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Epic Midweek Powder Day

I’m writing a book about my first ski season at Snowbird. This excerpt describes one of my favorite days from that season.

Day 24: March 21, 2006

Patience was not a virtue present in Snowbird’s tram line this morning. People were blatantly cutting in front of Brendan and me until I adopted a defensive stance using my poles. A gaggle of malcontents complained when the line didn’t start moving at the stroke of 9 a.m. (the tram’s opening time). A few minutes later, a veritable riot broke out when the tram line ticket checker let a group of instructors and their clients through the turnstiles instead of the public. They heckled her mercilessly until she started the public line moving again.

It has snowed for 11 straight days and 17 of the last 19. Approximately 100 inches of snow has fallen at Snowbird since March 3, including a foot last night. At less than 5 percent water content, the new snow was about as light as it gets.

Given the new snow and our limited availability (we both had to leave at noon), there would be no warm-up run today. We traversed to Primrose Path from Chip’s Run. The light was flat and gray, and visibility was maybe 100 feet. Primrose was mostly untracked, but the wind had drifted the snow into heaps that were the deepest I had ever encountered on skis. I took a few cautious turns to find my balance before I opened the throttle and skied through the nearly waist-deep powder with gusto. The snow was so deep that I couldn’t seem to get enough speed, despite pointing my skis straight down the fall line. I fell twice when my skis started submarining without ever finding the bottom. Those falls were almost as fun as the skiing.

Farther down the mountain, Anderson’s Hill was also mostly untracked. Anderson’s had a bit less snow and none of the drifts. There it was easier to maintain the speed necessary to stay afloat in the powder. The conditions on Phone 3 Shot were also superb. Snowbird had served up powder face shots from top to bottom.

Powder days already have a mystique, but today’s variable weather amplified it. Snow was lightly falling, but the sun would occasionally peek through breaks in the clouds to illuminate the crystalline flakes and the fluffy pillows of powder snow, transforming a flatly lit two-dimensional scene into three dimensions and making it appear that we were skiing inside of a shaken snow globe. Then the clouds would close up again, and it was back to flat light.

There was a pervasive stillness about the mountain, despite the frenetic skiing activity, like a busy public library—quiet, yet hectic. On most normal days, ski and snowboard edges loudly scratch against the snow surfaces. Today they were silent. The only persistent sounds were the skiers’ whoops and hollers and the gentle rustling caused by snow billowing up against my ski jacket. The concussive blasts of avalanche control bombs and their roiling echoes throughout the canyon also occasionally broke the silence.

The snow conditions on the lower mountain were almost as good as up top. Rather than wait in line for the tram, we decided to ski some laps off the Peruvian lift instead. The sacrifice in vertical footage and terrain variety would be worth it to squeeze in more runs during the limited time we had available.

We skied Phone 3 Shot repeatedly during our Peruvian laps. It was that good. Although short, that run’s steep, consistent fall line and wind-loaded powder made it a far better option than the adjacent Chip’s Face.

The tram line was still long at around 11 a.m., but we weren’t going to leave without taking at least one more tram run. From the Peruvian Ridge, I surveyed the Lower Cirque’s wide-open, powder-filled bowl. Any line I picked was going to be good. I started down and quickly found a good rhythm. I skied it well. I maintained enough speed to stay on top of the snow better than on Primrose earlier in the day, but I still got face shots the entire run. That was a contender for my favorite ski run, ever. Brendan quipped that he could hear Warren Miller narrating his turns.

It was almost noon by the time we skied onto Snowbird Center’s Plaza Deck, but we got back in line for one last tram run. Alas, my last run couldn’t compete with the prior one. It was well past noon when we finished. It was time to leave.

Today was special. Life is messy, and it rarely feels dreamlike in the moment, but I think today might’ve been the real-life equivalent of the experiences I’ve been dreaming about having at Snowbird for over ten years.

After skiing, I showered and hustled to a computer lab on the University of Utah’s campus to work on a group project. My cheeks were still flushed from the earlier onslaught of snow, cold, and wind. The magnanimity generated by a ski day that hits all the right notes smoothed the tedium of the project work into something more tolerable. It helped that I felt like I was still floating through powder. Sea legs, dock rock, and stillness illness are colloquial names for illusions of self-motion usually described as rocking, bobbing, or swaying felt after an ocean cruise, airplane flight, or other exposure to sustained motion. Other powder days had produced this sensation, but today it was more palpable than ever.