More Dogs on Main: Early season gold |

More Dogs on Main: Early season gold

Tom Clyde

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.
Tom Clyde mug

The skiing has been amazing so far this year.  In recent years, at this point in the season, there would still be limited lift and terrain openings, and lots of slick machine-made snow. Typically, Deer Valley hasn’t even tried to open until the first week in December. This year, thanks to something that is feeling like a real winter, the resorts are open and running. And the skiing is just great.

Avalanche conditions are pretty sketchy, and there was a close call in Dutch Draw this week. In-bounds, the control effort is substantial. I was skiing in Empire Bowl, and the patrol was bombing the cornice all along the Daly chutes. The cornice was stubborn and didn’t seem to move. I guess that’s good, but it’s already big and looks scary. They got a washing machine-sized chunk to break off. It cartwheeled all the way down Daly Bowl, leaving divots the whole way. The rest of cornice didn’t budge.

On the other side of the rope, Park City patrol was blasting the sin out of the cornice at the top of McConkey’s. They were very close, and between the Deer Valley bombs and the Park City bombs, it felt a little bit like being stuck in the middle of two armies lobbing grenades at each other. I could feel the shock wave from each blast. Stuff is slipping and sliding out there, so if you are outside the resort boundaries, remember the most important piece of gear is a functioning brain. Don’t leave home without it. Beacons and probes are essential, but even with fresh batteries, they don’t make up for stupid.

Deer Valley has a huge part of the mountain open, and the food service is coming back to life. After a couple of years of “reimagining” at Snow Park Lodge, they have realized that it didn’t need fixing.  Imagine that. So it’s back to the cafeteria service model, interacting with enthusiastic employees from all over the world, and picking the extras on top of your chili. My favorite, the chicken enchilada, has flown the coop. The menu has been adjusted to reflect the tight labor market. Everything seems focused on being simple to serve. The enchiladas were surprisingly fussy. I miss them. But nobody will miss the “order a glass of water on your phone” system. The gang had lunch there Sunday. Everybody had something different, and all were happy. It would be easy to run up a lunch tab that looks like a car payment, but if you are careful, it’s tolerable.

The food and beverage operation at Park City appears to be open for business again. I checked out the menus, and things are more or less back to pre-plague normal there, too. Lots of options, and they all looked good. I haven’t eaten there, and when I have to pay $25 to park, my appetite gets left in the parking lot. But it’s already way ahead of last year’s infamous $9 hotdog, and they are still ramping it up.

Off to a good start, but what’s in store for the rest of the winter? The voodoo practitioners at the National Weather Service release longterm-forecast maps. Based on a La Niña event, penguin migrations in Antarctica, the color of Jupiter’s third moon, and whatever other chicken entrails they examine, they are predicting a high probability of “maybe kinda normal” for our winter.

My equally valid forecast is that we will have a very snowy winter. That’s based on the hornet nest theory. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, when hornets nest high in the trees, it will be a snowy winter. “See how high the hornets nest, ‘Twill tell how deep the snow will rest.”  If you’ve seen it in needlepoint at Grandma’s house, it must be true. Once the leaves were off the trees, I discovered that my house is surrounded by hornet nests, some big as footballs, way up in the tops of the trees. The hornets think we are in for a big winter. Who are you going to believe — the collective wisdom of thousands of semi-sentient insects or some geeky scientists with a hundred years of actual data crunched by huge computers? There’s nothing we can do about it either way, but this old farmer thinks the smart money is on the hornets.

The free parking ends this week at Park City. The reservation system is kind of a nuisance, but has worked smoothly (though there are a whole lot of tickets being written, so not everybody got the news).  It takes the “Hunger Games” aspect out of finding a parking place. Now that the $25 per day charge kicked in, it’s going to be interesting to see what people will do to avoid it. The city has rolled out the new Richardson Flat park-and-ride shuttle. The route must have been designed by somebody from Delta, where you buy a ticket from Salt Lake to Seattle and have to change planes in Phoenix. Rather than run direct buses from the parking lot to the resort bases, there is a transfer involved. So you get to wait in the cold twice for the convenience of parking at the tailings pond.

No matter what the hornets are predicting, travel industry people are forecasting a very busy winter here. That makes this uncrowded early season pure gold.


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