The Casual Blog

Tag: Utah

Skiing in Utah, and Knausgaard’s radical honesty project

Snow at Snowbird, February 16, 2019

Last week Sally, Gabe, and I went to Utah for six days of skiing at Snowbird and Alta.  They had four or five feet of snow in the week before we came, and around four feet while we were there.  The locals said the snow was a bit on the heavy side, but even by local standards, at the snowiest ski area in North America, it was an amazing powder skiing experience.

In recent years we’ve had one week of skiing a year, and only a few deep powder days.  We weren’t completely unprepared for the powder challenge, but we were far from experienced.  Powder is a different ball game. The techniques that work on groomed snow have to be modified, and the modifications have to be further modified according to constantly varying snow conditions.  It involves trial and error; there’s no settled, reliable recipe for success. Facing down the steep terrain into snow where no one has gone takes gumption. But by day three, we were getting a level of confidence, which increased in days four through six.  It’s a wonderful feeling, flying on clouds of snow.

We rented skis at our hotel, Cliff Lodge (see photograph below), and they set us up with good tools.  I was very impressed with my Volkyl 100eights (173cm), which were versatile and reliable. They floated beautifully, were highly maneuverable on moguls, and could carve at medium-high speeds on packed snow.  

Skiing the challenging (black and double black diamond) terrain at Snowbird and Alta clears the mind.  There is, of course, the possibility of falling. Pointing the skis downward takes commitment and focus, and being in the moment.  It has a meditative dimension.

There is also a lovely social aspect.  Our little trio enjoyed exploring for new (to us) ways down the mountain, and savoring little victories together.  Gabe, by far the strongest skier, gave me a tip on poling technique that was transformative. He recommended I quit poling with my wrists, and envision turning the steering wheel of a car.   Almost immediately, my turns got stronger. He later reported that he’d focused more on the idea after he taught it to me, and found it helped him lift his game.

On day three, we skied at Alta with Sally’s cousin, Chip, and his wife, Judy, who live there.  They were great companions, full of good fun and local knowledge. They took us on a climb up Devil’s Castle in search of an expanse of untracked powder.  My legs and my lungs both gave out short of the top, and I headed down into a lesser powder field. I was really impressed and inspired by their good skiing and fitness, and resolved to get more fit for skiing next year.

Happy skiers at Alta: me, Judy, Gabe, Sally, and Chip

As it was, after three days of skiing I felt like I’d been mugged by a gang of toughs, aching and sore all over.  On day four, I felt much better. Along with the exhilaration, we had some tough conditions — very limited visibility in places, cold in the teens, and high winds.  I heard reports of gusts of over 50 MPH, and could easily believe that our sustained winds were 40 MPH in places. There were a couple of moments on the lift when I wondered if the wind could pull a person off.  

At the end of our ski days, we enjoyed some time in the hot tub.  I read more of Knausgaard’s magnum opus, My Struggle, book two. I’ll say one thing about it that I haven’t seen in the reviews:  it is radically honest. Knausgaard seems want to say as truthfully as possible exactly what he thought and felt in the process of ordinary life.  It turns out to be absorbing, and at times shocking, when someone sets aside, or at least tries to set aside, all pretense, all the layers of self protection, and all the small lies of social convention.  What’s left isn’t necessarily pretty, but it is fascinating, and makes the reader consider the consequences of extreme truthfulness.

At Snowbird: Peruvian lift and Cliff Lodge

Raleigh’s newest crane, Big Food, and getting ready for Utah

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Last Saturday afternoon, I got to watch the new construction crane go up at the old Greyhound bus station site, just southeast of us. Construction sites are fun to watch! And there’ve been a lot of them in Raleigh lately. We’re still growing.
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On Sunday I visited Raulston Arboretum, where there were fall blossoms and lots of butterflies. I got some shots I liked of an American Lady, of which these were my favorites.
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I recommend reading a new piece by Michael Pollan in the NY Times magazine about our food system and our political system. Pollan has written before about the power and nefarious influence of Big Food. Here’s his quick description:

A food system organized around subsidized monocultures of corn and soy . . . guzzled tremendous amounts of fossil fuel (for everything from the chemical fertilizer and pesticide those fields depended on to the fuel needed to ship food around the world) and in the process emitted tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas — as much as a third of all emissions, by some estimates. At the same time, the types of food that can be made from all that subsidized corn and soy — feedlot meat and processed foods of all kinds — bear a large measure of responsibility for the steep rise in health care costs: A substantial portion of what we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases linked to diet.

His new piece is about how Big Food lobbied hard to stop every reform proposed by the Obama administration, and was generally successful. But he concludes on a somewhat hopeful note.

[B]ehind the industry’s wall of political power, there indeed lurks a vulnerability. That vulnerability is the conscience of the American eater, who in the past decade or so has taken a keen interest in the question of where our food comes from, how it is produced and the impact of our everyday food choices on the land, on the hands that feed us, on the animals we eat and, increasingly, on the climate. Though still a minority, the eaters who care about these questions have come to distrust Big Food and reject what it is selling. Looking for options better aligned with their values, they have created, purchase by purchase, a $50 billion alternative food economy, comprising organic food, local food and artisanal food. Call it Little Food. And while it is still tiny in comparison with Big Food, it is nevertheless the fastest-growing sector of the food economy.

Some large food companies are voluntarily changing their practices in response to the concerns of these consumers, whether about antibiotics, animal welfare or the welfare of farmworkers. One future of food politics may lie in grass-roots campaigns targeted not at politicians in Washington but directly at Big Food and its consumers, taking aim at its Achilles’ heel: those precious brands.

Maybe so. Anyhow, kudos to Pollan for speaking truth to power, and educating the rest of us.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to southern Utah and Arizona to see some of the most amazing rocks on the planet: Zion, Bryce, Arches, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon, all of which I’ve wanted to see for a long time. I’ll be traveling with a small group of photographers, and taking lots of pictures. I’ve been to REI and Outdoor Provisions to get insulating layers for those cold mornings, and have made up my mind what lenses not to lug. I’m ready!
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Utah ski tips

IMG_0480As much as I love skiing the big mountains of Utah, I had mixed feelings last week as we headed out to Park City. Vision in my left eye has been very limited, which has affected my depth perception and balance. But exploring physical limitations is part of what makes skiing interesting. I was looking forward to the kinetic excitement and raw alpine beauty, and to seeing old friends.

Our flight through Dallas went smoothly, and it was snowing hard when we landed in Salt Lake City. We took a shuttle (which our driver called “the Love Van”) up to Park City over snowy roads through limited visibility. When we arrived, some of our friends who’d arrived a day earlier were sitting by in the living room by the fire, and others were in the hot tub in the back. After saying hello, we walked three blocks to the lift area and to rent skis. I went with Volkyl Mantras, an all mountain ski I’d liked in previous editions, and which turned out again to be highly versatile in changing conditions (powder, groomed carving, chop, and bumps).

The next morning I cracked a good sweat trying to jam my feet into my ski boots, and for a few moments I thought they simply would not go, but in the end they did. The day was cold (low teens), but we were dressed adequately (five layers over the torso and two over the face). There was not as much powder on the mountain as we’d hoped, but on the whole the snow was light and workable. After doing two or three groomed runs, Sally and I tried some bumps. We were a little rusty at first, but managed ok.

We ended up skiing the first two days at Park City and the last two at Deer Valley. The usual knock on Deer Valley is that it’s too sweet, with such amenities as good on-mountain restaurants, comfortable lifts, and careful grooming. This is not untrue — the food, lifts, and grooming are quite nice — but it’s also not the full story. We loved the skiing there. The system is elegantly laid out and linked together. There were almost no lift lines. Yes, there are a lot of cruisers, but they’re really good cruisers, some quite steep, and there are also some exciting bumps and gladed areas.

At this stage of my ski career, I enjoy the rush of shooting down groomed cruisers, but I soon find myself craving more varied and challenging terrain (typically rated as black or double black diamond). Finding the right degree of challenge is part of the secret of happy skiing. When you’re right at the inside edge of what you can handle, you experience a special type of happiness. During th event, you don’t know your’re happy, because you’re completely focused and absorbed in solving the intricate speed chess problem of the next few dozen yards. The challenges are constantly changing.

This is an aspect of flow, which I read about last year in Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, another book which has some worthwhile ideas but too much padding. Anyhow, I try not to spend too much time just doing those things that come easily. This trip I was focusing on steep moguls,and found myself getting more adept at them.

Here’s my tip, which I got from a teacher in Telluride: getting pressure to the inside edge of the down hill ski about twelve inches from the tip. Particularly when coming into the backside of a mogul, force this spot down into the snow. This causes you to press your weight forward, with your shins driving hard into the tongue of your ski boot. This technique helped me stay out of the back seat, which is where problems usually develop, and to feel well in control.

Anyhow, I felt stronger and more confident on the slopes than last year, or ever. It could be my personal trainer’s innovations, yoga, more swimming, foam rolling, or eating a healthier diet. Or perhaps a combination of some or all of these. At any rate, we skied hard every day, with many exciting challenges, and my legs never gave out.
My vision problem didn’t hamper me too much. Especially in more crowded areas, I tried to be conscious of looking around carefully for other skiers, but we usually stayed away from those places. It’s possible that my hearing and sense of touch were carrying more load. It’s also possible that adrenaline increased the speed of visual processing, and cropped some of the bad signals from the left eye. At any rate, I was able to forge ahead.

Sally really lifted her ski game this year. She was going much faster and looked relaxed and happy. I persuaded her to change out her trusty white cap for a white helmet, which she agreed was comfortable and warm as well as safe. It was a pleasure to watch her.
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Utah skiing, a relaxing massage, and The Righteous Mind

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.