Most people are wary of picking up hitch-hikers. They think every stranger on the side of the road is some homicidal maniac. But if that hitchhiker is holding a pair of skis, it somehow makes everything OK. The skis say, “The only thing I’m here to slay is powder.” So, with my Völkls slung over my shoulder, I stand along Salt Lake City’s Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, trying to score a ride to Park City’s Deer Valley—a resort whose midmountain lodge men’s room is bigger (and better decorated) than my entire apartment. Soon a white Subaru pulls over. I toss my skis on the roof rack and we’re off. The driver, a young guy sporting a handlebar mustache, tells me he used to thumb rides to Park City all the time. He can’t take me the whole 40 miles, but he knows just where to drop me off: the I-80 on-ramp.
Two girls from the University of Utah (one Iranian, one Ecuadoran) pick me up immediately. Our awkward conversation about their studies is soon replaced by an even more awkward lack of conversation as they blast Alanis Morissette’s 1995 opus, Jagged Little Pill. I have to deal with Alanis’s misuse of the word “ironic,” but they drop me off right on Park City’s Main Street.
The internet makes all things possible, including skiing Deer Valley on the cheap. I wrangle up two $50 lift tickets on Salt Lake City’s Craigslist. But the real challenge is lodging. Enter http://Couchsurfing.com, a networking site where members can look for or offer up a davenport to crash on. That’s where I met my host Jonathan, a 24-year-old skier/student/bartender. Jonathan is exceedingly nice. In fact, he’s already hosting another couch surfer, a German engineer named Chris. As Jonathan drives me to pick up my lift tickets, he gets philosophical about couch surfing. “It’s not just about avoiding paying for a hotel. It’s about having that real travel experience and meeting new people.”
Over the next two days, Chris, Jonathan, and I drink $1 PBRs at The Corner Store Pub & Grill, guzzle rotgut Canadian whiskey, and grill up a $5 London broil that we carve into three cost-efficient steaks. Chris, who’s a snowboarder, even rents skis so he can join me at the skiers-only Deer Valley. Booting up in the lodge, we share a rare, tender moment as I bend down to fasten the power strap on the German engineer’s rental boots. While he spends most of the day flopping on the bunny hill, I poke around and realize that people are too busy arcing down Deer Valley’s renowned groomers to ski the trees, which are filled with week-old, untracked fluff. Then there are the steeps and pow of sparsely populated Empire and Lady Morgan peaks. That evening, Chris and I discuss Bavarian beer and American women. Yes, I think, this is a real travel experience.
Weeks later, home in Colorado, I see a lone hitchhiker as I drive back from Breckenridge. I debate picking him up, but he’s already a quarter mile behind me when I reach a decision. I’m not stopping. The guy could be some homicidal maniac. He’s not carrying skis.
Adult Full-Day Lift Ticket Price: $83
Vertical Drop: 3,000 feet
Price Per Vertical Foot: 2.8 cents
Cost of Burger: $9.75
Utah’s Minimum Hourly Wage: $7.25
Min.-Wage Hours Needed to Buy Lift Ticket: 11.45
For More Info: http://deervalley.com, http://saltlakecity.craigslist.org, http://couchsurfing.com, http://alanismorissette.com