The ficus of Jupiter Peak
March 21, 2014
By this point in the ski season, I feel like I’ve seen it all. We’ve had every possible weather condition, from boilerplate ice to a couple of days of pretty reasonable powder, to sweet spring corn. I’ve seen wind, lightning, rain, spring mush and bone-chilling cold. Sometimes all on the same day. When I look at the weather forecast from the National Weather Service, they will say useful things like, "Mostly sunny with a 70% chance of snow." Issuing forecasts like that helps boost the accuracy ratings.
I even skied through an earthquake. Nobody felt it, but the epicenter was a mile or so from my house. If dishes were rattled, I wasn’t home to hear it. Neighbors right on the epicenter say they didn’t feel it. Their livestock did not behave strangely. I’m not sure what a cow does in an earthquake, but some reaction seems likely. They can be excitable at times. But nobody felt it.
The first I heard of the earthquake was an email from a neighbor who is an engineer for the Central Utah Water District, assuring me that the Jordanelle Dam had survived the incident. We live safely upstream of it, but it’s good to know that Heber is still there. There are no crude-oil geysers from the Chevron oil pipeline. No milk was curdled. The Salt Lake Tribune reported the story. It described the epicenter as being in the Wasatch Mountains near the Summit County "hamlet" of Woodland. That sounds like a more serious event, since Woodland has always been in the Uintas, or was until the earthquake relocated it. Anyway, as far as I can tell everyone here in the hamlet just kept calm and carried on.
Just when I thought I’d seen it all, something completely new came along. A friend and I decided to hike to the top of Jupiter Peak and ski down the Hourglass. It’s one of those things you need to do a couple of times a year. So we thought we’d get that done, and made the climb from the Jupiter side. When we got to the top, somebody had planted a plastic ficus tree just down from the summit. There was nothing special about it, just a generic plastic plant like you would find in any dentist’s office, casting shade on the year-old magazines. Nothing special except it was freshly planted on top of a 10,000-foot peak in the dead of winter.
I thought it seemed odd. That’s not something that gets lugged up there easily. There was some real commitment involved. You don’t just hop on the lift with a large office shrubbery in your lap without drawing some attention from even the most jaded, burned-out lifties. There were several other people who had made the hike. Those coming from the McConkey’s side had practically tripped over it. Apparently none of them thought it seemed even slightly unusual to have this little tree in full-summer leaf (I know that plastic trees aren’t technically deciduous) being planted on top of a very snowy mountain. They hadn’t even noticed it. I’m sure there is a good story behind it.
It wasn’t just the ficus tree that brought to mind how different each day of skiing can be. That whole day was so different from skiing the day before in more or less the same place. I go out with several groups of pretty fluid composition. The entire dynamic of it changes depending on who shows up. There are groups that only want groomers, at frightening speed. A slightly different mix and we have to stop for coffee by 10 a.m. There are mogul days and tree days. There are days when almost every run includes a bit of a hike to get to the side country that isn’t all skied out. When the resorts are busy you can always lose the crowd with a 50-yard hike.
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The other day I ended up with a group of guys I know, but don’t often ski with. They wanted me to show them the parts of Deer Valley they hadn’t discovered on their own. For three hours we pounded it through the trees and chutes like 18-year olds. The pace is a little different when half the gang is on artificial knees.
By this point in the season, you know who will show up late and try to track us down by phone, or who will leave their skis on the front porch, boots on the roof of the car, and passes on the dresser. If they haven’t got it together by this point in the season, it’s just not going to happen.
There’s only a month left. The aspen trees are beginning to blossom, and the ficus trees can’t be far behind.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.