Jim and Vince Kenney are about to begin another father-son ski adventure. We hope to report here on DCSki each day for the next week plus with photos, video and commentary about our activities. Our trip starts at 4am tomorrow morning. This is going to be a Sick Salt Lake Ski Safari!
-Sick because we'll be skiing six of the snowiest ski areas in the frigging world over the course of six consecutive days from Dec 31, 2010 to Jan 5, 2011.
-Sick because we're driving a 1992 Honda Accord from Virginia to Utah in the dead of winter. We'll probably log about 4500 total miles on this trip if the Gray Lady doesn't croak on us. Somewhere during the journey we may pick up a set of tire chains, but that's about our only trip insurance.
-Sick because Jim had some unpleasant kidney stone episodes throughout December and got the doc's clearance just in the last few days to go ahead with this trip. Vince is ready to be the eyes, ears and videographer for any of the sickest Utah black diamond terrain the old man can't handle.
Stay tuned for a dose of Wasatch Wonderfulness. The roster of ski areas we hope to cover includes some of the greatest in the US West. We're going to visit historic Ogden and ski a pair of outstanding mountains just east of town. Then we're moving down around Salt Lake City to experience legendary Utah ski areas in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.
The Redskins and their NFL playoff aspirations are about done for the year. The Wasatch Range is expecting a foot or two of freshies in the next two days. It's time to focus on mountain passes and breakaway runs through the greatest snow on Earth. If Vince and I execute the game plan properly this drive...could...go...all...the...way!
I've been to Utah once or twice. Some local tips for Ogden.
Don't ski Snowbasin on a low visibility day.
Lightning Ridge snowcat ride for $15 is generally worth it at Pow Mow. Main Pow Mow base area is the second one, not the first (further up the hill.) Powder Country is generally also worth it (ski down to the bus.) With the exception of Lightning Ridge and Powder Country, Pow Mow is generally low-angle terrain subject to warming. The ridges on either side of the bottom (slow) lift have the steepest "in-bounds" terrain. Cobabe can have untracked days after a storm, but the traverse to vertical ratio is poor.
Canyon Sports in Ogden (and SLC) for discount lift tix.
You can get also get discount lift tix to Pow Mow at the grocery store at the 4 corners stop in Eden (on the drive up before Wolf Creek Condos.)
Golden Corral Buffet and Grill near the intersection of S 400 E and E 1200 S (Canyon Road) has great all you can eat breakfast buffet on weekends.
Per Tommo, Grey Cliff Lodge (on the Ogden Canyon Road) has killer trout dinners. Never had the chance to stop there.
Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville. Oldest continuously operating saloon in Utah. Open every day but Monday and Tuesday. Order the Star Burger. You'll never have a kidney stone again. Just don't look at how they're cooking it.
Watch out for falling rocks on Ogden Canyon Road. One hit my rental car a couple of years back.
I agree with the Colonel on the reason it's sick. Some of my best ski memories are from the one trip I made to Utah. Alta was amazing and beautiful. I'm sure you and your son are going to enjoy the trip.
1200 miles today, DC to Omaha, NE. Got an early start, so early it was still dark as we passed Morgantown, WV. Used I270-70-68-79-70-74-80. It was clear most of the trip, with foggy drizzle in IA. Snow covered the ground almost all the way, starting around Cumberland, MD. 4-6 inches natural around Wisp, 2-4 inches everywhere to Omaha. Tomorrow will be about 900 miles through Nebraska and Wyoming, all on I80 with some elevations above 7000 feet expecting a foot or more of snow during our passage. Could be interesting, should get some prettier pictures. Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
First photo: crossing the frozen Illinois River at Peoria, IL.
Second photo: watching "Steep" on the IPOD near Davenport, IA
Best laid plans of mice and snowmen...today our forward progress was halted by old man winter when blowing snow and high winds (not to mention zero degree temps) closed a 100 mile section of I80 in central Wyoming. We're lodging tonight in Rawlins. We should be ok to make Utah in the morning. In hindsight we probably should have taken advantage of Salt Lake City's incredibly convenient international airport as the gateway to great skiing and skip all the road wars, but the car does give us some flexibility. We hope to adjust our schedule and slide previous ski appointments by one day.
It was 50 degrees and misty in Omaha this morning and tonight will go below zero with snow and howling winds in Rawlins. To paraphrase friend Denis B., "you don't mess around with a full blown western blizzard." We went through an incredible weather change in the 600 road miles we logged.
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
First picture: powerful cold/snow front moving in over western Nebraska
Second picture: rock formations in eastern Wyoming
Third picture: huge Sinclair refinery in central Wyoming
Glad to hear that you got through the storm OK. I will never again try to drive in a blizzard on the high plains. I've stayed overnight in Rawlins a couple times. There is a great hole in the wall breakfast place that the local motel owner told me about. Can't recall the name but it's full of cowboys who look rough but are very polite and interesting.
We had a good travel day today and arrived in Ogden in the early afternoon. This gave us a chance to check out the town - very neat little city. Big enough for a month's worth of dining choices, small enough to walk around the interesting parts of town in an hour or two. We had a great meal at an upscale Mexican Restaurant called the Sonora Grill. It's right across the street from the Salomon Center, a sophisticated 21st century playground featuring indoor skydiving, indoor surfing, bowling, arcade, movie theatre megaplex and more - nice spot for après ski fun or to explore during a ski weeker's rest day. http://www.utah.com/ogden/salomon-center.htm
Ogden has a number of historic buildings including early 20th century Art Deco structures such as the Egyptian Theatre, City Hall and Union Train Station. Railroading is big here. The Golden Spike National Historic Site, where America's first transcontinental railroad was completed, is not far from town.
Tomorrow we ski Snowbasin, just 30 minutes east of Ogden. The roster for the rest of our Utah visit will include Powder Mountain, Brighton, Alta, Snowbird, and Solitude. This should be GOOD.
Happy Trails and Happy New Year, Jim and Vince Kenney
First photo: I80 reopened at about 8:30am. It still had a few slick spots, but we were able to make good time for our 300 mile drive. The truckers were out in force. This is a section in southwest Wyoming.
Beautiful New Year's Day 2011 at Snowbasin. Great packed powder on the groomers and loose snow or soft wind buff off piste. Sunny, not much wind, but high temp of only about 10 degrees. We beat the cold by riding the two marvelous express gondolas (both ~2500' vert) and the tram almost exclusively.
We started shortly after the 9am starting bell and skied groomers off the Needles Gondi. After about 90 minutes I switched from East Coast ice skis to old school Volant Chubbs and we migrated to the Strawberry Gondi (far lookers left of trail layout) and explored some relatively easy off piste runs. Super fun stuff that was shown to us by friendly Ogden locals. Snowbasin is huge (3000 acres) and could easily occupy a visitor for a week or more of exploring.
At about 1:15pm we ate lunch in the John Paul lodge. Not sure which was prettier, the interior décor or the exterior views of the Wasatch from its 9000' perch. We had a nice bowl of Italian Stew here and experienced the legendarily sumptuous Snowbasin restrooms.
After our late lunch we rode the Allen Peak tram up to about 9500' and skied the Men's and Women's Olympic Downhill Courses and lower Mt. Ogden Bowl. While in the bowl we saw a pair of extreme skiers bomb the chutes above it - like a Warren Miller movie. Then we skied each gondi one more time and called it a day five minutes before closing time.
Two words after our first ever visit to Snowbasin: world class. Marvelous terrain and snow conditions with lots of fun undulation, one minute lift lines, low density glades, bumps, long groomers, extreme chutes, you name it. We spent the day skiing at an elevation between approximately 6500 and 9500 feet, definitely less of an adjustment for flatlanders than some of the higher ski resorts elsewhere in the Rockies. Beautiful lodges, easy 17 mile drive from fun and affordable Ogden.
Tomorrow we ski Powder Mountain, then relocate towards Salt Lake City. We're gonna miss the Ogden Marriott, great base for skiing these resorts and luxury at a budget price.
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
First photo: Needles Gondola terrain
Second photo: Strawberry Gondola terrain and the southwest view
Third photo: Great Salt Lake from backside of tram summit
Jim and Vince, I just started reading about your "sick" adventure. I think you've already convinced me to fly to SLC if ever I venture to Utah for skiing, but I envy the perspective on geography -- including deadling with snow-closed interstates -- that comes from a cross-continent drive.
What a gorgeous day at Snowbasin! Thanks for all the great details on eats and lodging. (I've saved your NH escapade notes for what I hope will be next year's Big Trip.)
Really fun day at Powder Mountain on Sunday, Jan 2, 2011. High temps moderated closer to 20 degrees today. It was mostly cloudy, but with enough breaks to get some great views from time to time. This place is huge, 7000 acres HUGE, and segmented into so many trail/terrain pods that it seems you are skiing a mountain range, not a single ski area. Chair lifts are only part of the uphill transport; for access to countless untracked or barely tracked powder runs the resort offers Snow Cat rides and shuttle buses.
No question, Powder Mountain has got to be one of the best spots in the world for an intermediate-advanced skier to learn how to ski powder. A lot of the off-piste terrain is not particularly high angle and seemed mostly free of dangerous cliff bands. Plus, whether you are on easy groomers or tackling the pow, there's not many folks to get in your way.
You don't go to Powder Mountain to ski groomers. We took one groomer at the beginning of the day and then immediately hopped the snow cat for two rides up 9105' Cobabe Peak. One of our runs descended 2200' vertical feet of off piste terrain from Lightening Ridge to the base of the Paradise chairlift.
Later we took a series of chairs and a poma lift to check out Cobabe Canyon. Here we found some of the lightest powder of the day on a hillside called Proving Ground. By this point we were fighting over which of the two of us would use the old fat Volant Chubbs I had brought on the trip, as they dealt with the 1-2 feet of stale powder and wind buff much better than the narrow waisted East Coast carving skis we normally ride. We have become believers in fat skis for this kind of snow and Vince went out tonight rented the K2 Aftershock all terrain rocker ski to use for the rest of the trip unless we decide to swap it for something even more aggressive.
We did not get to Powder Country, another huge off piste portion of the ski area, but instead took a final ride on the snow cat because it was such a unique treat for us.
Powder Mountain is like a Mom and Pop ski area on steroids and could not be more different from slick nearby Snowbasin. The two are a nice contrasting tandem. Ironically, Powder Mountain is the one with more slopeside or near slopeside lodging if you enjoy that kind of convenience.
Tomorrow we do Brighton.
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
First photo: Vince and Jim's first ever snowcat ride.
Second photo: Vince in the Big Kash area off Lightening Ridge.
Third photo: lots of elbow room on the groomed runs here.
Fourth photo: gnarly terrain underneath the Paradise chair.
Video from Powder Mountain to follow in the AM, slow internet connection tonight.
Utah keeps getting better and better. January 3 was an extremely beautiful day at Brighton. All sunshine, temps around 20 degs, and no wind. I'm really glad we made it to Brighton because - surprise, surprise - Mr. Old School Two Planker fell in love with an area known as a Mecca for snowboarders.
There was something about the playfulness of the terrain with knobs, gulches, gnarly trees, and rock outcroppings intermingled with an abundance of good blue square and single black diamond runs. The groomers were my comfort food when the off-piste got a bit too spicy. The base area has an intimacy that is easy to navigate and the travel time from the Salt Lake City suburbs is a super convenient 30 minutes.
Brighton is nicely served by six chairlifts, including four high speed quads that access 100% of the layout. If it's not clear from our photos this week, the early season conditions at Brighton (and throughout the Wasatch) are absolutely superb. Another thing that stole my heart at Brighton was the scenery, breathtaking in any direction, perhaps the best in Utah. The lifts top out at 10,500'.
I especially liked the terrain off the Great Western Express (1745' vert) with pretty Aspen glades, doable black diamond runs, long groomers, and killer views of Mt. Millicent (elev 10,452'). I could have spent days in this one trail pod. It hit my ability sweet spot.
The Millicent Express Chair terrain also gave us some memorable runs including picturesque upper-intermediate trails, double black diamond Lone Pine run, and the steep, wide open Scree Slope below the rocky pyramid of Mt. Millicent. Occasional small cliffs and rock outcroppings add character to the Millicent terrain and raise your focus factor.
We took a few runs/lift rides in the Millicent area with Tim and James from Australia. This colorfully outfitted pair was enjoying a father and son ski day just like us. They were among numerous internationals we've observed this week in Utah, testimony to the drawing power of the greatest snow on Earth.
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
View of Brighton from Main Street off the Milly Express
Vince on Scree Slope in the Millicent area. The very entertaining terrain served by the Great Western Express chair is the mountain in the upper left.
Vince cutting through a pretty aspen glade near the base area late in the day.
Brighton may be snowboarder heaven, but Vince and I felt blessed to experience this beautiful place too.
How does Vince like the Aftershocks? From the reviews I've read, he may want to try something wider and a bit more agressive.
Brighton is definitely worth it and you can't beat the price, even by Utah standards. Glad you stopped there. IMHO, it has some of the best tree skiing in Utah (though I prefer the north-facing evergreens versus the aspens. I'm not a fan of aspen tree skiing with any type of southern or sun exposure.)
Also some nice side country (but there are cliffs there so you better know what you're doing...)
You had a much better experience on the Great Western lift than I have in nearly 10 or so days skiing at Brighton. The terrain served by it is nice, but it seems to degrade incredibly quickly due to the western exposure. It can get East Coast icy. The cold temps and early Jan lack of light probably helped the conditions on Great Western.
January 4, 2011 was mostly sunny at Alta with high temps about 21 degrees and no wind. Today was like a dream, one of the greatest ski days of my life. That I could share this day with Vince made it even better.
The terrain at Alta is so beautiful and inspiring that it seduces you into raising your game to experience all the great stuff. We were fortunate to ski with a friendly local in the morning and received a great orientation that started with a fine selection of wide, packed powder cruisers off the Collins and Sugarloaf high speed quads. Eventually we sampled a bit of almost every part of the ski area.
It's difficult for me to narrow the list of highlights. We skied from 6th chair to closing time and covered tons of really special runs. Double black diamond High Rustler lived up to its gnarly reputation, but the long steep face held great loosely packed powder that let you turn and check with confidence. Nearby we also skied a steep glade called Eagles Nest that was even snowier and broke open into a wide mogul field with gorgeous views of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
After a delicious beef chili lunch in the mid-mountain Watson Shelter we made two wonderful runs (So Long and Last Chance) in the Catherine's area served by the Supreme triple chair. This section of the mountain is astoundingly pretty and was bathed in afternoon sunlight during our runs. Steep, but not too steep, Catherine's is peppered with rock outcroppings and ancient, gnarly pine trees. You ski a ridgeline and then have a choice of chutes to drop into depending on the steepness and width within your comfort factor.
Tonight we are staying slopeside at the Goldminer's Daughter Lodge. It's rustically elegant and located adjacent to the Collins express quad for primo access to the upper mountain. The common spaces and particularly the dining room with its enormous wall of windows overlooking the slopes superbly satisfy the most discriminating guest. The strip steak and grilled salmon ain't bad either
Despite my four+ decades of skiing and wide winter travels I had never skied Alta before. To ski this world renowned mountain on a beautiful day and stay slopeside at a classic lodge like Goldminer's Daughter is the fulfillment of a lifelong goal of mine. During one of our last epic runs of the day I pulled Vince aside and said a quick prayer out loud - thankful for a VERY good day I'll never forget. For the skiing faithful a day at Alta can be a religious experience.
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
First photo: gnarly Alta has a tremendous array of easier slopes and is a great place to introduce children to the best that skiing can be.
Second photo: Vince on High Rustler
Third photo: the beautiful terrain of Catherine's off the Supreme lift
Fourth photo: the base of Alta is another world just 35 minutes from the Salt Lake City International Airport
High Rustler Run at Alta, Utah (short video tonight, we need sleep)
Great Jim, just fantastic, I'm so happy for you two. What can I say, the bonds you two are building, the beauty and challenge you share, that's just fantastic. I imagine it is both exhilarating and humbling. Yes, I say your are blessed. Enjoy and come safely back to us and share that passion. I so look forward to skiing with you both and hearing all the details of your journey.
I have always said that Alta is the mecca of skiing! Last time there I also stayed at the Goldminer's Daughter. Like you said, great food and comfortable rooms. Alta can truly be a skiing experience with religious overtones! Glad you got to ski it! The Colonel
It was another fabulous day in Utah. We only had to drive a mile down the road to majestic Snowbird. The weather was more of the same - sunny with temps reaching the low 20s. This weather is great for our safari; preserving great snow conditions, while the roads remain in good shape allowing us to see and ski a large scope of terrain at each resort.
On ski day number five of our trip we're getting lazy. We didn't start skiing until 10:15am, but part of the blame goes to the great breakfast buffet that caused us to linger at the Goldminer's Daughter Lodge. However, we didn't stop for lunch until 2:30pm and were still on the mountain when the lifts closed.
Our first ride today was on Snowbird's legendary 125 passenger tram (2900' vert) and we stayed on the looker's right front side of the mountain for several runs. Vince skied STH (Steeper Than H---), a high angle glade paralleling the impressive upper liftline of the Gad 2 chair.
The sun came out around 11am and we rode the Peruvian Express Quad (2572') and cut through the mountain on Snowbird's unique tunnel (served by a 600' magic carpet) to Mineral Basin on the backside of the mountain. This was the star terrain of the day for us. We spent about two to three hours here. It was just too good to leave. The cold temps, brilliant sunshine, and no wind (except at the summit) made for very pleasant skiing all across this enormous area, whether groomed or ungroomed slopes.
We made several runs close to the liftline of the Mineral Basin Express Quad (1429' vert) where the terrain is very playful and features a sprinkling of trees, not too difficult chutes, and rock/cliff bands which can be avoided or dropped depending on your state of aggression. Much of Mineral Basin is totally treeless, but Vince and I found great fun on the far skier's right and left of the basin in gulches, treed areas, and small rock bands.
Eventually, we returned to the front side of the mountain and took a nearly 3000 vertical foot cruise down Peruvian Gulch on Chip's Run, one of the great intermediate trails in America. It was particularly sweet in the low crowd conditions we experienced. Later we had lunch in the nearly deserted Mid-Gad restaurant. For the record, we had no lift line waits all day, even on the tram. Post holiday weeks in January can be very, very nice in Utah.
We didn't ski Snowbird's renowned extreme terrain on the front side of the mountain under the aerial tram. There is some phenomenal expert stuff at Snowbird, but it is not to be taken lightly especially by unguided tourists like ourselves. Vince will have to come back to Snowbird some day when he's not saddled by the old man. Tomorrow we ski Solitude and then begin the return trip to Virginia.
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
First photo: STH trail in Gad Valley
Second photo: Mineral Basin terrain near the MB Express Quad
Third photo: Mineral Basin near Birds Nest; Vince foreground, Mt Timpanogos (elev 11,749') in background.
Faulty internet connection last night in our motel in Laramie, WY. Posting today during a lunch break in beautiful Kearney, NE.
January 6th was our prettiest day yet here in Utah; calm, sunny, and highs around 25 degrees. We skied Solitude today and it lived up to its name. We arrived about 930am and there was plenty of parking in the primo lot near the cute pedestrian Solitude Village base consisting of condos, shops, pubs, restaurants, an ice rink, and skier/rider services facilities. The crowds were among the lightest of our trip with no lift lines and low trail traffic all day. This place is perfect for families or groups looking for a compact slopeside complex, great snow, no mobs, awesome scenery, and a fine variety of terrain for all levels.
Since it was our sixth straight ski day Vince and I were both a little fatigued, but felt very comfortable on a large percent of Solitude's terrain. The lower part of the ski area features numerous conventional tree-lined groomers and single black diamond open hillsides or glades. The upper part of the ski area is really fun and encompasses distinctive single black diamond groomers, double black diamond glades, chutes and cliffs. The summit chair (offloads at 10,035') at Solitude also provides access to the enormous Honeycomb Canyon, which has all kinds of ungroomed advanced terrain in a very pretty high alpine setting.
Our highlights included an early run in a steep glade called Parachute leading to the base of the summit chair. We also loved Honeycomb Canyon. It's super scenic and had me telling Vince how it might resemble the Dolomite Mountains of Italy.
Something about Solitude's low key vibe and sweet groomers really relaxed us and made our last ski day in Utah one to savor. The weather was so nice that for the first time all week we lunched al fresco beside the mid-mountain Roundhouse Restaurant. Do we have to come home?
Late in the day I rode a chair with an older local man in an ancient helmet and big sunglasses. He seemed to epitomize the unpretentious and homey vibe of the place. He talked about how Solitude was such a great source of recreation within 20 minutes of his home in Salt Lake City. He also emphasized what a nice place Solitude is for families and told me he likes to bring his children, ...and his grandchildren, ...and his great-grandchildren with him to ski. At this point I turned to him and said, "may I ask how old you are?" He was 79 and when I told him my age (57) he said, "you're just starting out." The guy was my Utahn hero!
Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
PS: We may do one more post in this blog in the next day or so if Vince can put together a slide show with the best additional photos. In a week or two I hope to do a recap story that will include edited helmet cam video by Vince.
Lonely walk through the beautiful ten year old Solitude Village at 9:30am.
Vince on "Parachute", one of Solitude's numerous steep glades.
Solid intermediates can access this awe-inspiring terrain in Soli's Honeycomb Canyon
I *love* Solitude. Alta's great, and I had a great day at Brighton (we didn't feel up to Snowbird's reputation at that time), but when we had 1 day to ski wherever we wanted in LCC or BCC, we picked Solitude. The name is remarkably apt, and the skiing is fantastic.
I have read endless posts of alta & have the whole mountain mapped out in my head thru the pics (I know...Pics don't do it Justice)...But these pics you have posted of Solitude have me thinking of scratching my Pedal/Sail kayak funds for a trip to Utah...Awesome!
We made it home safe and sound late last night. Saw some good snow showers in Garrett County, MD. Vince will try to post a collage of more Utah photos in a day or two. He's on his way back to college tonight. Great trip. Happy Trails, Jim and Vince Kenney
Glad to hear you had a safe trip home. Have enjoyed the posts and pictures of your Utah trip. We have made several road trips to CO and hope to make one to Utah in the next year or two. Your posts have a lot of helpful information for our trip, thanks.