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Mission: Ski Utah's 13 Resorts In a Single Day

Can it be done? Is it stupid? The answers, respectively are maybe and yes. But a group attempted to do this for the first time last winter. Here's what happened.
posted: 07/22/2009
Ski Utah 2

On October 23, 1995, Def Leppard embarked on a one-day world tour. They began at midnight, playing a short acoustic concert inside a Moroccan cave. Then they flew to London to play another set. Finally, they arrived in Vancouver at 9:30 p.m. for the last show. By day’s end they had covered 5,845 miles and, technically, played a one-day world tour.

That was 14 years ago. That was before anyone understood the idea of a carbon footprint, back when it was OK to sodomize the earth and the concert experience—back when you could travel the world in a single day. Just for shits.

Last year, Bill Weidner, an Ogden, Utah, local and member of Ski Utah, an organization that promotes skiing in the state, pitched the idea of skiing all 13 of Utah’s resorts in one day. The board liked, and it was decided: As Def Leppard did to the concert experience, a team would violate the ski experience at some of the best resorts in the country. Just for shits.

The team was assembled and I was invited. We are to travel in a 15-passenger van plastered with Ski Utah logos along a well-planned route. The question we will attempt to answer is simple: Can it be done? Is it possible to ski all 13 resorts in one day?

The team is a media circus, including this trained seal. We congeal at the Ski Utah parking lot in Salt Lake City. I meet Bill, the idea guy; Ravell Call, a photographer for SLC’s Deseret Morning News; Amy Anderson, the weather girl for Park City TV, and her cameraman, Andy Bauman; Montana writer Brian Schott; and, of Ski Utah, Chris Pearson (designated driver), Kendall Card (live-blog guy), Adam Barker (photographer), and Jessica Kunzer (trip leader).

I add the people and divide by van: cramped. I want to bail. But before I can back out, Jessica cheerfully herds us into the Econoline. She’s done the math and consulted the Google. We only have time for one run at each mountain. Our 554-mile route, which begins near Nevada and worms throughout central Utah, finishes 20 minutes from the Idaho border. And we have a deadline. The last two resorts on the route offer night skiing, but we need to visit the 11th one before last chair at four o’clock or we’re screwed.

So the day has been planned down to the minute. Google Maps lists the driving time at 12 hours. Which made me do my own math. Even with Jeff Gordon behind the wheel, the mileage and limited hours of lift ops make this nearly impossible. And so the cheating began.

Make that strategizing. The night before, we drive three and a half hours to the route’s start at Brian Head, a killer hill that’s far enough south to draw skiers who drive from Las Vegas. Starting at Brian Head isn’t cheating but optimizing.

The mission starts so early the next morning that it’s not even morning. We meet in the lobby of our hotel at 4 a.m. Amy the weather girl is wearing full makeup at this hour. She’s ready to work. She asks Andy the cameraman if he wants her to do an intro. Andy, barely awake, shakes his head. Jessica, meanwhile, is somehow cheerful.

The lifts won’t turn for another five hours, so we drive up a service road and ski from Brian Head’s maintenance area. A full moon is our only source of light as we ski corduroy so clean and firm that my skis audibly hum when they cut it. We’re at the bottom of the run for maybe a minute before we see Chris driving toward us. Jessica yells, “Go! Go! Go!” as if starring in a movie about Navy SEALs. But she yells cheerfully.

For our second run, we drive two hours to the Redford-owned Sundance. Like Brian Head, this is another great mountain to which we’ll do a gross disservice by skiing only one run. As we drive, at least three people in the van blog on their iPhones. Facebook statuses are changed, Twitterers tweet, correspondents correspond, and conversation is minimal.

When we get to Sundance, the lifts are turning, though only for patrol—it’s well before 9 a.m. But Jessica arranged for us to sneak our run. We choose a steep, bumpy shot even though it hasn’t snowed for a week. We ski it fast anyway and then reboard the van.

Panic! A traffic jam snares us between Sundance and the back road to Deer Valley. In between more Twitter and Facebook, I hear some can-we-make-it musings in the backseat. Then my forehead makes contact with the headrest in front of me. Chris has ground the brake pedal into the floor mat because we’ve been cut off by a dump truck. The brakes make a sickening metal-on-metal noise. This continues for the next 14 hours.

At Deer Valley we load the Deer Crest gondola and haul down untouched corduroy. At the bottom, we’re allowed six minutes to hit the gold-plated bathrooms at the Deer Valley lodge. Then it’s to the van, where Barker picks up the Navy SEAL dialogue and shouts, “Go!”

Chris hammers to the Park City parking lot, but we lose valuable time running through the maze that is the village. Finally, we find the snow. We find a lift. We start skiing and behind me I hear someone swing a bat into a leather couch. Jessica and Kendall have collided and brought down others, possibly Bill. I can’t see because I’m pointing it toward the van. I run into a Park City TV crew covering our mission for the local Fox affiliate and am asked for a quote. But it’s Jessica, recovered from the crash and functioning on little sleep, who puts together articulate answers to their questions. She extricates herself (cheerfully!) because she knows we’re losing time.

We have to be at The Canyons in four minutes to be on schedule. We make it but, horror of horrors, lose three minutes because our lift tickets aren’t ready. Jessica finds a Canyons marketing staffer and drops some knowledge on his ass, albeit cheerfully, with her native Minnesotan charm.

Then it’s a long drive to Big Cottonwood to access Brighton. Adam and Bill have a great idea: We’ll cheat. Just a little bit, just for a minute. Brighton and neighboring Solitude, it turns out, are connected. With one lift ride at Brighton we can ski on both mountains and check resorts six and seven off our list. “Do it,” Chris says.

Now to Alta and Snowbird, two of my favorite mountains in the country. Again, we disrespect each with one run down chalk-dusted aprons in the afternoon sun. No more, no less.

Next, at tiny Wolf Creek, we find the most difficult run of the day. A nine-year-old girl, a junior racer I meet on the chair, invites me to follow her down. She, on her sharp GS skis, leaves me and my dull-edged fatties in the dust. I fight to keep up on the frozen chicken heads dotting the steep groomer and fall…hard. At the bottom, the mountain manager, who saw me go down, says, “That run sure has a lot of texture.” He finds his own joke hilarious.

Now it’s 3:30. Snowbasin closes at four. We have 30 minutes to get there or the mission fails. Chris gooses the van and we make it just in time. And this is where the story falls apart. I’ve been skiing for 12 hours and I’m exhausted. Rereading my notes now, I discover that I must’ve been tired because I spelled Adam Barker’s name with a 7. But here’s what I remember: The sun is dropping, there’s some skiing, and Snowbasin delivers a basket of snacks and energy drinks to the van to jolt us awake.

Two more resorts to go, but it’ll be easier from here. Both Powder Mountain, nearby, and Beaver Mountain, which is 20 minutes from the Idaho state line, are open for night skiing.

The sun squats on the horizon beyond Powder Mountain, painting the sky a syrupy orange Creamsicle. We’re tired and ornery, but our silhouettes against the frozen-treat horizon make for a pretty picture, so Ravell and Adam Bark7r take photos. It costs us. Chris now has to drive us to goddamn Idaho to goddamn Beaver Mountain in the goddamn dark. We arrive at 8:30, ski into the lift line, and load a double that accesses all 300 vertical feet on offer by night.

We’ve done it. The heathen among us drink celebratory beers at the top while Mormon team members hoist sodas. We clunk our beer and soda cans together and yell Woo! Jessica’s Woo! is most cheerful, possibly sincere. Though maybe not. Last night she told me that she majored in theater and is a trained actress. 

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