Skiing is an Outdoor Sport

Presidents Day weekend and the ensuing week are important to the ski industry. The third week in February ranks with Christmas/New Year’s and spring vacation in volume of skiers, especially coming from afar.

It is axiomatic that skiing is not cheap. According to the former CEO of a major resort, only 10% of Americans has the wherewithal to ski. Of those, probably about half lack sufficient athletic skill to engage in the activity.

Experience tells us that there is a high correlation between the economic top 10% and Type A personalities. This seems especially so during Presidents Week, when plane loads of Wall Street executives (or others with similar levels of drive) accompanied by spouses who quite often also work in Type A jobs and some number of children in the process of learning to ski descend on needy but unsuspecting resorts.

One destination of choice is Salt Lake City because it is an easy nonstop flight from either coast, and the hotels in Alta, Snowbird, Park City and Deer Valley will send little buses to pick you up. Thence the pampering competes for importance with the snow conditions. Whichever is lacking is the one that is noticed.

As it happens, I am in Snowbird though that was not the original plan. The dedicated “Skihad-ist” (a name I coined several years ago for an epic 7000-mile automotive ski adventure that took 10 weeks) avoids Presidents Day because he is used to skiing up to a lift and getting right on. The pesky lines found at popular times disappear on weekdays and humdrum weekends.

Another axiom of the ski industry is that it is labor-intensive. This is not a good thing in a period of full employment, when more capable ski patrolmen, lift operators, ski instructors, mountain hosts and others who are mission-critical can likely find better jobs elsewhere.

To be sure, there have always been those who preferred a more mellow existence of bartering some number of hours per week for a season ski pass and a salary that covers beer and rent money. Their numbers have been propped up by the advent of snowboarding and a generally relaxed attitude about controlled substances.

Pause to imagine the encounters between: the Type A’s arriving from the coasts for a very expensive few days and with families to defend against foe of all variety; and those ski resort employees who will make their weeks possible.

One encounter was attention-getting. Snowbird and Alta are side by side about 30 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon from Salt Lake City. The two-lane road up the canyon is widely known by experienced skiers to be closed from time to time because of avalanches. Among the reasons for road closings, avalanches have to rank near the top in both importance and understandability.

“Open the damn road, I’ll risk it,” is not a phrase that is often heard.

On the Sunday evening before Presidents Day, there were two avalanches. One was down the road between the resorts in Salt Lake City (where the employees live) and the other actually passed through the village itself.

For skiers, avalanches are both good and bad news. They are good in that they are made up of snow, of which 18 inches fell during the night, promising a perfect day on Monday. They are bad in that the employees needed to groom runs, provide patrol services, teach small children and operate ski lifts can’t get to work because the road is closed.

If they can’t get to work, the mountain does not open, and all that lovely new powder sits there thumbing its nose at the eager but stranded skiers.

I witnessed an encounter between Mr. Type A, on day one of his short but expensive vacation, and a long-suffering resort hostess for the incompetence of not getting the lifts open at 9 AM for his and his family’s well-deserved enjoyment. She took this for a while, clearly recognizing that important customers such as Mr. Type A were indirect sources of her mortgage payments.

After he left (unsatisfied by her explanation of the road clearing efforts and the unpredictability of the opening time, and in quite a huff), I asked her if she thought he was aware of the fact that skiing is an outdoor sport. She restrained herself

I will not miss the end of this week as I continue in the west for four or five more, but I will miss my daughter, her husband and their eight-, six– and three—year-olds who are at various stages of learning this lovely sport, but who have long-ago been taught not to behave like Mr. Type A.





16 Responses to “Skiing is an Outdoor Sport”

Temple Grassi, February 18, 2020 at 9:07 pm said:

Never learned to ski
Too hard too cold too crowded
I’ll stick to court tennis🤕


Haven Pell, February 18, 2020 at 9:39 pm said:

It’s never too late.


Russell, February 19, 2020 at 12:29 am said:

Why do many skiers find it hard to hit tennis balls, while insensate avalanches swat court tennis playes with the greatest of ease?


Mike Brooks, February 18, 2020 at 9:31 pm said:

Your comments may be correct but only to a degree. Whenever there is an avalanche off of Superior out there they not only close the road but also enforce “interlodge” which means that no one is allowed outside of their house, lodge or hotel until the ski patrol has fired or dropped sufficient ordnance to release the snow buildup and convince them that it is safe to go outside. Chains are installed at all points of egress and violators are arrested — without hesitation. If some presumptuous Type A does not understand the dangers inherent in the sport and the need to make the mountain and the village safe then they are as stupid as the idiots who go out of bounds without a pack, shovel, probe and transceiver. The fewer of them at a resort the better. Generally the mountain opens shortly after the road does and so most rational people– even the best of skiers — is pretty happy to miss some untracked powder rather than get buried under a couple of tons of snow.


Haven Pell, February 18, 2020 at 9:38 pm said:

Mike, You are exactly correct, but I only know because I had to ask what “interlodge” meant.

Fellow readers, Mike Brooks is well worth listening to. He has millions of lifetime vertical feet of helicopter skiing


Mina, February 18, 2020 at 9:48 pm said:

Mr. Brooks! I had to learn what interlodge was! Totally agree with you!


Haven Pell, February 18, 2020 at 9:54 pm said:

Fellow readers, this first-time commenter is a big part of the reason those three small children you met in the story don’t behave like Mr. Type A.


Peter W Bragdon, February 18, 2020 at 10:33 pm said:

Skiing will always have crazies as part of the clientele because most fast skiers pursue life on the edge when on the slopes. Tom Corcoran, who finished fourth in the Olympic downhill in 1960, was kept from a medal because of a slight skid on one turn — Tom said this Olympic bid was a great run because he was on the edge the whole way down the mountain. Tom turned out to be a sane and productive entrepreneur, but I am sure many fast skiers cannot leave their instinct for suicidal speeds on the mountain and can be difficult — to find a gentle word — in their daily behavior, particularly when denied access to a seemingly deserved reward. As I write at age 84, I think of the equipment I used well into my 20’s — boots locked into wooden skis with no release available — just crazy! And using this equipment tearing down mountains with the words of my first ski instructor, Hans Schneider of North Conway, NH, in my head: “It is not necessary to fall down!” — when falling down would often have been the safer route to take.


Haven Pell, February 18, 2020 at 11:30 pm said:

Had Mr. Type A been just a crazed skier, all would have been better off.

Living to ski another day seems the better view, at least for me.


John Austin Murphy, February 19, 2020 at 9:10 am said:

Haven’t skied Utah for about 45 years. Things have changed. Mightily.


Haven Pell, February 19, 2020 at 9:26 am said:

First time at Alta was in a ski dorm. Either I was in my bunk bed or my stuff was. That standard might not cut it today.


John Austin Murphy, February 19, 2020 at 9:40 am said:

And the only alcohol available came in “nip” size bottles.


Marc Lewinstein, February 22, 2020 at 7:26 pm said:

Park City now has both a great distillery and brewery, all served in grown-up glasses, although you can’t order more than one per person present at a time, which is a minor annoyance. I’m pretty sure you can find High West in Newport if you want to try the whiskey.


Haven Pell, February 22, 2020 at 7:54 pm said:

I am leaving that activity to you experts.

Marc Lewinstein, February 22, 2020 at 7:23 pm said:

Last year at Alta I had to make my daily après ski zip down to Camp Bow Wow in SLC to retrieve Maalouf and got nailed by an interlodge put into effect just behind my rear bumper. (I also got stuck behind a slowpoke on the drive down and missed picking up the little guy by a few minutes, so he spent the night in the kennel.) Hoping to get first tracks (read: unwilling to spring for a room at the Alta Club), I pulled up to the barricade on Little Cottonwood Canyon Road and settled in for an unpleasant night in the car (sleep half an hour, run heat for ten minutes, sleep half an hour. . .). Around 3 am I was instructed to retreat to the Park & Ride down below because I was too close to the danger zone. Still made first chair thanks to the hard work of the road crew. Heading back out there in a week and a half. Have fun wherever is next!


Haven Pell, February 22, 2020 at 7:53 pm said:

This week (2/23-2/29) mostly in Alta then the next week in Big Sky. Would be fun todo some runs together but I have not forgotten getting shellacked on a Tuxedo Park bike ride.


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