OK, is there anywhere in this world, where the snow flies, where it's possible to set tracks on the slopes of 11 ski resorts in a single day?
Last week, I set out with four comrades on skis to prove that, yes, it can be done right here in Utah.
We rode one tram, two gondolas, one six-person high-speed, three high-speed quads, one triple and four double chairlifts to make 12 runs at 11 areas, ski 19,226 vertical feet and discuss plans to ski 12 . . . or maybe all 13.
It went like this: Sundance, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons, Solitude, Brighton, Snowbird, Alta, Snowbasin, Nordic Valley and Powder Mountain . . . number of miles traveled was 220.
The only Utah resorts not skied were Beaver Mountain, east of Logan, and Brian Head, east of Cedar City.
The day started with the reflective view of a sunrise on Mount Timpanogos seen from Ray's lift at Sundance at 7:56 a.m. and ended with a mountaintop view of a huge orange sun sandwiched between illuminated red clouds from the 8,600-foot Sundown Ridge at Powder Mountain at 5:37 p.m.
The amount of time needed to drive, ride the lifts (and never the shortest lifts), ski down, load and unload equipment and drive to all 11 was nine hours, 41 minutes.
It was intended from the beginning to be more of an adventure than a ski day, just to see if it could be done. One run planned at each resort, top to bottom, eat on the run, brief breaks were possible, and more driving time than slope time.
What we found was that it is possible, here in Utah, to ski 10 truly world-class ski areas and one area, Nordic Valley, with all the down-home charm of a county fair, in a day.
Now that it has been done, the question is: Is there anywhere else in the world where skiers can engage that many different resorts of such quality during daylight hours?
Looking back, the time line could have been even shorter. The group of five skiers I was joined by Lee Benson, columnist, and Ravell Call, photographer for the Deseret Morning News; Nathan Rafferty, director of communications for Ski Utah; Mike Grass, my son and a former staffer of Ski Utah left Snowbird an hour ahead of the timetable, took two runs at Snowbasin instead of one, and stopped on occasion to look at the views, a bald eagle, a young moose on a Deer Valley run and a flock of forest grouse that flew within a few feet of our party atop Powder Mountain.
Consensus among the group is that with a few less turns and less lollygagging around, all 11 could have been skied in regular operational daylight hours roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is Nordic Valley's day-pass closing time. As it turned out, the only resort we skied on a nighttime pass was the last Powder Mountain.
The seed for this adventure was planted when I read a story in the Denver Post over Thanksgiving by a fellow ski writer who skied eight resorts in roughly 10 hours, hitting two before lifts opened.
Accessibility and, of course, snow, have long been among Utah's greatest attractions for skiers and snowboarders.
There are six areas offered on the one-day Ski Utah Interconnect. From downtown Salt Lake City there are seven resorts within roughly 30 minutes and four more within less than an hour.
I suggested several possible options, including the Interconnect plus one The Canyons to Rafferty and eight with the Interconnect, plus Sundance and The Canyons. The Interconnect starts at Deer Valley and includes Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird.
He suggested the 11 resorts and plotted a projected time line.
"It was," he said without hesitation, "very doable."
And so it went:
7 a.m. The group of five, with Adam Barker as our designated driver, left Park City via the back road to U-40. The day started out with high clouds and cool but not cold temperatures.
7:56 a.m. Four minutes ahead of schedule we followed the ski patrol for their morning duties up Ray's lift, guided by mountain operations director Jerry Warren.
It was a perfect way to start . . . a corduroy-smooth run accented by a soft reflection of the sun off Mount Timpanogos. We stopped once to take in the sights, spent a moment consuming the view and then pointed the skis downhill.
8:19 We left, retracing our route, one minute ahead of our timetable, back past Deer Creek, around Heber and pulled into Deer Valley's Mayflower gondola across from Jordanelle Reservoir.
8:55 a.m. We boarded the gondola, along with a dozen other skiers, as the resort officially opened.
The run here was one of our shortest 640 vertical feet only because the drop-off point that accesses other lifts is just above the Snow Park Lodge, our second pickup point.
This run was, however, one of our most interesting. Crossing the lower run above the lodge was a young moose, obviously frightened by the passing traffic and certainly confused. Naturally, we gave the animal a wide berth.
9:10 a.m. Stepped out of the bindings and headed for the van and the ride to Park City Mountain Resort.
9:19 a.m. We walked from the unloading area at the Marriott Hotel in the Resort Center to the Payday Lift, one of the resort's two high-speed, six-passenger lifts, for a quick ride to the Payday Run, one of Utah's more famous runs made so by the length, wide open skiing between treelines and the fact that this is an ideal slope for cruising. All of which made this one of our quickest runs top to bottom, 1,340 vertical feet, in four minutes.
9:35 a.m. Met the van in the lower parking area and headed for The Canyons.
9:45 a.m. Arrived and met Katie Eldridge, communications director, for a brief chat and a few video takes on our progress for posterity.
Here, we took the last remaining lift from the old ParkWest days, Eagle Express, which took us to one of our favorite runs Doc's.
This, too, would have been one of our faster runs had there not been so many photo ops along the way.
10:16 a.m. At this point, as we drove from The Canyons' parking area, we were roughly 20 minutes ahead of Rafferty's timetable.
11:04 a.m. Arrived in the lower parking area at Solitude and met up with Jay Burke, marketing director, who led us to the Eagle Express, one of the first high-speed quads to be built in Utah, and access to one of the resort's more popular runs Olympia to Post Card and the waiting van.
11:30 a.m. Headed for Brighton.
11:36 a.m. Arrived at the base of Millicent lift at Brighton, one of the earliest runs at the resort and now holding one of the longest lifts to this point, and a run that included Backbone, Chute 2 and the series of very enjoyable rollers along Perris Bowl. This was our fastest run, taking the 1,500 vertical feet in just under 4 1/2 minutes.
11:54 a.m. Loaded up and headed for Snowbird. At this point we were 46 minutes ahead of schedule, which meant we were able to take the tram at Snowbird rather than one of the lower lifts.
12:32 p.m. Met Dave Fields, public relations director at Snowbird, gave a quick report on our progress and then headed up the tram, the full 2,866 vertical feet, the most of any of the lifts we took, to the top of Hidden Peak in roughly eight minutes.
Low clouds made visibility difficult at the top, but down the ridge line and onto Chip's Run, one of the longest runs at 2 1/2 miles, we skied out of the clouds and onto a smooth, groomed run over to the Cirque Bowl and into some of the best snow conditions we encountered, and then back onto Chip's down to the bypass road where we met Barker.
1:05 p.m. Loaded the skis and took the short drive to Alta.
1:09 p.m. We arrived at Utah's newest and most unique high-speed quad Collins. The new lift, introduced this season, which is just six feet under the vertical rise of Snowbird's tram, replaces the old Collins and Germania lifts. It begins at the base area, then where the old Germania lift loaded, makes a slight angle turn up the mountain to the unloading area of the old lift.
From here we enjoyed a few of the historic runs Mambo to Main Street, through the Meadow and down into Cork Screw.
1:34 p.m. In the planning stage, this was our most critical point in the adventure. We had to leave Alta by 2:30 p.m. in order to make sure we made it to Snowbasin before the lifts closed at 4 p.m. Nordic Valley and Powder Mountain, we knew, offered night skiing.
Even with an hour to give, we grabbed sandwiches at Snowbird and some energy foods, chocolate bars and chips, and ate on the drive north.
2:54 p.m. With time to spare, the vote was to get in some turns at Snowbasin, so we made two runs. The first was the gondola Needles Express and the second was the high-speed quad John Paul Express. We tried to traverse over into the Strawberry area for a third run but hit the gate just a few minutes before it closed.
The John Paul quad ends near the start of the Olympic downhill courses, which meant we were able to make turns on sections of the now-famous run.
3:58 p.m. Loaded in the van and drove around the western tip of Pineview Reservoir, into the town of Eden and turned left to Nordic Valley.
4:26 p.m. No ski area in Utah has more down-home personality than does Nordic Valley, starting with the barn that was converted into a day lodge or it could have been a lodge made to look like a barn. Then it was onto one of the area's original lifts.
Over the years, this has been a favorite with young ski racers who, after running gates, liked to slip into a homespun bobsled run for a twisty, turny speed run.
Access to the Viking Lift came with more down-home charm in the form of a handwritten note from the ticket manager to allow lift access.
4:51 p.m. After a tour of the lodge and reflecting on some of the old signs, and nine minutes before day passes expired, we headed for the last resort with a certain sense of accomplishment to this point knowing there was nothing, short of a downed power line, to stop us.
Coincidentally, as we drove toward Eden, a small truck had hit a power pole minutes earlier and the lines were left holding up the broken pole. We passed under the lines before traffic was stopped and drove to the finish.
5:12 p.m. We arrived at the base of the Sundown Lift before the night lights went on and shortly after they started to check for nighttime passes.
We unloaded on Sundown Ridge, appropriately named, just as the sun was starting to fall behind the Wasatch Range.
It was, as noted, a perfect ending. Consensus among the group was that few sunsets could top this one as seen from the summit.
As if on cue, several forest grouse left their perches in trees near the summit and flew east, within a few feet of our party, with the heavy beating of wings in what was otherwise pure silence.
5:37 p.m. We gathered at the base, did the expected "high fives" and deep sighs . . . no injuries, no falls and not a bad run all day.
5:58 p.m. We drove into the parking area at Wolfe Creek Grill, pulled off our ski boots, took off the fleece, shed the ski bibs, did a couple of deep knee bends to loosen the knees and stepped inside for dinner . . . scallops and shrimp, steak, salmon, lasagna . . . and homemade cheesecake or, for some, a huge ice-cream sundae, or a real treat, creme brulee.In pooling all the players around the dinner table it was decided: