Opening Weekend

Most people took advantage of the bluebird (and frigid) day on Dec 3 to celebrate opening weekend at Deer Valley. My family waited for the storm.

My chat with a friend at Celebrity Ski Fest the day before, about skiing with kids on warm, sunny days is best, was ringing in my ears. So, too, was a chat with Ski Uncle, on the phone an hour earlier. “I like that you take them out in all kinds of weather—it makes them tough!”

Really, they’re both right. For the very littlest skiers, sunny, warm days are best. It takes the sting out of standing around/falling around on the snow if the sun is shining. However, on a colder day, you, the parent, don’t overheat as easily from all of the bending, lifting and overall schlepping activity that comes along for the ride. Also, if you’re sticking to the bunny hill, visibility isn’t an issue on a stormy day—and without fair-weather skiers on the hill, it’s simply less crowded. Which leads me to the best payoff of all…More fresh snow for those of us willing to “brave it.”

Sure, I wasn’t getting a lot of buy in from my Little Guy as we started layering up at home. But I made a strategically ostentatious stop in the pantry during gear-up. “What’s that??” My kids asked, as I extracted the Ziploc bag of leftover Halloween candy (really!) from the shelf. “Prizes! For the Rothchild Olympics! Who’s gonna win the race on Wide West?!” Suddenly, my too-jaded-for-the-bunny-hill Big Guy was clamoring, and my reluctant Little Guy (who, I suspected, couldn’t remember how much he loved flying down the hill the previous two years) was Ready To Ski.

Once we were booting up in Snow Park, we had a few other challenges to overcome. Ski Dad, for instance, had left his asthma inhaler at home—and miserably resigned himself to the role of Spectator in Chief. My heart broke a little—he looked crestfallen. Then, Little Guy recoiled (loudly, with dramatic screams) from the unfamiliar pain of putting on awkward, tight ski boots. Yes, I should have let him play with them at home. But I got lazy.

My friend Edo, one of Deer Valley’s experienced ski instructors, stopped by the table to offer some words of encouragement, and then whispered to me, “Usually we try four times and then we stop trying.” It turns out, the stopping is the key to success.

“Ok, you can just hang with Daddy, then,” I said, cheerfully. “More prizes for Lance!”

“No, I can put on my boots! I’m ready to ski.” Or eat candy. But who’s counting. It worked. And we were on the hill.

Not without incident. “I am terrible at skiing!!!” Wailed little guy, as he took off at the top of Wide West and promptly fell down. I definitely spend a minute or two cursing myself that we hadn’t taken the conveyor lifts for a warm-up spin. Everyone was just so excited about the chairlift ride, that I got carried away. “I am soooo bad at this!” He complained, as he fell again and again.

A few reminders about using “Superman” arms when skiing forward, and “Airplane” arms to make the turn, and he was off to conquer the race course. By run’s end, he was begging for more. He’d also made a friend in the lodge, and had a blast calling out to little Jack from the chairlift. “Go, Jack, Go!” shouted my boys.

Big Guy, of course, was a little bored on the bunny hill, but managed to be a good sport about the fact that we needed to keep it simple that day. Little Guy had skied so hard by lunch that a meltdown was nearly guaranteed if we left him with Dad in the lodge to go ski on the big hill. Not. Worth. It.

I followed my favorite “quit while I’m ahead” ski-parenting strategy , and home we went.  On the way home, candy prizes were distributed, and compliments were passed out.

“I liked your focus and determination on the hill, Seth!”

“Mom,” he said. “Falling is good learning!”

“Lance, your first run this year was better than your last run last year—because you grew, you’re stonger,” I said.

“Plus, mom, I rode my bike a lot and I think karate is helping me, too,” said Big Guy. “I’ve got much better balance.”

 

 

Celebrity Ski Fest

Whoever wins the actual ski race during Celebrity Ski Fest is, of course, the title holder. And it’s pretty easy to argue that the real winner of the day is the Waterkeepers Alliance, which works to protect waterways across the country.

But I decided there were a few award-winners that may have been overlooked.

Cutest Hat Wearers:


Meet Hannah, 1

Her sister Elise, age 3

These Los Angeles natives were enjoying lunch in the VIP tent in extremely cute (and warm looking) winter hats. Hannah’s Paul Frank Monkey, and Sophie’s Oscar the Grouch brought a smile to everyone who met the girls—including my friends Josh, Debbie and me.

But a cute hat is only as cute as the child wearing it—and these girls are title holders.

“Hannah’s not skiing,” said her mom, Maureen. “She hasn’t quite mastered walking.” Which, of course, struck my ear as a total non-sequitor. Don’t you teach your kids to walk by skiing? I’m kidding, Maureen! No one recommends rushing the process.

Favorite Long-Lost College Friend

Neal, whom I love to torture with the fact of how awesome my life in Utah is—we reconnected at SkiFest last year (he’s a TV executive in New York…his life ain’t too shabby, for the record).

Favorite fly-by skier.

Neal introduced me to a NY friend, Scott, who owns a second home in Deer Valley, and who uses business trips to LA as a vehicle for more skiing. He rattled off his  typical one-nighter ski trip schedule thusly: “I land here after my meetings and I’m at No Name Saloon by 9pm, on the first chair at 9am, and back at the airport at 7pm to fly home.”  Way to be dedicated to the Pow!

 

While at Ski Fest, I had the chance to chat with actor Scott Wolf (he and I have met a number of times, usually in the context of his work as a Hollywood actor, and my work as an entertainment journalist), but we never talk shop for long. Our bond is over the fact that we’re Park City locals—and parents.

On this day, though, Scott told me how lucky he felt to be able to participate in a fun event for a great cause in his backyard. “Everyone else here had to fly in from all over to be here,” he said. “But I didn’t drive more than 10 minutes.” Still, as he spoke to me about why he supports Waterkeepers, I got the distinct impression he would have traveled to be here, both for the fun of the competition and to support the work of Waterkeepers Alliance, which was founded by Robert Kennedy, Jr. to TK.

I ran into a bit of a buzz saw in Dylan [Bruno] on race day, but being out here to support Waterkeepers is something I’m always proud to be a part of,” he said. “And I have a son, so the importance of our water and our air and our food is completely heightened for me.”—I got the distinct impression that he certainly would have traveled to be here.

Quickly, the chatter turned to whether his young son will ski this season.

“He’s just now 2 ½, and he’s already so strong, that he’s already hucking front flips off our couch! I think he’ll love it ,,” said the proud papa. “His legs are super-strong, he’s got these stocky little legs like his dad, so yeah, he’ll get on this year, but I’ll just follow our friends’ advice and do warm days and short bouts.”

I shared the virtue of the SunKid conveyor lifts on Wide West, of course—and my secret weapon: Swedish fish. “My kid will, like, speak Portugese for a Swedish fish,” said Scott. “So skiing should be easy!”

We’ll check back with you, Scott!

Revisiting the Measure of Skiing

Around the same time last year (February 9, 2010) I wrote a blog about how we might measure skiing. I offered a variety of tools from keeping track of actual mileage on skis (seemingly hard to do!) to counting the number of days, and my conclusions called for using what’s called in ski-jargon, “vertical drop,” the measure of a ski hill height times the number of descent. So the more “vertical” is tallied, the more skiing has been accomplished. This wasn’t a perfect solution; it didn’t take into consideration the number of miles covered nor the time it took. Another important variable not accounted for was the quality of the grooming – or its absence – as well as the type and quality of snow. My “vertical” yardstick wasn’t perfect but if we were to accept it, how can we keep track of it?

The subject has intrigued me for a long time and ever since, I’ve always relied upon remembering how much vertical rise was associated with each Deer Valley lift, then made a point to count how many daily rides I made on each lift I used. That way, my ski day over, I could easily enter these numbers, using a spreadsheet and finding out my “vertical skiing.” Perhaps a few other die-hard might go through this exercise, but the vast majority of Deer Valley skiers won’t see that daily accounting as their favorite après-ski activity!

Being the old geek that I am, I had thought of easing this chore by purchasing a wrist computer. The first that came on the market in the eighties was the Avocet Vertech, which took the rugged look of a sport-watch. The system was based on the altimeter that showed a barometric pressure and an altitude reading. The reading would change whenever there was a variation in elevation, or in the weather, and needed to be constantly adjusted, generally by matching the altitude to a known elevation. In addition to recording daily descent and number of runs, the Avocet also displayed elevation, temperature and time. One main drawback of that model was that it had to be sent to the factory for periodic battery change.

A decade later, Suunto, a Finnish manufacturer of liquid-filled compass, jumped in the all-in-one watch design by offering the Vector, also combining altimeter, barometer, and compass. Compared to its predecessor, the product was found to be more reliable, had user-replaceable batteries and was somewhat more stylish, so I picked it as my wrist-computer. It would become my trademark wristwatch. It proved to be quite sturdy albeit a bit larger than a normal watch; it displayed altitude, temperature and time, but most importantly was supposed to record my total daily ski descent. The biggest downside of that watch was the complexity of its controls. Not only was the manual required reading, but you needed it anytime you wanted to use a specific function of the watch.

In spite of my determination at understanding the inner workings of that device and reading its instructions on countless occasions, I could never figure out how to make it work and remembering the procedure for any length of time. I had in fact bought myself an oversized, $200 sport-watch and this frustrated me so much that I had made it my 2010 new year’s resolution to finally mastering that smart timepiece. I would try on several occasions and again, would end up throwing the towel. This was until I found a much better “mouse-trap,” but my story has ran long enough for today; I’ll introduce you to this brand-new device in my next blog, so just stay tuned…

Smitten with the Lady

For many years, I’ve held the opinion that Deer Valley’s most challenging skiing was found around Bald Mountain, and accessible through the Wasatch, Sultan and Mayflower lifts. I liked that terrain and have spent hours exploring and discovering this entire side of the mountain. My paradigm only began to shift when Empire arrived on the scene and the Daly Chutes ( which I covered extensively last season in this blog) opened up some new horizons and seriously cranked up the “inclinometer.” More recently however, I have spent a greater amount of “quality time” skiing around the Lady Morgan Express chairlift and I am beginning to renege on my previous loves while furthering my appreciation for the very high performance skiing Deer Valley has to offer. That’s right, there’s so much to love about Lady Morgan.

To begin with, that chair is rocket-fast. In about three and a half minute it whisks you to the top of the hill and if you are willing and able to ski as hard as is humanly possible, you might get a full ten laps within the hour. But raw power is only one small part of the story. Variety of options is actually what makes that section of the mountain quite unique. If your friends or significant other aren’t nearly as good as you on skis, they have the choice, from the top of that same lift, to go their merry way on a green run and meet you again at the bottom without any angst and might even have to wait for you at the bottom! All they need to do is comfortably follow “Pearl” and “Webster” and may even elect to make an unscheduled stopover at the Empire Canyon Lodge, that stands right on their path, and indulge on a snack, an early lunch or a warm cocoa while you wrestle with the mountain. This one is the easiest way.

The next choice is “Magnet” and while impressive at the top, this one-diamond run is quite manageable as it’s often groomed, and since it’s still a good distance away from the lift, it’s not quite as steep as “Argus,” the next main run, also a one-diamond, which depending on conditions, is often my favorite way down the mountain. This run is steep and relentless. On it, it’s hard to fake anything as it demands your undivided attention and good legs if you don’t want to stop every six turns. On a new powder day, I’ll stay on this run for the duration; when snow is a few days old, I generally cut over to “Hillside,” on skier’s left that brings me right under the chair and keeps me out of the short section of Webster and its slower skiers. It’s clear that for the best among us, staying close to the lift is where the most fun resides at Lady Morgan.

Then further to the skier’s left from the top of the chair, there is the double-diamond “Centennial” and its wonderful tree skiing, surprising relief and changing terrain. From the day Lady Morgan opened up in December of 2007, that run was already packed with excitement. This season, more glading has made this section of the mountain a tree-skier’s paradise. Just enough evergreens to make the experience intense, but the extra spacing brings much more wiggle room and adds loads of fun to the package. This pretty much sums up the marked runs.

Then there are all the possible combinations between all these runs and this is precisely where Lady Morgan unleashes her irresistible attraction. Cliffs, steeps, trees, all can be mixed to create a smorgasbord of fantastic skiing in a very compact setting. I personally love to stay under the lift and negotiate the steep chutes that are half-way down the hill from the skier’s left and continue all the way down under the towers.

Most skiers can spend a full day venturing into a brand new line as long as they remain in shape for the challenge. That’s right, at the end, what always counts is your legs ability to withstand the punishment, but always keep in mind that Empire Canyon Lodge and its soothing rewards stands vigil just a few turns away!

Never Too Late To Go Mountain Biking!

I know how it feels; we’re now almost at the end of August and you haven’t ridden your mountain bike yet as you had promised yourself! Well, it’s never too late and in fact the next few weeks are likely to be the best in the entire summer for straddling a mountain bike and getting a taste of what a fun recreation it can be if you have never tried it before, or refreshing your memories as well as your skills if you have experienced it in the past. Deer Valley is the perfect place to do it, should you decide to take advantage of the resort’s lift-served mountain biking options by either riding the Silver Lake Express or the Sterling Express lifts, rent some great bikes and also receive some friendly advice.

Early fall is also the perfect season to do it; the weather is much cooler and the crowds are generally considerably thinner. In fact, the resort offers an impressive 55 miles of trails meandering through woods, canyons and meadows, offering a blend of the best vistas available and the most exciting terrain. In case you wondered, I’ve heard that Deer Valley Resort has been rated by some mountain biking publication in the top ten best destinations for mountain biking…

So now where do you begin? Check your mountain bike and make sure it’s still trail-worthy or doesn’t lack modern suspensions, decent tires and good brakes. If it has remained in your garage for more than ten years, you might be surprised to find out that technology has passed it by; if that’s the case, rent one at Deer Valley Resort, that will enable you to familiarize yourself with the new technology from modern gears to clipless pedals, and give you an opportunity to make up your mind should you decide to invest into a new machine. If your bike still looks the part, make sure to have it tuned up and have its tires and brakes checked before going out, and while we are on the subject of personal security, don’t leave home without your bike helmet!

Then, if you’re still a bit uneasy, there’s always the opportunity of taking a refresher course. Don’t think you need one? Well, this might in fact be a great opportunity to not having to relearn everything or re-discovering… the wheel. Deer Valley’s Mountain Bike School can give you that bit of extra-confidence that will make a huge difference. It’s open daily and someone’s available at either Snow Park Lodge or mid-mountain next to Silver Lake Lodge from 10 am to 5:30 pm to assist you if you really want to discover something new. There are in fact a host of things you can rediscover or learn, like sharpening your visual skills on single track courses, balancing and positioning your body according to the changing terrain, cornering like a pro, breaking smartly, descending and climbing more effectively and many more very valuable tips.

Lift-served mountain biking is also an excellent way to get you started without suffering too much and gaining some critical training before you can do the whole thing on your very own, if you decide to. The passes are quite affordable and your kids or grandchildren below five years of age will ride free. So enough procrastinating! You only have between now and Labor Day, plus the following weekend of September 11 and 12 to get back into, or get acquainted with this great sport while weather and temperatures are still ideal!

The Wild Flowers are Blooming!

With summer now in full swing in the mountains, you don’t want to miss  seeing the wild flowers at Deer Valley.  They are amazing this year and the colors are incredible.  I am always up for a hike to check them out but the mountain biking trails are looking tempting these days.

I finally have my first concert, Wynonna, on the calendar for next Tuesday.  Wynonna is coming as part of our Big Start Bright Nights series and it should be a great evening.  I have already ordered my Deer Valley Gourmet Picnic Basket and can not wait to brag about it in my next post.

Don’t forget about our free Wednesday night concert series which start at 6 p.m. at the Snow Park Amphitheater.  We have Wisebird, Shaky Trade and my personal favorite Bryon Friedman coming up.  My family and I always pack a picnic but I was to lazy last night so we will be off to the concession stand.  I am looking forward to the chicken ceasar salad and an ice cream sandwich for dessert.

 For those of you wanting to come up for a long weekend make sure to check out our website deervalley.com.  We have some great summer packages and some even some specifically for the different concert series. 

 Hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather!