The Wasatch

"You're feeling your oats today, huh?"

I twist myself around to look upslope at my husband, Andy, after dropping in the first twenty-five or so feet of Grizzly Bowl, a signature black diamond run accessed off the Timberline lift at PowMow. Today, it is steep, hard packed and chock full o'moguls. On Friday it will be a beautiful, free fall descent through six to eight inches of champagne Wasatch powder. Practice makes perfect.

I smile at Andy, do as much of a wee jig as I can manage with my skis gripping an incline edge and drop the rest of the way into the run, committing myself to the pitch.

"Jesus this is steep. Girls and their damn energy." With no choice but to follow me, I get to hear Andy growl this statement later that evening, courtesy of our amateur Go Pro adventures filmed that day. [GRIN]. 

Eden, Utah
2.17.2013 - 2.23.2013 

I normally pride myself on packing both swift and light, a functional product of years and years spent shuttling between my parents' homes during my teenage years.  All that pride goes right out the window when it comes to packing for a ten day ski trip to Utah in the middle of winter.

                √ Two sets of skis (one for hard pack, one for pow). Poles. Boots. And the giant duffle bag of all the assorted, bulky winter gear that goes along with it.

                √ Groceries and other various household items that may as well make the trek since: a) we're driving, and b) we already own the stuff (like laundry detergent), and there's no sense in buying more for the condo once we get to Utah.  

                √ None of this includes normal-people wear, shoes or accessories that help outdoor geeks blend in with the rest of the population.

                √ A cooler of food and beer. Yes, this is  about Pacific Northwest microbrew snobbery, amongst other things. What Oregon lacks for quality in snow, it more than makes up for in microbrews. So, we just have to shuttle the microbrews to where the good snow is.   

Ben Franklin got it right

Somehow, all the above doesn't really fit into the carry-on suitcase which is my usual standard for cross-country family vacation visits. What I really need for trips like this is a Mary Poppins' handbag. Oh well...looks like our friend M's truck will just have to do.  

Our destination is Eden, a small, rural town which lies nestled into a valley northeast of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch range. The Wasatch are a famous (for skiers) range of mountains that extend from the Idaho/Utah border through the central part of Utah. Bordering one side of the Great Salt Lake and its namesake city, the craggy peaks provide a dramatic backdrop and untold recreational opportunities in both summer and winter.

sunset in Eden, Utah

PowMow's Cobabe Peak and Lighting Ridge cat skiing area

As a Georgia girl, skiing wasn't something I ever had on my radar as a child- far from it. I "learned" to ski my senior year in college in 1998 after being coerced by Andy that it would be "fun". It was not an enjoyable experience. I fell more times than I can remember, pitched a few hissy fits, ran over a couple of little kids, and, by the following morning, was sore in spots I didn't even know I had. If Andy hadn't had the forethought to make me promise I would try the activity at least three times, I never would have clipped into another set of thin death boards to save my life. In retrospect, I can think of few activities that require as much pain and frustration to learn as skiing or snowboarding, and there is nothing, nothing entertaining about the first couple of times out. Once I learned, though, it became Andy and I's winter activity of choice and most weekends found us up at the mountain. Due to school commitments and finances, we've had to take about four years off of skiing, and oh how we have missed it. This trip was a celebration of finishing school, finding work, and coming back into our own. 

Andy and I haven't been to Utah for winter skiing/hiking since 2006- this will be our fourth trip. We discovered the beauty of Utah powder quite by accident, and it has become one of our coveted places to ski. This time, though, we won't be solo. This time, we wrangled our delightfully funny, fantastically good friends M&A into a thirteen hour Oregon-Idaho-Utah road trip vacation ending just eight miles from Powder Mountain, one of our favorite Mom-n-Pop type places (all 7000+ acres of it) to get our ski/snowboard on. When they pull up at 4:45am on Saturday morning though, I have to wonder how much they are going to regret the decision to hang out with us for ten days. 

good friends A&M

I freaking {heart} my friend

Personally, I love most of the drive. I love watching the sunrise over the Gorge and the transition from the temperate, western end to the drier, desert-steppe like eastern gorge on the gradual elevation gain to Hermiston. From there, you follow the old road of the Oregon trail through the Blues and the dry, rolling hills and mountains of eastern Oregon. It takes six hours to reach the Oregon border...from there, the next section of road through southern Idaho is truly the bane of the trip consisting mostly of featureless farmland and cow pastures. About thirty miles past Twin Falls, I-84 swings southeast and begins a nearly seventy mile, extremely rural stretch through the foothills of the Wasatch; it's a primitive and beautifully stark area that is also a severe storm section with no services to speak of.  From there, the final push is only about an hour through the Ogden Canyon into the Eden valley and settling into the condo for the night. We made great time, but no matter which way you shake it, it's still a solid twelve hour drive from Portland- we've never managed to make it more quickly.

Eden magpies

The Wasatch from Ogden Canyon

Since Andy was still recovering from an unexpected cold, Sunday was spent waking up late, putzing around getting our bearings and planning out the rest of the week. We ate lunch at one of three recommended restaurants in town, Carlos and Harleys Mexican Cantina, where we discovered actual Utah microbrews by Epic brewery. They were freaking delish. That said, they also came with a hefty price tag: $12-$20 for a 22oz bottle. Ouch. No, that was not listed on the menu. So, for the would-be Utah tourist, be warned. Ask for the price before ordering.

Epic's $20 beer

The next five days passed in a snow sport delirium, each of us committed to relearning our legs and turning our thighs into J-E-L-L-O. We took one day off to visit Ogden and Antelope Island, mostly to give our aching legs and lungs a break (by the end of the week, my quads were reminiscent of He-Man or She-Ra action figure toys). We tackled hard pack, crusty and wind-scoured snow, moguls, and ice the first part of the week and ended the trip on powdered sugar soft snow at least six inches deep. Long, fast cat tracks, fun, squirrely blues and black diamonds with names like Exterminator and Geronimo. Open fields of birch trees, soft and golden against the silver-white runs. Falls and laughter abounded equally. The vast expanse of the mountains always calms the chatter of the mind.

Fielding Garr Ranch on Antelope Island

this was one fussy, postholing porcupine

M&A both agree that PowMow is fantastic. It's a ski resort caught in time: torn between modernization and competing with the big, fancy places like Park City and the Canyons, and/or staying true to the local vibe that makes it so special. It has one (and only one) high speed quad; the other three chair lifts have seen better days. Rope tows (they still make those?). You can ski to your car from anywhere on the mountain. Sometimes people ski into your car, so park accordingly. The lodges aren't fancy with paisley carpet and heated toilet seats, but they are warm and comfortable and allow you to bring in your own brown bag lunch. Probably half of the 7000+ skiable acres are only accessible by Cat or if you're willing to hike for it. You still find diehards, skiing off the backside of the mountain, asking to hitch a lift back to the parking lot. The terrain is much more open and much more difficult than anything found at Timberline, and the runs longer and more tiring than anything found at Skibowl. I won't speak for Meadows because, well, personally I don't care for the place. The vibe is local, local, local and very, very friendly. Everyone there is there for one reason: love of snow. Nothing fancy need apply. Just good terrain, great snow, and no crowds.

Powder Mountain was purchased this year, an event which made Andy and I unexpectedly sad. While the company states they are committed to keeping the flavor of the resort true to its old school roots, I have yet to see that happen anytime some place like PowMow is forced to enter the modern world. I hope for the sakes of those living in Eden that the locals don't get priced out of their mountain with $100+ lift tickets. The only thing to do is to wait and see what time and new management brings. 

signs of a good day: M's post-powder floor nap

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