Skiing and Snowboarding

Back to Basics

Back-coun-try ski-ing: (adjective) A. the kind of skiing where you don’t have to keep behind ropes or bounds of the resort; B. the kind of skiing where you don’t have to wait in line for a chair to get up the mountain; C. the kind of skiing where you can get some of the longest powder runs of your life, repeatedly. Most importantly, backcountry skiing is defined by high risk for a high reward. The avalanche control work that keeps resort skiing safe isn’t repeated to the same extent in the backcountry, meaning you need to go in prepared for worst case scenario.

The best way to familiarize yourself with backcountry skiing is to take a class. You’ll learn how to read terrain, understand the basics of snow mechanics, and recognize the warning signs nature gives you. Snow is complex — but it does have characteristic patterns. These classes teach you how to recognize these patterns and know when a given snowpack is stable or not. The Utah Avalanche Center and the University of Utah both offer classes, and workshops take place frequently around the valley.

For gear, renting is your best option when breaking into the sport. There is no need to get top-of-the-line skis with the lightest boot combined with the thinnest touring pants possible: yet. You can find cheap gear online, but the most essential equipment is (hopefully) not for purchase: a touring partner. Although they may cost you a burger or drink to convince them to go with a noob, it’s worth it if they save your life, or vice versa. Other essentials include a beacon, shovel, and a probe. In the event of an avalanche these are your first line of defense for survival. If you get caught in an avalanche, you will appreciate your touring partner being equipped to dig you out. Avalanche airbag backpacks are also becoming a common part of the avalanche safety set. These packs deploy when you pull a lever, helping to keep you toward the surface of the snow.

With the instruction and the gear, you’ll need a place to go. Step one is always to check the avalanche report on the Utah Avalanche Center’s website to see current danger ratings, recent avalanche activity, and what kind of terrain to look out for based on weather patterns. For your first couple times out in the backcountry, seek low angle terrain in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, such as Grizzly Gulch or Mill D. Once you get there, it never hurts to dig a pit to evaluate the snow. It’s a lot of work, but carving your own line down powder no one has touched all season is worth every step of preparation and uphill skiing.



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Get ready for POW Day

If you’ve ever skied or boarded Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon on a Saturday, you know the frustration of the Disneyland-esque lines up to the resorts: Never-ending, and sometimes longer than the actual time spent having fun.
Protect Our Winters (POW) and Ski Utah have come up with a solution that they call POW Day. On Friday, Jan. 13 (the snowiest day in Utah according to 50 years of data) anyone carpooling with three or more skiers/riders per vehicle or anyone riding a UTA bus to the resort will be rewarded. They can expect priority parking, POW Day beanies from Discrete, and an opportunity to ski or snowboard with a POW athlete such as Caroline Gleich, Forrest Shearer and Brody Leven. The event will take place at Alta, Snowbird, Powder Mountain, and Sundance beginning at 8 a.m. The POW Tent, at the base of each participating ski area, will give out raffle tickets and check in carpoolers and UTA riders. From 2:30 to 4 p.m., there will be a party with giveaways, DJs, and speeches about climate change.
Paul Marshall, spokesperson for Ski Utah, said this event which began last year was created to address problems such as congestion in the canyons and inversion from carbon emissions.
“We’re trying to increase tourism but also protect this pristine product that we have,” he said. “We think taking these kind of steps and helping change habits by incentivizing people will help change their habits for the future.”
Plus, POW and Ski Utah want everyone to know how easy it is to use public transportation, considering everyone with a season pass in the Cottonwoods also has a free UTA pass. UTA has improved their bus service this year, meaning all day service to resorts from Powder Mountain to Sundance.
Also this year, POW Day teamed up with SNOCRU, a snowsports app that connects you to your friends while on the mountain. At the check-in tent, Ski Utah will help check people into the app to see just how many carbon emissions they will have reduced that day.
“This will give us a true number and something we can build off for years to come,” Marshall said.
While they did not track everyone who participated last year, Marshall said all 500 beanies were distributed, and they have doubled that amount this year.


Photo courtesy of Ski Utah


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Make Your ‘Mark

When I told people I was learning to telemark ski, I was met with a baffled, “Why?!” Why would I pick a quad-burning, knee-banging, slippery new sport with a learning curve when I could just continue on my merry downhill way?

The first time I slid spread-eagled down a slope, I admit I missed my alpine bindings. And the second time. And the third time. The truth is, for at least my entire first day out on tele gear, I felt like a baby giraffe on roller-skates—awkward, gangly, and confused. However, I was quite possibly the happiest baby giraffe around, because whenever I did drop into a clean turn, it felt absolutely fantastic.

After about three runs, fantastic became fatigue. All the downhill runs in the world cannot prepare you for the burn of well-linked telemark turns. It is possible to parallel telemark, or “paramark,” which means making turns on tele skis without dropping the heel in a full stance. This is a huge help especially when learning to avoid gassing out within your first hour free-heeling. However, even while paramarking, a well-balanced neutral stance is crucial to avoid flying forward and face-planting. If you can navigate a mogul field or drop a cliff with telemark bindings, rest assured you can do it on alpine bindings. It doesn’t take long on a pair of tele skis to realize that this sport will make you strong, well-balanced, and confident both on free-heel and fixed-heel equipment.

Once I was ready to try some softer, off-piste (ungroomed) snow, the fun really began. Frankly, I wasn’t fully committed to the whole telemark thing until I dropped a turn in powder and felt fresh snow hit my face. When you make telemark turns, you are alternating lunges. It seems obvious, but this results in a deeper crouch, bringing you closer to the snow compared to alpine skiing. In powder, this significantly improves your chances of getting those coveted face shots.

Out of powder a lower stance puts you in closer contact with the terrain of a slope; moguls feel bigger, steeps feel steeper. It’s more difficult to blast through features and you’ll likely take longer to get down the mountain. In the backcountry, after spending hours slogging up a slope this more prolonged descent means you’re going to get every last ounce of enjoyment returned from that sweaty climb you made.

Compared to regular alpine downhill bindings and boots, tele gear is light as a feather. The accordion-pleated toe in tele boots also accommodates a much more natural gait while walking. So, when you decide to take off your skis and boot-pack in resort, you’ll be amazed at the newfound ease and speed with which you find those last powder stashes. While alpine touring or randonnee equipment is comparable in weight, it can out-price decent telemark gear by hundreds of dollars. If you’re looking to break into the world of backcountry skiing without breaking the bank, telemarking is definitely worth a try.

After spending winter break getting the hang of telemarking, I’d say I now feel like a puppy on roller-skates instead of a baby giraffe. Alpine skiing is the easy choice, but I can attest there’s an exclusive coolness factor to telemarking. Competing bumper sticker slogans from the 1980’s say it best—“Free the heel, free the mind!” and “Drop knees, not bombs!” are met with “Fix the heel, fix the problem!” But one K2 sticker sums it up: “randonnée: French for can’t tele.”



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Free Skier Society – Supervention II Screening


Whether you’re an experienced skier or just getting started, you should know about the Utah Freeskier Society, a student-run organization started in 2001 whose goal is to promote the sport of skiing on campus at the U.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, they will screen Supervention II, a new ski documentary by Field Productions. This screening will be the premier in the United States, so ski bums and film lovers, rejoice. This event is not to be missed. Tickets are $5 at the door for members and $10 for non-members. There will be an accompanying raffle with the chance to win free skis, poles, goggles, gift cards, and outerwear, along with many companies and brands giving out free schwag.

The event will be held in the U’s College Of Social Work Auditorium. Raffle begins at 7:15, so mark your calendars and clear your schedules. Visit the Utah Free Skier’s website here or follow them on Facebook to find out more and stay in the loop on all the upcoming events.

Through a Utah Freeskier Society membership, you can get massive discounts on season passes at Brighton, Alta, Park City Mountain Resort, and more, plus huge gear discounts on tons of big name brands. They host ski-related events and activities throughout the year.



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World Renowned Cross-country Skier Trampled at Local Ski Swap SATIRE

It is with a heavy heart and tear-fogged goggles that I recount this weekend’s tragic circumstances.

At a local ski-swap event last Saturday evening, professional cross-country skier and Italian national treasure, Horatio Pellegrino II, was gravely injured in what witnesses described as a “freak accident,” recounted by one bearded bystander as a “vulgar spectacle of human depravity.”

This annual event, known as ‘Soggy Sam’s Saline Ski-Scramble’, is a typically peaceful one, having served witness to only two fatalities since its grand debut in 2003. This year, however, was different. While the 25 x 25 ft. REI backroom had adequately facilitated visitors of years past, the newly introduced prospect of free ballcaps brought new participants in droves, pushing the venue to its limit.

Included in this tremendous turnout was Pellegrino, six-time Marcialonga race winner and the first and only person to summit the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc on skis, in a single day. According to his agent, Pellegrino had traveled to Salt Lake City after reading a mysterious online article alluding to the “Turkey King” of Gobbler’s Knob, seeking to catch a first-hand glimpse of the fowl monarch and challenge him to a race through the woods.

In an exclusive interview with the athlete after the tragic event, he shared with great difficulty that “I always, always, no matter where I wander, attend every available ski swap. With an open heart and mind, I look for a vintage pair of Asnes Turski Nordic skis, used by my father and his father before him.” This nostalgic quest is what brought Pellegrino to Soggy Sam’s that fateful night.

From the confused and inconsistent reports, it seems that the coordinators began distributing ballcaps around 10:30 pm, marking the beginning of the abrupt spiral into chaos. One anonymous participant stated “When I saw those hats, I just ran. They had mountains on them. I am a mountain guy, everyone must know that I am a mountain guy. I suppose I just…blacked out.” In a violent, collective mass, the ski-swap patrons rushed the distribution table, startling an unsuspecting Pellegrino to the ground.

“I was comparing the spiritual energy of two powerful sets of skis, and I heard the scampering — it reminded me of my encounter with Gray Wolves in the Swiss Alps,” Pellegrino recounted, his eyes watering, “and, I lost control.”

In his state-of-the-art snowsuit and boots, the bewildered athlete struggled to stay on his feet, slipping and thrashing for nearly twenty-five seconds before plummeting to the ground. In the incomprehensible commotion, Pellegrino was trampled by over 80 people, reportedly rushing either to or from the distribution table, some towards the parking lot to conceal their new hats.

Pellegrino, who refused to be transported in any kind of automobile, was frantically carried by present fans to the University Hospital, where he currently tends to his wounds.

According to the medical staff overseeing his recovery, the athlete will be incapacitated for months to come, and must sit out the approaching ski season in the hospital. Shortly after relaying this heartbreaking news, Pellegrino’s agent informed him that the Gobbler’s Knob myth was fabricated by a student writer as a gag, and that the liquor he had requested is prohibited in Utah.

When asked of his immediate plans, he expressed with great exasperation and fury that he intends to write an expository memoir about the injustices done unto him in Utah and sue Soggy Sam for damages.

Utahns, he declared, “must now face the wrath of Horatio Pellegrino II.” The implications of this vendetta are anyone’s guess; for now, we must hang our heads in shame, and pray for the athlete’s full recovery.


Photo by Chris Hammock


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Settle in for a Slick Ski Season

Powder is on its way.

At Ski Utah’s kickoff to the ski season yesterday, that was the resounding message. Representatives from ski resorts and Utah’s Office of Tourism gathered with media members to hear Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, discuss the prospects of the upcoming season.

Many ski resorts, such as Sundance, Cherry Peak, and Powder Mountain, are increasing access with new ski lifts. Snowbird and Brian Head have expanded buildings for ski school and restaurants. But, all the resorts have a resounding theme —

“Snow guns are at the ready,” Rafferty said.

Since last year broke records from the 2007-08 season for number of visitors, Rafferty and others are hopeful that this year the momentum will keep going. Of course, everyone is doing it in different ways.

For resorts like Powder Mountain, they want to keep the number of visitors high, but not so high that they lose their iconic seclusion. They have decided to limit the amount of season pass holders to 1,000 and day passes to 2,000.

“We don’t want to change. We want to keep our little resort feel,” said JP Goulet, marketing manager for Powder Mountain. “We want you to look around and have no one around you.”

Since they are adding two new chair lifts and adding another 600 acres to their resort, that goal is feasible. The lifts are expected to be running by Dec. 15. While Powder Mountain doesn’t have a set opening day (since they don’t make their own snow), Goulet is confident they will be running by the first week of December.

Other resorts are hoping to open starting next week.

Brighton is celebrating its 80th year of operation, Solitude is re-modeling their mountain lodge, and Snowbird is starting a program to support carpooling and public transportation use. While many are worried about the lack of snow, the resorts know sooner or later, it will come.

Rafferty wants everyone to remember, “Utah always delivers when it comes to snow.”



Photo by Carolyn Webber


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