Green Air Tour: Vol. 1
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.