Tim Jones is an Alta skier.
John Stifter of Powder Magazine hired Tim, a local filmmaker, to produce a video segment about Snowbird Ski Resort for their Passing Through series, highlighting iconic ski areas. Tim was in a pickle as he intimately knows the vibe and terrain of Alta, but Snowbird…not so much. Thanks to spending all my winters at Snowbird, Tim sought my help to produce and ski in this video for Powder. This was a job I didn’t know I’d been yearning for: sharing Snowbird, a place that has woven itself so deeply into my story, that I don’t remember life without Snowbird.
With only 3 days of filming to capture the essence of Snowbird amid the doldrums of a high pressure atmospheric weather pattern, Tim and I felt the pressure mounting. In the warm, sunny days leading up to the shoot, I assisted Tim in identifying key locations to film and iconic Snowbird locals to interview. I set a schedule for our shoot and juggled the logistics of arranging our days on the mountain, shooting, and conducting interviews. As a lifetime Snowbird season passholder, I relied upon the relationships I’ve curated on this incredible hill to help make the story of Snowbird come to life while participating in private, nightly snow dances.
It may appear alluring, but 39 degree temperatures do not present ideal conditions for a Powder Magazine shoot.
It was February 21st and the thermometer on my Subaru was flashing 39 degrees at the base of Snowbird on day 1 of filming. I’ll be honest here: Tim and I were in a tizzy. With temps hovering near 40 and a hot, mushy snowpack, we were at a loss as to how to convey the magic of skiing at Snowbird given the present conditions. We attempted to shoot some footage with local pro, Marcus Caston, and though he enthusiastically tackled the sloppy snow, we knew we weren’t exactly nailing it. The saturated top layer belied a refrozen crust lurking underneath several inches of snow that mimicked the constancy of mashed potatoes. We halfheartedly conducted a few interviews and closely watched the Dopplar, as a hint of a green disturbance lurked somewhere out in the West Desert.
The Greatest Snow on Earth: Not today.
After attempting to make the best of the balmy temperatures and gathering a bit of B-roll, we opted to quit wasting time. With a storm looming on the horizon, we cancelled day 2 of shooting and anxiously awaited the arrival of the swirling blob of green slowly bearing down on the Wasatch.
As the storm gathered energy out over the vast expanse of sterile desert in western Utah and Nevada, we permitted our hopes to rise. The air grew heavy as the storm barreled down on the central Wasatch and unleashed a furious cloud of snowflakes that can only be described as: Little Cottonwood Magic. The energy of these storms, as they traverse the warm shallows of the Great Salt Lake, picking up additional moisture, can only be described as religious. This is the reason hordes of people pilgrimage to Utah, the land of the saints, to ski or snowboard. Snowbird generously provided a room for us at The Inn to bide our time while the brunt of the storm closed in. Marcus, Tim, and I were joined by another Snowbird local, Giray Dadali and we fell asleep to the sound of the wind whistling amid the tossing pine boughs as the inches stacked up at a freakish rate.
Awaking to the thundering reverberations of heavy artillery in Little Cottonwood Canyon before the hour of 5:00 AM is the most heartening arousal I know. This signals that the avalanche crews are hard at work and the snow totals are DEEP. It’s the thunder of promise; a rumbling declaration that today could well be the best day of your life. The moment interlodge restrictions were lifted, we ran outside to dig out our skis and board the tram. Joined by photographer, Mike Schirf, we waited in line while Little Cottonwood continued to thunder under the assault of avalanche control.
On this random Thursday, following a storm that meteorologists had vastly underestimated, we discovered a pratically empty mountain and 47" of fresh, 5% density snow.
The. Greatest. Snow. On. Earth.
These are the days you LUST after. The shit that keeps you awake at night.
And it wasn’t over. The snow was stacking as furiously as it had for the past 24 hours; on it raged.
With baited breath we awaited the tram operator announcements as the boat docked atop the 11,000 foot Hidden Peak.
No words. Just screams.
"… to find the easiest way down the mountain, follow the orange trail marking discs down Chips Run. Know that current mountain conditions mean there is NO EASY skiing off the top of the tram at this time. Expert and advanced skiers only. Closures include Road to Provo, Mineral Basin, Gad II, and Baby Thunder. Any questions, just check in with Snowbird Ski Patrol or see a friendly Mountain Host. And as always…have a good one."
Marcus, Giray, Tim, Mike, and myself looked at each other in disbelief.
“Baldy is open? What the…?!”
Without any discussion, our decision was made and we quickly prepared to bootpack along the ridge up Mount Baldy in the squalling tempest. Unbeknownst to us, because the visibility was so low, Snowbird’s Ski Patrol shut the access gate to Baldy moments after we began bootpacking up into the murk. Apparently there were so few people, and the snow was piling up so swiftly, Patrol was concerned about guests becoming lost on the bootpack. The five of us now unwittingly commandeered the entire expanse of Mount Baldy to ourselves, blanketed under 47" of the lightest snow I could recall.
The emotion that accompanies experiencing a storm this deep cannot be distilled into words. It is a rare event, but it calcifies into your brain’s memory bank, your soul. It is a state of ecstasy where time slows, and the energy of fierce joy is ossified into your life’s story. When confronted with death, I know I will remember this day.
Giray Dadali is 6'1" tall. Here he is dressed in 47" of blower Snowbird powder.
We slowly made our way down Baldy's wind-drifted flanks. In places, the snow was far deeper than what the storm total claimed. We joyously captured shot after shot of Marcus, Giray, and myself getting buried in the snow for which Utah earns its fame. We began to wonder why we hadn't seen another soul, but continued to work our way out to Keyhole and the deepest snow I've ever skied in my life.
This is the story of Snowbird. It is a place where the best day of your life lies in wait. Anyone who has experienced the phenomenon of a deep Little Cottonwood storm understands. If it hasn't yet happened to you, keep coming back. With over 500" blanketing the canyon annually, the odds of experiencing a deep storm of extreme lightness are higher than almost anywhere.
Only then will you understand why this land of the saints is the gateway to heaven.