WHITEOUT AT POWDER MOUNTAIN
by Paul Maraschiello

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Only a complete fool would ski alone during a whiteout at an unfamiliar mountain but let me begin at the beginning.

I heard that Powder Mountain was a Mecca for powder hounds, so I arranged for a visit. I was excited. Utah had received a record amount of snow and even though it was still snowing, I proceeded to this ski resort near Ogden, Utah. As I drove up the access road, the road got steeper and steeper and more and more slippery. I passed several groups of skiers waiting for the shuttle and finally made it up to the resort parking lot. When I got out of the car, the wind was blowing and the snow was coming down fairly hard but I was there and looking forward to doing some big mountain skiing.



The people in the marketing department had offered to set me up with some experimental skis that were specifically designed for powder and although I am an Eastern skier and not very experienced skiing deep powder, I was interested in trying out these skis. When I arrived at the rental shop, we talked about the skis that were reserved for me. The Ski Rep. Had dropped off the skis and hit the hill to a little skiing. Based on the information that I had about these skis (which are wider in the middle than at the tips), I decided not to try them that day and opted for a pair of K2 powder skis. The crew at the rental shop was very helpful and I was out the door in no time.



I skied down the Timberline Connector to the Timberline chair and came down Sidewinder to Rendevous and then rode up the Paradise quad. Visibility was poor on the top of the mountain, so I decided to take Gateway down to the Hidden Lake Express quad and took East 40 and then down to Hidden Lake Run to the bottom of the Hidden Lake Express quad. I rode up that chair and came down White Pine back to the bottom of the Hidden Lake Chair. The trail surfaces were in good shape with powder over a groomed surface.



Whiteout
As the day progressed, the wind blew more fiercely and the snow came down harder and harder. Because I was not familiar with the mountain, I decided to take it easy and not try any of the expert trails, keeping to the blues and greens. After a couple more runs, I found myself at the top of the Paradise chair with the wind blowing at tremendous speed. Snow was pelting me hard and I literally could not see three feet in front of me. I decided to play it safe and head back to the lodge. I looked for a trail but could not even see a trail sign leading back to the lodge. I finally saw a couple of skiers and decided to follow them but they soon skied out of sight. I saw a marker at the edge of the trail indicating a green run. I could feel the difference between the deep powder and powder over the groomed trail but I was skiing blind! I tried to make out the trail markers but got off the trail several times. It occurred to me that one mistake could put me in deep powder on an unfamiliar expert trail and in deep, deep trouble. This is the first time that I actually thought that I could die on a mountain. If I made a wrong turn, they would not find my body until the snow melted in the spring. I was in a blinding whiteout and had no idea where I was going. I kept skiing and finally found myself at the bottom of the Hidden Lake Express chair, again. The visibility had cleared up a little as I descended the mountain and I was able to see the trail as I skied down Meadows Express to the Paradise Chair.



At least, I was going in the right direction! I rode the chair up the mountain with a couple of locals. They advised me to take Sun Catcher to the bottom of the Timberline chair and ride that chair up and then ski down Lodge Trail to get back to the lodge. When I got off the chair, I thanked them and finally found the sign for Sun Catcher.



I skied it blindly back to the bottom of the Timberline chair and immediately got on the chair. The wind was blowing and I was hanging on for dear life. The empty chair in front of me was swaying back and forth so hard that it was almost perpendicular to the lift tower (later I found out that they closed that chair because of the wind). When I made it to the top, I found the trail that led back to the lodge. I made it back safely and thanked my luck stars. I laughed to myself and acknowledged that the best thing about skiing that day was that I didn't die.



I left my skis at the rental shop and got into my car but the adventure was in now way over. The steep access road had become very slick and I drove with my heart in my mouth for miles. I did not dare go over 5 MPH. I continually pupped my brakes to keep the car under control and my speed down. At last, the road leveled out and I was on flat ground.



Sunshine
The next day, the sun was shining and there was fresh snow on the ground. I met the DPS Ski Rep walking back to his truck as I was arriving. Unfortunately, after he checked the skis that he had with him, there was nothing that was suitable for me, so we nixed the idea of a ski demo for that day. I picked up my K2s and headed for the slope. When I got on the mountain, I found the conditions to be a lot better than yesterday. I could actually see! Heck, anybody could ski Powder Mountain if they can see the trail!



Powder Mountain had invited me to a snow kite clinic. I discovered that it was in progress on Hidden Lake, so I headed over there to see what was going on. I skied over to the Sunrise Poma and viewed activities. Kiteboarding is the generic term for any sport where a colorful kite is strapped to an athlete on surfboard, snowboard, skis, skateboard, etc. and pulls them (in this case) accross the snow. It's one of the fastest-growing adrenaline sports out there, according to the press release I received. I spent a little time watching this event and taking some photos. Skiers and snowboarders were being pulled across the snow on the frozen lake by large colorful kites. This was the first time a competition of this type has been hosted in Northern Utah. Powder Mountain is the only ski area in Utah that offers a specific day pass for snow kiters.



After taking a few more photos, the call of the powder got to me and I decided to try skiing on trails that I could actually see. I skied down Dr. "C", a blue trail that was a little windblown and got back on the Hidden Lake chair. I found that White Pine was groomed, steep and in great shape for high-speed cruising. I rode up the chair again and tried my first black diamond trail at Powder Mountain, Main Line. The powder had been kicked up into small bumps in spots and I took this black diamond trail to Dilly Dally Alley where there was still some fresh untracked snow where I caught some "freshies".



I skied a few more runs down Main Line and Break Away and then had lunch at top in the Hidden Lake Lodge. This small lodge was jammed with people and I had fun chatting with other skiers who were in line for lunch and then headed back to the slopes for more skiing.

Stats
Powder mountain has a 2500 ft. vertical with five peaks served by four chairlifts and three surface lifts including one Poma. They have a halfpipe and a two terrain parks. There are 5500 skiable acres and they offer night skiing. This is the only ski area that I have visited where many skiers ignore the chair lifts and blaze trails in the new powder down to the access road and then hop a ride on the shuttle back to the base area (which is actually mid-mountain). Powder Mountain claims 114 trails with rated as 25% beginner, 40% intermediate, 35% advanced and for $10, you can indulge in snowcat skiing and helicopter skiing is even available.



I spent the rest of the day skiing blue and black trails and had a real blast. By the end of the day, my thighs were telling me that I wasn't as young as I used to be and I called it a day. I had a beer in the lodge and then headed back down the mountain. Powder Mountain had redeemed itself, I met a lot of nice people and I had another great day on skis.



In my opinion, Powder Mountain in a great place for powder hounds after a large snowfall. If you want "freshies" on untracked snow, head to Powder Mountain after a big dump. You will not be disappointed. Everyone is very friendly at this mountain but the amenities are minimal and the inter-connectivity of trails leaves a lot to be desired. Otherwise, it is a fun mountain where skiers and snowboarders of all abilities can enjoy a unique experience in a snowy winter wonderland but don't ski there is a whiteout if you are not familiar with the mountain. If you do, you might become a permanent "guest", if you know what I mean.

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