Utah skiing, a relaxing massage, and The Righteous Mind

by Rob Tiller

The view from room at Deer Valley, Utah

Last week I had some meetings in Deer Valley, Utah, and also managed to get in one last bout of skiing for the season. Deer Valley is famous for coddling a high-end clientele with personal service and carefully groomed slopes. This doesn’t sit well with my personal skiing value system, which is more about rugged natural beauty, self-reliance, adventure, and transcendence. But I have to say, particularly in variable spring conditions, Deer Valley was pretty sweet.

At my hotel, there was friendly, attentive service. A personable young people offered to help you get boots on and off (to which I said no thank you), and carried your skis on and off the slopes. I rented Volkyl Mantra skis, which Gabe had recommended last year. They turned out to be a good choice – a very versatile all mountain ski that performed well in powder, packed powder, crud, and mush, all of which I eventually experienced. It was reasonably quick edge to edge, stable when carving at higher speeds, and workable in bumps and trees.

My rented Volka Mantras (the red and white ones on the end)

It’s been a disappointing year for snow over most of the U.S. Could global warming be to blame? Utah had not had snow for some time, and the mountains looked much more brown than white on the drive from the SLC airport. I had my doubts as to whether skiing would be worth the pain, but in the end, it was.

On Wednesday I skied with business friends and did mostly blue cruisers, with a few bump runs. It was a beautiful, sunny day, with temperatures in the 40s. The snow got soft and mushy in the afternoon, but it was still skiable. Spring skiing, as they say.

Thursday I had work to do, but Friday I got over to Park City to do some skiing by myself. It snowed most of the day, but only lightly, and visibility was limited. The winds were so strong in the morning that only half the lifts were operating. The only double black terrain open in the morning was off the McConkey lift. There were swatches of powder, but much of the skiable area was hard, rutted ice, or worse, ice with a deceptive thin dusting of snow – ice that looked like powder. On one lift ride, I chatted with a couple who’d lived there ten years. They wanted to apologize to visitors for the conditions, which were the worst they’d ever seen. But it got better in the afternoon. The Jupiter lift opened after lunch, and I found some fun steeps that hadn’t been skiied. The bumps were crusty. There were some interesting looking gladed areas that were, unfortunately, closed for lack of snow.

On Saturday it was another chilly bluebird day, which I spent at Deer Valley. The packed powder stayed good until mid-afternoon. I spent most of the time working the Empire and Lady Morgan lifts, both high speed quads that I generally had to myself, and listened to Mahler symphonies on my iPod. I particularly liked the Lady Morgan bowl, where I saw only a handful of other skiers. The lower part of the run is gladed, and after following the tracks of others, I began composing my own routes. It went well, except for one collision between my left ski and a pine tree.

After lunch, I did some carving on the cruisers off the Northside and Silverstrike lifts. After watching one kid catch some good air on a small jump, I tried to follow suit, but figured out a beat too late that the jump was canted to one side. I came down hard on my right hip, lost the right ski, and sprained my left thumb. It hurt! I’ve hurt that thumb the same way before, and it took a long time to heal. But I regrouped and pressed on.

Late in the afternoon, I treated myself to a massage at the Remede spa. Although I’ve become a big fan of deep tissue massage as therapy, I’ve assume that spa massage was mostly about relaxing, which is something I tend to regard as time-wasting. A sad legacy of my Calvinist heritage, no doubt, and I’m working on it. Anyhow, the Swedish massage was wonderful. It was a bit rougher in places than I expected, but also more sweet and sensual. My masseuse put hot was bags on my feet, which made no logical sense yet somehow worked. Over the course of the hour, my little fears melted away. Afterwards, I soaked for a bit in the hot tub, cooled off in the shower, and then sweated for a few minutes in the steam room. I felt a bit limp, and thoroughly relaxed.

On the way home I finished reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. In this new book, Haidt, a psychology professor at University of Virginia, offers a theory of the origins of morality and an explanation of the divide between liberals and conservatives. It’s ambitious, and he’s not kidding. I found it easy to accept his view that most human activity is driven primarily by emotion and intuition rather than reason. He was also persuasive in arguing that moral philosophy is primarily instrumental – a tool in service of other social goals, rather than a disinterested search for truth. He sees it as a vital instrument for human communities, and therefore for progress.

I was less persuaded, but still intrigued, by his idea that conservatives had a richer array of moral values than liberals. He argues that liberals define morality primarily in terms of reducing harm and increasing fairness, whereas conservatives also place significant weight on values such as loyalty, authority, and sacredness. That seems possible, but it doesn’t seem to connect up to the truly goofy aspects of conservative ideology, like demonization of liberals and discounting of science. I’ll go along with his idea that we need to figure out how to engage with ideas we don’t necessarily agree with if we’re to overcome our dysfunctional politics. I found the book thought provoking, and especially considering the density and breadth of the ideas, a surprisingly lively read.