Tom Clyde: A losing ski bet, and glad of it
I was wrong. I missed by a mile. My bet in the “when will the resorts close” pool was the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. My thinking was that the Christmas holiday surge, followed in short order by Sundance and MLK would be enough to have the whole town sick with the plague. I assumed that the resorts would be scrambling to find enough healthy employees to work, and that, finally, it just would all fall apart. Sundance was a Zoom call, which certainly helped. The resorts have been very diligent about protecting employees from contagious guests, and vice versa, and things have held together. The skiing has been really good.
The number of guests who don’t understand that wearing a mask in the lift line is for everybody’s benefit still amazes me. I hate skiing in a mask. After a few runs, especially something involving a bit of hiking or some serious moguls, the mask is a disgusting, snot-filled, soggy diaper. My goggles steam up, and the only way to really deal with it when skiing something that gets me breathing hard is to pull it down. But it’s really easy to pull it back up when I get into the lift maze. You see people who ritually fiddle with their boot buckles when arriving in the lift line but can’t manage to pull up their masks.
There have been lots of days, especially on weekends, when the lift lines are Colorado long. And people pull into the line, mask down, hollering at their party. When they get to the front of the maze, where there is usually somebody directing traffic, they do a token pull-up, or put their arm in front of their face. So for the last 50 feet before getting into the chair, they are protected and protecting others. But for the 15 minutes standing in line, packed closer together than is comfortable, we don’t need no stinking masks.
The mountains are open and functioning. You hear the reports of this carpool of lifties all being sick, or that house with 10 ski patrollers stacked up like cord wood all incapacitated for a week or so. On slow days, some redundant lifts don’t turn. Those who are healthy are working longer hours than they want. Here we are at Presidents Day, roughly a year from the first identified cases of COVID, and we are functioning more or less normally. I’m glad I lost the bet, and a big thanks to the resort management and staff who have done more than we know to make it work. It can’t be easy.
Skiing has been really good this week. There was some powder last weekend, which brought on ridiculous traffic and parking problems. If last weekend was the resorts operating at reduced capacity to minimize COVID exposure, heaven help us if they decide to go to full capacity. A friend decided to take the bus from his house in Prospector and meet the group in Deer Valley. It took him almost an hour to get to the base of Park City Mountain Resort, and another 20 minutes to get to Deer Valley. So much for doing the right thing. We were able to find places to ski without long lines, but it was a day that we wanted to be in Empire Bowl. The line was too long, and as spoiled locals overwhelmed with first-world problems, we skied elsewhere to avoid the crowds. I’m not saying where.
But on Monday, the crowds all went away. We skied Jupiter and for the first couple of runs, there was nobody else there. By the time we all reached exhaustion, we were still skiing right into the chair. Portuguese Gap was as good as it gets, with a nice wind load of powder in it. Standing on the top of Scott’s has a curative power that is better than driving to Wendover to get a bootleg vaccination at Smith’s grocery store. Why Utah residents can get vaccinated at a grocery store in Wendover, Nevada, but can’t get vaccinated here in Summit County is one of life’s many mysteries.
Skiing stayed good all week, with almost nobody on the mountain. It was like it used to be. I quit skiing PCMR on weekends years ago. The base facilities are an epic failure when dealing with the weekend crowd. Deer Valley used to be fine, except for holidays. But lately weekends there have been jammed up. The gondola from U.S. 40 has become unusable on the weekend. Fortunately, as an old and unemployed person, I can ski mid-week.
So we’ve made it to Presidents Day. That makes me think we can hang on through March. There will be the Super Bowl surge in cases, and some exposure with the crowds this week. Spring Breakers will be here in March sharing variants from every corner of the country. So we’re not out of the woods. But it’s working, and it feels like the biggest threat to the ski season now is spring. With this little snow, and temperatures as warm as they’ve been, the melt will start early. Let’s hope we get some snow to carry us through.
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.
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