Make First Tracks at The Canyons
It’s 7:15 a.m. at the base of The Canyons near the Flight of the Gondola and a small group is beginning to gather. Other than a few lift operators and ski patrol members, they are the only people on the mountain.
The group includes Scott Pierpont, president of the resort, Todd Burnette, vice president of marketing, along with a handful of other resort employees. The stars of the group, however, aren’t wearing a Canyons name badge.
Two former Olympians, Trace Worthington and Carrie Sheinberg, are the focal point of the assemblage as it boards the lift, heading up into the untracked, freshly groomed trails.
After a brief orientation, the group rides the Saddleback lift, watching the mountain wake up underneath their feet and the sun peer its head over the snow-capped peaks as one rider exclaims, "This is what it’s all about."
The early morning program, called First Tracks, takes place at The Canyons every Wednesday and Saturday morning. The guides and Olympians change, the conditions vary, but Burnette said each time he has gone it’s been the same outcome "Amazing."
"It makes you feel like you have the whole mountain to yourself, or like you have your own private ski resort," he said. "We see wildlife out in the morning the occasional moose things like that."
"It just gives you great stories to tell when you go back to work when the vacation is over," he continued. "It’s not something everyone else has done or gets to do. It can be a very unique experience. It makes a great story to tell around the water cooler."
Burnette does not go each time, but said he tries to participate whenever he can. He said to be the first one on the hill, get your runs in and be done when everyone else is just showing up is worth the early start time. Being able to ski with Olympians just makes an already sweet experience sweeter.
"We did it last year, but we didn’t have the regular program of doing every Wednesday and every Saturday," he said. "This is also the first time we’ve brought in the Olympian angle as well. We haven’t really marketed the program to the general public, but this year we’re trying to get the word out."
The program started three years ago, but Burnette used his contacts with the United States Ski Team to sign on five former Olympians with First Tracks.
"My background is with the U.S. Ski Team, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the Olympic athletes," said Burnette, who served as the vice president of sponsorships from 1996-2002. "Every time I’ve taken somebody out with the athletes it’s been a really good experience and we wanted to bring that to the public."
The five Olympians are Trace Worthington, Fuzz Feddersen, Carrie Sheinberg, Holly Flanders and Paralympian Chris Waddell. Burnette said the chance to ski with some of the world’s best is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"It’s a combination of being up on the mountain before it opens and the knowledge that all of these folks have of skiing and the stories they have of their competitive career," Burnette said. "It’s pretty neat to go home from a vacation and say you skied with a Fuzz Fedderson or a Trace Worthington and you heard what these guys had to say."
Each Wednesday and Saturday morning, one or two of the Olympians joins a group of 10 to 12 people, including two or three guides. The group is generally on the mountain for one and a half hours, usually sticking to intermediate terrain.
"The program is designed for upper-intermediate skiers or riders," Burnette said. "It’s not a really good beginner experience. The best terrain for us to go on is, at least, intermediate and we tend to get a group of good skiers together who ski fast to maximize their experience in the morning."
After blasting through as many runs as possible before the mountain opens to the public, the group heads to the newly remodeled Red Pine Lodge for breakfast.
"We’ll do a high-end full hearty breakfast at the Red Pine Lodge, and rehash the stories of the day and just hang out and eat with the celebrities we have along," Burnette said. "But if you want to skip breakfast you can and get another 45 minutes of runs in before you see anyone from the general public."
The guides for the program are employees of The Canyons and lead the pack. Generally, they stay to either the south- or north-side of the mountain, depending on conditions, and often share tips and facts otherwise unknown to the general guest to the resort.
"The guides are long-time Canyons employees with a great deal of knowledge about the mountain," Burnette said. "When his schedule allows, Scott Pierpont, president and general manager of the resort, comes out and leads groups. It’s always a pleasure skiing with him, at least for me, because he always points out things about the mountain that you’d never really know."
The name of the program, Burnette said of First Tracks, describes what the program is all about. "Whether is groomed corduroy or fresh powder, you’re the first one to make tracks."
Besides spending a morning on a world-class mountain with world-class skiers, making first tracks and watching the sunrise are Burnette’s favorite aspects of the program.
"Seeing the sun rise from the top of the mountain, for me, is always a treat," he said. "We either ride Saddleback and Tombstone, or Saddleback and Condor. We know when the sun comes up and we time it perfectly to get people to the right place at the right time. But skiing freshly groomed tracks when no one else is around or getting to freshly laid powder before anyone else."
The $100 price tag for the experience does not include a lift ticket, and reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance by calling The Canyons ski school office at (435) 615-3449.
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