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Tom Kelly: Lunch-hour mountain tour

Tom Kelly standing high atop Empire Peak with the High Uintas in the background.
Photo by Tom Kelly

Remember the days where you skied from first lift to close? Your legs would be burning and your mind racing. Being truly blessed as locals with two world-class resorts at our ski tips, it’s a little easier these days.

When I was working, I would take lunch breaks running laps on Mountaineer Express for an hour, then head back to the office. Today, I have a bit more luxury to explore the mountain. So, with a bit of flexibility, I wondered just how much mountain I could cover in a short “lunch hour” outing.

I carried my skis to the Jordanelle Express Monday morning, walking right into a gondola cabin. It was a far cry from the maddening scene on a Saturday powder morning just 48 hours earlier. Whisking up the mountainside towards Little Baldy Peak, I gazed out at the Deer Crest homes and thought back to mountain biking the original Spin Cycle 30 years ago.



Formulating my plan, I thought I would go for the gusto and head all the way to Empire and back. A lot to ask, but let’s just call it an extended lunch hour. But what other resort affords you to visit five mountaintops in a little over an hour?

Skiing my way down to the Snow Park base, I watched final construction on the freestyle aerials hill for this weekend’s World Cup. While it will still take place, sadly the iconic evenings under the lights enjoying some beef bourguignon in the VIP tent will have to wait until next year.



The Carpenter Express whisked me to Bald Eagle Peak, then a quick ski down to Silver Lake and Sterling Express is a classic Deer Valley route. Standing atop Bald Mountain, it’s a stunning view looking out to the High Uintas to the east and along the entire Park City ridgeline to the west, from Empire to Jupiter to Murdock Peak.

No time to waste as I skated over the edge and down Nabob. The typical windblown hardpack was replaced today with grippy snow from the weekend powder dump. The edges on my Rossi E88s carved a sweet line — very Stein like — as I cruised down to Quincy Express.

Thousands ski through this network of mountains and canyons each day with only a fleeting thought of its past. Nearly a century and a half ago, miners drilled into the earth to find silver at mines like Flagstaff, Quincy, Little Bell and Daly West.

As I near Empire Express, the old Daly West tower comes into view next to the Montage Deer Valley. Oh, what the miners of old would think of it today.”

As I ski down Bandana I pass the Little Bell ore bin, and the site of a fatal 1903 avalanche that took out the Quincy Mine, snow cascading off Empire Pass above. As I near Empire Express, the old Daly West tower comes into view next to the Montage Deer Valley. Oh, what the miners of old would think of it today.

As the chairlift whisks me up, to the left in the Daly Chutes the remnants of the powder two days earlier document what had to be some great fun there this past weekend.

Standing on Empire Peak you feel like being at the epicenter of the ridgeline. To the south, you can see Clayton Peak above Brighton. Dropping down from Guardsman Pass is the vast expanse of Bonanza Flat. To the east, the High Uintas frame the backdrop.

Time to head back. Supreme is one of those traditional Deer Valley cruisers, winding its way through aspen groves. It’s a glory run with undulating terrain and only a little pitch at the finish as I shoot across to the Ruby Express for the trip home, looking down on hikers trekking up the Guardsman Road towards Empire Pass.

Back atop Flagstaff Mountain, I buckle in for the long cruise down to Crown Point for a quick lift up to the flanks of Bald Eagle Mountain. The return trip is a favorite of mine, whether it’s dropping down the short face of Roamer or sweeping through the banked turns of Kimberley, on down past the St. Regis to Mountaineer.

Being a regular at the gondola, I’ve developed this love-hate relationship with the Jordanelle run. It’s a perfect pitch for sweeping high-speed arcs. But its tendency to be rock hard keeps you honest. The wide mid-section gives you a few seconds of rest. But you need to be on your edges down through the final face, accelerating into a hard left-footed turn to wind up the run.

As the gondola base comes into view, it’s time to celebrate another day on the mountain. 13 miles of skiing and 8,300 feet of vertical. Not a bad way to spend an hour and change.

Postscript

The joy of this day on the mountain needs to be tempered by yet another backcountry death off the Park City ridgeline. As skiers, we find great joy in floating down a mountainside, our bodies suspended in the snow. But we need to be ever cautious. When we go off piste, we need to be educated, prepared and prudent. Know when to go and know when to stay inside the resort.

Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 51st season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.


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