Tom Kelly: In the hall of the mountain king at Sundance Resort
I slid across the vinyl bench into the booth. The morning begged for a hearty breakfast with a big ski day ahead. The stools at the bar were empty. A few locals hung out at a table by the window.
Chick’s in Heber is the quintessential road house, a much-welcomed throwback to the past. The crunchy crisp hash browns with puffy scrambled eggs dotted with huge chunks of ham was the ticket, exuding a great depth of taste from an age-old griddle.
Six weeks into the season, I was seeking a break from the Park City-Deer Valley routine. Time for a road trip. Chick’s was a perfect stop before a Sundance ski day.
What lures you to Sundance Mountain Resort is that mom and pop feel, an area just like the one you grew up skiing decades ago. It’s homespun and low key, with chairlifts on which you can actually establish a relationship on the way up the mountain.
But what truly captures your whole being is the majesty. Sliding onto Ray’s Lift at the bottom of the mountain, it feels like any small ski area. But a minute into your ride, Mount Timpanogos begins to stare you down as storm clouds swirl along its tantalizing peaks. It’s what Robert Redford envisioned in bringing the art form of skiing to nature.
Sundance may be a small ski area, but the mountain skis big!
There are few more pristine settings in Utah. It had its origin in 1944 as Timp Haven, a small hill with a Chevy-powered rope tow. Brothers Paul and Ray Stewart, the namesake for Ray’s Lift, were the early pioneers, advancing from rope tow to poma to chair lift.
A quarter century later, Redford, a local cabin owner and little-known actor, bought the land that included Timp Haven. After his 1969 box office hit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Redford changed the name to Sundance and expanded his love affair with the magical canyon.
Cruising up Ray’s Lift I was transfixed by the clouds playing peek-a-boo with the north face of Timp. It was a snowy morning with the sun punctuating the clouds every so often. Eight to 10 inches of fresh snow blanketed the slopes below. The lower mountain looked pretty tame to me, perfect for the groups of beginners with instructors in tow. As I scanned the trail map to plan the day, my eyes were fixed on the upper mountain, anticipating some shin-deep powder hits coming off the ridge.
Dropping down the cat track to the new Red’s Lift, the snow looked simply luscious. Named after Redford, Red’s replaced the legendary Arrowhead a few years ago. As we soared over Amy’s Ridge, my mind was racing with the potpourri of options through the chutes and glades – each one with seemingly untouched snow.
I made a few laps, swooping some fresh turns down QuickDraw to Bear Claw, then another shot through the old pine growth glades off Junior’s – nearly century-old trees with enough space to really lay down some turns. It was a heavier snow pack that day with my Black Ops carving beneath the surface and roosters of snow shooting up my legs. Glory tracks – and they were all mine!
It was a midweek morning at Sundance. Just before noon I grabbed a table at the Bearclaw cabin atop the mountain. It was getting blustery and time for a hot tea. The fire was crackling as a young couple put their feet up on the stone fireplace. Old photographs and posters dotted the wall. Out my window I could see all the way to Utah Lake.
It was time to click in again. Ever since I scanned the Sundance trail map the night before, my eyes were drawn to Far East. I slid across the top of Bishop’s Bowl, slicing my way down the razor-sharp ridgeline passing over a few options before dropping down Shauna’s Secret, crossing across Grizzly Bowl to Badlands.
As the afternoon wore on, the winds picked up on the ridge. Bearclaw cabin was immersed in a sea of snow. The sun broke through to illuminate the ridgelines emanating down the east flank of Timpanogos. It was hard to stand upright on the summit. I dropped down for one final run down Amy’s Ridge, then a peaceful cruise along Sunshine and back to the bottom to meet friends at the Owl Bar.
It was almost sunset – sad to call it a day.
On the way home, I stopped for a Lone Pine ale at Heber Valley Brewing to reflect on the day. All of us ski to find that special feeling in the mountains. We live here to savor the mountain life.
For a skier, there are few things life more special than being atop a ridgeline with the wind whipping snow in little torrents off the surrounding peaks. You look down to the valley below and know that you’re up here all alone in this special place. And you have the conveyance on your feet to whisk you through the snow to get you home.
Parkites, do yourself a favor this season. Put your Ikon and Epic passes in your wallet – you won’t need them here. Bring a fresh mind and a sense of adventure. Be ready to take yourself back in time. And be prepared for some big mountain turns.
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 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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“The alarming lack of snowfall is both depressing and troubling right now, but it’s about to get dangerous,” writes columnist Amy Roberts.