If you ever skied the X-Files or Triangle Trees, you have experienced the impressive glading work performed by Deer Valley Resort over the last two decades. For those not familiar with glade skiing, it means roaming freely through sparse trees in what used to be a denser forest. Many love glade skiing for its serenity, its fun, its challenge and for its fresh powder caches that remain shaded and sheltered for weeks.
To measure the resort’s commitment to glading, I met with Chuck English, Deer Valley’s Director of Mountain Operations. “It all began twenty years ago after we built the Northside Express chairlift; we wanted to create more powder opportunities,” recalled Chuck. At that time, the Utah State Forester came to Deer Valley to evaluate the entire mountain. After dividing it into specific sections, he shared his assessment about the forest stand that, in his view, was too tight. He called the excessive treed areas “dog hair stands”, and offered to paint the standing dead, or sick trees that needed to be pulled.
This is how glading began at Deer Valley. Not only did the prescribed cut improve the health of the forest, but Chuck and his associates immediately realized that they could easily ski through the openings they had just created. The work began with an area located skier’s right off Solid Muldoon ski run, where the stand of trees was particularly thick. The next summer saw the turn of the Sunset Glade and some of the Black Forest, off of Perseverance Bowl, that needed some serious clearing too.
In subsequent summers, as the State Forester could no longer work directly with the resort, a crew of several year-round employees who knew the mountain inside-out, who were all very good skiers and chainsaw experts, was formed to continue the glading work. Over the years, that sawyer’s team evolved. At some point, the resort’s top level ski instructors were part of it and today, it’s made of a couple of snow making supervisors and snow grooming supervisors. Deer Valley’s snow grooming manager currently heads the group.
The planning begins in the spring when Chuck English and the sawyers ski around the resort to spot where more glades can be added. A considerable amount of time is also spent taking input from Ski Patrol who probably know the mountain better than anyone else. Glading is a whole summer project. The team begins to work at the beginning of June and continues until October. The workday is 10 straight, long hours, four days a week, as work sites are generally difficult to access.
Sawyers do more than just glading, though. They’re also responsible for cutting the lift line when a new chairlift is installed, they may be called to cut or maintain ski trails, clear trees and branches fallen by windstorms and also perform maintenance on existing glades, just to keep up with new growth. The process is quite involved, demands a sound knowledge of the forest and of the skiing terrain.
Sawyers need to keep a meaningful variety of trees of all ages. Remarks English: “Once trees aren’t too tight, they tend to do very well and flourish. Glading is an opportunity to remove trees infested with parasites and protect healthy ones from contagion. Trees are one of our best mountain amenities!”
There is a conscious effort to identify different areas with the best glading potential. Each Deer Valley mountain has its prime spots; for example, Empire has the X-Files and Anchor Trees. Lady Morgan has Centennial Trees, Flagstaff has Ontario Bowl, Bald Mountain has Sunset Glade, Triangle Trees, and so on. Deer Valley’s sawyers try to keep most of their work above 8,000 feet. On steep and less accessible areas, the wood is left on the ground, cut into rounds small enough to lay flat, creating habitats for many animals. The dry fuel is removed to minimize fire hazard and, where accessible, the timber is pulled out and used for firewood in the Deer Valley lodges.
Unlike most western ski areas, Deer Valley Resort is located on private land. Glading wouldn’t be as easy to perform if the resort were on National Forest land. It would be possible, but would take significantly more time due to administrative rules and regulations. The sawyers have gotten skilled at knowing how to open things up. “Glading is as much as an art as it is a technique”, said Chuck. “A glade that is too open promotes moguls, something you want to avoid. Straight-line clearing isn’t desirable either. A ‘maze’ pattern is preferable to create a much more diverse and interesting skiing experience.”
While glade skiing generally requires more skills than open-terrain, Deer Valley wants more of its intermediate skiers to enjoy tree skiing. This is where some areas like Sunset Glade or the X-Files get a lot of its sawyers’ attention. They are on moderate grade and can be designed to be very user friendly and accessible to most skiers skills.
One great benefit of Deer Valley’s 930 acres of glade skiing is that they act as a reservoir of powder, as snow stays fresh longer in these sheltered areas. In addition, tight glades retain most of the snow on tree branches and requires twice as much snowfall to accumulate as much cover as that of open meadows.
In the fall, sawyers are asked by ski instructors and eager skiers wanting to know where the brand-new powder stashes will be found. Very little information percolates out of these early-season queries, as a shroud of mystery traditionally hang upon any new “powder lode.” Eventually, the secret gets out. As Chuck concludes, “our Mountain Hosts do a great job broadcasting these secrets, especially those assigned to the expert mountain tour.”