Don Julio & The Best Day of the Winter
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.