Midwest to Mountain Men

Middle-aged Michigan father and teenage son take their first big mountain alpine skiing experience with a goal of completing 100 different runs at Park City Mountain Resort in three days.

by Brett Ramseyer

“I don’t know about this 100 run thing. Counting runs will ruin the experience.”

So said my lanky, sixteen-year-old son, Jay, before our Spring Break trip to Park City, Utah. He hates numbers as much as planning. “You’ve planned the whole trip, count the hours, minutes and seconds ‘til we leave Michigan,” said Jay. “There’s no discovery.”

I shook my head. We often disagree: me a goal getter vs. him a free spirit, a confident risk-taker vs. cautious stepper, teacher vs. student. At work I coax reluctant teens to places they think impossible. Yet, I am unsure I can do the same for my son.

***

Monday morning – awake at 4:00 Mountain Time, I begged the clock to budge. Jay slept with seventy-five percent of the covers on his side of the bed. I sparked the digital trail map, planned more in the dark.

Park City Mountain Sunrise – March 25, 2019

8:15 we lugged rentals to Crescent Express across the crunch of the sharply groomed base. Queued for second chair behind some relocated locals, one warned, “Don’t come here in the summer. You’ll never leave.”

Under a sapphire sky, peaks multiplied past each lift tower during our slack-jawed ascent. Cesious aspen shadows leaned into the slope. The breath of Snowed Inn horses spiraled from their noses.

I snapped pictures atop the first five lifts. Each disappointing frame failed to capture the epic vastness of mountain vista. Every slope somehow flattened despite precipitous drops.

Staring down Sundog at 9,800 feet above see level, miles from town and a world away from Michigan skiing.

We started easy, 3/4 Load to Claimjumper, over a mile, the longest descent of our Michigan molehill lives. My face hurt from smiling.

We graduated to Single Jack, a blue. Our thighs warmed more than any Midwest run ever demanded. We linked Jupiter Access to Thaynes Canyon. Nearly three gentle miles through wood and watershed, we stopped panting. “This is awesome,” said Jay. I coaxed another convert.

The next run shattered that illusion.

Like rookies, we started on north facing slopes. Until Sitka, we avoided steeps. Each carve onto that concrete corduroy sounded like ripping upholstered couch cushions, then we reached real pitch. Sitka made us both take a seat, first Jay, then me.

We stood again. In seconds Jay’s ski jumped from his boot to bite his ass. He slid one-hundred feet down the mountain on his stomach, trying to grow fingernails. We downgraded to greens for an hour.

Poke Bowl at the Mid-Mountain Lodge – the old mining inn now charges a month’s rent for lunch.

After a hangry lunch at Mid-Mountain Lodge, I almost lost my boy to a wrong turn. What I thought the route to Jupiter Access and our initial joy, was Double Jack, an ungroomed black with bumps. High above me, my souring son let fly a salvo of fricative expletives before crashing under a trailside conifer.

He popped his skis to trudge down through the trees. He sank hip deep in unpacked powder. “You’ll need to walk down the run,” I said, my voice, anathema to Jay’s ears.

After sliding 300 vertical feet on his butt and stomping back into his bindings he said, “From now on, I’m leading.” By 2:00 PM he asked me to drive him back to the hotel, not my planned full ski day. I skied the hour before last lift, alone.

 

The bottom of Double Jack down to the Thaynes double chair. It is far steeper than it looks here, where Jay lost his shit.

 

***

While Jay rested in his blue iPhone glow, I counted runs on a foldout map. “40 runs today. 33 different ones. I think we can reach 100.”

“Hmm,” Jay said. “We’ll see.”

“Tomorrow we’ll head to Canyons, tons of blues.”

***

On the sunny Tuesday morning we met ‘Jack’, an Israeli born local about to start his 126th day at Park City this season. He shared first chair and told us in one of his five languages that he once worked as a mountain spy in the pre-Vail Corporation days. He secured the slopes by pulling tickets from the reckless.

‘Jack’ plied the lifties to open early, called them all by name. His enthusiasm as keen after 1.7 million vertical feet on the season as day one. He guided us down Echo and Eclipse and offered tips so we could better carve. “Don’t worry about black or blue,” he told us. “Just ski.” He assured us that we could surprise ourselves with what we could do. Our turn efficiency improved, our energy grew. We just skied.

By noon I shed layers down to a t-shirt, without gloves. We conquered most of the runs on Iron Mountain before wending our return to the car after seven hours of skiing, a substantial increase.

The view east from Copperhead on Iron Mountain – I am down to shirtsleeves.

In the evening tally session I counted 40 new runs. “Jay we are going to reach 100!” My teen skeptic slapped me a double high-five, accomplishment assured at dawn.

The much worn trail map our Day 1 runs highlighted yellow, Day 2 pink and Day 3 orange.

***

Wednesday, the warmest of the mornings we saw ‘Jack’s’ 127th day, our third. We shared second chair with him, but parted ways at mid-station. We needed 27 new runs from the northern reaches of the Boas to the southern extreme of Little Kings. We rode Quicksilver Gondola, connecting resorts with the goal of ending our trip cruising Boa’s 2,000 vertical feet one last time.

Father and son clacked polls before descending. At full bore I started the charge. In an instant Jay rocketed past me like I stood still. He risked the drop and straight-lined from sight. He took the lead. No worry about black or blue, he just skied.

***

Back home in West Michigan, what little snow remained, huddled in shadows, black piles aside muddy roads. Still unshaven, both Jay and I raked winter detritus from our yard. The combing tines’ cadence reminded me of crisp carves. Our memories helped us escape mundanity like mountain men: 123,000 vertical feet, 220 miles on skis, 113 different runs. I hope Jay saw nothing ruined, felt discovery, just counted us lucky, remembering when he and his Dad, just skied.

Jay ready to attack Apex Ridge on Day 3 at the Canyons.

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Essays, Travel

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