The winter of 2014-2015 across much of the West will most likely be remembered as the winter that never really happened. Warm temperatures, lack of snowfall and an abundance of dismal scenes of ski resorts without snow. The Wasatch Mountains of Utah have received roughly 60% of the normal snowfall for the year and mountains that are normally coated in white have been brown much of the winter. It would be easy to dismiss this winter saying it was a bad winter but for me, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There were some incredible moments this year and December 28th, 2014 was a day full of those moments. This day was the best day of the year.
A series of progressively colder storms brought abundant snowfall to the Wasatch, laying down a heavy base with several feet of “The Greatest Snow on Earth®” on top. The snowpack was relatively stable, coverage was good and after a few phone calls and texts, our group was assembled and ready for a day playing in the snow. We left Park City early in the morning, really early. Early enough that after an hour of driving to Big Cottonwood Canyon, it was still early. And dark. This is how many great days begin and this day was no exception. The routine of stepping into the cold and unloading skis and snowboards began. Turn on headlamp and buckle boots. Drink coffee. Put on avalanche beacon. Drink coffee. Put on climbing skins. Drink coffee. Now we were ready to climb through the mountains.
We chose a route around the outskirts of Solitude Resort to avoid any avalanche control work that was being conducted as we headed into Silver Fork. It was light enough that we no longer needed headlamps and the blue tones of a cold, snowy morning surrounded us. All was silent as we ascended until BOOM! We all looked at each other instantly, each knowing all to well what that sound was.
With a quick glance above us through the forest and another glance ahead, we saw a large cliff above the road that would provide a safer stopping point. We all went as fast as we could to that spot before stopping to discuss. Ski Patrol had started avalanche control work around the resort and had bombed a slope above us on the other side of the forest. Although we thought we were in a safe area, we were mistaken and were in a place we shouldn’t have been. We knew better. We had made a poor decision in the interest of saving time and although nothing happened, we were all a bit shaken.
We’d passed the zone of concern and were now in the forest on a safe line of travel leading to the top of a ridge. Trail breaking was slow through the deep snow with aspens and pines cloaked in white. Everything was white and we were truly in a winter wonderland. As we climbed, thoughts slowly transitioned to ones of floating down through this snow. How deep was it? Where should we ski? Is it still stable? Has there been wind? Do I like deep powder? Of course I do:) The snowfall was letting up and sunlight was beginning to make its way though the clouds, creating a picturesque winter landscape that was like a dream. No other people were around, there was no rush or mad dash, just the mountains and our group of friends. This is what skiing/riding is all about to me. We floated through the meadows and aspen forest, slowly making our way back out the way we’d come in. We bypassed our previous route and opted to stay in the creek bottom until reaching a road that led us back to the parking lot where we began hours before. This is where we discovered Don Julio.
One phone call later and a member of Snow Safety at Solitude met us in the parking lot and we reviewed the events earlier in the morning. We all knew our mistake and were overly apologetic as we were reminded that a lapse in good decision-making is all it takes to turn great days into the worst days. We were ashamed but knowing of our error. We were forgiven a trespassing fine of $1000 and informed that the Snow Safety team enjoys good tequila. A smile returned and a week later, a $65 bottle of Don Julio was delivered to the Snow Safety team. This seemed like more than a fair trade and all was good in the mountains.
For those who’ve never skied through deep, soft, airy snow, the sensation can be difficult if not impossible to describe. People have been trying to describe it and photograph it for decades unsuccessfully. It’s incomparable to any sensation you’ll experience and far different from swimming. I don’t intend on trying to describe it but maybe, just maybe, I can give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a place where time, color and gravity disappear. A place where everything is removed except one thing. A smile.
There is an iconic barn in Park City, UT that is heavily photographed and easily recognizable. Chances are you’ve seen this barn if you’ve been to or seen images of Park City. There can be times when many photographers are out shooting in front of it or capturing pics from the nearby road. Other times it is peaceful and quiet with nobody around. Last night was one of those nights.
I’m fortunate to live fairly close to this barn (1/2 hour walk) so I have the opportunity to photograph there often. I usually go about once a month and I aim to find new perspectives or try new techniques when shooting here. There are a million images of the barn so getting a new perspective can be challenging. That’s what I love about photography though! Being forced to open your eyes a bit more, observe your surroundings more and find the beauty that exists every day.
We’ve had a very mild winter in Park City (and much of the West) this year and there have been very few days of snow cover around the barn. The recent storm dropped enough snow to cover everything but I was busy skiing so I missed shooting a “winter” scene here. Oh well, it’ll snow again in April or May:) I’ll have to share some more images from the McPolin Barn that I’ve made in a future post.
Thanks for reading,
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photography and travel are somewhat synonymous in that we want to see places we’ve been or want to go. Traveling to places far from home can offer a dramatic landscape different from that surrounds you everyday. It would be easy to create a vivid, eye-catching portfolio of images if one were to travel the globe and visit the well-known locations. You know them, they’re the ones you see pictures of every day. One visit to Facebook or 500px and you’ll see this right away. There is nothing wrong with photographing places that have been photographed before and it is quite enjoyable. Take a trip to Yosemite and stop at Tunnel View to take a picture and you’ll see why. Icons are icons for a reason. Visit them, enjoy them and photograph them. If you want to make a better image, one that means more to you and one that represents your style, you’ll need a bit of practice first. This is where your everyday life comes in to play.
I guarantee you’re surrounded by beautiful things to photograph, no matter where you live in the world. Read that one again. Beauty isn’t reserved for Yosemite or Machu Picchu, it literally is everywhere. It’s even closer than that though! To illustrate this point, I’ve set out to capture images within 100 steps from my front door and am slowly building a collection of observations. I’ve been watching the same trees over time, the different shadows throughout the day, the changing of the seasons, the people near by and so much more. By doing so, I’ve enhanced my ability to be an observer and this learned skill is ever so useful when I travel to photograph. I can more quickly identify scenes or objects to photograph, I’m more practiced with light and shadow, I’m more familiar with my camera and in the end, I’m able to capture more of what I see and feel. This is the goal with photography, right?
So go look with a different set of eyes next time you take out the garbage, check the mail or walk the dog. If you see something interesting, take a picture. The fun doesn’t stop there though. Share this with someone. Text it to your friend, upload an image to Facebook, write a blog post about it but don’t keep it for yourself! Art is nothing if nobody sees it! For those who use Instagram, you can see a few images I’ve posted by searching #ee_100stepsfromhome. I’m in no rush to build this collection but I will be adding a few more soon;)
Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you become a better observer.
P.S. all but one of these images were shot with my phone.
5:00 am. Get up and make the first of several coffees of the day. It’s going to be a long day.
We had been planning a backcountry ski tour for some time and this was the day it was happening. Clear blue skies and warm temperatures made conditions ideal for our planned tour and by 6:00am we’d begun our adventure. We were going to Alta. From Park City. No car.
Salt Lake City has been plagued by an inversion, a common meteorological phenomenon where cold air gets trapped in the valleys and the mountains are warm and sunny. Sounds good right? Well, in that cold air and fog, pollution builds and is unable to mix into the atmosphere and becomes so thick you can’t see the mountains. You can’t breathe. Your eyes hurt, your lungs burn and you feel sick. Conditions like this turn a normally beautiful city into a scene resembling a toxic wasteland. It’s absolutely disgusting and impacting many aspects of life here, with health quality being at the top of the list. Something must be done to better our quality of life in Utah so we did something very normal. We went skiing.
Living in Park City, it is about a 45 minute drive to Alta Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Leave at 8:15 am, first chair at 9:00 am, no problem. Our plan was a little different though. Why drive to Alta when there are already buses going there? Why contribute to the inversion and pollution unnecessarily? Would we be willing to change our daily lives to lessen the impact? So at 6:15am we boarded the PC-SLC Connect bus in Park City that would take us to Salt Lake City. We were the only skiers/snowboarders on the bus and about 12 other commuters boarded before we departed Park City.
About 1:10 later, we arrived at the Salt Palace Convention Center on 200 S. & Main St with a setting moon, a brown haze building and the overwhelming smell of exhaust and pollution. Dressed in full ski gear in downtown Salt Lake City at 7:30 am brought some odd looks from people heading walking the sidewalks to and from work. That’s fine though. It is weird to be downtown, waiting 45 minutes for the next bus, when you could be at home enjoying a coffee and pancakes. A few minutes later a man holding a snowboard and dressed in winter clothing walked around the corner and up to the bus stop. He told us he was here for business and had a free day so he was going to Snowbird. He lives in LA and had never been riding in UT and in his words, was “stoked” to be going up there for the day! His eyes were glowing and he thought nothing of waiting for a bus in the dark, downtown, with only 2 other people.
As the bus continued its route towards Alta, more and more passengers boarded and paid the $4.50 fare. Many languages were heard speaking as the bus climbed Wasatch Blvd toward Big Cottonwood Canyon. Finally, the bus had seemed “normal” to us as we weren’t the only ones on the bus anymore. More riders boarded at Little Cottonwood P&R and we then climbed up Little Cottonwood to Snowbird and Alta. The inversion became evident while driving along Wasatch Blvd as the full moon set near the Great Salt Lake. We were above it now and the valley looked gross. Brown, hazy, dirty and completely unappealing. This isn’t the Salt Lake City we love. We can do better. We have to!
We arrived at Alta around 9:30 am, over 3 hours after we’d departed Park City, and were greeted with sunny skies and warm temperatures. We were miles away from Park City with no car and no intentions of returning the way we had come. Instead, we were hiking up and through the Wasatch back to Park City. We began by climbing up to Emma Ridge and over to Reed & Benson Ridge dividing Days Fork and Cardiff Fork. Days Fork holds some beautiful terrain and receives just as much of our “Greatest Snow on Earth” as the resorts. Continuing to the highest point along Reed & Benson ridge, human tracks disappeared and we followed tracks of a lone wild animal, possibly a Bobcat or Lynx. We reached the high point along the ridge and from there, we dropped into Cardiff Fork via a classic Wasatch line, The Hallway Couloir. This line would drop us into Cardiff Fork where we would then ride out to Big Cottonwood Highway and catch the next Ski Bus up to Brighton Resort.
Luck was in our favor as we waited for no more than 5 minutes before the bus arrived. Another $4.50 fare paid and we rode to Brighton with hungry and thirsty bellies. Molly Green’s at 2pm on a Wednesday never sounded so good! Nachos and a pitcher of beer vanished in front of us and we then saddled up for our final climb up to 10,420 and over to Park City. Hiking with a stomach full of nachos and beer is under-rated and is actually quite enjoyable!
The sun began to set, slipping behind Hidden Peak at Snowbird, and lighting up the landscape surrounding us. From our 10,000+ ft vantage point, the High Uintas and the Wasatch Range were clearly visible as well as the surrounding valleys along the Wasatch Back. We’d finished climbing and were greeted to an incredible display of light in all directions.
This is the moment. Click.
We were almost home and the light around us confirmed to us we were in the right place. Our backyard, our playground, the places that make memories were glowing all around us and all we could do was smile. Utah, these are the moments we love in our backyards.
We reluctantly left the summit and ventured towards Guardsman Pass and over to Jupiter Peak atop Park City Mountain Resort. It was now dark and my headlamp came out. An iPhone light, running on low battery, completed our illuminated ride back down to the base of the resort where we’d begun our day 13 hours prior. We’d climbed ft, rode ft, spent $30 in bus fare, gazed over miles of the Wasatch, witnessed incredible light, skied a classic line, vacuumed up nachos and beer and worked on a nice January suntan. I’d conclude that this was a very full day and was done entirely without excess contribution to the poor air quality of Utah.
This adventure from Alta to Park City was only the first of many “Green Tours” possible in Salt Lake City and Park City. I’ll be photographing each one and I’d highly encourage you to try riding the bus somewhere that you normally drive. Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons would be a great place to start. The free bus in Park City would be another great place. Making even a small change in your lifestyle can be difficult but it can be done.
Thank you for reading,
For more information on how you can make an impact, I encourage you to visit Protect Our Winters.
Continuing on from my previous post, I’ll let the images do most of the talking this time. I can’t wait to get back to this beautiful place to photograph more, to spend more time and hopefully “see” more. Until then, here are a few more images.