Pow Mow Brown Cow!
by tommy kirchhoff
Instead of producing issue 19 like we were supposed to last Sunday, Andy and I jumped in the Isuzu Growler and headed up north. The fact that we needed to finally make some turns together counted less than tertiary to the dozens of other reasons why we skipped an extra week for Wild Utah.
It had been about seven days since that 50-inch, late February storm blanketed the Wasatch, so we weren’t counting on freshies. Powder Mountain’s website hadn’t been updated since the previous Thursday, but SKI UTAH’s snow report showed Pow Mow with 114 inch base and “real powder.” Needless to say, that was exciting.
The drive up was awesome. We took I-80 to I-84, then around the loop at Pineview Resevoir. The mountains in those parts are absolutely huge and scenic. Armed only with a caffeine buzz, we came unglued as we rounded the lake and putted through the town of Eden.
It was no short drive. We didn’t leave Park City until 9:10; so by the time we got to Eden at 10:20, we were certainly ready to ski. It was still another steep, 20-minute chug up Powder Mountain Road to reach the resort. The Growler needed second gear for the whole climb. Though the canyon was beautifully draped with poached ski-lines, it was suspiciously deserted. We saw no skiers, and counted only three cars on the length Powder Mountain road.
When we reached the resort, we were excited to see only about 50 cars in the main lot. We booted up, met Mark Paulsen, and legalized our lift access. Mark recommended Lightning Ridge and Cobabe Canyon for the best snow. When we asked about “real powder,” he said he had done his part to track it all out, and that there “really wasn’t any left.”
At 10:45, we were on the Sundown lift. No lines, no people. From the top, an unbuckled slide to the right brought us to the Lightning Ridge waiting area. Here, a cat was supposed to drag us up to the top. Instead, a young, hotdog (named Mark) came blasting down on a utility snowmobile. I laughed thinking about the ‘bile speed limit at Park City Mountain.
Mark pulled us up to the top of the ridge with the throttle at full. Insurance nightmare. I was imaging being pulled by the cat. Once at the top, Mark directed us down the ridge to “ski down, then traverse, ski down, traverse…” Once he whipped around and sped off, we side-slipped over the wind-scoured crust to a hidden spot out of the wind. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Once the proper state of mind was reached, we buckled up and did as both Mark’s told us to do. You can tell how good the skiing is by how spoiled the locals are. On the first pitch, we skied barely-tracked powder all the way down into the canyon—the kind of snow you see on Jupiter at 10:30 a.m. on a powder day. All tracked out, huh? We traversed back onto the ridge, and came down through yet more powder. The conditions were deep everywhere; knee deep Styrofoam, to cappuccino foam, to “real powder.” We were high as a kite.
Further down the ridge, we looked back up to see massive rock cliffs and boulders. There were chutes of all varieties and just the kind of insanity we were looking for.
We rounded the point at the bottom to NOT stand in line for the Paradise lift. Two minutes into the ride, we discussed how this lift was aptly named. The entire ridge beneath the lift was one gigantic whale spine of a natural terrain park. The red rock boulders and cliffs just kept coming, topped with massive tufts of the 114-inch base. Any size drop you’re man enough for lies beneath the Paradise lift. Andy and I wanted to jump off sooo bad.
I thought of the masses of people and endless lift lines at Park City and Snowbird. Holy shit was this going to be some kind of day.
We unloaded and quickly snipped down through the mildly bumped-out “Strait Shot” onto our whale spine. No one was in the way, and barely anyone was on the lift to watch us go big. We skied a perfect looking chute to access more of what we wanted. My first hop turn didn’t go so well, as the snow had been baking in the sun for days. I figured for cush, but it was rock hard; my skis shot forward and I sat down on the couch. OK. Variable conditions.
We took our first trip through the spine somewhat tentatively. No need to smash bones against rock because we didn’t know what to expect. It was still outrageous. The second run allowed for a bit more irrationality. I went somewhat grande, dropping a few five to tens; Andy went venti, with packs of wild boarders hootin’ at him from the lift. All skiable lines were incredibly vacant and the landings were pleasingly soft.
It didn’t take much of this stuff to work up some hunger, so we headed toward the Hidden Lake lodge. This was where most of the tourists were skiing, but still no lift lines. Without caring what the resort called it, about halfway up this ridiculously slow lift we renamed it the “Fuck This Express.” My feet were hurting, but the lift just never seemed to end.
Once at the top, the Hidden Lake Lodge looked amazingly like a government building. Brick, stark and without style. The menu was short and pretty pathetic—nothing remotely healthy. (Unlike Brighton, they do take plastic) I grabbed a deep-fried chicken sandwich and headed upstairs. The 360 degree views on the upper level are breathtaking; but you get your breath right back when you see that the tables are all crafted of construction-grade, OSB plywood. When we were finished, we glanced over at the trashcan, then down at our mess, and decided they “do not have people for this.”
We skied hard the rest of the afternoon. We took numerous rides up Paradise and Lightning Ridge, still finding deep, spaciously tracked foam on every line. Afterward, we hung out in the Powder Keg bar and talked a long time with the employees. That was as fun as anything else.
These things do not exist anymore: undiscovered mom and pop ski resorts with no high-speed lifts and outrageous terrain; lift tickets so cheap and you tip the bartender $20 for a beer; Rocky Mountain weekend skiing with NO (none, zero, these-guys-can’t-even-pay-the-electric-bills) LIFTLINES.
Powder Mountain is not a destination resort. It’s the kind of place where the employees abide by no corporate policies. It’s the kind of place where ski lessons cost $35—with rentals!!! It’s the kind of place where bartenders wear WHATEVER they want, keep baby food in the beer cooler, and burn the shit out of your burger while they’re talking to you.
On weekends, no one is there. On weekdays, the only cars in the lot are owned by employees. When we were there, Powder Mountain had almost 20 more inches of base than any of the other ski resorts. It’s just unbelievable.
Any day you want to get out to ski, take off at any time in the morning—don’t worry about how long it takes to get there—and head up to Powder Mountain. There will be better snow and fewer skiers than anywhere else in the Wasatch. And if you’ve been around a while, Powder Mountain might just remind you of what skiing was like 20 years ago.