Calling My Own Shots in Utah's Snow Haven - Scott Willoughby [The Denver Post]
January 5, 2008
After getting shut out by Moth- Z-Ver Nature at the annual Mav- X A. ericks big-wave surfing competition last winter, contest director and surf pioneer Jeff Clark changed the game in 2008.
Clark opened an "on-call" window on Dec. 7 that would potentially last until March 31, the 24 invited surfers waiting for the light to turn green once the so-called "perfect storm" capable of producing 30- to 40-foot waves was lined up to slam into California's Half Moon Bay. The wave riders got their wish Jan. 12, with Cali local Greg Long eventually taking top honors and sharing his $30,000 prize with the five other finalists in an unprecedented showing of surfing camaraderie.
The concept appears to have taken hold among winter's earth surfers as well. Just last week, snowboarding superstar Travis Rice opened the seven-day "on-call" window for his new Quicksilver-sponsored all-mountain freestyle invitational at Jackson Hole, known as "Natural Selection." During what Jackson, Wyo., locals are referring to as "the never-ending storm," riders didn't have long to wait for the epic conditions they hoped would inspire equally epic performances on the legendary natural terrain features of Dick's Ditch and Casper Bowl. The final day of competition wraps up today (updates at www.quiksilver.com).
With the Western winter shaping up as one for the record book, the mere mortals among us might take heed to this on-call philosophy as well.
As Rice puts it, "The event is less about 'winning' and more about the world's best riders pushing each another in a setting that requires each to be at the absolute top of their game. But this is also a chance to stop in the middle of the competition season, get together and have fun, plain and simple just like we all used to do before turning pro."
Since I don't anticipate signing a deal with Quicksilver any time
HIGH LIFE 9C soon, I took the liberty of opening my own on-call window this week in Utah. And I am hereby pronouncing myself "winner."
Sure, the skiing has been stellar throughout Colorado this season, but at the moment it's tough to compare to our neighbors next door. By the first day of February, some Salt Lake City resorts already had hit the 400-inch mark, with Alta leading the charge at 139 percent of average snowfall before the season's halfway point. Neighboring Snowbird Resort has seen consecutive months of more than 130 inches of snowfall push its total above 370 inches, and the storms still are stacked up to China.
It's easy to forget what those kinds of conditions can do for your skiing and snowboarding, especially if you've never experienced them in the first place. But I was quickly reminded on a 16-inch morning on the heels of consecutive 12-inch mornings at the appropriately named Solitude Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Cradled by a continuous pocket of powder, snow literally billowed overhead for five consecutive untracked runs interrupted only occasionally by short cliff drops when the world briefly emerged in frozen focus before the light, white shroud returned with a silent "poof."
A day later, it was north to Snowbasin and what might eventually become known as the "Blizzard of Ahhhgden," where I watched a guy on the chair in front of me jump maybe 15 feet from the moving lift onto a sloping waistdeep pillow of snow and ski away, presumably just because he could.
"It's hard to call it a 'cycle' when it never ends," a former Snowbasin patroller sharing a ride up the gondola told me. "At this point we're just calling it 'winter.'"
With world-class slopeside lodging like The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird (www.snowbird.com) or even the familiar Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-saltlakecity.com) within simple striking distance to such stellar skiing from downtown Salt Lake City, it's easy to overlook Snowbasin (www.snowbasin. com) and the spectacular Ogden Valley, despite a record for accumulated snow almost daily at the host site of the 2002 Olympic downhill.
But that's all right. They still have Mother Nature keeping them company, and like the rest of them, they're just waiting for your call. Scott Willoughby covers action sports and high-country lifestyle issues for The Denver Post. He can be reached at 303-954-1993 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Willoughby [The Denver Post]