Among the Christmases I remember best is a December 25th in 1971 when I dragged myself out of bed at 6 so I could get to Snowbird Ski Resort, where I worked in the parking lot.
I was in college and took the job over the holiday break. Ostensibly, it was to help me get through school, but it paid almost nothing in cold, hard cash. It did, however, include ski passes, which I planned to use on some future perfect days later on that winter.
It was snowing and as I drove up an uncommonly quiet Little Cottonwood Canyon in the dark in my Volkswagen, I wondered if I might be alone all day. Would anyone ski on Christmas? Did people do that?
But no sooner did I put on my neon orange vest and assume my post than cars started to show up. Not hordes of them, but enough to fill up all the parking spots on the front row and start on the second.
The snow kept coming, and falling harder by the minute. To the diehards bouncing out of their cars, this was definitely Christmas morning.
They practically sprinted to the brand new tram — Snowbird itself was brand new; it's my recollection that the resort's first day was either on Christmas Day or sometime earlier that week — so they could get to the brand new snow.
Me, I was counting off the minutes until noon, when my shift ended and I could go home.
It took a while before it dawned on me that I wasn't directing any more traffic. Business had fallen off drastically. It was like someone turned off the car spigot. I looked up toward the entrance on the road that goes to Alta. Not a vehicle in sight. No engine noise. No nothing.
Then word filtered down the line: an avalanche had fallen just below the Snowbird entrance and closed the road.
Nobody was getting up and nobody was getting down.
The good news – I didn't have any more work to do – was quickly followed by yet more good news: it was still snowing as hard as ever, smothering the runs in fresh powder snow.
Then came the bad news: I didn't have my skis with me.
I hadn't bothered to bring them. I wasn't about to waste one of my free passes on half-a-day on Christmas.
The canyon remained closed, as I recall, from about 10 until 2.
All the while, the tram and the lifts kept right on running.
The few people I'd parked and the visitors who were staying in the lodge had Peruvian Gulch, Gad Valley and everything in between all to themselves.
I wandered over to the Snowbird Center, where I watched as the skiers finished their runs, shook off the snow covering them from head to toe, snapped off their skis, and ran to catch the next tram.
It was like watching your brother unwrap the bicycle you were hoping you'd get.
When the road finally opened, I brushed a foot of The Greatest Snow on Earth off my Volkswagen and drove back down the canyon, passing car after car of people rushing to get to where I'd just been.
If you were to run into any of them today, 40 years later, the first thing they'd say is, "Did I tell you about the powder day I had at Snowbird in 1971?"
They'll never forget that Christmas. And neither will I.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. email: [email protected]