For two days at Alta, there was a rainbow around the sun. It’s called a sun dog, or a parhelion for weather nerds. Sun dogs are especially common in cold weather and at high altitude, and at Alta, the wind literally glowed with the reflections of floating ice crystals that swirled around us even on clear bluebird days.
No matter what the scientific explanations might be for this phenomenon, for me and Sesko, it was a sign from above. The motto at this 75-year-old resort is “Alta is for skiers,” and for the ranks of “Altaholics,” the mountain is a sacred place, the temple of skiing and a place that protects a pure vision of the sport even as the industry and the times have forced it to change and evolve. (For snowboarders who still can’t ride the lifts here, Alta is a symbol of an oppressive regime. But that’s a heated topic for another blog.)
Sesko and I are skiers, so we go to Alta, even when it’s cold, like really, really, seriously and dangerously cold. On our first morning in Utah, I received a welcome email from Alta’s Director of Marketing, Connie Marshall, that said, “Sorry about the DEEP FREEZE!” In Salt Lake, Paul and his friends said they couldn’t remember a colder week. And when we woke up Monday morning, the weather app on my phone said it was 22-below-zero at Alta.
“20-below? Whatever, it’s a dry cold,” I said. “It’s not New York on a windy day. Let’s get up there early. We can do it.” We were in our road-trip groove at this point, and after surviving the steep chutes and dirty shot skis of Jackson Hole, we were feeling bold about new challenges.
Freakishly cold weather couldn’t keep us away from Alta fresh, but it didn’t exactly motivate us either. We took our time that morning and stopped in at Silver Bean Coffee, a perfect pre-ski coffee shop in Cottonwood Heights, just minutes from the base of the canyon. We stocked up on banana bread and ham & cheese croissants to power us through the frigid morning. Silver Bean is owned by Shannon Bahrke, a 12-year veteran of the US Freestyle Ski Team and two-time medalist (silver in Salt Lake City in 2002, bronze in Vancouver in 2010) who grew up in California but decided to make her home and business here in the heart of American skiing. When she’s not at Silver Bean, Bahrke is a ski ambassador for the St. Regis in Deer Valley and also works with the local Youth Winter Sport Alliance to raise money for winter sports teams in Park City.
Climbing back into the Subaru, stuffed with the yoga mats and pots and pans of his life, Sesko and I headed up the canyon and day-dreamed about these athletes and their lives in the mountains. How do they live the dream? Does it even feel like a dream to them? Can we ski right until the day we die?
Alta’s Social Media Manager Joe Johnson seems to have this puzzle solved, and has devoted a series of videos to talking to other Alta locals who have made a life on the snow. The videos, called “On the Lift With,” were all filmed on Alta’s Wildcat Lift, a classic two-seater with no safety bar, panoramic views of the valley below, and the widest variety of terrain choices off of any lift.
In this video, he talks with Hoopa Robinson, a Boston native who moved to Utah decades ago and is now the director of the Alta ski school: