By Michel Beaudry
There’s nothing like taking a little work trip abroad to put things in perspective. Seriously. I mean, there’s nothing like travelling halfway around the world — from the Wasatch Mountains to France’s Tarentaise — only to find that home is the only place worth skiing this year.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d still rather be working in the mountains than anywhere else. But there is nothing so agonizing as hanging out at some world-class resort without being able to take full advantage of its offerings. Mostly on this trip I skied on rocks and grass and man-made snow strewn with sharp little pebbles that leave deep striations in your base and can stop you dead in your tracks if you hit them just right in a turn. Adventuring off-piste was generally out of the question. Even tiptoeing across a traverse was iffy in the Alps. It was grim all around. And it sure made me nostalgic for Whistler.
How I missed those peak-to-valley runs in near-perfect conditions so early in the season. Stormy mornings when your tracks where obliterated moments after you made them. Dropping through the trees like it was February or March. Run after run of bottomless turns; snow down your collar, snow in your mouth, snow up the back of your shirt. For me, it was one of the most satisfying Novembers that I’d ever experienced. And I quickly came to miss it. Especially given the alternative.
Consider Utah. There was nothing but scratchy white styrofoam at Park City, but I’d heard that it had just dumped at Snowbird. I figured things couldn’t get much worse. Alas, the much-heralded storm had long gone by the time I got there and a mere dusting remained — just enough to camouflage the sharks’ teeth lurking over every break. It was profoundly low tide. Heck, even the hardcore were moaning that it was the worst start to the season that they’d ever seen. “It’s been slim pickings to this point,” local hero Jeremy Nobis told me as we waited for the morning’s first tram alongside a rag-tag army of Wasatch die-hards. “I really don’t feel like I’ve started skiing yet…”
Fortunately, another storm did eventually hit Little Cottonwood Canyon. Maybe 20 centimetres at its deepest, it was totally Utah snow. Light and fluffly and gone by midday. It was great — in the same way a calorie-free chocolate bar is great. And we took full advantage of it, sacrificing our ski bases to get first tracks down a variety of ’Bird classics. Funny thing though — everyone on the mountain insisted 20 inches of snow had fallen that day. And then it struck me. Could the American inch be going the same way as the American dollar?