‘Scaring off the Bears’- A Mom’s Hiking Survival Guide

Sometimes, you don’t know how much you don’t know … until your child asks you a question. Who’s with me? Can I get an A-Mom? (Yes, you may groan at my bad joke.)

Thankfully, the question Lance posed on a chairlift this summer (“How did the ski trails get their names?”) wasn’t the type to send me into Parent Panic Mode. And it’s not just because a good parent knows which friends are in her corner to help (though, truthfully, that’s a big, big part of my “not panic mode”.) Yes, I knew if I asked my friend Emily, she’d be able to answer the question, but I didn’t realize that she’d turn it into a fun mother-son bonding adventure, custom-built for Lance and me. That’s because I never realized that Deer Valley offers private, guided hikes all summer long.

Enter Howard. He’s been skiing in Park City since before the secret got out about, well, the awesomeness that is Park City skiing. He’s worked at Deer Valley as a mountain host for another whole bunch of years. Which is alarming when you consider that he’s only 25. I kid—he’s not 25. I won’t reveal his age, but as we learned on our hike, he’s already outlived many of the miners, who died young because of the nature of their work, and the quality of health care that was available to people in the 19th century. In Howard’s case—like that of many local residents—it’s easy to stay young and healthy if you work above ground and exercise as part of your job—or lifestyle, or both.

Now, I’ve hiked the Silver Lake trail more times than I can count. But never have I hiked it in such a well-guided, well-informed manner. Howard met us and presented options. We chose a chair lift ride up Sterling Express for a three-mile downhill that would have us crisscrossing some of our favorite ski runs. Like Homeward Bound and Ontario.

Lance’s questions—and some neither of us thought to ask—were answered in earnest by a charming, friendly, Howard. He pointed out the 360° views (including Heber City, the Jordanelle Reservoir, and the sweep that includes Park City and beyond to Wyoming from the top of Bald Mountain). We got to peek at the reservoir used to hold (and recycle) water for snowmaking. And…we found out that all the trails were named for mine claims. Well, all but a few—but I’ll leave it to you to guess which ones.

One of my favorite stories is about the Ontario Mine, which you can see from lots of different vantage points on the mountain. It’s particularly easy to view from, say, Viking chairlift on the way to Stein Eriksen Lodge. The original owners of the mine were, in fact, Canadian. Then, George Hearst purchased it. His son, William Randolph Hearst, ran it for a time, but wasn’t keen on mining—and he wound up taking over his father’s newspaper in California, the San Francisco Examiner. Fun fact: I worked for Hearst Publishing for a time—as the Entertainment Editor at Good Housekeeping Magazine. And I never realized that Park City and I had Hearst connections in common.

Of course, as with any family activity, there were parenting lessons to be had. Mind you, this was not our first hike together—and not our first “long” hike this year. Part of the third grade curriculum in Park City is a hiking and camping unit (yes, they clear out the desks from the classroom and hang out in tents for a few weeks), culminating in a hike at Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City (incidentally, it’s a great day-trip from Deer Valley). But at one point, a small hissy fit ensued, about three quarters of the way down Ontario.

“I can’t go another step! My feet won’t take me!” Poor kid was about to crumble.

I was about to give him a “dig deep” speech, worthy of the Olympics, when Howard announced we were within half a mile of the finish. Lance perked up, and we began to pick up our pace. A few minutes later, Lance offered this.

“You know, all that fuss before?” he began. “That wasn’t real. That was just a bunch of noise I was making to scare off bears.”

And, the belly laughs ensued.

Keep reading for Lance’s version of the hike…

I expected this hike to have fewer flies.

That’s the first thing I thought of as we started out on the trail at the top of Bald Mountain.

Seriously. BALD. Except for some flies.

Our guide, Howard, suggested that if we started moving, maybe the flies wouldn’t buzz. Or at least bother me less.

Howard was trying to tell me some interesting facts about the trail names, but I was more distracted by the flies.

My mom tried to distract me with snacks. She always has snacks. Once, she pulled a 2-foot long Laffy Taffy out of her tiny little pocketbook. But that’s a whole other story.

Along the trail, we found some animal habitats. We took guesses about whether they were many entrances to one animal’s home or lots of different animals’ homes, including a mansion for animals or a ski hut.

Howard filled me in on a lot of the different trail names. They are named after mine claims. I learned that naming a mine claim is the way that miners (a loooooooong time ago) let other people know it belonged to them.

My favorite trail name is Success—because the miners named it after what they hoped would happen to them when they searched for silver.

Did you know that Ontario is named because the miners who claimed it were Canadian, eh?

Howard showed us the Ontario Mine, which was the last running mine in Park City, and you can see it from lots of different places on the mountain at Deer Valley.

He also showed us pictures of the miners. They looked old—but Howard said they looked that way because they worked hard in dirt, dust and bad conditions. Back then, people didn’t live to be very old at all, but they definitely looked old in the picture.

Howard suggested that we go to the Park City Museum, because there is a big “Wall O’ Mine Claims” (I don’t think that’s the real name for it!) — it’s a map of town that shows all the names of every claim that existed.

I think that’s a really good idea. I went there on a field trip with school in second grade, and I really want to go back so I can learn more about the mines.

If you are thinking about hiking at Deer Valley, I think you should ask if Howard can be your guide–he’s very nice, and he knows a lot. And if you see me skiing with my family this winter, you can stop me and ask me questions about the mines and the trail names, and I’ll tell you what I remember!

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