Semper Paratus – “Always Ready”

2013-01-15 11.04.58 Part I

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.

Ninja Patrol Shack

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 search

 Part II

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.

Puppy Ninja

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.

Lila and ninja-1

Part III

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.

Ninja rescue

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”

An Open Letter to Fair-Weather Skiers

Dear fair-weather skiers,

As I write this, it is -18 on a Monday morning.  It’s a one-ski-run kind of day, but there are deadlines to be met, so, I won’t get that run. (“Wait,” you say. “One run? How about no-run? Who in their right mind will go out in sub-zero temps in order to ski?” Um, who said anything about being in my right mind?).

But I want to thank you for all the amazing runs you let me have, yesterday. While my children were in their first day of Children’s Sunday Ski Experience (appropriately layered and covered: 2 sets of base layers, each, plus face masks, toe and hand warmer packs, etc., along with promises from instructors of frequent warm-up breaks), my friend Mel and I were crushing it.

I should add these were my inaugural “grown-up” turns of the season. We’ve had at least a half-dozen family ski days since the resort opened, but neither Jeff nor I had taken a single run without the kids. I’m not complaining—these family ski days have been nothing but a blast. But I hadn’t tested my mojo yet, and I wondered if I still had it. I needn’t have worried. Mel and I took our well-layered selves for a full day of carving and bumps—all over the resort, and had mojo to spare. Our boot heaters were turned on (though mine lost ground around the end of the second hour, then caught up during lunch and held up fine through day’s end), and we pulled our hands into fists inside our gloves and around our warmer packs on every lift ride.  And with every run we completed, we congratulated ourselves for having the good sense to come out and enjoy the snow.

It was a glorious bluebird day—we kept our body temperature up in the morning by taking our first three runs on Hidden Treasure. The fact that you have to skate-ski through a giant meadow before reaching the top of the trail is not only a great lower-body workout, but a smart way to keep warm. And then, there’s the sweet reward: The view from the top. I should note that it was too cold to take pictures—but this one was worth the cold hand.

Fair weatherAfter the third run, we took off for Lost Boulder—though I immediately detoured onto Lucky Star, only to be richly rewarded with yet another empty trail of sweet, soft snow.

Mel is a former nationally-ranked competitive mogul skier, so I knew just skiing behind her on the bumps would help me up my game. When we saw, from our perch on the Northside Express chairlift, that the moguls on skier’s left of Lost Boulder had some nice texture, we decided to ski down Lost Boulder to test them out. Spoiled by the pristine conditions of the other trails, we sniffed at a couple of scratchy spots on the Boulder and then dropped into the bumps. Afterward, I told Mel, “I need to do it again, since I stayed in a squat for most of that run, rather than standing up properly over my skis.” She chuckled her agreement, and we scoped out an entry point from the trees on Lucky Star, since we far preferred the conditions on that trail to the top of Lost Boulder. We found our connection and floated through some delicious powder to the moguls. I stood tall and did a better job of picking my line a few turns ahead. Thus acquitted, we moved on to Blue Bell- Silver Buck-Star Gazer-Gemini. Gemini greeted us with layers of un-groomed powder, before we connected to the bottom of Silver Buck to ride the Silver Strike lift. By now, we had to admit that we were rather cold. “Let’s take an early lunch,” I suggested. Mel agreed, and we skied the same loop, but took the cat track toward Viking lift, and noticed that it was already noon: proof positive we’d been having way too much fun. We made our way inside to Silver Lake Lodge, which had only short lines at high noon—fellow hungry skiers sporting snow-eating grins. We were in on a shared secret—there was killer skiing to be had.

We took a longer lunch than usual, treated ourselves to a shared plate of fries with our sensible entrees, reveling in our morning—and the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company for an entire day. We mused about our shared love of our Volkl Kenja skis, and our stubborn insistence on keeping a one-ski quiver. I received a scolding call from an instructor friend of mine, insisting that I wasn’t taking frequent-enough breaks for the cold temps—all based on a (correct) hunch. I boasted, via text, to Jeff, who was trying to conceal his envy. And, noting that we had 90 minutes before we needed to meet the boys at ski-school pickup, we headed back out.

Funny enough, the conversation drifted to warm-climate vacations—even as we zoomed down Kimberly to check out the new high-speed quad lift, Mountaineer Express overlooking the Jordanelle Reservoir. We bantered about how best to spend a beach vacation, fantasized about Hawaii and Mexico, all the while carving our way along Navigator toward Deer Hollow.  The new lift was a bona fide treat—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: the merits of a detachable high-speed lift cannot be overstated, particularly when temps dip, and you want to keep your sitting-down time to a minimum.

We gobbled up soft, sweet snow on Fairview—which made for a more-than-pleasant cruiser run. The next run was utility-minded: Deer Hollow to Little Stick to Carpenter—Little Baldy needed our attention. We picked up Little Bell at the top of Success, and enjoyed the piles of crud and moguls it offered up. And then, cutting across Success from Solid Muldoon, we approached Dew Drop. And there, friends, was the reason I must thank you: Fresh, untracked corduroy. It seemed only a handful of folks had made turns on this trail—and it was nearly 3:00!  After zooming down Little Kate, we started to notice the cold again. Still, we weren’t ready to stop—“Let’s just do a bunch of runs on Wide West,” Mel called out, gamely. So, we did—and on this sunny, protected stretch of snow, we felt warmer and satisfied that we hadn’t wasted a minute of skiing. Also, it took my mind off the fact that some of my fellow “mommy spies” had witnessed my older son’s “lawyer skills,” as he tried to convince his instructor to call off the lesson after the first hour. I could only speculate on the disgruntlement that awaited me. I needn’t have worried—two beaming kids arrived moments later, begging to ski a few more runs.

So, my fair weather skier friends, while I realize this post may be self-defeating, I wish to thank you for letting us have the mountain (nearly) to ourselves. Fear not, we took a few extra runs with you in mind. Help yourself to the bragging rights. You’re welcome!

 

 

My Deer Valley – Brian Kahn, Mountain Host

Six. That is the most layers my friend Brian Kahn has worn to work in his role as Mountain Host at Deer Valley. But, he says, it’s worth the extra effort to share his love for the resort with  guests. “I don’t take for granted living in wonderful Park City,” he told me. “Helping a guest to have a great ski and vacation experience is fulfilling;  I am proud to live here and love to show off Park City’s wonderful attributes.”

Mountain Host fits Brian in another way—it’s a job title that comes with many hats: tour guide, concierge, first-chair aficionado. Off the hill he wears even more hats: Husband to Jessica, father to Shane, age three. Portfolio Manager for Responsible Asset Management; principal at Jupiter Peak Financial, his business consulting firm. But whether he’s standing by a trail map offering advice, or leading a First Tracks tour, Brian says the three and a half days per week that he spends on the hill are something he “craves.”

What drew you to the mountain host position?
Deer Valley Resort. I have degrees in Tourism Management and Marketing from the University of Colorado, Boulder and studied resorts and hotels that were/are at the top of their game. Working for Deer Valley—which has always been at the top of the game—isn’t a dream anymore, it is a reality!

What is your secret to staying warm as you stand in the cold for hours at a time?
Paying attention to temperature and wind speeds, mentally preparing and wearing a lot of layers.

Morning view during First Tracks-Dec 31, 2012

What is First Tracks?
First Tracks is a small part of our overall role, but it is very, very enjoyable. Guests pay for a private tour experience just before the lifts open to the public. Riding the lift with a small group of guests as the sun is rising over the Uintas is magical. We are ‘pace setters’ and also on the lookout for our guests’ safety as First Tracks takes place while we are still prepping the mountain.

What other tours are available to guests?
We lead four complimentary mountain tours per day, meeting at Snow Park and Silver Lake Lodges. In the morning and afternoon, we have one expert tour and one intermediate tour leaving from both locations. We quickly assess the guests ability and take them to terrain they are going to enjoy and act as concierges on skis – answering questions, telling the history of the mountain, the mining history of Park City. And once our guests take tours, they get hooked. (For more information about Deer Valley’s complimentary Mountain Host tours, including times, please visit our website.)

Some guests want to ski with others that are at their same ability. Some are looking for dates that they can ski with! Some are out alone on business or their spouse is in a lesson, and they feel more comfortable skiing with a host and others of their same ability than skiing alone. They end up coming back to skiing again with us because we know their ability, the terrain, where to avoid lines (if any) and we keep them moving. We can cater to their questions, too – where to go for a family meal, where to go for upscale dining and what other activities are in town such as the Utah Olympic Park, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and more.

What makes Deer Valley family-friendly for your family?
The fact that there are so many choices for ski school is a big deal. Because Shane is so little—he’s three—we set him up for success with lessons on Friday afternoons—because it’s generally warmer on the hill in the afternoon. We are looking forward to sharing quality time together in a sport his mother and father love—and to teaching him to be a safe and responsible skier.

Describe your perfect DV ski day:
This year, I’m having a lot of fun skiing with my wife, Jessica. Now that Shane, is starting ski school, she’s getting back into skiing more frequently—I just bought her some great powder skis and she’s rocking them!

Honestly, my perfect ski day starts the night before— I start to get antsy, especially before a powder day. It annoys my wife, because I make sure her clothes are out and there’s no wasted time so we’re out the door with plenty of time to make first chair. I like to head out to Lady Morgan because it’s the most bang for your buck—you take 6 runs, and you are thrashed. Then, I move over to Empire, I always go high up in elevation where the snow is lightest. I’m not eating until I’m pretty much exhausted, and then I take a break in the restaurant and relax and get a bowl of chili wherever we are on the mountain.

 

Stein Eriksen Lodge Takes Their Gingerbread (and Their Guests) Seriously

My friend Stella, age two and a half, was a little intimidated. She came to Stein Eriksen Lodge for a gingerbread  adventure.  To tell you the truth, I was there for the exact same reason.  I met her and her Nana in the lobby to check out the huge Whoville gingerbread creation and to participate in the gingerbread house making class to bring one home to my family.

When we walked in the room, we noticed lots of kids, moms and aunties all eager to play with the cake, candies and icing.  In front of each chair were gingerbread walls and a roof as well as bags of candy for decoration.    Stella sat down in her chair and Executive Chef Zane Holmquist greeted her with a big smile and asked her how old she was. She looked up at the chef in the Santa hat, and around the room at the pastry chefs and the other kids and suddenly was unsure of herself.  She was not even three years old so when all this attention was focused on her,  her lips started to quiver like she was just on the cusp of starting to cry.

Chef knew just what to do. He gently sat down next to her and started to work on the base of her gingerbread house.  He asked her to put her finger on top of the wall to hold it while he set another in place. She did comply but with a little apprehension.  Once the walls were up and roof on, he did something I found very interesting.  He let her lead.  He simply asked her to point to where she wanted him to place the candy to decorate her house.  She didn’t have to talk: it wasn’t a complex transaction. She just needed to point.


And point she did. When she pointed to the side of the house, he placed a candy in that exact spot and she was hooked!  This lasted until the house had a candy corn hedge against the frame, snowmen candies adorning the house and ribbon candy shingles on the roof. He didn’t miss a beat when she wanted him to double stack candy on candy.  The head chef from this Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel sat with this tiny girl and helped her build the house just the way she wanted to.


When they were done, and he went on to help the next child, she was beaming.  She talked a mile a minute to everyone and literally danced around the room.  When she got home, she talked non-stop about her gingerbread adventure as she proudly showed off her creation.

It took Chef Zane and a team of a dozen pastry chefs three months to build the Whoville gingerbread house which decorates the lobby of the Stein Eriksen Lodge.  It is complete with the Grinch’s mountain hideaway (the Grinch with his little dog looking on) and dozens of marzipan Whoville figures surrounding Christmas tree in the center of their town. It only took him a half an hour to win over a little girl who will now be a lifelong gingerbread house fan.


I wish I had thought to ask him of which accomplishment he is the most proud.

My gingerbread creation

December 25 Tradition

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (the much-fabled East Coast), Jeff and I had a December 25 tradition—spending the day at the movies and dining on Chinese food.  It was, to this Jewish family, nearly sacred. Our Park City tradition involves a full ski day at Deer Valley, including breakfast. I couldn’t wait.

However, I was so excited to get to breakfast that I left the house without my typical double-check of the contents of everyone’s ski bags. (I blame Betty the Bichon Frisee, who camped out on the ski bags as if to dare us to leave the house.  Still, I was so distracted by the threat of her wrath that I blame her for what happened next.)

I know that my husband is an adult, and can check to see if his gloves are in the bag—but I’ve made this my domain, and I dropped the ball. We discovered this as we unloaded the bags at the resort, so he doubled back to Jeremy Ranch for the gloves, while I went in with the kids to order breakfast.

We have a few folks we count on seeing—including The Perkins family. (If I tried to explain the many ways this family matters to ours, we’d be here all day, and I wouldn’t get to type a single word about the skiing.) Suffice it to say, they are dear, dear friends, and we look forward to standing in line at the breakfast grill with them every year.  This year, we noticed that we’re not the only folks who know that Deer Valley has the best breakfast menu in town. The giveaway that it wasn’t a skier’s-only affair: A little girl in a red taffeta party dress and Mary Janes, her mom in cute jeans and high-heeled leather boots.

“That little girl is definitely not skiing,” quipped Lance.
“But she looks so cute, it doesn’t matter,” I countered.

Cold Eggs Benedict (Jeff’s—I ordered anyway, not sure if he’d be back in time to do it himself) could not ruin our day. The kids dug into their breakfast choices—Belgian Waffle for Lance, Froot Loops for Seth (they are a near-delicacy in our house, so rare is the appearance of sugary cereal in our cupboards.), and, eventually, so did Jeffrey.

What followed: hours of bluebird day skiing, running into more good friends in the lift lines, and a chance encounter with Ruby the Raccoon. Seth challenged her to a race, but her human companion suggested they simply take a run together. I should add that I’d been trying to get Seth to follow my turns all day, to middling effect—but for Ruby? The kid made perfectly carved parallel turns. Go figure.

All day, the kids (and we) had been anxiously keeping tabs (via text and flight tracker software) on our friends’ progress from Miami. Finally, just before last chair, they appeared—suited up and ready to ski. What followed was more laughter than one could hope for in a single ski run, as we reacquainted the Florida kids (two of whom spent their earliest years in Park City) with the sport. (And a special shout-out to Lisa Palmer-Leger for capturing these priceless memories with her camera.)

Oops….Took the Wrong Run

“If you see anything in yourself to make you proud, look a little farther and you will find enough to make you humble” this is a quote by Wellins Calcott, Thought Moral and Divine.  Try skiing if you are looking for some humility. Last week I wrote about opening day and how “hardcore” I thought I was. Well pride cometh  before the fall.  Today I didn’t resemble a hardcore skier in any way shape or form. Thank goodness for the two good Samaritans who helped me out.

Day three of season two and I was enjoying my third beginner run, Ontario, and I noticed the sign for Hidden Treasure so I made a mental note to circle back.  I had skied that run during my Max 4 lessons last year but had completely forgotten how steep the top was.  From the lift, it is deceiving since the steepest part is hidden from view. From my vantage point, the run looked perfect so I decided Hidden Treasure would be my first intermediate run of the year.

The cross country style narrow connector trail should have been the first clue that I was in over my head but I had already committed to the run so I ignored that warning.  When I finally got to the top of the run and looked down, I saw something that spelled double trouble for me – a steep and bumpy run —  not a good combination.

Hidden Treasure is the run to the left that ends under Quincy Express chairlift

I took stock of the situation.  My options were to climb back up the hill and skate ski through the narrow uphill trail back to Ontario or traverse the steep part of this hill and take Hidden Treasure. Not normally one to retreat, I decided to go for it. It didn’t take long for me to get intimidated and lose all my confidence. I fell a couple times and did something unexpected.  I totally forgot everything I had learned. In my lessons last year, I was taught to traverse back and forth across the run slowly or to simply position myself to slide sideways down the hill using my edges to stop me.  Well, in the moment, I forgot all that.

Panic set in.  In my lifeguard days many years ago, I had to memorize the definition of panic so I know it well —  ”a sudden unreasonable and overwhelming fear that destroys one’s capacity for self help.”  Since I wasn’t thinking straight, I simply took off my skis, threw them on my shoulder and started hiking down one step at a time through the powder.

I had only seen two people pass me the whole time so there weren’t many people on the run but the ones that did come by, stopped to help.  The two good Samaritans on skis reminded me of much easier ways to get down the steep part of the hill. With one below me and one above, I put my skis back on and then followed one traversing across while the other looked on until I got past the steeper part.

Once I got to the middle of the run, I could see why they called it Hidden Treasure (instead of Nancy’s Nightmare.)   I felt like I was floating on this powdery wonderland.  This my friends is snow. I thought I knew what snow was before but I really didn’t. Thanks to a couple of really nice Deer Valley patrons, I got to enjoy it. My story fortunately has a happy ending and as I shared it many people have laughed and told similar stories. But it didn’t have to be that way –  I could have had the wonderful experience without the panic.  Here is how:

  • Read the map. Deer Valley puts out a daily groomed status trail map so you can determine ahead of time the state of the run. It is also on the website so you can check it from your smart phone. It is possible, I might have been able to do that run earlier in the day.  Since it was on a “first shift groomer schedule,” it was pretty bumpy by the time I got there.
  • Ask a mountain host. These helpful people are everywhere! I could easily have discussed my plans and gotten advice from the mountain host at Flagstaff Mountain (right at the big map).  I am sure, he or she would have sent me down an easier run like Hawkeye instead.
  • Go with a friend.  When you are taking on a new challenge, go with a more experienced skier in case you need some coaching.
  • Take a tour. If you are an intermediate level skier or higher, catch up with the FREE mountain host tour.  The intermediate tour leaves daily from Snow Park Lodge at 10 a.m. and Silver Lake Lodge at 1:30 p.m. (Click here for a full schedule) Then go back and ski your favorite runs by yourself later.
  • Take a private lesson.  I know this sounds simple because having an instructor take you down new and more challenging runs just seems like common sense.  You learn more, are safer, and enjoy the experience much more.

Hey good Samaritans out there, I want to give you a shout out of thanks for stopping to help. Maybe someday when I actually really am a hardcore skier, I will pay it forward.

I ended my ski day on this run!

NASTAR National Pacesetting

Its official, the 2012-13 winter season has started with a bang! First, the Celebrity Skifest events, which were followed by the big three-day snowstorm that dropped enough snow to ski the Daly Chutes in Empire.

Most recently, I participated in the NASTAR pacesetting trials at Snowmass.  I go to the national pacesetting trials in order to get a handicap for Deer Valley’s NASTAR racing course. By doing this I can give handicaps to the race crew and I set the pace time every Saturday so it’s as if you’re racing against AJ Kitt who is the NASTAR National Pacesetter.

The NASTAR national pacesetting trials consist of three days of ski races, seeing old athlete friends and ski racing fans.  Of course there is a lot of skiing involved while we are at Snowmass, but there is also time to catch up and recap old time stories.

Bobkie

Bobkie at NASTAR

This picture is me with AJ Kitt, Bobkie (Aka Bob Roll, the Tour de France color commentator and long-time professional bike racer!), my friend Ivan and his son Nicholas. If you think I look as if I never skied before but that’s because I’m having too much fun and not thinking about skiing, my form or even my crooked goggles!

NASTAR Pacestting crew

NASTAR Pacestting crew

But of course, the best part of the pacesetting trials are the ski races and trying to set your best time. Each year, I am reminded that NASTAR is a huge part of skiing culture. It was great to see Ivan’s 10-year-old son skiing so well and enjoying watching everyone else. I can only image he was hoping that someday maybe he’ll be the fastest.

If you’ve never experienced NASTAR, come to race Deer Valley’s race arena at Silver Lake or to any NASTAR course at participating ski areas.  A full list and more info can be found at NASTAR.com.

You’ll get hooked and want to come to the finals with us in the spring! Race fast and most importantly have fun. Ski racing and the NASTAR program has blessed me with the best friendships and memories!

See you on the slopes!

Looking at my Ski Crystal Ball

When I contemplate this brand new ski season, I often have a hard time seeing clearly into my “Ski Crystal Ball.” Skiing is for me something that happens, not an event or a succession of situations that can be planned, guessed or predicted like you would plan an outing, a family celebration or of course, a career. I guess there’s not much planning that goes into my skiing. That’s right, I’ve never looked at one single season thinking that I will be accomplishing this, that or achieve some other things (besides maybe a goal for skiing my age).

Even though I’m extremely goal-oriented for all the other areas of my life, this approach has never permeated into my skiing outlook. I probably am a fatalistic skier who wait for the snow crystals to randomly and gracefully align themselves and provide me with some heavenly snow experiences. It is true though that when I’m skiing, my competitive spirit – not my planning mind – eventually comes alive and takes hold of me.

For example if its already 2 pm and I am enjoying the runs that crisscross the Lady Morgan Chairlift, I will think, “…let’s do six more of them!” This mere thought pushes me and I end up having ridden Lady Morgan Express seven more times in that sixty minute time span! The performance wasn’t planned, it simply happened… I have never promised myself to ski 100 days per season, but I generally end up close to that round number, so while it’s hard to say that I’m not planning these kinds of minute details, they just seem to happen…

As a perennial late-bloomer, I must have reached my peak performance on skis in my early sixties (yes, dear reader, there is plenty of hope!) and one day, as I happened to boast a bit too much about some of my ski exploits, a slightly older and wiser friend of mine told me in no uncertain terms: “Silly you, at your age, what do you have to prove?” These words of wisdom were not lost on me, the skier, that always looked at performing better and faster, whenever possible.

This competitive approach of mine was colliding with certain issues that develop as one gets further into the years and as physical strength begins plateauing, if not declining, but is certainly no longer improving. Over the past couple of seasons, I have found that I was getting a bit less nimble, less powerful and considerably slower.

You might say that I was finally growing up as I had implicitly understood that speeding and risk-taking might finally prove to be harmful to me. This, in part, is the reason why, from that point forward, my goals on skis won’t be measured so much in speed, quickness or slaloming through a tight grove of aspen trees.

Instead, they will be qualitative in nature and are likely to consist of skiing much more often, but when I will do it, I will also concentrate on being that much smoother and my focus will be on saving all of my resources to enjoy a longer, fun-filled day on the slopes. Another new measuring stick for me would be the amount of time there’s a grin on my face and this should at least be in the 90% range, to make each day of winter another great moment on skis.

Sure, I’ll still go fast when I can and when it can make me more efficient, but never again at the expense of my own safety. I’ll think more about being lighter on my skis, on better using the terrain to check my speed and to my mechanical advantage, to make my turns effortlessly and remain “one” with the terrain. That’s about right, less brute force and more “caresses” on the snow, this is how my skiing will be looking like, this season and beyond!

With this in mind, when I review what’s inside my Snow Crystal Bowl, I see more slow fun, more perfect turns, more time to enjoy the whole experience, more seizing of the moment and with all that, always the surprise that comes with the never-ending adventure that skiing really is!

Celebrity Skifest and Deer Valley Memories

I say it a lot: Nobody has a better life than I do. I don’t say it boastfully—I’m just so thoroughly appreciative that I get to do work that I love while indulging in the Park City lifestyle 24/7. Entertainment journalists aren’t exactly a dime a dozen in the mountains, to be sure. (In fact, I had a conversation on this topic on the chairlift en route to Celebrity Skifest—with a fellow Vermont expat who lives in LA, and, it turns out, works at a PR agency with which I do a lot of business….the world is never smaller than on the chairlift at Deer Valley.)

Sure, once upon a time, I took a limo to the Emmys, but nothing beats taking a chairlift and a quick run down Silver Link to get myself to an event. Long live Celebrity Skifest.

Watching the race is always a blast, and I could hardly contain my glee as the snowfall intensified. Still, I had work to do. Again, in that once upon a time, I sat in the backstage press room asking actors about which designers they wore, and how surprised they were to win their award. But on this day, I was chatting up actors about our shared love for skiing at Deer Valley. I captured our shared “snow-eating grins” as well as some of their favorite Deer Valley ski memories:

“The people at Deer Valley are great,” Cheryl Hines told me. “Every guest gets treated like royalty—and I’m certainly not royalty!” Her trademark smile was in full evidence as she described the feeling she gets on a great powder day. “it’s a clear day and you stand on the top of the mountain and you can see everything,” the Suburgatory star explained. “There’s no feeling like it.”

The next thing I knew, I turned around and found myself face-to-face with Rosie Perez. I reminded her that we’d worked together when I’d been an editor at Glamour and Self Magazines, and we had a chance to catch up. “I’m not skiing,” she told me. “But I am so taken with what Bobby Kennedy is doing with the Waterkeeper Alliance, holding corporations accountable.” And, to be sure, she was a powerful one-woman cheering squad.

Julia Ormond was so taken with the action on the hill, I hated to interrupt her—but we wound up chatting about the beauty of pulling oneself out of the comfort zone. “Honestly, I hate the idea of putting myself out there as a skier—I’m not used to powder, and I’m not that confident, but for something as good and compelling as the Waterkeeper Alliance, I’ll do it,” she said.  “For a good cause, you have to get over yourself. It’s important.”

Moments later, we were chatting about the beauty of the falling snow, and I fell into a conversation with Rob Morrow—someone I look forward to seeing every year, because, like me, he’s unabashed about his love for skiing at Deer Valley—and I’m always thrilled to note that he shares that with his wife and daughter.

Rob told me that he was temporarily converted to a “trees and powder skier” by his friend and fellow actor, Tim Daly, on one fine powder day last year. “He took me to some places I’d never been—and would never have gone on my own,” Rob told me. “Suddenly, I’m a snob for powder and trees.”

A moment later, Rob confessed to me that he’s so taken with the beauty and the people at Deer Valley that he and his wife have a long-held fantasy of “finding a year to just move here.” I didn’t hesitate to tell him that he’d have no regrets.

Car Wash = Snowy Opening Day

Skiers are a superstitious lot. At least this skier is. To wit: On Friday, December 7, I heard a hint that the snow was coming. You know, the snow that we, the skier faithful knew would come, but, nonetheless was elusive enough to make us impatient.

But I’m just the right amount of superstitious and faithful to take action, just to be sure. So, I washed my car—at the fancy car wash, which sells a five-dollar upgrade that allows you to come back once a day for two days, in case of a storm. But I knew I’d be too busy skiing on fresh powder to return/knew that buying it would tempt the snow gods to withhold, so I didn’t upgrade. Just the $12 wash for me, thank you. And then, the snow came.

You’re welcome.

With all that fresh stuff flying out of the sky, I eschewed our usual Opening Day Breakfast at Snow Park Lodge—too time consuming. I grabbed a protein bar, and tapped my foot impatiently as my kids ate their toaster waffles and my husband ate his cereal. I realized, in that moment, that if I want to get on the hill early on opening day, I have to make a game of it: “I have an idea, guys: Who wants to try to make first chair with me next year on opening day?” I asked. Lance started to explain to me, in perfectly articulated 9 year-old logic, the sixteen ways that it would be logistically impossible, that ski patrol gets first chair, and what if someone is in the next lane in the lift-line corral at the same time as us? Seth, 5, saw the opportunity to please: “Mommy, I’m in!!” I began to fantasize about getting up at 6, being in the car by 7, and tucking into breakfast in Snow Park before the slopes opened. I’m certain it looks better in my mind’s eye than it will when we attempt it. Regardless, Jeff busted me out of the reverie: It was time to dress and load.  Annnd….we were off.

Even the drive to the mountain was exciting—the roads, which had been completely clear the night before, had switched, overnight, to snow-covered loveliness.  “See? I washed the car!!” I gloated to my husband. “I did it! It worked!”

Once we arrived, it felt like the first day of school, or summer camp. All the familiar faces, the giddy mood that permeated every corner of the resort. The ski valets, usually speedy to offer help, were giving their best impression of the ‘lightning round’. I hadn’t even gotten out of the car and someone was unloading the gear. 

We assembled ourselves and headed for our ritual first run on Wide West—the kids’ request. I was about to protest, and then I realized something. I turned to Jeff and said, “I’ll be so sad when they don’t want to make Wide West their first run of the season anymore,” I said. He nodded with a certain solemn understanding. And that, friends, was the only solemn moment of the day. We were, in a word, unstoppable. We did runs on the Racecourse. Runs on Candyland. And then, after I left them to go visit Celebrity Skifest, they did lap after lap. Jeff reported later that they literally inhaled their pasta, and that he had presided over several races at the mini-course on the hill—even providing the sound-effect countdown beeps. Meanwhile, I was at a race of my own, as a spectator, watching the Celebrity Skifest race. (Stay tuned for my Skifest report.)

I wrapped up my day by skiing from the Skifest tent to Homestake, where I arrived with a giant grin on my face. The grin was so large, a fellow skier asked me what I was so happy about. “What’s not to be happy about? Opening day in the snow…The SNOW!” I shared a chair with a Sharpshooter photographer named Tiger. He’s a local, so we bonded over the thrill of being rewarded for our patience with snow on opening day. (I told him about the car wash, and he thanked me. Locals get it.)

I headed down Success and wondered where the kids and Jeff were at that moment—and then, as I finished my run, I had my answer. I spotted them hauling their gear to ski-check, and called out: “Wooo hoooo!” I was rewarded with three happy grins. “We couldn’t have planned that,” Jeff said. “It’s perfect.”

He’s right. But just to be sure, I think I’ll go wash my car.