Ever wanted to click your ruby red slippers together three times to get back home? I sure did. After months on the road traveling to far-away, beautiful places for training and racing all I could think about was being back home. I made one of the most difficult decisions in my career a few weeks ago. With a 700-point lead in the Overall World Cup standings I decided to follow my heart and stay home.
Our season began back in August with our opening World Cup events in Australia and New Zealand. I favor the icy, hard conditions and won seven out of the seven World Cup races Down Under. A continuous winning streak I had never experienced but knew deep in my heart simply could not continue because that is not the nature of ski racing. From there things went “downhill” and try as I might to get back on top of the podium again, I made mistakes, crashed and did not finish as many races as I had consecutively won. All the while my longing for home, family and friends was mounting until I made that difficult decision – go on the road for 22 World Cup races in five different countries over a two month period and race every race BEFORE departing to Sochi -OR- go home, train, rest and feed my soul giving up a chance at the Overall World Cup Globe, a trophy I had not won since 2007!
After hours of consultation with Marcel (my husband, coach and everything), my incredible sports psychologist Suzie and our Alpine Director Kevin Jardine, I determined that winning a gold medal in Sochi and winning the Overall World Cup simply could not be accomplished simultaneously for me this season due to the demands of the travel on the World Cup circuit and time away from training. I would have to choose one or the other. I chose to give my best performance in Sochi!
I grew up in a small town (sounds like I am about to start singing the John Cougar Mellencamp song – I’ll spare you), but everything that comes to mind about a small town when someone says, “I grew up in a small town” is true for me. I did not know when I was growing up how wonderful small town life was. Instead I daydreamed about going to Hollywood and becoming an actress. I wanted to star in moving dramas that would change people’s lives. Not until my daydreams came true, and I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at the University of Southern California did I begin to realize the beauty and safety of a simple life in a small community where people say, “hello how are you?” on the street and genuinely care. I missed my family terribly. If it weren’t for meeting my still best friend and soul sister Meredith Escabar at University of Southern California, I think I would have perished. In our household my mother and father both owned their own small businesses. They modeled hard work, commitment, dedication, honesty and love to my younger brother and me. Their values became our values and my brother and I both in our own way wanted to grow up and be “good people.” Alone in a city of 12 million people not only did I miss sharing that daily interaction with my family, I realized it was the very core of who I am.
The Sundance Film Festival brought me to Park City. I was promoting a small part in a film (not actually in the festival), which was my acting debut after loosing my legs. I loved Park City from the moment I arrived (although I had been here before for a ski trip in college and when I spoke at Senator Hatch’s women’s conference two year’s before). This trip was special because I met Marcel. I had my first lesson in a mono-ski with him at the National Ability Center.
I was so taken by his passion, his love of life and skiing that I would do whatever it took to be on the mountain and ski with him. The perspective of the world that he showed me from the mountaintop was unlike any other. I had spent the last three years prior to meeting him in and out of the hospital, having 14 reconstructive surgeries. From the top of the mountain that day on my very first lesson with Marcel I saw my entire life play out. Small town girl raised in a loving family pursues acting dreams until one night simply going out to dinner, an out of control car crashed into me and in order to save my life the doctors had to amputate both my legs. I would never walk or run or dance or stand in the shower as I once had. My life had changed drastically, but as it holds true for all of us, I knew that my fate, my going forward was still in my hands. I could create my destiny, my happiness, and my love of life if I so chose. On the mountaintop with Marcel I made the decision that I had no idea would fulfill my creating a new, beautiful life for myself. I decided to move to Park City, train with Marcel and pursue Paralympic success in Salt Lake City in 2002.
As a result of that decision, on that one day on the mountaintop, I have married the man I love and adore more than anything in the world (in Deer Valley of course!) and I have an amazing career I share with him doing what we both love – ski racing. Together we have won Gold in the Paralympic Games in Torino and in Vancouver. We strive to win another this March!
For the last 15 years throughout my entire ski-racing career, I have been supported by our local community in Park City, a small town we call home. Deer Valley has sponsored me and been our official home ski area for training. Marcel and I have spent thousands of hours training in Deer Valley over the last 15 years and we know every square inch of the entire ski area, just like my backyard growing up in Sewickley, PA. But more important than the safe and familiar, feeling of our home landscape is the connection we share with all the people who work at Deer Valley. We deeply value the 15-year friendship with the same amazing people who supported me and provided for me in so many ways to make my Paralympic dreams a reality. The deep bond of friendship we share has for many years felt like family. I am so grateful to experience on a daily basis the warm welcome from guest services when we roll into Snow Park for training. The personal inquire about “How I am doing?”, “How is training going?” from people who genuinely care. Or the chefs who know my special training dietary needs and like my mom still want me to have a chocolate chip cookie reward so they offer me the gluten free one instead! Deer Valley is my home and the people who work there are my family. Compared to all the ski areas I have visited world wide, the atmosphere and the people of Deer Valley provide a comfort and charm I associate with the love of my small town upbringing. I hope it will always stay that way.
We are so fortunate to train both at Deer Valley and at Park City Mountain Resort where we also have an incredible support system not just from our friends at PCMR but from all the teams we join for training at Park City. My small town connection also includes a 15-year partnership with Rossignol, my ski company who doesn’t just provide me the fastest skis in the world, we share a bond of friendship and they have provided me incredible support.
As I prepare for my fourth Paralympic Games at age 44 in 2014, it only makes sense to return to where I started, to Park City with Marcel and focus on a Gold medal victory one last time.
One of my favorite things about living in Park City is that we sometimes have the opportunity to “check out” of our regular routine and check in to a hotel and play the part of tourists.
We got to do this on the second weekend of ski season, when Jeffrey and I were invited to dine and stay at Goldener Hirsch Inn, at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Village. We made arrangements for the kids to spend the night with our good friend (and theirs) Mel. But we also had the chance to bring them up to the property to see what it was like.
It turned into a brief glimpse of what it means to take a ski vacation with the kids. I’ve always tipped my hats to families who pack up all their gear and brave the wilds of air travel to then decamp to Deer Valley for a ski vacation. It seems daunting, but of course, it’s not without rewards. And, I realized, there are lots of ways in which being a tourist is way more fun than being a local. (I didn’t have to do a single household chore while I was at the Hirsch.)
As we proceeded through the weekend, I picked up a few insider tips and tricks that might make your vacation here a little easier to manage.
Tip #1: Call about early check-in
Granted, if you are traveling here during the busiest weeks, your room is unlikely to be available before the property’s official check-in time. But most lodge/hotel/inn style properties will have secure baggage storage, so that you can stash your belongings and get on with your day, as quickly as possible after arriving. We were visiting the Goldener Hirsch on a “pre-holiday” weekend, meaning they were not busy, and were happy to welcome us early, so we could take advantage of the ski-in, ski-out location. It was a massive luxury to be able to layer up and boot up in the room—which had a lovely sitting area with plenty of room to organize our stuff. Even if you are not staying in a slopes-side property (as I don’t, nearly every night), it pays to get geared up as head-to-toe as possible, at your lodging location. Fewer items get dropped or left-behind if you are wearing them. By the same token, if you’re looking for a more leisurely approach, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the lockers and basket-check at both Snow Park and Silver Lake Lodges.
Tip #2: Invest time in getting your ducks in a row
Note that in the tip, above, I did not say “get on the slopes as quickly as possible after arriving.” Honestly, when you’re traveling with kids, it is well worth the investment of time to allow a few business hours after your arrival (whether it’s the afternoon/evening you arrive, or the next morning) to sort out all the gear and arrangements. For instance, getting fitted for your rental gear the night before your first ski day is a great time-and-sanity saver (the Deer Valley Ski Rental Shop at Snow Park Lodge is open until TK time). If you or your kids are taking ski lessons, visit the Children’s Center or the Ski School well before the lesson’s start time to make sure all the waivers are signed, and that any allergies or special requests are noted in the file. I did exactly that. We pulled up to Snow Park Lodge, and Jeff dropped me off at the curb before he pulled into a designated “waiting” spot. I’m telling you this detail for two reasons: First, this really is a quick errand. Second, if you are going to be at the lodge for more than 10 minutes, find a spot in the regular parking lots.
It took just minutes for me to visit the Children’s Center and make sure everything was in order for the boys’ lessons the next morning, as well as for the Children’s Sunday Ski Experience programs that begin next month. The super-helpful staff even printed the tickets for the private lesson Jeff and I had scheduled with Letitia Lussier, and my ticket for the Women on Wednesdays program, which begins next month. I learned that one of the members of the team, there, has the initials J.Z. so I couldn’t resist taking a photo of “J.Z. and His Ladies.”
“We wish more people did what you are doing,” the staffers in the Children’s Center explained. “It makes it less stressful for everyone.” I thought back to many seasons’ worth of chaotic first-days of the CSSE, and realized how right they are. Granted, the staff there are over-the-top helpful, but walking into the morning rush, with overheating geared-up kids, can be an unnerving experience. If you can’t get to the Ski School ahead of time, take a moment, a day or two before you depart for your vacation and call the Children’s Center to make sure everything’s arranged as you planned.
Tip #3: Manage Expectations—the kids’ and your own
Jeff and I agreed that we’d count on getting no more than two runs in with the kids, Saturday afternoon. Any additional snow time would be considered a “bonus.” (Granted, this would be an expensive proposition if we didn’t hold season passes, but we do, so we figured a couple of runs would be a good idea. But it can also work if you plan to do a half-day ski day, which will likely involve more than two runs, but not leave you all to exhausted to enjoy the rest of your vacation.) So, we let the kids know that we wanted to just “test” our ski legs, and have a nice lunch at Silver Lake Lodge restaurant. This dovetailed nicely with one of my oldie-but-goodie tips:
Tip #4: Leave them wanting more
This one never gets old. (For the Seinfeld fans, I call this the Costanza Rule.) If you want your kids to love skiing, call it a day while they are still enjoying it. The pros at the ski school say that frequent breaks can be the key to a successful day. We did exactly two runs on Ontario and then it was time to break for a late lunch. Yes, the lifts were still running when we finished, and the kids were BEGGING for more runs. “You will have all day tomorrow to ski,” I reminded them. Then, I engaged my supermom powers with a deft “look at the birdie” distraction move: I asked if they wanted to go back to the Goldener Hirsch and check out the live music in the lounge. People, there was yodeling. And it was a big hit. Also, there was a little nook on our guest room’s floor, where several varieties of freshly baked cookies, some hot beverages and fresh fruit were laid out for guests to enjoy. So, my chocoholic big boy availed himself of a chocolate chip cookie, while his (shockingly) sweet-tooth-impaired younger brother delighted in choosing and eating an apple. This was just one of the great details we appreciated at the Inn.
Tip #5 Stay Hydrated
While Jeff and I were in our private lesson with Letitia, on Sunday, she told us about a seminar she’d attended, through the Professional Ski Instructors Association, that focused on hydration. Among the highlights: Flying is dehydrating, as is staying at a higher altitude, as is eating spicy food and drinking alcohol. So if you do any or all of these before you make your first turns, you’re already at a hydration deficit. Then, when you’re skiing, you lose water through your breath, in the cold, dry air. Boom. Then, your muscles aren’t working at their capacity—and, to boot, once you start to dehydrate, your ability to feel thirsty shuts off. So, drink lots of water—and take plenty of breaks for water throughout your ski day. (I reviewed the previous evening’s delicious tasting meal at the Goldener Hirsch restaurant, including the bottle of Pinot Noir that Jeff and I shared, and realized, that I could benefit from an extra glass of water or two throughout the day.)
Tip #6 Know thyself
If you are tired, take a break. If you know you didn’t get enough sleep, or had a sore back the day before, take it easy. Skiing within your limits is way more fun that pushing yourself to the point of injury. Take an early lunch if your energy is starting to flag by 11 a.m. This is a great strategy, also, because the restaurants aren’t crowded, and then, when the rest of the skiing population is at lunch at noon, you’re back out on empty slopes. This is especially helpful if you are skiing with your kids—you get the benefit of keeping them fed and hydrated, and enjoying quieter trails with them. Plus, you can be the hero and call for a hot cocoa break at 2 p.m.
Tip #7 Invest in a caribiner
Among its many handy uses you can attach your basket check tag, or ski-check tag to the handy metal clip—sliding those around your wrist or shoving them into a pocket can create an opportunity to lose those items. (Also, take a photo of the tag with your smartphone, so you can show it to the ski check staff in the event you do lose the tag, somehow.) Collecting your whole family’s tags at the end of the day, in one place, is a great way to keep track of them. I use some sort of memory device to recall whose is whose. For instance, my current ski-check tag says “1619” and since I often think of myself as younger than I am, I told myself, “For the purposes of this exercise, I am in my teens.” Then, when my kids got their tags, I noticed that the older child had a tag with a higher number than his brother’s tag. There’s always some funky way to recall which tag correlates to which family member, so I find them where I can.
What makes the holidays special to young and old alike? Well, I have a theory – it’s the delight of the surprise. When you open up an unexpected gift, your eyes open wide, a quick smile comes to your face and you lose your breath for a second. The really cool thing about it is the gift giver experiences the same physical reaction as the gift receiver!
One winter when I was a young girl, my brother and I spoiled our Christmas. You see we searched until we found my parent’s special hiding place and we saw our unwrapped gifts! At the time, it was a thrill to seek out and find something we weren’t supposed to see. We kept it our little secret. Then on Christmas morning when we opened the packages, the whole thing fell flat. Knowing what was inside took away the delight and it just wasn’t the same. My brother and I never spoke about it but we never tried to find presents again.
When I went to see the life sized gingerbread house adorning the lobby of the Montage Resort at Deer Valley, I expected it to be wonderful. A 12 foot high gingerbread house was sure to be impressive! I’d heard the resort’s award winning Executive Pastry Chef, Raymond Lammers and his team spent two months building it – so I knew it was going to be really special.
It is spectacular! The house is tiled with over 11,000 gingerbread cookies (2,000 roof tiles, 8,000 small tiles and 1,000 white gingerbread tiles) and completed with:
1 ½ pounds of nutmeg
135 pounds of butter
165 pounds of sugar
170 pounds of molasses
85 pounds of corn syrup
540 eggs AND 110 pounds of special sugar were used for the 26 sugar candies and the 6 window panes.
But there is more! The delight came when while I was looking up at the gingerbread house, a furry friend nudged me. Jonas, the Bernese Mountain Dog Ambassador at the Montage was visiting his very own gingerbread doghouse. Let me ask you this. Who has a gingerbread doghouse? Well, Jonas and his fellow ambassador, Monty both do. These 3 ft. wide and 4 ft. deep gingerbread doghouses sit on either side of the life sized gingerbread house.
When I saw them, I had the same physical reaction as if I was opening that unexpected gift. Everyone around me had it too. I watched teenagers elbowing each other and saying, “Look at the doghouses!” Jonas lapped it all up oblivious to the doghouse as he focused on making sure each one of the guests had a chance to pet him and give him a nice big hug.
Don’t spoil the surprise when you bring your family to visit the gingerbread house at Montage Resort – keep the gingerbread doghouses under wraps! That way you can watch their reactions as their eyes go from the tall roof line of the gingerbread house, to the six foot tall candy canes on either side of the front door, and finally to the doghouses with the names “Jonas” and “Monty” written in icing on the top.
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?”
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).
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:
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!
A friend of mine spent an entire month participating in a live-in healthy weight loss program last summer. The group met with a nutritionist every day and had healthy balanced meals prepared for them on-site. A trainer worked them out six days a week, five to six hours a day both indoors and out.
I was very proud of him that he made a lifetime commitment to his health (and lost a few pounds,) however, the clinic just didn’t seem like much fun especially for an entire month. I thought to myself, instead of booking a month at a boring weight loss clinic, why not put together your own weight loss skiing plan for a month at Deer Valley ski resort? Let’s face it, skiing is a blast and burns a boatload of calories.
Personally, I didn’t lose any weight this ski season. When I stepped on the scale, the needle never budged. But everyone kept asking me if I lost weight. I didn’t but what I lost this ski season was inches — two pant sizes to be exact. Even my feet have shrunk, (which is kind of creepy by the way) and I am buying shoes a half size smaller. Seriously, who cares what the scale says!
The weird thing is I haven’t done anything differently … except for skiing. I still am addicted to pretzels and wheat thins. I drink wine, eat pizza, cookies and chocolate — all in moderation. No deprivation diets in my house! Even so, my pants hang on me and my suits need altering. My body composition has changed with fat being replaced by muscle which is not reflected in the scale. The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is skiing.
Since I had so much fun this ski season, I skied whenever I possibly could even when it was five degrees or snowing. Once I was there, I stayed out until I absolutely had to come in — my inner child wanted to continue playing in the snow! This practice helped me lose inches without even noticing and could work easily for everyone. Anyone wanting to lose their “muffin top” could put together a do-it-yourself weight loss plan and call it the “playing in the snow” program.
According to Livestrong, downhill skiing with moderate effort for a 150 pound person burns about 400 calories per hour. Taking into account the downtime riding the lift, you could easily ski three full hours in a day even with frequent breaks and burn about 1,200 calories a day. You only need a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. So with a ski program, you could lose inches without severely limiting calories.
Here are some ideas on how to put it together:
Ski three days on and take a rest day the fourth day – repeat for an entire month.
Try cross country classic or skate skiing to mix it up and burn even more calories.
Improve your skills and book some Max-4 lessons.
Incorporate a specialty clinic like the women’s ski weekend where you ski three days in a row with the same group and same instructor.
Pile your plate high with good healthy delicious food at the Seafood Buffet or Fireside Dining.
On your rest day, go to the spa at Montage, Stein Eriksen Lodge or St. Regis and get a massage, sit in the sauna, and/or steam room to relax, revitalize tired muscles and pamper yourself.
Now that’s my kind of a weight loss program! You learn a new sport or improve your skills. When you are having fun, of course, you are going to get out there earlier and stay longer. Getting slim by playing in the snow worked for me. Do you think it might work for you?
In my December blog, I was trying to see into the future and guess what the new ski season might bring. If you read that piece, you might recall that I had no specific goal in mind. I was just going to “play it by ear” as I had done it for almost six decades. Now, peeking into the crystal ball is over. It’s time to look into the rear view mirror…
One truth I learned this season is that each ski day – just like our fingerprints or our irises – is totally unique. People often say, half-jokingly that there’s “no bad day skiing” and while I subscribe to this truth, I can also assert that each daily ski experience teaches us something remarkable, provides us with one-of-a-kind sensation and makes us constantly view the sport under a fresh angle.
When you live near a ski paradise like Deer Valley Resort, it’s very easy to become spoiled and only go out when all the ski planets and stars are in perfect alignment. It’s so easy to become very picky and, often times, far too demanding. If we don’t keep our attitude in check, we might surprise ourselves muttering “I only do perfect blue-bird days, and today there are just too many jet trails in the sky…” then dismiss another beautiful opportunity to make some great turns. Thank heavens, I have not yet reached that level of decadence!
This said, going out skiing when you live in a ski town truly requires a certain fortitude and discipline. Plus some extra tenacity that can make a whole world of difference between a fun-filled ski season, in which one can get up to speed and enjoy the sport to its fullest, and a succession of sporadic outings where the “ski legs” never seem to appear, even on closing day. Like many, I love powder and was rewarded earlier in April when we received some 18 inches of outstanding new snow. I was able to re-live the soft, forgiving and all-absorbing feelings that come with a generous cushion of genuine Utah dry powder.
Unlike the way I was used to (until last year) when I could get my fix of “pow” on a near daily basis, I made do this season with looking forward to the next snowfall and was quite appreciative when there were only six inches of fresh under my skis instead of the 24 I had come to expect. At this point, I would open a technical parenthesis and say that with the new, extra wide skis, “bottomless” powder has lost its seminal meaning. Moderns skis won’t sink, but for a few inches, no matter how far the hard bottom actually is from the surface!
Of course, I’m not a “dyed-in-the-wool” corduroy guy either, and I remain more attracted by the rough and tumble terrain, the one that is peppered with hidden obstacles like trees, “Volkswagen bumps” and small cliffs, the one that also requires tight turns and accepts the occasional “friction” between rocks, stumps and ski bases. I am talking about the kind of terrain that abounds on the west side of Lady Morgan, Daly Bowl and Chutes, and Son of Rattler, just to name a few famous Deer Valley spots!
All this to say that in a winter with less than average snow, skis used in that type of terrain generally take a beating and, to avoid it, I have overstayed the allotted time I normally use “rock skis,” and extended their short, transitional lives to almost a full season. Of course, in March as the snow turns to spring quality, I had plenty of opportunities to try my brand new skis on Deer Valley’s legendary corduroy, but for the most part, I spent a season taming some very unruly and hard to control “rock skis”.
I do believe that adversity makes us tougher as well as better and this is precisely what this season did to me. After skiing on my sub-par skis for months on end, I had an epiphany when I tried the new boards I had set aside, on some groomed runs or tested them on the April 9, miracle dump! This means I wasted no time: While agonizing on my old skis, I was just getting better and doing my utmost to push-back my own technical decrepitude!
Oh, yes, I almost forgot! There was another great lesson I learned this winter. Early January as I was filming Heidi Voelker, the new snow was beautiful but had blown into the open areas, which combined with a low visibility made skiing tricky, if not treacherous. Filming a fast skier like Heidi on bumpy terrain with a helmet cam isn’t easy either as the main objective is to keep the head – hence the camera – steady, constantly aimed at the skier and of course, try my best to stay in control. Suffice to say that I took at least two spills that cost me tons of energy. I discovered that, at my age, getting back on my feet is much harder than it used to be!
In conclusion, while I didn’t quite make it to the century mark in terms of days I skied this season, I still came quite close to that number with quality and fun-filled skiing, and this is perfectly fine with me. I had some wonderful moments, great memories, not one single bad fall and no collision either; my body is still whole. I am now ready to rest for a few months with the firm intent to do much, much better next season!
In any skier’s typical day, each chairlift or gondola ride always involves a Lift Operator. This key employee is constantly making sure that everyone is safe and well cared for. The constant interaction between Lift Operators and skiers has perked up my curiosity and prompted me to know more, and understand better, what motivates these seemingly tireless mountain workers.
Late this season, one early morning, just before his shift, Kevin Combs, one of the many Deer Valley’s Lift Operators, took the time to listen to my questions and shone a rather enthusiastic light on his daily life:
JF: How long have you been a lift operator?
Kevin: This actually is my first year.
JF: What was your occupation before that?
Kevin: I was a machinist, back east, in Massachusetts. I moved to Utah in November.
JF: How do you like working with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: It’s fun. It’s a great experience being here, lots of great people to work with, everyone has a smile on their face and always ready to serve our guests and makes sure everyone has a great experience, whether we’re talking about guests or fellow employees.
JF: Were you a skier before you came here?
Kevin: Oh, yes! I have been skiing since I was 12 years old.
JF: So, I guess you learned and skied in New England?
Kevin: Oh yeah, I skied the ice, which is something you have to learn on the East Coast. I can guarantee that it makes a good technical skier out of anyone who learns over there!
JF: How often to you get to ski?
Kevin: That’s what makes the job so exciting: I get to ski every day; whenever I get a break, I ski, it’s great!
JF: Even on your days off?
Kevin: You bet, I ski every day that I can, I wouldn’t miss a beat!
JF: Where, on the mountain, do you work?
Kevin: I am working out of Empire Canyon. I either work on Empire or Ruby Express chairlifts. I also help around on the mountain when another lift is short of people. I’ll rotate as needed.
JF: Since this was your first season, have you visited other Utah resorts?
Kevin: I’ve almost skied them all; the only ones I think I haven’t skied yet are Solitude, Powder Mountain and Snowbasin.
JF: When you’re skiing Deer Valley, what’s your favorite run?
Kevin: I’m into extreme skiing so I love to ski a lot around Lady Morgan, because of its great tree skiing and its cliffs. I’m particularly fond of Centennial Trees, and of course, I ski off Empire Express in places like Daly Bowl and all the surrounding Daly Chutes. When I happen to find an untouched area, I just “drop-in…”
JF: Are you skiing alone or with buddies?
Kevin: I do a lot of skiing by myself. This said, I have a lot of friends who ski with me; I do my own things in the morning, and then I hang with them in the afternoon because sometimes they can’t quite follow me. But I like to ski with everybody and together, we always have a great time; I guess that’s what skiing is all about!
JF: What would you say are the skills required to do your job well?
Kevin: Before anything, you need to be a great people person. You need to be concerned about skiers’ safety and comfort, especially those who are less advanced and aren’t always familiar with riding lifts. Sure, it also helps to know a little about things mechanical, the lift itself, because it’s a big piece of machinery. For instance I pay attention to noises that may come from the lift; with my mechanical background, I can alert Maintenance to a problem if there seems to be one. Of course, the job also demands that one is a decent skier so you can ski to and from work, can relate well to our guests and have a wonderful interaction with them.
JF: Does a healthy passion for skiing help?
Kevin: Oh yes, most definitely! If you work as a Lift Operator and are not really here for skiing, you miss out a lot. Of course you can take the job just for the love of the mountains, but a passion for skiing shows and makes all the difference. Working no longer feels like work!
JF: What would be your next professional goal with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: I’d probably love to move up to Ski Patrol, because I like to help people and be on skis. For me, being outside and helping people are the two main reasons why I love with my life at Deer Valley!
JF: If people reading this blog were interested in a position like yours, what kind of advice would you give them?
Kevin: Don’t be scared by the responsibilities and by all the impressive machinery; the work is totally doable. The training Deer Valley provides is great, everything is fluid, all the kinks have been purged, and of course, there’s all the skiing!
JF: What will you do this summer?
Kevin: I’m planning to get a job with an online sport equipment supplier in the Salt Lake Valley. During my spare time, I also plan to mountain bike a lot here and around Moab!
JF: Sounds exciting! So, you’re looking forward to another winter season with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: I think so; I’m now convinced Deer Valley is the place to be. It’s a lot of fun here. We’re surrounded with lots of great, helpful people all the time. I’ve never had a bad day here, which is simply… amazing!
As this winter season ended, we wanted to try one more great snow activity: a snowshoe tour at dusk just before a delightful dinner at Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge! Marrying these two activities is almost like taking a trip through nature that miraculously leads directly to some old-world mountain setting.
Because of the changing snow density, spring season snowshoeing always entails more workout than during mid-winter and after a strenuous trek all the way to the bottom of the Daly Chutes, we returned to the Empire Lodge where a true “mountain feast” was awaiting us at Fireside. I have a soft spot for Raclette and took full advantage of this high-energy, Swiss delicacy while reminiscing the good old days when I still was living in the Alps.
After one generous serving of Raclette and its delectable accompaniments,
That first – and only – snowshoe tour of the day was led by Justin, who works for All Seasons Adventure, Dear Valley’s on-site, independent activity provider. Before dinner, I spent a few moments chatting with Justin and here’s what he had to share about snowshoeing at Deer Valley Resort.
How long have been guiding snowshoeing tours?
I’ve been guiding for 4 1/2 years, snow-shoeing the whole time and guiding in a number of other activities.
What kind of special skills – if any – are required to snowshoe?
Nothing in particular; just go out and do it. We cater to any fitness and skill levels. From beginners to the most advanced and ambitious snowshoers.
What’s a good time to go snowshoeing?
You can do it during the day, morning, afternoon, dusk or evening, by star-light. We can organize a dinner snowshoe like tonight at Fireside, or hike over to Silver Lake Lodge and go to the Mariposa, Royal Street Cafe, Glittertind or Goldener Hirsch.
Do you provide lights for these evening outings?
We do. A lot of time we don’t need them, as the moonlight or even starlight is usually sufficient, but we have lights in case there’s some cloud cover.
What happens if your guests are into stargazing or astronomy?
We actually have a device that you can point at the stars and that uses a laser and GPS locator which can tell you what star you are looking at.
How long does a typical snowshoe tour last?
Usually one hour and forty-five minutes to two hours, but we can do them as brief as 45 minutes or as long as four hours.
Can guests cancel the outing when snow is falling hard and there’s too much snow?
If it’s snowing, it’s generally a wonderful time to be out snowshoeing. If the snow fall is significant, we make sure our guide stays ahead of the participants to pack down the snow. If the weather is simply too harsh, the outing maybe canceled and there’s no-cancellation fee to the guest.
Where are you taking your guests?
It depends a lot on what they like. Often times the trails are through the trees but we can go off-trail, through powder or just stay on the packed trails. A lot of our trails offer a wonderful diversity, so we’ll just pick an itinerary based upon our guests’ needs and desires. Our main concern is to keep everyone safe within the constraints of avalanche conditions…
Is snowshoeing a family activity?
Absolutely! Younger kids may have a harder time with it, but it works perfectly for anyone from about six or seven years old up until … indefinitely. We have had octogenarians take a tour with us!
Do you have gear to fit everyone?
Yes, we offer a full range of sizes in snowshoes and poles.
How should people dress?
We normally recommend that people wear snow-pants, dress in layers on top, have sunglasses, gloves, a hat and wear sunscreen on sunny days. We can provide over-boots which are like a Cordura gaiter that cover the whole foot in the case guests don’t have good shoes and can cover their tennis shoes to keep their feet dry.
How long in advance do we have to book a tour?
During the busy season, like Christmas, Sundance Film Festival, Presidents’ Day week-end, 48-hours in advance is recommended. Other times, we can get people out with just two or three hours notice!
Can special event be combined with your snowshoe tours?
Definitely. We can cater to our guest’s needs to create a custom tour however they’d like it. We’ve done anything from a 50 year old birthday party to even marriage proposals; you name it!
How can we reach you and where are you located at Deer Valley Resort?
We have a desk at the Snow Park Lodge that is staffed from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. everyday during the ski season. If you need to contact us on the web our address is allseasonsadventures.com or you can reach us by phone at 435-649-9619.
**Snowshoe tours and Fireside Dining will start again in December 2013. Please call to make reservations after Labor Day.
Somewhere up in the snow, along a ridgeline outside of Park City, a group of skiers move through the blue on white Wasatch landscape. The squeaky crunch of a chalky snowpack and heavy breathing are interrupted by quick conversation and casual observations. A day trip to some lower angle snowfields has yielded good turns and spirits are high. Apparent stability has everyone eyeing steeper terrain. One by one they ascend a minor looking slope, each focused on the turns waiting above. The first sign of trouble is word passed down the track that something slid around the turn. Everyone moves quickly to see what happened. The seemingly small slope they were headed too broke away with the first skier; a large debris field lies below them.
At Deer Valley, in the Bald Eagle Patrol shack, a German Short Haired Pointer/Lab named Ninja is enjoying a sun-warmed spot on a Naugahyde bench.
With a half raised head he sees his friend and teacher Sue listening to her radio as she grabs her pack. A skier is missing in the backcountry; a frantic phone call from the scene reports beacon searches unsuccessful. The urgency of her movements flips a switch in Ninja and he is immediately at the door. Sometimes it’s a chairlift or snowmobile to shuttle them to a scene. Today they hurry to a landing zone as a chopper beats out a steady cadence, coming in low and fast. In seconds Sue and Ninja are airborne and banking hard out beyond the ski areas boundary.
Once on scene the rescuers begin collecting and assessing information while Ninja surveys the half-acre field of avalanche debris. Without ever having met the person he knows they are out there somewhere. He wouldn’t be there if they weren’t. While the people around him are visually inspecting the area Ninja has his nose in the air, sorting and remembering various smells. The young dog jerks with anticipation as Sue kneels close, one hand on his back. “O.K. Ninja,” Sue whispers, his body trembling uncontrollably with anticipation, “SEARCH!”
Ninja was nearly two months old when Sue had come to see his litter. She had already been to see over forty puppies at that point, trusting standard tests and her own intuition to pass on all of them. Now, with Ninja and three of his siblings sitting in the half lean puppies tend to have, Sue started the tests again. The first was simple. Pots and pans banged together caused the puppy to Ninja’s right to jump back startled and wary. She knew he would not work. Avalanche dogs are often around loud and sudden noises and can’t be easily distracted or frightened. One by one she rolled the remaining pups on their backs. Ninja and his sister worked against her hand with moderate effort, unsure that total dominance suited them. The third lay frozen in complete submission. While a good avi dog must listen and perform it must also be able to push back on the handler when it senses it is being led away from it’s proper training. Removing the passive puppy she inspected the remaining two. Standing up and walking away Sue looked back to see if either dog had followed. The sister remained seated while Ninja was happily trotting behind her, only stopping when reached her feet. Sues search seemed to be over. After administering a few more tests such as squeezing between his toes to establish pain tolerance (he did not care at all, good for a dog that will work outside a lot), holding him in the air (think future chairlift rides, and he was indifferent), and playing tug (never had and loved it!) Sue was confident that she had found Deer Valley’s newest trainee.
There was a final and substantial hurdle for Ninja to overcome. Lila, a full Lab, was the most senior and experienced avalanche dog, with thirteen years on the Deer Valley Ski Patrol. She was known to be particular about her coworkers. With a few sniffs and a lick Ninja was deemed worthy to begin training. Training that would take more than a year and lead to the focused and determined dog that was now searching the snow for the missing skier. An animal with a nose thousands of time more sensitive than ours and indomitable spirit that will not let him quit.
At the scene of the avalanche time is on every single persons mind, raising even the most experienced professionals level of anxiety. Except Ninja. With no concept of the “golden hour” the young avalanche dog moved rapidly back and forth across the debris, ducking and weaving as every scent except the one he was looking for swirled around him. After several passes with no success his training kicked in and he stopped, turn to Sue, and sat. “Ninja, search!” she says with a flick of her arm. Assured that he is doing right he immediately resumes a pattern reminiscent of a bumblebee, his nose leading him. Within seconds Ninjas demeanor changes from “searching” to “found” and he starts frantically digging through snow that is setting up like concrete. Rescuers move in with probes and shovels, quickly finding a ski boot attached to the missing skier, nearly thirty inches under the surface. Resuscitation efforts begin and the skier is loaded into an air ambulance for the flight to the hospital, only time and circumstances to decide recovery. To the side Ninja is receiving his reward for doing his job – an exuberant game of tug with Sue, punctuated by loud praise and hearty body hugs.
The story is fiction, but the dog, the trainer, and the jobs they do are very real. Deer Valley ski area and its employees put great effort into being ready for a call to action like the one described. Here are some thoughts on how to approach and treat a working dog like Ninja.
- Always ask the handler before approaching the dog. When not busy they can often let the animals under their care meet new friends.
- Keep in mind they may be on their way to help someone or training. Now might not be the best moment for introductions.
- These animals are highly trained athletes and their diets are tailored for their work. Treats may harm the animal or impact its ability to perform when needed.
- Your ski edges will cut their paws and it can happen before you know it. If an Avi dog runs up to you try not to move around unless you are sure their legs and paws are clear of your skis. A good sniff and they usually bounce away.
- Give them nothing to do but train and lay in sunny warm spots. Be prepared when entering the backcountry, even within sight of the ski areas. Chose your days and your lines with care.
Day after day, the whole day through –
Wherever my road inclined –
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.
- Excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s “Four Feet”