Park City.

I read the moguls can run as high as 1.2 meters which translates to about 3 feet and 11 inches.  Pulling out the measuring tape, I figured that 3 feet hits me right at the belly button and if the course set them up at maximum height, the additional 11 inches brings them to about chest-high on me.

Whew. That is high!

How would that look staring down at it?  I won’t ever know but here are a few photos showing comparisons for about 3 feet high – my waist level.

Would moguls this high, (on a steep run) be a problem for you?

Would you like to ski the top of this bike rack?

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The box office at the Egyptian Theater?

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The Moose’s legs?

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A whisky barrel at Rock and Reilly’s Pub?

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Not tall enough for you?  How about moguls this high?

Would you be intimidated jumping the Banksy?

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How about the ski rack at Snow Park at Deer Valley Resort?

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Enjoying the World Cup Dual Moguls with the crowd at the base of Champion ski run is exciting enough for me. Congratulations to winners! 

Final results

Men’s Final

1st: Mikael Kingsbury (CAN)

2nd: Dylan Walczyk (USA)

3rd: Marco Tade (SUI)

Women’s Final

1st: Justine DuFour-LaPointe (CAN)

2nd: Hannah Kearney (USA)

3rd: Britteny Cox (AUS)

Check out footage of the women’s final here.

If you ski the Champion ski run off the Carpenter Express chairlift, let me know how it goes for you!

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