Beach Bum to Ski Bum: Exploring Utah

For 25 years, I have been adamantly opposed to winter. I grew up within spitting distance of one tidal river or another, we rarely vacationed anywhere that wasn’t the beach, and I spent nine months of the year barefoot in a bathing suit. Nothing about being cold or bundled up has ever appealed to me.

As it turns out, not all “winters” are created equal.

We don’t really have winter in Georgia, but winter in D.C. is not nice. It is cold and damp and windy, and snow causes life to stop for days at a time. I once threw a tantrum on a street corner (stomping feet, shouting like a crazy person) when I decided that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I have a witness who will swear to this. I also survived a particularly bleak winter in Russia, after which I swore up and down that I would never go anywhere that required a down coat. So when I was being pressured into spending a December weekend in Utah, I was pretty clear that I could not and would not learn to like winter. I think we all know how that went.

I was enamored of Salt Lake City before my plane landed. We flew in over snow-covered mountains, over the lake, over the valley the city sits in. It was gorgeous.

And when our first stop — before even dropping my bags — was Epic Brewing, I knew I was in for a fun weekend. The craft beer in Utah is nothing to sneeze at, and despite some weird state liquor laws, I was not disappointed by the drinking opportunities. But the real reason to go to Utah is, obviously, to play outside.

Skiing

First on the Friday agenda was a quick trip up to Park City to pick up our ski passes, which meant a drive up into the canyons. I spent most of my time in the car with my nose glued to the window because there is just so much incredible stuff to look at.

I was really hesitant because I haven’t skied since I was, um, 12? My ski pants still fit, but I had no idea whether I would be able to stay upright or end up flying off the side of a cliff or just get left on top of the mountain, too scared to come down. Outfitted with boots, poles, and skis, we headed up to Alta, which, again, is mind-blowingly beautiful. There was fresh powder on the ground, and it was starting to snow more heavily when we arrived.

Within about 30 seconds, I made the following observations: 1) Skiing is like riding a bicycle — you may be a little rusty, but you never forget how. 2) Utah is NOT the East coast. 3) I cannot imagine a more enjoyable place to refresh my skills — or, really, to ski every day for the rest of my life. The runs were really wide and really varied and the snow is so soft and easy, unlike the hard-packed ice I’ve slid down in West Virginia. I can see why people go to Utah for ski vacations *and* why they¬† just pick up and move there. You can’t argue with having some of the best skiing in the country 15 minutes up the mountain.

You ride the lift to the top of the mountain and suddenly you’re at 10,000 feet. That is a long way up, and if you tried to exert yourself you’d find it hard to breathe, but then you’re greeted by stunning views. I am pretty sure I could do this every day and never get bored.

Snowshoeing

One of the winter activities I insisted on was snowshoeing. I have to admit that I didn’t really know what snowshoeing was or how to do it, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we were basically just hiking in the snow with some extra traction. I have never been much of a fan of hiking, mostly because I have no balance or coordination and struggle to run and walk in a straight line without tripping over my own feet, but with a little practice I’m coming around to the idea.

Anyway, it snowed all night Friday and into Saturday (and for the rest of the time I was there), so there was a solid layer on the ground when we set out to Big Cottonwood Canyon. Other people had already cut the trail — in Utah it snows and the first reaction is LET’S GO OUTSIDE — so we followed along into this winter wonderland. Pictures do not do it justice.

About halfway into the hike up, we stopped to admire the cabins tucked into the side of the mountain when two moose popped their heads out of the snow down the hill from where we were standing on the trail. Moose, y’all!

Moose are mean. Did you know that? Apparently they will charge and bulldoze you. Adam had to repeat the warning he gave me when we saw bears on Skyline last year — be quiet and don’t get too close — because I am the idiot who forgets that just because animals look cute does not mean they will not kill you if given the opportunity.

One of the things that surprised me all weekend long was how you can pretty much do anything anywhere (well, not anything — some activities are frowned upon in Mormon HQ). And by that I mean that you don’t have to just hike on the trail or ski down a defined run. Go crazy, head off a ledge and dodge trees if you want. There’s a lot of room for adventure.

Hot Springs

Adventure #2 for Saturday was a trip to Diamond Fork/Fifth Water Hot Springs, which are about an hour or so south of SLC. We’re talking in the middle a national park in the middle of nowhere. It’s so quiet and there’s no traffic or light pollution — just you and nature. Again, nose glued to truck window.

We took along mountain bikes in case the road leading up to the trailhead was closed, but thankfully we were able to drive on through and start our 2.5 mile hike up to the springs. There’s a creek on one side and gorgeous snow-covered trees and rocky slopes and you don’t even care that you’re exerting any effort because there’s just so much to look at.

We arrived at the springs as the light was disappearing, and I’ll admit that I was really nervous about hiking back down in the dark, not to mention stripping down to a bathing suit in sub-freezing weather as the snow continued to fall. But I did it, and the water was so warm, and it was 100 percent worth it.

So we hung out for nearly two hours and drank some good beer, and I was relieved that we weren’t the only people crazy enough to be out there at night (clearly I know nothing about the outdoors). And honestly, my favorite part of the whole thing might have been the trek back down in the pitch black with only a headlamp for guidance. After living in a busy city for 3.5 years and in surburban sprawl for most of the rest of my life, I just couldn’t fathom a place that is so undisturbed by people.

In summary, I could do this. I could live in Utah and ski every weekend and hike/mountain bike when there’s no snow and just generally soak in the outdoor adventure lifestyle everyone there leads. I had a blast, the people I met were so incredibly fun, and I am 100 percent on board with real winter. I loved Utah a lot more than I loved San Diego (I know, crazy), and I definitely didn’t want to come back to Georgia. I am also adding “would never need to straighten hair ever again” to my list of reasons to move there. You win, Adam.

Next up, Asia!

 

Leave a Reply