Tom Kelly: The early last run of this season
It was just after dawn on Sunday, with color reflecting off the clouds. I stood on the bedroom deck at home gazing out at the 15-mile ridgeline that defines our town. Early morning light was just starting to illuminate the Wasatch Back as the sky came alive.
A dark storm cloud bathed the top of Bald Mountain at Deer Valley, extending over to Flagstaff and nearly to Jupiter. Thin lines of sunshine broke through the clouds, bathing Crescent and Pine Cone Ridges with narrow rays of light. High above the Canyons, the sun shone like a spotlight on Squaretop and Murdock Peak.
This was the time I would normally be headed to the slopes, my skis already packed into the Jeep and boots warming in the house. But not today.
We are living in a different world now. We don’t know for how long or what it will bring. But a new day dawns nonetheless.
Friday I had taken solace in the coronavirus update from Snowbird as it explained the protocols it was adopting in an attempt to stay open. “We are doing <this> because it is our foundational belief that it is beneficial for the soul to live and enjoy the adventure lifestyle—and this is particularly the case in times like this, when anxiety and stress are high.”
I had seen the meme that morning showing a skier bundled up on a single chair with the caption: ‘Skiing involves gloves, masks, goggles and wide open spaces. Fight COVID-19. GO SKIING.’ So, after a week spent writing coronavirus messages for clients, I went skiing.
I drove to Canyons mid-day, easily snaring a front row parking spot. I was wondering what the day would bring. Would skiers join me on chairlifts? Not a soul in sight as I climbed onto the Red Pine Gondola, chatting with a liftie from my home state of Wisconsin. Two others climbed in at the last minute. A bit strange, I thought. It would be the last lift ride I would share.
I decided to take the long way down to Tombstone, skiing over to the singles line at Saddleback Express. I slid in next to a couple on matched rental skis, just as I normally would. They moved up with me to the chair, but, at the last minute, they hung back, letting me go up alone. It didn’t take long to learn the new norm.
It wasn’t the greatest run down Snow Dancer and Chicane – fine sugary crystals over rock-solid ice. But my Rossis carved sliding arcs on the wide open slopes. I considered a quick exit, but chose to ride Tombstone, replicating my typical morning route. I swooped down Ripsaw to Peak 5 then enjoyed the rolling ride through the woods on Harmony – surviving the high speed compressions and stomach lifting drops under the bridges. It was a quick day.
The next morning I was beginning to sense it might be the end. I took the bus up to Deer Valley as a storm was blowing in. Empire was on wind hold. I skied up to Ruby alongside a Deer Valley patroller, letting him go ahead and take a chair by himself. I thought about the conversation we could have had, but opted to stay on protocol.
As I made turns down Hawkeye I was pleasantly surprised to find six to eight inches of fresh snow along the side of the trail. I hadn’t even looked at OpenSnow that morning, grabbing my groomer skis. I dipped into the woods and felt that sensation of my feet of floating as I carved turns between the aspens.
Everyone singled up at Lady Morgan Express – not much conversation. The wind was whipping as we soared over the cliff band. The snow was grippy on Dakota. And, short as it was, that final shot down Supreme was just glorious.
I knew this would probably be my last day. After a few laps on Lady Morgan, I headed up Ruby for a final run down Stargazer. I hit the trees on the right, reveling in a wonderful base of untouched powder. I made a quick stop at Stein’s to pay homage to the trophy case before a solo ride up Sterling to the top of Bald Mountain.
It had been a lonely two days, but I was okay with that. I missed my conversations with visitors from around the world, helping guide them around our mountains. That social aspect, which adds such a positive dimension to skiing, was missing.
But, as the Snowbird post had said, the benefits to the soul were still there. Standing atop the ridgeline, I gazed out into the haze to see our home nine miles in the distance. I was all alone, every inch of me covered with clothing, goggles and a face mask, standing high atop a snow-covered mountain. I was able to soar down ski runs and carve my way through glades of aspen. I was able to look up into the heavens and out to the mountains all around me and feel that joy of being high up in the mountains.
We live in a very special place here in Park City. Over the coming months, our lives will undoubtedly change. But the natural splendor of the place we call home – it will remain the same. And it will beckon us every day.
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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It’s fitting in this fact-free world, writes columnist Tom Clyde, for Wasatch County officials to host a “grand opening” for a road that isn’t open yet.