I love skiing as much as I love sushi. When I’m eating sushi, I’m thinking about skiing, and when I’m skiing around Daly Bowl and Chutes, in Empire Canyon, I’m always reminded of the Japanese delicacy. It may be that unique experiences always come in small and precious packages, at any rate this area of Deer Valley evokes a beautiful and delectable sushi platter where all runs are rows of tantalizing pieces. I’m always torn between them, have a very hard time picking one in particular, and to add to the torture, I always try to keep the best one for last; Today, I’ll guide you into a wonderful world of chutes every bit as delectable as the best sushi I’ve ever tasted!
The Daly area is perhaps the most affordable introduction to those who dream to venture to Valdez and ski the Chugach Mountains. With ten chutes on the menu, there is enough challenge and diversity to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. As we should, we’ll begin with Chute #1, easily accessed from a traverse in the trees located midway down Orion. This chute as well as Chute #2 are part of the “Daly Bowl.” As the traverse ends, skiers literally roll into that open area just like “sushi rolls.” Easy to access, the chutes are impressive for newbies, but not that forbidding. I’d say that Chute #1 reminds me of a California roll, not just because it’s geographically the closest to California, but also because of its access and popularity.
A tad more challenging, Chute #2 reminds me of the traditional, thin tuna roll, also known as hosomaki. Chute #3 is more like what I’d call nigiri sushi, the oblong mound of rice topped with salmon in that case. The narrowness of the chute provides the sting of “wasabi.” The bottom of these three chutes is straightforward and easily transitions into the upper portion of Orion. While it belongs to the western part of the “Challenger” section, I’d call Chute #4 the standard sushi piece with tuna or maguro topping. It’s pure, impressive and gets you where you need to go, whether you really like it or not; once the steep portion is passed, the trail gingerly meanders through the trees back to the lower portion of Orion.
The eastern side of “Challenger” includes Chute #5 and Chute #6. Both require a bit of hiking from the flat section towering over the main bowl. They also requires plenty of skill, a generous snow cover (they’re not always open,) and lots of guts. Both definitely fall into the “don’t try this at home” category and if you have second thoughts, make sure to get a guide who knows them well and is willing to take you there. No need for wasabi, spice is built into these intimidating drops! Because of that, I liken both of them to the infamous glogfish or fugu that can cause severe poisoning if not prepared properly. The licensed fugu chef in that case is the certified instructor that will take you there and get you down standing on your two skis.
Whether you decide to jump into #5 and #6 or not, your next move will be over to the “Cataract” area; a scenic spot for taking a break before plunging (yes, there’s a big cornice for that purpose) into Chute #7. This one is impressive and snakes down the face of the mountain like an eel. It’s probably why it reminds me of a piece of unagi. It’s challenging, solid and straightforward (in all of my skiing life, I’ve never met a “chute” that wasn’t…) Next in line, Chute #8 is crowned with another impressive cornice, that reminds me of ikura or salmon eggs, because every time I reach its edge, chunks of snow tumble all the way down to its bottom like a cluster of grapes or eggs. The open bottom section however deliciously redeems the steep upper!
If you’ve made it in one piece down “Cataract,” it’s now time to fall into “Niagra” home of Chutes #9 and #10. Because it’s so long, narrow and treed, Chute #9 reminds me of tako (octopus) and of ika (squid), both snappy and crisp, yet I couldn’t help but reminisce about Yukiguni in Niagara Falls, Ontario, one the best sushi in the southern part of that province. Let’s say that it is the all-encompassing, experience-filled ski couloir! Finally, as my legs are crying for mercy, Chute #10 reminds me of temaki, that large cone-shaped piece of nori on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end. That’s right, I found this funnel-shaped chute particularly enticing even though it’s also the farthest away. But it’s within the reach of most skier and frankly, if the Deer Valley chute numbering system was in increasing order of difficulty, this one ought to be #1!
Like sushi and its propensity to vanish from the platter, any skier can get to the bottom of these wonderful Daly Chutes and Bowl thanks to the wonders of gravity. Amazingly, my 183 cm, extra wide “chopsticks,” have help me stay upright during the entire experience, I feel full and totally satisfied, but still can’t tell which line is my favorite. The resulting adrenaline surge is wonderful and if you’re still hesitating about taking the plunge, remember that these descents are not for everyone; if you have the requisite skills, make sure to ski them in the company of someone who knows you well and is extremely at ease on this challenging terrain. Better yet, hire an instructor to feel comfortably safe and fully enjoy the adventure. I’m now ready for a shot of sake!