By Matthew D. LaPlante
City Weekly
Dec. 14, 2017 

In some states, even other snow states, you might have to drive six hours to get to a halfway decent hill. In Utah, it’s six hours from the northernmost oh-my-God-this-is-amazing resort to the southernmost oh-my-God-this-is-amazing resort. And all the other places — there are 14 in all — fall within a half-hour’s drive of the line you draw between those two points. 
Recognizing this great fortune, back in 2009, a group of adventurers organized by Ski Utah hit 13 resorts in a single day. That’s some kind of crazy. 
I admire the feat, though maybe not the actual experience. Working south-to-north, the group started at 4 a.m., dropping into a road-accessible area above Giant Steps at Brian Head, and ended at 8:30 p.m. on Beaver Mountain’s Little Beav. In between they mostly hit bunny runs, half-runs and groomers on days-old snow.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. Sign me up for the next one. That’s a feat to be proud of. What I wanted, though, was a week to remember. Forever.
See, I’d never had a bucket list. I’d been around the world. I’d been to war. I’d skydived and bungee jumped and drag raced. I’d been chased by a charging bison on the back of a madly sprinting horse. I’d shared the sky with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. I ride a Harley Davidson and a Salomon splitboard. And, not for nothing, I live in a state famous for having the Greatest Snow on Earth. 
I’d never had a bucket list and, really, it hadn’t been a half-bad life. 
But then there was a close call. A really close call. 
It was my own damn fault. I was going much too fast and following another snowboarder much too close on a run much too narrow to be doing either of those things. When the guy ahead suddenly hockey stopped — God, I still can’t figure out why he did that — I bailed out to the left. 
I had just enough time to throw my weight backward. A split-second less and I would have taken that aspen in the face. I’ve replayed it every which way I can and that’s the only other thing that could have happened.
Instead, I shattered my leg in so many places that my surgeon said it was pointless to try to count. Now I’ve got a foot-long metal rod and some screws in my leg, and a bunch of shattered bone swimming around in there that never found its way back to my fibula or tibia. But I’m grateful, because it could have been worse.
So much worse.
Nobody knows when their time is up. And while I don’t spend a lot of time contemplating what might have happened on that day, I did finally start a bucket list.
Even before the accident, I’d been planning to complete my collection of Utah day passes. As I healed, though, that became a singular obsession. I was going to ski Utah. I was going to ski all of Utah. I was going to do it before I hit the one-year anniversary of my crash. 
And I was going to do it in a single week.  
I wasn’t just going to put a plank down. I wanted to feel every resort. To drink in the character of each place. To understand what it is — more than geography, since geography is really not that much of a barrier here — that makes people say the words “my resort” as though they’re saying “my family” or “my country” or “my religion.”
And I wanted to do it with a friend. Because bucket lists are pointless without friends. So I called Jared “JJ” Jones, who didn’t teach me to snowboard but who did teach me that if I was going to snowboard there was only one appropriate way to do it. Locked in. Nose down. Fast as the mountain will carry us.
“Fourteen resorts,” I told him, “in seven days.” 
“I’m in,” he said without asking any further questions. “Get your ass over here so we can discuss it.”
Soon we’d picked up another powderhound, Erik “Swede” Price. 
We met up on a Sunday in a Latter-day Saint church parking lot in Salt Lake City. Zero-dark-thirty. We loaded up our boards and skis and poles and helmets and PowerBars and Red Bulls. It hadn’t snowed a lot the day before, but it had snowed, and the satellite picture for the next few days was looking good, which is to say that we were planning on several days of fresh powder. 
Swede got behind the wheel, and we pulled onto Interstate 80. The sky was just shifting into its psychedelic morning variegation when we turned south on Highway 189.

Park City

We wanted to start someplace iconic. And Park City — home to the giant slalom and showboarding halfpipe events during the 2002 Winter Olympics — is  dripping with iconic. The resort was also still flush with powder from the storm and, in the middle of the Sundance Film Festival, remarkably empty.
Our guide, ski instructor Heather Fielding-Owen, practically had us sprinting to McConkey’s Bowl. She had dropped into ‘Conk thousands of times before, but her face lit up as the tips of her skis hung over the cornice. “Ready to for this?” she asked, and before I could answer she was gone. Whooping and hollering. 
I swear I could have run that loop all day. But on a resort with 7,300 skiable acres, there was plenty more to see. In a half-day we covered 21 miles — through powder runs and storybook glades and groomers that took us right into heart of the city — and we’d barely scratched the surface.
But by half-before-noon, we could officially call it. It had already been a good day. That’s the standard we’d set: A good day. Much as we could have stayed all day, all week, all season, we didn’t need to. We could move on. 

Deer Valley

Even with Sundance madness in full force, it’s just minutes from Park City to Deer Valley, one of three ski-only resorts in the United States. There, in Snow Park Lodge, we found Heidi Voelker, a woman so synonymous with “Ski Utah” that they put her picture on our license plates.
“My goal today,” I told the three-time Olympian and former giant slalom national champion, “is to not fall in front of you.”
“Oh, that’s not going to be a problem,” she said. “Because you’ll always be behind me.”
Sick burn.
But then, for a few seconds there, I was matching turns with her — which felt pretty good since I’m relatively new on skis and was still recovering from nearly meeting my snowmaker last season.
And then. Well. It’s like the lady’s got afterburners on her skis.
But. Those few seconds. Man. 
We got plenty more laps, and found no shortage of powder pockets as the sky turned from blue to grey and the wind picked up. Ski patrol was putting up a rope when we got top of Lady Morgan, but Heidi compelled them to let us through. 
The last run was yet another exercise in humility. Even JJ, a former high school ski racer, was battling just to stay within eyeshot of Heidi. “She made going down double blacks look like she was cutting through butter,” he said. “And I was just trying not to bite it.”
It was snowing by the time we left the Deer Valley parking lot, and dumping by the time we hit the highway. And it didn’t stop. Not for days. 

Beaver Mountain
With the Park City resorts ticked off, our plan was to hug Interstate 15 for the rest of the trip, starting with Beaver Mountain, so we overnighted in Logan and woke the next day to a foot of snow in the parking lot. Thank the gods.
With that kind of snow in the city, we knew the 30-mile drive to Beaver might be rough. Sure enough, at the mouth of Logan Canyon, we were stopped by a police officer. “We’re about to close the road,” he said. “There’s already been a slide and more snow is on the way. If you’re planning on coming back in the next two days, I’d just not leave.” 
“Re-route and come back later?” JJ asked. 
“Maybe,” I said. But then, just as quickly, I realized that if they closed the canyon behind us, we would have what’s up there practically to ourselves. 
“Never mind,” I said. “Drive on. Go. Go!”
The slide was no joke — it had covered more than half the road, but we squeezed by on the other side, and pulled into the Beaver Mountain parking lot next to just two other cars.
I’ve had country club days before. But nothing like this.
Travis Seeholzer led us under Harry’s Dream — which is named after his grandfather, Beaver Mountain founder Harold Seeholzer. We floated over pillows the size of VW Beetles. We hopped back on Harry’s and this time traversed skier’s right past the resort boundary, twisting through aspen groves and dropping into untouched powder run after untouched powder run. Up Harry’s again. This time we veered hard left, heading down a roller coaster run through spindly evergreens and waste-deep clearings.
The mountain kept reloading. There wasn’t a visible track on the entire mountain. We were practically alone, looking out over Beaver’s 664 acres, then laughing the whole way down. There was simply no other response that would do. 

Cherry Peak 
We’d worried we might have to take the long way to get back to Cherry Peak — up and around past Bear Lake and through Preston, Idaho — but it wasn’t an issue. The canyon may have been closed to incoming traffic, but nobody was there to top us from leaving. A little more than an hour after departing from Beaver, we were pulling into the lot at Cherry Peak.
And it was packed.
Schools across Cache County had been closed, and it seemed that pretty much every kid in Northern Utah was at the state’s newest ski resort. It was like Lord of the Flies, but on a foot of new snow, and on a mountain with a diverse topography including plenty of wide-open runs, tree-lined gullies and charmingly traversable scrub oak patches.
Two days and two feet of snow into our trip, something was already very clear.
“We’re not even a third of the way into this,” Swede said in the hotel hot tub that evening, “and if we stopped right now, I’d still be able to say this is one of the best ski trips of my life.”

Our next intended stop was Powder Mountain, but multiple avalanches had closed that resort on the third day of our trip.
In some places acts of god like this mean there will be no skiing. In Utah it just means a 30-minute detour to another world class resort.
The storm had already put 33 inches of powder on top of a 10-foot base, and it was still raging as we stepped onto the Needle Express gondola for our first run of the day.
Our guide, lifetime Snowbasin skier Ezra Jones, agreed to take us to his favorite place on the mountain — a daisy-chained series of three-and-four-turn clearings connected by tight runs through evergreens — so long as we promised not to ever reveal this secret spot. Torture me; I won’t tell.
There’s so much steep and deep here that our legs were wobbly by midday. Thankfully, the snow isn’t the entire experience. The lodges are lavish. The food is magnificent. Even the bathrooms feel like they’ve been transported from Buckingham Palace.
We took a few more drops after lunch and there was no doubt. We could most certainly call it a good day. We could call it one of the best days ever. We could move on. 

Nordic Valley

I had seen a lot of smiles on my friends’ faces over the past few days, but the one JJ was wearing right around the time the night skiing lights went on over Nordic Valley was the biggest one yet.
Insatiable, he'd scouted ahead while Swede and I rested our legs.
“That was the best powder run I’ve had so far this week,” he said as he walked into the lodge, tiny icicles clinging to three days of stubble.
JJ isn’t prone to exaggeration, so I started wondering whether he was drunk. In the past 72 hours, after all, we’d skied all over Northern Utah during a storm that had already dropped three feet of powder on us.
But Nordic Valley bills itself as a “learning resort” and, as a result, the sliver of black terrain it has doesn’t get tracked out. So when JJ led me to a run called Ephraim’s Revenge, and we surfed side-by-side on two feet of soft powder down a well-lit and virtually untracked rolling run, I had to acknowledge its awesomeness. 
The best powder run of the week? At that point it was indeed a contender. 
And we weren’t even half-done yet.

Powder Mountain 

The frosted aspen trees were glowing vibrantly in the morning sun, as though someone had placed thousands of spindly crystal sculptures on the side of the mountain. We sailed through thigh-deep powder, slaloming through the dreamlike aspen grove.
Fortunate sons we are. Powder Mountain had been closed for a day and a half due to multiple avalanches on the road in, so there were three feet of powder waiting for us on the resort’s 8,464 skiable acres.
We got a taste of everything. Steep and deep quickies. Low-angle hillsides that seem to go on forever. Gorgeous glades surrounded by nothing but snow, trees and our own small crew of freaks. Two hours in and I was ready to call it the best ski day of my life. 
And then we took a hike. It was easier for the skiers in our group, but tougher by far for boarders in hip-deep powder. My leg locked up, and I could feel the metal rod against my bone begin to tighten. I was sweating and swearing and nearly in tears as we slogged along a ridgeline called Sanctuary. When we got to the drop I lost it, took in a choking mouthful of powder, and started to hurl. On the lift ride back I worried I might black out. None of this had anything to do with Powder Mountain; it was all about where I was at physically at that point — a reminder that I wasn’t healed yet and a threat that I might never be. 
The best and worst ski days of my life might have come on the very same day.
“We’ve got two more resorts today,” JJ said when we get back to the car. “Can you make it?”
Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t sure.

The rules were very clear. We couldn’t leave any resort until we could honestly say that we’d had “a good day.”
If there was ever a time, though, in which we thought that we might need to fudge on that standard, it was en route to our eighth resort of the week. We’d left Powder Mountain late, and I was a mess. We were only going to have about three hours at Solitude before it closed for the day.
But as soon as Vivian Bengston slid up to our group at the base of Apex Express, the whole world brightened, and I felt myself rebounding. 
“Where we going?” she asked.  “Honeycomb,” I said wondering a little whether that question even needed to be asked. “Hell yeah, we are,” she said, restoring my faith in humanity.
And off we went to the Black Forest, which bequeathed untracked runs the sort one generally expects to find only when lifts open or lines drop. I crossed a few tracks en route the aspens at the bottom of Navarone, but not many.
Solitude is the place I call “my resort,” and it’s famous for days like this. Nonetheless, I always wonder: Where is everybody? And always the answer comes back: Who really cares?
When Honeycomb closed, we watched Viv pop 360s into powder pockets under Eagle Ridge, then headed back to Apex lift, from where we dropped into the barely touched glades under the newly cut Summit Access West track.
In three hours we didn’t stop to so much as tighten a boot. A good day? Yes, and then some.


We arrived at the hour most resorts in Utah are closing up shop for the night. At Brighton, though, there were still nearly five hours of skiing to be had. 
Our first run took us to Wren, where even in the late afternoon there were still vast pools of powder and, in the trees and boulders, plenty of fresh tracks still to be made. As night fell and the lights went on we cruised the groomers, ducking in and out of the darkness of the best tree skiing in the state.
At Molly Greens, where I'd spent many days during my recovery after dropping my kid off, drinking away my sadness at not being on the mountain with her, we raised a few glasses to the snow, which at that point had been falling, almost without stop, for four days.
“How are we getting this lucky?” Swede asked. “We’re nine resorts into this thing and haven’t had a bad experience yet.”
For a moment I worried he’d jinx it. And then I realized: At this point, there was just no way. For it was still snowing.

By the fifth day we were all in a bit of a daze. Tired. Sore. Beat up a bit. No matter. If there’s a place in the world that will get your mind right back into the game, it’s Little Cottonwood Canyon.
In the Alta parking lot, JJ and I slipped back into ski gear. We were both sporting Apex boots. Without the outer chassis they look a lot like snowboard boots, and I reveled in the looks I got from folks who are very, very serious about maintaining Alta’s no-boards policy.
At Alta, change happens very slowly. And sure, I’d like to drop a single plank on all of its steep and deep, but Alta’s stubborn dedication to the way things have always been isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“There’s something magical here,” said Andria Huskinson, who has been skiing Alta for nearly a quarter century, which still makes her a something of a newbie around these parts. “It’s how skiing was back in the olden days.”
I take “olden days” to mean copious powder, plenty of steep stuff and a culture of people who are here for the skiing first, the skiing second and the skiing third. There’s not a mad rush when the lifts open. This resort has been blessing skiers with the Greatest Snow on Earth for nearly 80 years, and Alta adherents know it’s not going anywhere.

Snowbird was one of the only resorts that we didn't have a local guide lined up for, so the first thing we did upon arrival was find someone to tag along with. 
But we were, at that point, pretty exhausted, so when I saw an older couple standing in like at Gadzoom — the woman with a Snowbird sticker on her helmet and the man with a bunch of old-school 'Bird tags still hanging from his jacket — I figured I might have found a couple of good candidates for the rest of our day. 
I introduced myself and explained what we were doing. 
"Do you ski here often?" I asked. 
"You could say that," the woman said. 
I explained what we were doing. "Do you think we could tag along with you?" 
“Sure,” she said. “If you can keep up.”
God, I love a challenge. 
Andrea and Jeff didn’t make it easy. They knew every inch of Snowbird. Every pocket. Every turn. Every tree.
“You’re going to come down, then up, right here, and you need to keep your speed and aim for the second tree you see,” Jeff explained as we ducked into a clearing in the evergreens below Gad Valley. “Make sure you turn in front of that tree.”
The exactness of his instructions made sense once I came up over the tree and into a funnel of untouched powder. “See,” he said, “it was just waiting here for us.” 
These are the sorts of secrets you learn when you ski in one place 80 to 100 days a year.
“My legs are exhausted every day,” Andrea told me. “But that’s OK. You get up and go again the next day.” Along the way, she said, “you get to meet all sorts of interesting people.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and then leave us in your dust.”
"That's exactly right," she said with a very pleased smile.  

If you’re trying to ski every resort in Utah in a week, there are a few things that you’ll have to take into account. One is that not every resort is open every day. Another is that some resorts offer night skiing, which means you can extend your day to include three resorts, as we did on the day we hit Powder Mountain, Solitude and Brighton. And then, of course, there’s your personal après-ski proclivities.
If those interests include the cinema — and you happen to be completing your adventure during the nation’s most famous film festival — then Sundance Resort ain’t a bad place to take a break.
The penultimate day of our trip was the only day we didn’t hit more than one resort. That gave us time to ski the hell out of this gem of a mountain and catch a flick — the Georgian drama “My Happy Family” — in the resort theater. JJ nye-near-loved it and I nye-near-loathed it. We’ll be arguing about it for years. 
What we’ll agree on for just as long, though, is that everything we did before walking into the theater on that day was perfect. After five days and feet upon feet of new powder, the snow had finally stopped falling, and that meant a beautiful bluebird day in one of the prettiest places in the world. 
Alongside Sundance ambassador Brian Wimmer, we cruised through icicle-coated aspens and traversed to find untouched lines in wide-open bowls. And yes, six days into this exhilarating-but-exhausting trip, we spent some time on the groomers, too, cruising down and parking our boards just steps away from the resort’s ski-in-ski-out movie theater.

Eagle Point
The morning of our seventh and final day began with a snow-spoiled lamentation: It had been nearly 36 hours since the last gift from above.  
“Maybe,” I asked Eagle Point regular Tracy McMullin, “if we promise not to tell anyone else, could you take us to your secret stashes?” 
“You don’t need that,” she laughed. “You can go to the main runs today and still find plenty of powder.”
By way of proof, she led us to Donner’s Descent. And yeah, there was still powder there, but it was chopped up pretty good. I was about to call bull when we crossed over Country Road into Lower Donner — and everything changed. A day and a half after the last storm subsided, we were carving uncrossed lines down long stretches of a wide open main run. 
What an amazing day. What an amazing week. And there was still one resort left to go. 

Brian Head
Thirteen resorts into our adventure, one thing had become very clear: There is no single ski area that is exactly like any other in this state. If there’s one place that is most different than all the others, though, it’s the one we chose to complete our journey — a resort that feels like a perpetual party and a true escape from reality. 
With most of the beginner and intermediate terrain coming off Navajo Mountain, and packed into the center of Brian Head Mountain, it wasn’t hard to find a line to tuck into, the way my friends and I are wont to, without fear of plowing over a little grommet. Skier’s right, and then right some more, off Roulette lift, we found the aptly-named Wild Ride, and we might as well have been on the moon, for there was no one in sight and plenty of tracks left to be forged in two-day-later snow.
But yes, after achieving our goal of skiing 14 resorts in seven days, we were looking to celebrate. And celebrate we did.
And we weren’t alone. The beer at the Last Chair Saloon, packed with fellow revelers, flowed like snow from the Utah heavens. And the lit slopes, under internationally certified dark skies, beckoned for a few more runs. And more drinks awaited us at the Grand Lodge, where just about every Brian staffer seemed to head after work. And the stories that we’ll be telling for the rest of our lives were breathed into our world for the first time.

The Fearsome 14
Lots of people have heard about Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks, and fly into our state to do the lot of them in a week. Fewer have considered our “Fearsome Fourteen” ski resorts.
Which, yes my friends, you can also do — and do well — in a single week.
To be certain, you don’t have to hit every resort in Utah to get a flavor of skiing in this state. There’s plenty of overlap. 
The off-piste offerings at Solitude and Snowbird. The magnificent lodges at Snowbasin and Deer Valley. The family-centeredness of Nordic Valley and Cherry Peak. The laid-back-on-the-lift, hard-core-on-the-slopes cultures of Alta and Power Mountain.
But you can’t get a Solitude experience at Snowbird, nor does it work the other way around. You haven’t tasted the high life at Snowbasin if you’ve only après-skied at Deer Valley, and vice versa. You haven’t done a family fun day at Nordic if you’ve only chilled with the children at Cherry. You haven’t laid it out at Alta if you’ve only crushed Powder Mountain. 
And on and on it goes, across every powdery permutation. Every resort is different, and even if I do have a home mountain, I don't have a favorite mountain.  
Want to say you know skiing in Utah? You really do have to ski all of Utah. 

The bucket list
Nobody knows when their time is up. 
Sometimes we get reminded of that — and then we get a chance to respond in kind. That’s what prompted this trip. And much as I’d like to walk without a limp, I wouldn’t trade this for that.
Sometimes, though, we’re not lucky enough to be shaken into filling our bucket. Sometimes, if we haven’t already filled it, it will never be filled.
Nick “The Turk” Thomas wasn’t originally billeted for our adventure. But once he heard about it, he wanted in. He couldn’t manage a week off, but he had another idea. It’s not a long drive from the southernmost of the northern resorts to the northernmost of the southern resorts, he noted, “but why drive when you can fly?” 
He reserved a few days on his timeshare Cessna and told us to meet him when we were done at Sundance and ready to complete our journey at Eagle Point and Brian Head. He’d hit those resorts with us, and then we’d do a few shots, smoke a few cigars, and celebrate another drop in the bucket.
The flights, up and back, gave us a chance to take stock of just how blessed we are to live where we live. Utah is chock full of beautiful resorts, but every mountainside we flew over seemed like it would have been just as perfect a location for another.
It also gave us plenty of time to talk about another adventure, a distant dream, a bucket we’d all like to fill — skiing in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. 
Turk was sold.
And then, not six months later, he was gone. Dead at the age of 34 from a small plane crash in Butterfield Canyon.
No, friends, nobody knows when their time is up. 
Whatever your bucket is, fill it. Fill it now. And fill it with friends, with whom you’ll share stories for the rest of your life — however long that might be.