Hello Salt Lake City

Thought I was done, huh? Nah. I’ve still got a month left before I return to work and I intend to continue documenting. I figure 60-year-old me will appreciate the effort.

I am spending January 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I have borrowed my parents’ Subaru Outback. On New Years Day, battling a predictable hangover (painful but not earthshattering), I drove southeast. WA-99 to I-90 to I-82 to I-84. One night in Boise, I-84, lunch in the town of Snowville (pop. 177). More I-84, all the way to the Great Salt Lake. Past it, actually – SLC is southeast of the lake itself, and I’m staying southeast of downtown in a suburb called Sandy, about as close as you can get to the resorts.

The drive out was beautiful. Steep rolling hills in Eastern Washington, endless snow-capped badlands in Northeast Oregon, Idaho and Utah, punctuated by abrupt river valleys and jagged snowy mountains. It’s hard to beat the austere beauty of a desolate winter landscape.

I’ve rented an AirBnB for the month. It’s the downstairs half of a 2-story house, converted into a large 2-bedroom apartment, maybe 1600 square feet. It’s a typical mid-range AirBnB – comfortable and nicely decorated but with a useless kitchen. Dull knives, minimal pots and pans, a fridge that opens the wrong way, not enough cupboard space. I’ve stayed in enough AirBnBs to know to bring my own knives but tonight I was prevented from baking a batch of cookies by a lack of baking sheets. (Edit: as I was writing this, another of Dave’s roommates came down with a couple of baking sheets. Guess I’m making [and sharing] cookies tomorrow.)

My host Dave and his roommates (one is named Tucker? Travis? something like that – I hope it’s Tucker so they can fight evil together) live upstairs. We have not ridden together, but I get the impression he is a far better snowboarder than I am. Today he gave me a tip about a hidden powder spot at Solitude that reliably provides fresh lines days after a snowstorm. It’s just a half-mile traverse from the top of the lift – no biggie, right? I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to follow the lead. He has also offered me a lift up the hill any day he’s going – apparently a friend recently bought a big cruiser van and operates a low-key co-op shuttle service from Sandy. That I will take him up on. I suspect that company will be an invaluable asset, particularly later in the month as the novelty of boarding every day wears off.

I’ve been reading Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, a memoir about his life as a surfer / journalist (but mostly surfer). It’s brilliant, witty, informed, critical but not cynical, the sort of book that you can’t help but see as a magnum opus, the culmination of not just a career but of a life well-lived. It’s the kind of book I’ll re-read in 10 years and get something completely different out of. Reading about chasing the perfect wave through the South Pacific also makes this the perfect transition piece between Southeast Asia and the American slopes.

There are more ski resorts around SLC than you can shake a stick at. However my range is limited by two factors. First I have an Ikon pass, which only gets me into a select number of resorts. And second I am a snowboarder, which means Alta and Deer Valley are off limits. Snobs. The takeaway is I have three obvious places to board: Solitude (unlimited), and Brighton and Snowbird (5 days each). Solitude is the clear home base. Fortunately it’s an incredible mountain.

Solitude is 15 miles from my AirBnB. FIFTEEN MILES – can you believe how close that is? You could walk it in a day! Though it’s an easy drive up the Big Cottonwood Canyon parking is expensive at $20 / vehicle. Fortunately the Utah Transit Authority runs a bus up the canyon every 15 minutes, and the 45-minute trip is free to Ikon pass holders. The route has a stop a 15-minute walk from where I’m staying. As far as I’m concerned the ski bus is the greatest thing since sliced bread – a cheap, reliable, no-worry-required way to get up the hill. Plus it’s green. But mostly I don’t have to drive.

The two days since I arrived I’ve spent riding at Solitude. They were both incredible. The snow on this random week in January is as good as anything we get back in Seattle, and I am assured it will keep on falling and stay soft even when it doesn’t.

A big storm dumped 16 inches on New Years Day, and Friday the 3rd (my first day) still had plenty of fresh available. Solitude has a single chair to the uppermost peak, Summit Express. To skier’s right is Solitude Canyon, the resort’s reliable single-black mainstay. To the left is Honeycomb canyon, an incredibly long valley crowned by a huge, broad bowl with about a thousand places to traverse to and drop in. It reminds me a little of Northway at Crystal, without the brutal ice sheet right above the lift line. Honeycomb is gorgeous but it’s often closed after a big storm until the avalanche crews have a chance to shoot their guns, and Friday was no exception. I spent the morning exploring tree runs and bombing down the couple of blue groomers on the Solitude side. Around noon I was riding the lift, chatting with my neighbors, starting to think about lunch, when we heard a cheer from the bottom. “I wonder if that means they’ve opened Honeycomb”. It did; they had. The rest of the day was nothing but milk and honey.

I am of course both rusty and out of condition, but even today (Saturday) the rustiness seemed less acute despite the tiredness of day 2. Like backpacking, I suspect that on day 3 my body will start to find its stride, and by day 4 I’ll have more stamina than I did on day 1. It’s cool how good us humans are at getting good at things. Tuesday is supposed to bring a medium-sized dump of fresh snow, and I expect that will be my opportunity to start flinging myself down the double-blacks again.

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