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Powdery Redemption

The Ski Utah Interconnect Tour

The Interconnect Tour guide couldn’t have been more right. That blazing spring sun overhead, while just the thing for an early summer tan, had morphed the snow coating the slopes of Fantasy Ridge into heavy, gloppy mashed potatoes with a decidedly high moisture content. The sucking sound I heard was not my lungs gulping air, but rather the bottoms of my skis trying to break free of the gluey stuff while I tried to execute turns. More times than not, the glop won, and I found myself sitting in it.

That’s not to say we didn’t have fun on the Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour. The tour showcases six of the state’s ski resorts (Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird) and the backcountry skiing between them. Cobalt blue “chamber of commerce” skies overhead, mild temperatures, scenery, camaraderie, and turns made away from the mashed potatoes were all exceptional.

This day-long excursion starts with a handful of “show-us-you-really-can-ski” turns down Deer Valley’s Bandana ski run, and then a few more down the steeply pitched McConkey’s Bowl at neighboring Park City Mountain Resort before a trip through the woods to the Jupiter lift. The Jupiter chair takes us to the top of 10,026-foot Jupiter Bowl, where we break out into the backcountry via the “Back Door,” an out-of-bounds flank of mountain that provides some nice turns as well as a great view of the awaiting terrain.

“That’s kind of our day’s work out there,” Patrick tells our small group, pointing to the runs at Solitude and Brighton and beyond to Grizzly Gulch, leading farther west to Alta and Snowbird. “That is our playground.”

The environment of this playground can change almost daily. More often than not, the heart and soul of Utah’s ski season — from mid-December into mid-March — brings storm after storm to the Wasatch Range, burying the Interconnect route under deep, billowy powder. It’s powder so fluffy and intoxicating, it should be illegal.  It’s powder so deep that you pray the avalanche beacon you carry, which the guides checked to ensure was working before you exited Park City Mountain Resort, really IS working. It’s powder so deep that your legs burn with lactic acid after executing turn, after turn, after turn. These are turns so delicious — for the fluff they kick up and for the feeling that you’re floating through fields of cotton — that exhaustion is the only thing that could dissuade you from continuing.

On our way out the Back Door and over to Solitude, we eye a glade of aspen, one that promises some slalom turns but which also requires caution as snowmobilers play here, too. “Watch your speed going into the trees,” cautions Patrick at one point. “There are a couple of hard snowmobile tracks, a little bouncing at the end. So watch your speed.”

By 11 a.m. we arrive at Solitude, where the earlier-than-usual corn snow is softening up just enough so that our smartly linked turns almost convince us that we’re ready for a Figure Eight competition. We head immediately toward the “Highway to Heaven,” hoping to make a dash down Fantasy Ridge and over to Brighton before lunch. One by one, we pick our lines off the exposed ridgetop, dodging trees, hoping to stay upright and trying to look like we really do belong on this tour. After a run at Brighton, we head back to Solitude for lunch. Later we dash down Rhapsody, and we’re back to the highway for the passage through Grizzly Gulch to Alta.

A big part of the Tour’s ambiance is sharing the experience with other adventure seekers, each there for his or her own reasons. There’s talk of snow, talk of our skiing conquests and talk of the beauty around us. And people come from all over the country to experience this unique adventure. “I did alright with it, I think,” says Anthony Braica, a New Jersey restaurateur who brought his son to Utah to sample the fabled snow.

“For me, it’s a big challenge,” Wes Meixner says as we ride to Alta’s peaks aboard the Superior lift. “I’m not a primo skier. I had to work hard.” His wife Jeoffrey agreed to ski the Interconnect because of the backcountry opportunities it offers. The allure for her was, “Just no people; places no one has ever been,” she says.

Convincing the couple to head to Utah in general, and the Interconnect specifically, was Jeoffrey’s father, Jim Britton. Hailing from Hobbs, New Mexico, Britton claims to be 75, but his deft skiing makes that age seem improbable. He had been on the Interconnect before, and had always wanted to return. “I really don’t remember much from the last time except the ‘Highway to Heaven,’” he says during a chairlift ride at Snowbird. “It was 15 years ago. I was 60. I’m struggling now more than then. Still, I’m having a good time.”

Steadily checking off the Western ski areas — he’s schussed on about 95 so far — Britton admits to having a soft spot for the Utah resorts. “Of all the areas I’ve skied, I think [the] Salt Lake [area] is the best. “It’s good for families. I think Utah is better than Colorado. The snow is better and the people friendlier.”

New friends, open slopes, aspen glades, resort groomers, mogul runs — they’re all part of the Interconnect Tour. While guides like Patrick and his colleague this day, Jonathan Spitzer, ensure you’re safe and suggest lines you can take, in the end, it’s only your own moxie that determines which way to point your tips.

Kurt Repanshek, with an eye on conquering Fantasy Ridge this winter, has invested in his first new set of boards in five years. When not in search of powder, he writes for the likes of Audubon, National Wildlife, and Smithsonian.

Interconnect Adventure: The Skinny

These day-long tours, geared for the advanced skier, depart daily from Deer Valley or Snowbird from mid-December through mid-April, snow conditions and weather permitting. Due to some of the necessary traverses, snowboarding is not allowed on the tour. The $250 cost covers guides, lunch, lift tickets and transportation back to where you left your car. Reservations can be made by calling Ski Utah at 801.534.1907. More information can be found at skiutah.com/interconnect. For more fabulous Interconnect photos, please see parkcitymagazine.com.

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