My University of Pennsylvania college friends and I decided to have a new ski adventure in March 2020. We often meet to go skiing and always have an amazing reunion. This year we chose to have an advanced private ski lesson at Park City Mountain and try a backcountry experience.
My friend, Patricia Stokes from National Ability Center, recommended Shaun Raskin, owner and lead guide at Inspired Summit Adventures. I believed that our snowmobile experience would be like CAT skiing but private for just us even though I have not yet been CAT skiing. I had no idea how giant of an adventure I had signed us up for!
We went to White Pine Touring the night before to get our skis, boots and poles. We needed special alpine touring (AT) equipment which allows flexibility for hiking uphill but stability like a traditional downhill ski book when you are skiing. The boots have a lever for the “walk” feature. Carl was able to use his new ski boots which have this feature built in already.
Our rental skis had AT bindings that have a pivoting device so your heels off raise up off the skis with each step but your front or toe of your boot is locked in place. You can SLIDE up the snow with your skins on the bottom of your skis which look like you are attached carpet to them. The long strips give you traction and have a strong, reusable adhesive on one side which you stick to the skis’ bases. The mohair or synthetic fur on one side flattens as you move uphill, and your skis should glide over the snow, but keep you from sliding back.
At the top of your climb, you clamp the binding done so the heel is back on the ski and ski downhill as you would on a pair of traditional downhill bindings. The poles are adjustable so that you could change heights for our hike and skiing.
After we signed up and while we were gearing up, Carl and Heather kept saying, “We’re doing to die.” They were joking but I was starting to believe it.
Shaun picked us up in Park City at our condo and helped us make sure we had the right gear. She brought us backpacks that we could store our layers in and had our avalanche gear including a shovel, a beacon, and an avalanche probe. We would be wearing transmitters and my terror level continued to rise as all of this was explained to us. We had brought picnic food and water but I was wondering if I would ever be hungry again through my fears. I had never taken avalanche class but we had a top guide and crossed my fingers we would survive.
During the stunning drive to Kamas, we saw the incredible mountain range in front of us. We stopped at Mirror Lake Station which is a gas station for the most famous donuts in Utah. They won Utah’s Best Donut Award during the Utah Dough Show, a convention for donut-lovers. The station’s raspberry fritter beat out doughnuts from 22 other bakeries from around the state.
We arrived at the end of the Mirror Lake Highway in the Uinta-Wasatatch-Cache National Forest at the Western slopes of the Uinta Mountains! We put on our ski clothes, packed our backpacks and our next part of the adventure was a 45-minute snowmobile ride 15 miles East to the North facing col of Bald Mountain.
We had two snowmobiles for the four of us. I had never been on a snowmobile ever before in my life. Carl suggested that I drive. I countered that since he rides a motorcycle, he would be a better driver than me. Shaun said anyone can drive a snowmobile and Carl said why don’t you try.
I thought, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” But everyone was supportive and I was able to drive. It felt like I almost turned our snowmobile over on its side but Carl said, “Don’t worry! You’re doing great.” We looked at a couple different spots to go ski touring but Shawn led us to Bald mountain.
We put on our skis and skins and we trekked for about an hour over fresh powder through the trees and up towards where we were going to go skiing!
At one point at a total meltdown. Shaun was very concerned and asked me, “Are you physically hurt?” I shook my head no and said, “I’m not hurt physically.” She said, “You’re here with friends. Just let it out, go ahead and cry. I said, “I’m just afraid I can’t do it.”
Shaun said, “Let’s talk about the difference between perceived reality and actual reality. In actual reality, I know you can do it because you already are doing it. I am an extremely experienced guide with over fifteen years experience and I am assessing you at all times to make sure you are up to the challenges. I can tell you that you are. Second of all, if there comes a time when it is too much for you, I can simply go get the snowmobile and pick you up. So an actual reality, you can do it because you are doing it.”
With her support and my friends for the past 30 years, I kept trekking with my alpine ski touring gear and we made it to God’s armchair.
It was really pristine and stunning and as Heather said it was truly awesome. We each had to turn to ski down the slope. I will never forget the fresh powder and knowing that I could conquer the terrain and my fears. As my ski run started to end, I screamed over and over again, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”
Shaun made us a picnic bench out of our skis and we devoured our lunch. Suddenly the sun was getting lower and it was time to go. As we skied back to the snowmobiles and then rode the snowmobiles back to the van, I knew that this was one adventure none of us would ever forget. I highly recommend it but know that you are up for some serious physical activity and for me emotionally too. I can’t wait to go again!