January 22, 2007
On a guy's ski trip to Utah's wild and wooly Wasatch Mountains of all places, I got a glimpse of my recreational future with my kids, whom I left at home in Colorado with my very understanding wife.
In search of some backcountry skiing adventure in what's been a low snow year for the typically snow- choked canyons of the Wasatch, my friend Dan and I signed up for the Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour.
One day, 25 miles, 16,000 vertical feet of skiing at six different ski areas and the backcountry in between. Our crew was comprised of two guides, a middle-aged guy from New York and a father and daughter from Philadelphia.
"I heard about this a couple of years ago, and I've been waiting for my daughter to turn 16 so we could do it together," Jeff Krieger said of the tour's minimum age limit. "We had a great day, really enjoyed being out of bounds and seeing the backcountry."
With absolutely no snow falling on any of the East Coast ski resorts, Krieger and his daughter Kate were elated to be out west skiing the remnants of a 10-inch powder storm that had rolled through a few days earlier, leaving a blanket of Arctic air in its wake.
They braved blasts of bitterly chill air as we ripped down early-morning groomers making our way from swanky Deer Valley resort out a backcountry gate and into Park City ski area, where we again negotiated a few frosty runs before heading out into our first true backcountry skiing of the day.
Checking out with Park City ski patrol, our guides took us into the upper reaches of Big Cottonwood Canyon, home to Solitude and Brighton ski areas and a backcountry skiing Mecca loaded with plenty of fresh turns even in a sub-par snow year.
A long descent in variable conditions through beautiful stretches of aspens, spruce and fir trees brought us to the base of Solitude ski area, where we headed up the lifts to the stunning upper reaches of Honeycomb Canyon.
Everyone in the group, including the Kriegers, gamely nodded their agreement when our guides suggested we head out a backcountry gate, shoulder our gear partway up a knife-edge ridge of rock to ski some powder cooling in the north-facing shade of Honeycomb.
The hike up the lower reaches of Fantasy Ridge was in lieu of skiing inbounds groomed runs over to nearby Brighton just to say we'd been there. So our Interconnect tour had been happily condensed from six resorts to five in order to poach powder in some of Utah's legendary chutes.
I was increasingly impressed with these East Coasters.
"I thought it was a really good experience," Kate Krieger said. "It was nice because we've only skied at one (resort a day) before, so it was nice to go and see all the different resorts, and the backcountry was really cool, too. I'd like to do it again with Grandpa, who's 75."
And that's the beauty of the tour. With two guides the adventure can be tailored to accommodate the skills and physical conditioning of a wide range of skiers, although it's strongly recommended for experts only.
After lunch, our tiny group pushed up the Highway to Heaven traverse with imposing views of Wolverine Cirque, then descended through chopped up powder (chowder) into Little Cottonwood Canyon, where we ended our day with several runs at Alta and Snowbird ski areas.
The whole time I couldn't help but think how great it will be to show my sons the Interconnect when they turn 16. In the meantime, Colorado has plenty of its own backcountry adventures we can explore.
Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour
The Interconnect runs seven days a week mid-December through mid-April, weather permitting.
•Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, the tour leaves from Deer Valley and includes Park City, Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird, where it concludes.
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the tour leaves from Snowbird and includes Alta, Solitude and Brighton, returning to Snowbird.
The cost is $195 a person, which includes guides, lunch, lift access and van transport back to the point of origin.
Call 1-801-534-1907 for reservations or more information, or go to www.skiutah.com/interconnect/.
David O. Williams, a Colorado resident and avid skier since 1979, lives in Edwards with his wife and three sons.
Rocky Mountain News, David O. Williams