The Snow Alchemists

When you tell friends about your Deer Valley ski vacation and before you start explaining the resort famed “corduroy”, nine times out of ten, they’ll ask you: “How was the snow?”  Today, I’m spending a few moments with Scott Enos, Deer Valley Resort Snowmaking Manager, one of these experts, with a quarter of a century experience in producing man-made snow that  guarantees a unique ski experience.

JF: Before we explore the key role you play at Deer Valley, tell me, why do we need man-made snow in the first place?

Scott Enos: Man-made snow is not necessarily the snow you want to ski on, look at it as a “primer.” It’s a base layer upon which we accumulate natural snow by starting from a safe base, covering rocks, twigs and terrain irregularities. Once this layer is in place, our ski season is secured.

JF: What does it take to make snow?

Scott Enos: It takes lots of water and obviously, huge amounts of electrical power, because our snow guns all run on electricity. So with all that water, compressed air and the right temperature and humidity, you can make snow.

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JF: But how do you actually turn water into snow?

Scott Enos: You need a snow gun and we have two types of them. The first type is called “fan gun” and is used on the lower part of the mountain. It has a barrel with a large, 25 HP fan inside; this creates a column of air into which we inject water. To “seed” that water, there’s also a 10 HP compressor that transforms the mixture of air and water into a plume that turns into snow as soon as it hits the frigid air.

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JF: What’s your second type of snow gun?

Scott Enos: It’s a compressed air system that directly mixes water and compressed air. We connect it to our slope-side hydrants and both elements are mixed inside a nozzle that blows snow on the ski run.

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JF: Are all ski runs receiving the same depth of snow?

Scott Enos: Years of observation and experience, slope grade and traffic patterns define how we lay the snow. Steeper pitches, sun exposure, high skier traffic and terminal areas generally require deeper coverage than average slopes.

JF: What is the warmest temperature at which you can make snow?

Scott Enos: Technically speaking it’s 28 degree Fahrenheit. When we’re talking about snowmaking we refer to “wet-bulb temperature” which indicates the factor of humidity in the air, as opposed to “dry-bulb temperature” which is more like the actual temperature we measure. For instance when the wet-bulb temperature is 28, the dry-bulb temperature could be as high as 36 degrees. This means that high humidity conditions makes snow making less efficient.

JF: Are you saying that the output is greater when the weather is dryer and colder?

Scott Enos: Certainly! Here at Deer Valley we can pump 7,000 gallons of water per minute; which equates to about 10 million gallons per day. As the temperature decreases and the air remains dry, our volume increases to the point that we can’t move the equipment fast enough and have to reduce our water use.

JF: How has technology evolved over the past 25 years?

Scott Enos: Tremendously! Monitoring system used to be non-existent; today, we have multiple weather stations on the mountain that we monitor in real time and integrate automatically with our pumping system. Some of our fan guns are now fully automated and equipped with telemetry that allows us to control them through my office computer. Our new machines are also much more efficient; the new air-water guns have nothing in common with the old ones. Over that quarter-century it’s fair to say that our capacity to make snow has increased one hundred fold!

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JF: Early in the season, I see those big mounds of snow that you call “whales”, piled up on some runs, I often wonder “How can the snowmakers tell when they have made enough snow?” How do you measure your output?

Scott Enos: Sorry to disappoint you, but we don’t take any sophisticated measurements; Experience simply tell us “we’ve got enough snow!”

JF: Why do you let these big “whales” sit for some time before spreading them on the trail?

Scott Enos: We always let them sit for a while before we break them; they “cure,” so the excess water contained in them can fully drain out. We want snow that is consistent, without frozen water inside. We let them sit at least a day before the snow cat breaks them up and we’ll let that snow sit for another day. We take the time to make it right!

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JF: Let’s talk now about water, your main raw material. Can you tell us where your main storage facilities are on the mountain?

Scott Enos: We have several storage ponds. Three large ones are at Snow Park between the Deer Valley Plaza and our parking lots. Then, on Deer Crest, as you’re skiing down Jordanelle and pass the last bridge, you’ll see into the side of the hill a concrete station that pumps 25 millions gallons of water that we purchase from the Jordanelle Special Service District. This water comes from the Keetley mine before it’s cooled through a treatment plant, as it comes fairly warm from the ground. Finally, for the upper mountain, we have a reservoir that sits at 8,813 feet, by the Homeward Bound run. We buy this water from Park City and it also replenishes itself through the year.

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JF: So when environmentalists question the wisdom of using so much water for just making snow, how do you respond?

Scott Enos: We take water that runs in late fall and early winter and that can’t be used for say, agriculture. So, we take that water and conserve it under the form of snow so it can melt later, just like the rest of our mountain snow pack.

JF: Let’s now talk about your people, the ones who make all that snow…

Scott Enos: The snowmakers are an eclectic group of people. There’s 36 guys and girls and me!

JF: Is it all night work?

Scott Enos: More than that, it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The crews work in teams, with a swing shift and a graveyard shift. The shifts start at 1 a.m. and at 1 p.m. They sign up for five days a week, weather permitting, and at any given time, we always have 12 to 14 snowmakers on duty on the mountain from the end of October through the end of January. When we’re done making snow, many crew members will be doing something else. Some are snow groomers, ski instructors, bakers or snow plow drivers, as snow-removal is another task our department handles.

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JF: What does it takes to work as a snowmaker?

Scott Enos: This type of work is physically demanding. The hours are long, the work is hard. These people have to deal with all kinds of adverse conditions; in fact, the tougher the conditions, the harder the work. It’s just remarkable that a large core group of people come back to us season after season!

JF: What do you do in summer?

Scott Enos: We prepare for the following snow season. We start implementing our capital improvements that are a yearly occurrence. Deer Valley is a resort that really understands the value of snowmaking and what it means to its guests. We strive yo make our slopes more fun to ski on, more user friendly and there is no end to our commitment to improve our guests’ experience. Good snow year or bad snow year, we keep on upgrading our systems, investing in our infrastructure that grows incrementally year after year.

JF: Since you’ve worked here 25 years, you’ve seen many different winters. Is there any relationship between natural snow and the quality of skiing?

Scott Enos: If you want to come out and ski the kind of groomed runs Deer Valley is famous for, even if it’s not a snow record breaking year, you’ll end up having a wonderful time. For instance, just now, the mountain is as good as it ever gets. We may not have knee-deep powder today, but it’s going to come soon anyway. I have a very good feeling about that!

Eat it Up

We gathered as soon as I had dropped off my kids at day one of Children’s Sunday Ski Experience. There were seven of us, and we dove into the day’s powder with gusto. My friend Stacey, who I met four years ago during Women’s Weekend, was first to say, “I am a Powder Day Plus One Skier.” Meaning she likes a good powder dump as much as anyone, but prefers to ski on it after the groomers have had their way with it, the next day, thank you very much.

My friend Kellie and I were fresh off our first Women on Wednesdays lesson, so we were eager to see if we remembered all the mad skills we’d picked up on that day. Our group also contained two Miriams (one I’ll call Mir, to keep them straight), Catherine, who skis DV only occasionally, and Sue. We were all of compatible levels, but Mir and Sue are likely the most experienced and confident skiers, and Catherine is a good, gutsy skier. Mind you, in the days leading up to this outing, I got comments from several of my friends, saying they were a little nervous to ski with me—which made me laugh. “We are skiing for lunch, people,” I reminded them. “It’s social and fun.”

What followed was exactly that. A fun, social day, laughing as hard as we skied—which is to say, plenty. I couldn’t get away with copping out of much, since Kellie and I had just skied together on Wednesday, and she knew what I could do. Which is, of course, how I wound up taking Square Deal ski run from the top, rather than snaking around to the trees on skier’s left of Hidden Treasure and cutting in below the first long pitch. I was so pleased with myself that whenever I answered a question from my kids, that night, I simply said, “Square Deal. From the Top.” It wasn’t always the answer they were looking for—or, rather, it wasn’t ever the answer they were looking for—but, they got the message: Mama is hardcore, now.

Fresh Tracks under Quincy Lift

Of course, I couldn’t resist finding a path to hike through the glade between Hidden Treasure and Square Deal, a few hours later. Kellie was kind enough to snap some photos of me, and of Stacey, as we stopped to admire the gorgeous surroundings.

We skied a little of everything that day—those who were tired, nursing injuries or wanting an easier run felt no pressure to do what the bumps-and-powder-chasers were doing. One of my favorite runs of the day was suggested by Stacey: Orion to Solace, off of Empire Express chairlift. It left me feeling like I could ski anything, even though I had passed on the opportunity to take Daly Chutes with Mir and Sue.

Powder from Stacey

As I suspected, it mattered not which terrain each of us skied that day, but rather that we encouraged each other to eat it up, and take in as much powder and as many turns as we could, before the promised lunch. Ah, yes. Lunch,

Royal Street Café did not disappoint. Mulled Wine, and Blueberry Vodka Hot Chocolate—honestly, we could have stopped there. But with such a delicious menu, why would we? We split a few appetizers, and enjoyed our entrees. Mostly, though, we enjoyed each other’s company—no one in the group, aside from me, knew everyone in the group when we started the day. But after a day of riding chair lifts, together, the lunch conversation flowed easily. By day’s end, I was floating down to ski school pickup, on Stacey’s words: “Powder Plus Zero!”


Skier’s Superstition on a Powder Day.

02082014 002So, I’ve told you before about my skier’s superstitions—that I believe in a freshly washed car being an invitation for two feet of snow to dump onto the resort, for instance. I’ve also come to believe that posting about early symptoms of powder flu is a bad idea. Here’s why: I had an amazing day skiing with my girlfriends on Sunday. I was already scheduled to be back on the mountain Wednesday, for my second session of Women on Wednesdays. That left me two days to get work done, manage some chores, and generally behave like a responsible adult. No, I wanted MORE. I texted a friend, I posted on Facebook. And…

I awoke to punishment—my kids were paying the price for my greed, in fact.

They woke up sick. Not the kind of “it’s just a sniffle” sick that would let me send them to school, either. Verifiable temperatures. These boys had coughs that could not be controlled by any amount of disgusting syrupy medicines. Call-the-doctor-at-8 a.m. because-your-six-year-old’s-fever-is-pushing-103 sick. And did I mention that my husband was out of town, day three of a six day business trip? And that I had been so blinded by powder, the previous day, that I missed every single clue that they were coming down with something?

Umm, no. I not only missed a great powder day, but I also missed the opportunity to ski with my Women on Wednesday group. Sure, there are worse fates. I got lots of extra snuggles from my kids. I made them chicken noodle soup and plied my own immune system with green juices, for good measure. I was informed that “Mommy School,” is way more boring than actual school, by my six year old. I’m calling it a win.

But, mark my words, I will never, ever, ever take to social media and attempt to wrangle a powder posse for the following morning. And, I most certainly will not take for granted the fact that I had a day of devouring delicious powder runs as if they were so many chocolate truffles, just the day before.

What are some of your ski superstitions?

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Sunday before opening day was the second best day of the ski season. Because the BEST day of the ski season was this past Saturday—Opening Day at Deer Valley.

So, to celebrate, we headed off to the Deer Valley Grocery~Café for breakfast. Seth, our newly-minted reader, asked us what our table card meant, after he read the word. “What’s Daisy?”

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I answered the way any self-respecting Deer Valley skier would: “It’s a ski run!”

Then, I added, for good measure: “It’s also the name of Grandma Joyce’s dog.”

Jeff jumped in with some basic, if slightly overlooked, information for Seth to add to his vocabulary quiver: “It’s also a flower.”

“Right,” I said, quickly, remembering my command of the English language. “I guess you know you’re a skier when your words are defined by ski runs, rather than their original meaning.”

Thus educated, we headed to Snow Park Lodge, where we found tons of man-made snow waiting to be groomed into skiable corduroy. We paused, briefly, to admire the piles of white stuff, then continued on our mission—up the stairs at the ticket office to pick up our Season Passes for Deer Valley’s 2013-2014 season.

I keep all of our old passes, as a tangible “growth chart,” where I can see my boys get bigger (and, of course, track the evolution of my hair style, or whatever).

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This year will be the one we recall, years from now, as the day we took season pass photos while Seth was nursing a black eye, acquired in a crazy loft-bed accident on Thanksgiving Day.  (He’s fine—and we have taught him to say, “You should see the other guy,” every time someone comments on it.)

We were all, of course, in excited moods, as we got our pass photos taken.

And then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, this text came in:

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Yes, I am that nerd, who registers for text updates on the weather. Just seeing it was enough to make me jump for joy. See you on the slopes!


Unexpected Surprises: Fall Colors Montage Deer Valley – Mercedes Tour

Aspen and Snow pinesDo you love aspens the way I do?  Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with them, but I simply adore aspen trees.  I love them! Its not just “love”; it feels more like “being in love.” You know that feeling? Your heart is just taken over and there is nothing you can do about it.  I love how their leaves rustle in the wind. I love the stillness and beauty of their white bark. I can’t get enough of them.

I was excited to experience the aspens as they changed their leaves from green to a blanket of yellow and the reds and pinks of the shrubs that share the mountain with them. Snow was the first unexpected surprise. Since we planned our Montage Deer Valley– Mercedes Fall Colors Tour for the last week in September, snow on the ground was the last thing I counted on. I understand the first snowfall on record in Park City was as early as September 17 so we weren’t far off when it snowed on September 25 this year.

Guardsman PassWhen we arrived at the Montage, our driver, Nick decided to take a Mercedes 350L with all wheel drive. Then he could take us wherever we wanted to go – back roads, tight turnouts on winding roads, and enjoying comfort on the open road. Nick started us off at Guardsman’s Pass just above the Montage Deer Valley. It seemed like we were on top of the world!  Seeing a few inches of snow on the ground with the groves of aspens starting to turn yellow was delightful.

We’d never been to Big Cottonwood Canyon so Nick made a detour so we could see all sides of the Wasatch Mountains.  On our way, we saw hillsides full of evergreens covered in snow with pockets of bright yellow and orange foliage – so unusual and beautiful.  Here is a “locals tip” Nick shared – take a drive from the top of Guardsman’s Pass through Big Cottonwood Canyon and stop for lunch at the Silver Fork Lodge and Restaurant near Solitude Resort.  We’ll remember that one.

Big Cottonwood2Another unexpected surprise was just how nice it was to have a driver. Whenever we go for a drive, my husband is always at the wheel. That’s great for me, of course, but the driver needs to pay attention to the road and navigate as well!  Jay really enjoyed being a passenger for this trip, taking in the full experience of the beauty of fall. We noticed whenever the words, “beautiful” or “amazing” came out of our mouths, Nick had already stopped and got out of the car while saying, “Do you want to stop and take a photo?”  “Of course we do!” I answered as he opened my door.

Guardsman Pass2Guardsman’s Pass Road to Midway was our next route.  It seemed like the whole stretch is one huge aspen grove and my head was spinning.

Guardsman Pass at HeberNext stop, the view of Heber Valley from the top of the Wasatch.  Another “locals tip” Nick shared was going to Cascade Springs near Soldier Hollow Cross Country Ski Resort then stop in Midway for pizza at the Café Galleria.  We’ll remember that one, too.

Nick's towards GuardsmanThe next unexpected surprise was a special road to a secret spot Nick had scoped out a week earlier. I have no idea how to get there so you’ll have to ask Nick. He showed us an amazing scenic overlook and I can imagine this is what Switzerland might look like.

Next we were off to Sundance resort, Nick took us on the 20 mile Alpine Loop above the resort and maneuvered the Mercedes onto every turnout he could find.  The end of a winding road or a narrow turnout was no match for Nick if we wanted to stop and get our fill of the beauty and snap photos.  The glacier carved peaks of Mt. Timpanogos that rise above the Sundance Resort made for an amazing view.

Jay at Alpine Loop at SundanceAnother delightful surprise, Nick found a wonderful picnic spot nestled in the forest with a sunny table and pulled out two wine glasses and a bottle of Pinot Gris from the picnic basket filled to the brim with chicken pesto sandwiches, red quinoa salad, Caesar salad, berries galore and a huge brownie to share. The wine tasted crisp and fruity to me but even sweeter for my husband who could simply relax and enjoy the day since Nick was doing the driving.Nancy and JayOn the trip back, Jay and I were a little quieter as we made fewer stops and simply took in the beauty on our comfortable drive.  I got to gaze at my beloved aspens, while holding my sweetheart’s hand.  I had to pinch myself a couple of times to make sure this wasn’t just a dream.



Diary of the Powder Flu

The drug of choice: powder.

The drug of choice: powder.

The signs were everywhere.

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.

Top of Hidden Treasure9:05 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. I need 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.

knee deepThen, 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.

Hidden TreasureNext 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.”

Airing My Dirty Laundry

photo (14)The sign of a well-skied powder day exists in my mud room: gear is laid out everywhere, (15)

Sunday was another ski day that wasn’t for the faint of heart—it seemed warmer than two weeks ago (and it was, in truth), but it was snowing, blowing and drifting so that it felt pretty cold when the gear got wet. It was the kind of deceptive day that had us running back into the lodge after the first run to grab neck gaiters and face masks, and switch out goggle lenses for flat light. All that accomplished, and with the boys in ski school, Jeff, Mel and I took off for a day of powder turns.

Everywhere I turned there were skiers giving up—too cold, too windy, too wet. In fact, a friend who will remain nameless, in town for a three day ski trip, sent a text that he was toughing out the weather in….a spa. REALLY????

Never mind Mel and I had already locked in our hardcore mettle for the season, and Jeff was too stoked to be out for his first kid-free runs of the season to even consider packing it in. The powder, too, was delicious.

We met up with our friends Ethan and Robert for a couple of runs—Ethan told us all about his first race with Rowmark Ski Academy, and I reminded him that just a few years ago I was scared to death of skiing with him. Back then, he was a fearless four year-old, bombing down any terrain with only speed on his mind, and not a turn in his quiver. “I’m so proud of your TURNS, E!” I exclaimed. “You’re rocking them!” Ski racing is a great way to give a speed-demon some discipline.

Mel and I couldn’t resist the siren call of the trees between Hidden Treasure and Three Ply, nor could we keep ourselves from gobbling up the bumps. Jeff was more than happy to carve down Hidden Treasure and watch us make our descent—or, really, because Mel takes a bumps run faster than regular skiers carve a groomer, they both watched me make my descent. Later, Jeff said to me, “I couldn’t believe how great you looked on the bumps, you should be proud.”

The compliments flowed both ways, as Mel and I watched with glee while Jeff made a graceful glide through some nice powder on Gemini. “That used to terrify me,” he said. “Now, it’s just fun!”

We finally broke for lunch after 1 p.m., and Jeff seemed utterly relieved to be able to send me back out for more turns with Mel, while he relaxed in the lodge. As we rode the lift we debated the relative merits of skiing cruisers on such a fabulous powder day—and, duh, opted for the runs with the best powder stashes. By that time, it was snowing so hard that Little Bell offered us fresh tracks for three consecutive runs. On one of those, Mel watched my turns and said, “It’s not just that you’re getting down it, it’s that it’s PRETTY. You’re doing all the right things, and it looks GREAT.”

I may bask in that praise for the rest of my days.

After each sweep down Little Bell, we cut over to Gemini, where, again, we were treated to fresh powder. And, on one run, we were treated to a Seth sighting—carefully carving turns with his group, behind their instructor. We tried to hide like spies behind some trees, but you can’t out-smart my Ninja boy, and he spotted us, treating us to a big, wide grin of recognition. I couldn’t wait to see how Lance fared—and a few minutes later, I was rewarded with a smile from big brother, too. Later, I would get their tales of hardcore skiing, but for now, all they wanted were cookies.

An Open Letter to Fair-Weather Skiers

Dear fair-weather skiers,

As I write this, it is -18 on a Monday morning.  It’s a one-ski-run kind of day, but there are deadlines to be met, so, I won’t get that run. (“Wait,” you say. “One run? How about no-run? Who in their right mind will go out in sub-zero temps in order to ski?” Um, who said anything about being in my right mind?).

But I want to thank you for all the amazing runs you let me have, yesterday. While my children were in their first day of Children’s Sunday Ski Experience (appropriately layered and covered: 2 sets of base layers, each, plus face masks, toe and hand warmer packs, etc., along with promises from instructors of frequent warm-up breaks), my friend Mel and I were crushing it.

I should add these were my inaugural “grown-up” turns of the season. We’ve had at least a half-dozen family ski days since the resort opened, but neither Jeff nor I had taken a single run without the kids. I’m not complaining—these family ski days have been nothing but a blast. But I hadn’t tested my mojo yet, and I wondered if I still had it. I needn’t have worried. Mel and I took our well-layered selves for a full day of carving and bumps—all over the resort, and had mojo to spare. Our boot heaters were turned on (though mine lost ground around the end of the second hour, then caught up during lunch and held up fine through day’s end), and we pulled our hands into fists inside our gloves and around our warmer packs on every lift ride.  And with every run we completed, we congratulated ourselves for having the good sense to come out and enjoy the snow.

It was a glorious bluebird day—we kept our body temperature up in the morning by taking our first three runs on Hidden Treasure. The fact that you have to skate-ski through a giant meadow before reaching the top of the trail is not only a great lower-body workout, but a smart way to keep warm. And then, there’s the sweet reward: The view from the top. I should note that it was too cold to take pictures—but this one was worth the cold hand.

Fair weatherAfter the third run, we took off for Lost Boulder—though I immediately detoured onto Lucky Star, only to be richly rewarded with yet another empty trail of sweet, soft snow.

Mel is a former nationally-ranked competitive mogul skier, so I knew just skiing behind her on the bumps would help me up my game. When we saw, from our perch on the Northside Express chairlift, that the moguls on skier’s left of Lost Boulder had some nice texture, we decided to ski down Lost Boulder to test them out. Spoiled by the pristine conditions of the other trails, we sniffed at a couple of scratchy spots on the Boulder and then dropped into the bumps. Afterward, I told Mel, “I need to do it again, since I stayed in a squat for most of that run, rather than standing up properly over my skis.” She chuckled her agreement, and we scoped out an entry point from the trees on Lucky Star, since we far preferred the conditions on that trail to the top of Lost Boulder. We found our connection and floated through some delicious powder to the moguls. I stood tall and did a better job of picking my line a few turns ahead. Thus acquitted, we moved on to Blue Bell- Silver Buck-Star Gazer-Gemini. Gemini greeted us with layers of un-groomed powder, before we connected to the bottom of Silver Buck to ride the Silver Strike lift. By now, we had to admit that we were rather cold. “Let’s take an early lunch,” I suggested. Mel agreed, and we skied the same loop, but took the cat track toward Viking lift, and noticed that it was already noon: proof positive we’d been having way too much fun. We made our way inside to Silver Lake Lodge, which had only short lines at high noon—fellow hungry skiers sporting snow-eating grins. We were in on a shared secret—there was killer skiing to be had.

We took a longer lunch than usual, treated ourselves to a shared plate of fries with our sensible entrees, reveling in our morning—and the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company for an entire day. We mused about our shared love of our Volkl Kenja skis, and our stubborn insistence on keeping a one-ski quiver. I received a scolding call from an instructor friend of mine, insisting that I wasn’t taking frequent-enough breaks for the cold temps—all based on a (correct) hunch. I boasted, via text, to Jeff, who was trying to conceal his envy. And, noting that we had 90 minutes before we needed to meet the boys at ski-school pickup, we headed back out.

Funny enough, the conversation drifted to warm-climate vacations—even as we zoomed down Kimberly to check out the new high-speed quad lift, Mountaineer Express overlooking the Jordanelle Reservoir. We bantered about how best to spend a beach vacation, fantasized about Hawaii and Mexico, all the while carving our way along Navigator toward Deer Hollow.  The new lift was a bona fide treat—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: the merits of a detachable high-speed lift cannot be overstated, particularly when temps dip, and you want to keep your sitting-down time to a minimum.

We gobbled up soft, sweet snow on Fairview—which made for a more-than-pleasant cruiser run. The next run was utility-minded: Deer Hollow to Little Stick to Carpenter—Little Baldy needed our attention. We picked up Little Bell at the top of Success, and enjoyed the piles of crud and moguls it offered up. And then, cutting across Success from Solid Muldoon, we approached Dew Drop. And there, friends, was the reason I must thank you: Fresh, untracked corduroy. It seemed only a handful of folks had made turns on this trail—and it was nearly 3:00!  After zooming down Little Kate, we started to notice the cold again. Still, we weren’t ready to stop—“Let’s just do a bunch of runs on Wide West,” Mel called out, gamely. So, we did—and on this sunny, protected stretch of snow, we felt warmer and satisfied that we hadn’t wasted a minute of skiing. Also, it took my mind off the fact that some of my fellow “mommy spies” had witnessed my older son’s “lawyer skills,” as he tried to convince his instructor to call off the lesson after the first hour. I could only speculate on the disgruntlement that awaited me. I needn’t have worried—two beaming kids arrived moments later, begging to ski a few more runs.

So, my fair weather skier friends, while I realize this post may be self-defeating, I wish to thank you for letting us have the mountain (nearly) to ourselves. Fear not, we took a few extra runs with you in mind. Help yourself to the bragging rights. You’re welcome!