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In the Big Rock Candy Mountains (4)

What's in store for the remote, powder-laden resort of Eagle Point in southern Utah?
By Tim Sohn, with photographs by Kevin Winzeler
posted: 12/17/2012
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains Opener

[part four of four]

A knock at the door of my condo at eight on Monday morning. 

“You wouldn’t be interested in skiing a little powder, would you?” asked a smiling Alec Hornstein, his truck idling behind him in the still-falling snow, tires buried in the additional eight inches that had come overnight. Some of the Eagle Point guys, he said, had a tendency to overestimate storms, having only the epic 2010–2011 season for reference. “But this,” he said, “this is a great big one.” He predicted another six inches would fall before the day was through.

In what Hornstein called the leanest snow year in his 15 winters in the Tushars, this was the storm they’d been waiting for. While he usually logs 150 ski days, he’d gotten only 60 days to that point and had been forced to cancel bookings at his yurts earlier in the season for lack of snow.

We drove through the intensifying storm up past the upper Eagle Point lifts to Puffer Lake, a popular place for fishing in the summer, before parking, checking beacons, and heading out. The surrounding peaks had disappeared, so we skirted the lake’s edge and ascended a lower, tree-covered lump called the Moose’s Knuckle. We spent the morning slaloming through glades, cutting laps in the thigh-deep powder with the sort of carefree joy that comes from knowing that you won’t encounter another skier—or even another track. It was ours, and it was amazing, each run better than the last.

“There’s not a whole lot of reasons to be in a hurry out here,” Alec said after I’d apologized for being slow in getting my skins out of my pack after our third lap. “Your legs will give out well before the supply of fresh tracks.” At one point, we heard a snowmobile in the distance, and Hornstein joked, “It’s getting crowded out here.”

Which is why it was so shocking when, late in the day, near one of Hornstein’s yurts, we came across a solitary skier with a black dog following our track. (“Down the track came a hobo hiking…” as the McClintock song goes.) When I pointed them out, Hornstein was convinced I was having an altitude-induced hallucination, but he eventually went out to greet the man and ended up giving him five minutes’ worth of detailed information. “You’ll get some nice turns right up there,” he said, stabbing his pole toward a nearby hill, “15 minutes up to the ridge.” When I mentioned that he might be more guarded with his trade secrets, he shrugged. “I’ve got 100 square miles. I’m not worried about telling him where to go,” he said. “And besides, I might have just picked up a new customer.” 

And though Alec’s backcountry business is vastly different from what Gadbaw is attempting to do at Eagle Point, some lessons hold: solitude, untracked powder, a unique place, but also a need for realistic expectations. What’s on offer is something intimate and, for now at least, a little quirky. Over the course of the weekend, I was won over by the family-style charm of the place and, of course, by the powder. It’s never going to be a destination for every skier, but some of us (agoraphobics and powderholics mostly) will want to return. It is a place that grows on you, as Gadbaw has found from personal experience. “If you’d asked me a couple years ago, I would have said I’d like to run it for four years and flip it,” he confided. “But now, I don’t want to leave. I’d like to stay here. I want to be the guy who built this. I want to make it work.”

Eagle Point’s owners are beginning to figure out all the small questions. What remains are the larger ones: Can a ski resort survive and thrive here? And how do you market it? Gadbaw now considers the $150,000 they spent on marketing over the past two years wasted money, so they’ve refocused on a more grassroots campaign, working to woo the Las Vegas market in particular. 

Out in the backcountry with Hornstein, I was getting his take on the marketing puzzle. “I don’t really have a problem getting people to come back out here a second time,” he told me. We were standing atop a ridge in total silence, the sun peeking out through a hole in the clouds as we peeled the skins off our skis and prepared to drop in on yet another pristine line. “But the first time, they have no idea whether this place is for real. They have to be convinced.”

Done.  “I’ll see you all this coming fall / in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.” 

Part 1   -   Part 2   -   Part 3   -   Part 4

Eagle Point Resort

$45/day (non-holiday)

skieaglepoint.com 

Tushar Mountain Tours

Guided backcountry tours begin at $99 per person, including meals.

skitushar.com 

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