Friday, January 26, 2007

Tons of snow and outdoor gear make Salt Lake cool

I'm sitting in a bright little cafe called the Raw Bean in Salt Lake City, Utah. Inside it's steaming hot cappucino and chocolate chip banana bread. Just a few steps out the door is the stop where, for $3, a city bus whisks skiers up to the legendary slopes of Snowbird and Alta.

We came out to Salt Lake to cover the Outdoor Retailer Show, but what wowed me when we rolled into town is how accessible the skiing is. Alta and Snowbird are up a short canyon at the edge of town. Driving to the slopes is like driving from downtown Colorado Springs to the top of Cheyenne Canon. And it's not a piddly little Ski Broadmoor-type hill waiting up there. These places are phenomenally tough. Look at the trail map for Snowbird. It has fewer greens than an Exxon board meeting.

The Utah ski areas can get away with having mostly blacks and double blacks because the mountains east of Salt Lake get about 500 inches of snow a year. (Last year they got about 650.) That's more than double what the typical Colorado resort receives.
This didn't sink in, for me, until our first day here, Thursday, when I read the front page of the newspaper. Snowbird had a 56-inch base - more than twice what Vail currently has - and the headline of the Salt Lake City Tribune said if a lack of snow continues, there could be a serious drought.

We made the most of the "drought" by skiing blacks and double blacks at snowbird. (I got pretty worked by the mountain, but had the convenient excuse of being on long, unfamiliar rental telemarks.) The terrain was awesome. Think A Basin meets Vail's back bowls. By the end of the day I could barely walk.

No wonder 10,000 outdoor industry types have chosen Salt Lake as their yearly venue -- it's a great place to play.

Not that these guys are here to play. They're here to work. But work includes a lot of play. Today they're all trekking up to Brighton ski area to demo all the latest snow toys. Is that work or is it play? I ponder this problem all the time when I'm skiing on the clock.

The real show starts tomorrow. More than 800 booths will be swarmed by thousands of people. See a movie short of it here:
We're already seeing these outdoor types around the city. They're easy to spot because they're all unintentionally wearing the same uniform: jeans and a very expensive puffy jacket (pick from your favorite $300 brands).

We'll have more from the day on the snow this evening. Right now the sun is coming up over the Wahsatch Mountains. The whole sky is as pink as a salmon. It's beautiful, and it's time to get started with the day.


Biker Betty said...

Man, you have a tough job, lol.

Zen said...

If you're a skier or a Mormon or both, SLC is an awesome place to be. Not so much for hiking and biking tho ... all those people have a heavy impact on that little mountain range, and restrictions can be strict.

Check out this little story for example ...