Ridgelines: An opening like no other
As skiers, it is part of our character to exaggerate. Like that four-inch powder day where you’re texting your buddies out in New York to tell them it was knee high. Hey, that’s just human nature.
As I rolled off the Saddleback Express chairlift at Canyons last week, there was no exaggeration necessary. This was a lifetime memory of opening week at Park City Mountain – truly a time to be thankful!
On the ride up, I watched skiers below me breaking trail in the trees through The Pines. What? It isn’t Christmas yet! I gazed off onto the ridgeline to look at the pillows of snow blanketing Square Top and 9990. I was truly in awe. Insiders were talking, “Hey, Tombstone is opening tomorrow and maybe 9990.”
It’s all so hard to explain.
So, I’m thinking – hey, it wasn’t such a great season last year. We all still had fun. That powder dump at Christmas was lovely. But we suffered through much torment. Well, maybe this is Mother Nature telling us she’s sorry! And in a really big way.
Opening day with over 80 inches of measured snowfall year to date. Really? By the weekend, Park City Mountain had 13 chairlifts spinning out of both bases — including 9990. And it’s not even Thanksgiving!
Opening day often takes on a bit of a celebrity tone. For the seventh time in the last nine years, local musician Wyatt Pike (think American Idol) was there along with his hometown buddy Ryan Cook, who drove over from school in Boulder, to bust the opening day banner at the top of Payday. How much does it mean to them? Well, you know how you’ve considered showing up at 6 a.m. to get a parking spot on a powder day? Wyatt and company camped out overnight in the resort plaza to ensure they would get exclusive seats on the first six-pack up the mountain – and the requisite red I WAS THERE FIRST T-shirt.
In a normal year, you don’t go out during opening week for the skiing itself. You go to get your mind motivated for the winter. It’s an opportunity to find all your gear and ask yourself why you didn’t take your skis to Rennstall for a pre-season tune back in August. It’s time to rekindle skiing friendships. And, most of all, it’s bragging rights with your friends who couldn’t get up to the mountain.
What I like about opening week are the friendly smiles and excited conversations. Everyone out there is pumped. The complaint scale is reset to zero. If you’re a new liftie in your first ski bum job, you’re pumped. People are happy across the entire resort.
As I rode up the Cabriolet and walked through the Canyons Village Plaza, the red and blue jackets greeted me with a grin and a warm hello. Yellow jackets were there to give out smiles, not speeding tickets. Lifties lent a helping hand with big smiles on their faces in their first days on the job.
Decked out in his red ski patrol jacket, Jim from Chicago slid onto the Saddleback Express with me. We quickly came to common ground as both of us grew up skiing Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin. As a point of reference, Cascade’s 460 feet of vertical drop is akin to that on the Three Kings chairlift.
Another masters ski racer joined me, talking about the best bevel angles as he was beginning to dial in his gear for the season. Devin, a homegrown Parkite and student at the U., was anxious to rip on his Armadas.
Alan, a very outgoing software engineer from Arequipa, Peru living in Salt Lake City, shared a gondola ride talking non-stop about his level of excitement to be up there on his snowboard.
Being the historian, I thought back to the first opening, on Dec. 21, 1963. Treasure Mountains, as it was called, was christened that day with the first flight of what was billed as the longest gondola in America. It was a 22-minute ride to the top, where it wasn’t just about conversations, it was forging relationships.
Relationships are what skiing is about!
For me, opening week is about the joy of the sport returning after a long summer’s absence. It’s riding chairlifts and admiring our powder-covered ridgeline. And it’s daydreaming about swooping down amidst the aspens on Upper Crowning Glory, hopping Quicksilver over to Park City and dropping down Creole for a slice at Davanza’s.
It won’t be long.
While the creature comforts of snow removal have improved a lot — a dry heated cab with Bluetooth audio, four wheel drive, triple the horsepower of the old Ford, a blower that hurls the snow half way to Tabiona — some things have not changed.
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