Where does one even begin to discover the words to explain the past seven days?
The answer is no where.
This past week spent in Utah was a speeding bullet train of neon colours, denim, leather boots, skinny skis, sweaty bootpacks, gloppy skins, a lot of cheese, probably too much beer, and a lot of yelling.
1. Drive to Utah.
2. Drive to Nevada, ski Terminal Cancer, eat 9 beans and a Burrito, visit Steve and Maggie at the brewery, drive back to Utah.
3. Explore Grizzly Gulch, go to yoga, hang out at Freeheel Life, drink beer, make food.
4. Ski Snow Basin, LOW TIDE PARTY SKI, hang out at Freeheel Life, drink beer, dial in set-ups for the Smelly Kneepad, almost make it to the top of Grandeur Peak, make quesadillas.
5. Ski Alta on leathers from 10am-3:45pm, go to yoga, hang out at Freeheel Life, drink beer, make quesadillas, run around downtown SLC.
6. Ski Alta on leathers in all denim, almost die on High Boy, drink beer, judge the Smelly Kneepad, drink more beer, Freeheel Life BBQ, drink more beer.
7. Participate in my first ever FRANK, drink beer-flavoured water, pass out tortilla chips to equally stoked humans, rally to High Boy, party in the parking lot, eat food at Dee’s.
If that’s all you want to read, neat. If you want to hear my thoughts…scroll on my friend.
The last day at Targhee this year had me in tears but ever so hopefully planning a visit to Utah “sometime in April” so I could experience Frank and spend some quality time shredding with my dudes. Before this trip really worked itself out, I had had plans to go ski Terminal Cancer, a 1,700ft couloir in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada which overlook my first hometown of Spring Creek. I figured I could rally my buddy Frank down to Nevada for a weekend ski, head back to Montana, and then a couple days later do a couple days in Utah. In the end I spent 7 days in Utah and skied the line with fellow freeheeler and Salt Lake native Taylor Johnson. It started with Josh Madsen, owner of Freeheel Life, sending the boys to Sun Valley Idaho for the tele-fest they had going on the weekend prior to my arrival. When I saw that there was already going to be a crew in Sun Valley, I immediately called Taylor and asked him if he could swing a trip to Nevada by meeting me in Twin Falls and continuing down to Spring Creek on the day they were supposed to come back from Idaho. A few ideas were thrown around and then finally we decided it made the most sense for me to drive to Utah Monday, get up early on Tuesday, drive to Nevada, ski the line, and then rally home. So that’s what we did.
Monday evening I drove directly to Freeheel Life to say hey to Josh and Taylor. Also because it’s the only place in Salt Lake I can get to without my phone map. That night we threw on an old Powderwhore’s movie and I gave Taylor the run down between scenes of chest deep pow on what Ruby Mountain Heli-ski guide, Michael, told me about the snowpack and the approach and we decided a 5am departure would be sufficient. When my alarm went off at 4:42am Tuesday morning I bolted out of bed, my mind running so fast I think it probably beat us to Nevada. Soon the gear was in the car and the town of Wendover was fast approaching. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Wendover is a town that sits on the state line between Nevada and Utah. The second you make it through the Utah side the huge neon signs of the casinos welcome you to Nevada. We stopped for gas and Taylor suggested I load up on toilet paper in case the chronic nosebleeds that Nevada always manages to give me returned. Classic. We had aimed for a 10 o’clock arrival to Lamoille but soon remembered that Nevada is on Pacific Time, so we stopped for breakfast where I ran into an old friend’s mom-typical small towns-and then we crested the hill that divides Elko and Spring Creek. Driving down the hill I pointed out the middle school I went to and then the high school I would have gone to, had we not moved to Steamboat. Closing in on the Rubies I pointed to my old house amidst the sage brush–at this point I’m pretty sure Taylor is the only post-Nevada era friend who truly understands where the heck I came from.
The drive into Lamoille Canyon is hard to explain. You go from pretty flat, sagebrush laden, dry soil to the most intricate geological system; ancient glaciers that formed the canyon allowed rocks to stack and glue together–leaving pointy turrets of rock everywhere. Aspen trees line the mountain sides, Lamoille Creek rages below you, and small waterfalls cascade onto the road, often bringing debris with them. We pulled over at one point to look at a face that would provide most excellent skiing, and then continuing on I couldn’t remember exactly how far up TC was, so I just kept telling Taylor it was “somewhere up here, you’ll know.” And know we did. It doesn’t creep up on you, it’s more like all of a sudden it’s the only feature you can see and the rest of canyon is irrelevant. I parked behind two cars in the pull out and two other guys popped out of the trees, skis and split board on pack. WTF?! I immediately thought. This was supposed to be our time. What the fat hell are people doing here on a Tuesday? It’s Tuesday, goddamnit! You aren’t even from here! All things I thought and also frantically spewed to Taylor, as we looked up and saw two more people booting up the bottom of the couloir.
And then my panic and frustration and anger died. WE WERE SITTING AT THE BOTTOM OF TERMINAL CANCER. I had been envisioning this moment, realistically, for the past year and a half. If you wanted to get deep and sappy, you could say I had been envisioning this moment since my first trip to the canyon when my parents still had no idea what to do with a newborn baby. But there we were. And the amount of people wasn’t about to ruin my day. There was no fresh snow, so it’s not like they were going to get all the freshies. All it meant was as we travelled uphill we needed to be aware of where the other two parties were–making sure we were in a safe spot. After we had gathered our gear and our skis were strapped to our packs we set out up the creek to look for a good spot to cross. Michael had told me to cross a bit farther up from where the cars would be parked, but honestly there wasn’t really any one good spot so after a lot of bush whacking, I sent it across and only got a significant amount of water in my left boot. But it was already warm out and my feet were only going to sweat more as the day went on. Taylor eventually came through the trees, who knows where he crossed but you bet his feet were dry.
About half way up the apron and probably a little too far into the “my skins won’t flipping stick to this shitty skin track” struggle, I shouted down to Taylor that we should strip skins and boot the rest of the way. He happily agreed and while we were transitioning, another group was gaining on us (every group had two people). Mother eff, you’ve got to be kidding me, I thought to myself as the woman got closer and closer. When she got to us we did the typical small talk, her name was Heather and her partner, Nate, were from Salt Lake and this was her third attempt on the line. When I told her I grew up here she asked how many times I had skied it, so I casually threw in my whole life story (not really) of how this was my first time. She continued on and once Taylor and I were ready to hike, we passed her again as she waited for Nate and kept just ahead of them the rest of the way. At the base of the couloir we threw our brain buckets on and hoped our butts were strong enough to get us to the top (literally). The cornices on the neighboring ridge line were the biggest, baddest, most terrifying things I had ever seen so we tried to get out of their slide path and into the chute as quick as we could. About a third of the way up one of the groups in front of us came down so we hugged the rock wall and the first guy told us they were from Telluride, snapped a few pics of his buddy and their dog (I do not approve of dogs in avy terrain, ugh), and moved on so we could start moving again. At this point we had been hiking for about an hour and the sun was just starting to peak out from behind a nice cloud layer, exposing the right half of the chute to the sun. 2/3’s of the way up, a bit of sluff came pouring over the right side of the wall and small chunks slid into Taylor. He looked back at me and I suggested we move over to the left as it was still shaded. Which would have been a great idea, except there was no set bootpack on this side and progress was too slow. So we moved back and about a minute later more sluff came down, except this time it came down directly on top of Taylor, at which point I just yelled, “Brace!” and threw my right shoulder into the snow, boots kicked in as hard as I could and knees punched into the snow. Snow was now falling on top of me, spraying my neck and trying to get into my vents. Fuck, I thought. I couldn’t remember how much snow the rock above the couloir was holding and had no idea if this was the start of a bigger slide. But just as quick as it started, it was over. I looked up at Taylor and neither of us said anything for a minute. “Should we turn around?” I heard Heather say to Nate, just 30 feet below us. I looked back to Taylor and we decided that if that happened one more time, we were putting our skis on as fast as we could and bolting for the car. We had 100 yards left, so you can imagine how making that decision made me feel. A few steps later the clouds came back, locking the snow back into place and before I even had time to process it all we were topped out, a wide basin staring us in the face and a nice wide open pitch dropping off the backside of what we just climbed. Heather and Nate were right behind us, and after a few caramel eggs and snacks, we exchanged the duty of taking photos of each other. Nate had a drone and shared some footage with us when we got back to the car…we decided we really like Heather and Nate.
And then came the skiing. I dropped first and yes, the GoPro was on, but no, the SD Card was a dud and didn’t film anything. Oops. But honestly the only reason I had it was because Taylor said I might as well, so do I really care? Ok, maybe a little bit. BUT MY GOD those first turns on the upper pitch (it’s one long chute but there’s about four different sections) felt like a dream. The rock walls shot straight up and the chalky snow gave me enough confidence to link my hop turns like a champ. Then came the second pitch. And I was tired. And it was hard to ski. And then the middle section that opened up was sticky and I would take about three turns and have to stop. And then the last skinny section I said f*ck it, let’s ski! And tried to make one long left footer at the bottom, promptly hooked my tip on an ice chunk, and smacked face first into the snow complete with a startled sound effect. Yes, Tay got it on video, yes, it will find its way to the Soc Med eventually. At the bottom of the chute we giggled and fist bumped and continued to ski down the apron–again, sticky and stopping a lot was a thing. Which brings us back to the creek. This time I followed Taylor and really did step on the same rocks but one rolled over, putting my boot in the water, and when I missed the next rock I let my other boot submerge, continuing with my f*ck it attitude and splashing through the rest of the creek. I dumped a decent amount of creek water out of my boot when we got back to the car. I grabbed the good Montana beer out of the car and we cheers-ed (I’m making that a word) and walked up to Heather and Nate’s truck and camper combo. They came walking out the bushes not long after and I promptly handed them the beers and we spent the next while in camp chairs on the side of the road talking about skiing and life in general. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
We continued to celebrate with bean, cheese, and rice burritos from 9 Beans and a Burrito. If you’ve never experienced this restaurant, I 10/10 would recommend you go and fall in love because FOOD. It’s also the no. 1 meal of my childhood. When we had polished off the burritos, my dad called and told us to go visit Steve and Maggie who own Ruby Mountain Brewing and a cattle ranch south of Wells. I hadn’t seen either of them since I was 12, and the smell of brewing rooms will forever remind me of theirs’, aka the first one I ever stepped foot in. We had to turn around twice after my memory got confused on the way out, but I was soon knocking on the door and being tentatively greeted by Maggie. “Hi Maggie, it’s Madi McKinstry, I’m all grown up!” The reactions out of those two were priceless. The difference between a 12 year old and a 22 year old is rather significant I guess. We took a while to catch up and then Steve showed us outside and pointed out line after line to ski in the Eastern Rubies, all pretty close to their ranch. We walked into the brewery and it was just like I remembered, smell and all. Tasting their beer I had this moment where I remembered all the time I spent here, Dad drinking beer with Steve and talking about skiing…and here I was, drinking beer with Steve and Taylor and talking about skiing. I turn into my dad more and more every day. Then it was time to hit the road again, allowing the day to slowly start to sink in.
THE REST OF THE WEEK
Wednesday morning saw a quick tour up to Patsy-Marley between Alta and Brighton ski areas. Taylor had to work at 2 so once we got home I took advantage of the city sunshine and backyard lounged until yoga started at the studio I found. Then it was back to the shop to hang out with the team and Loren Griswold, tele-blade extraordinaire, stopped in for a visit. I hadn’t seen him since Targhee either so it was nice to catch up and watch him try to break in his leather boots for the Smelly Kneepad that was happening Saturday.
Thursday we met up with JT Robinson, “former pro skier” as his instagram puts it, and Alex LeBlanc to ski Snow Basin and hopefully do some touring outside the resort. The temps weren’t in our favor though, so we threw the skins back in the car and rode the low tide slush all day. And it was kind of really fun. No one was out and we had the fancy toilets and chandeliers all to ourselves. Alex had to work so left early, but JT, Taylor, and I continued to ski until it was patio basking time and we had a long chat about the future of telemark. We got back to Salt Lake and went into Freeheel Life to see Alex, finish putting together kits for the Smelly, and hang out. After that Taylor and I went to hike Grandeur Peak but failed to get to the top due to snow and impending darkness.
Friday we grabbed the onesies, leather boots and skinny skis and ripped Alta all morning. The sky was overcast and the snow was very frozen and all that made my first day on leathers a very terrifying day. Taylor had to work at 2 again but I kept skiing and finally met up with Hannah Barkey, a friend from high school who is a nurse in Salt Lake and also a snow blade extraordinaire. We also found Katie Hitchcock, another Steamboat native now living in Salt Lake. So all in all, my first day on leathers went from 10-3:45 and I got WORKED. And then naturally I went into the shop after another yoga session and made score cards for the Smelly, met a fellow judge, and kind of pretended to help set things up for the Freeheel Life barbecue that was happening after the Smelly. Maria Knappi then took us to a Westminster party that made me feel like I was right back in Bozeman with all the other college kids until Troy picked us up in Rufus, his veggie diesel truck and took us downtown to meet up with Alex and Sam.
Saturday. Man what a day. The Smelly Kneepad was an unofficial official competition of telemarking greatness, judged by Troy Hass, Sam Prentice, and your’s truly. Skis had to be over 200cm in length, under 70mm in width, and boots had to be mainly leather. The plan was to ski down High Boy at high noon, but cold temps the previous night and throughout the day decided otherwise and after the most terrifying two turns of my life, we moved it to an east facing run that was more friendly if you bit the dust. The three of us judges sat at the bottom while Troy put on his best announcing voice and we judged each competitor on his or her line choice, style, aggressiveness, and air time. Oh, and time spent on your feet I guess. At the end of it all, Alex LeBlanc came in third, Josh Madsen in second, and Taylor Johnson took home the champagne and got his name engraved on the kneepad for all of eternity. We then booked it back to the shop for burgers and beer and good times. And I also got to see two Coppercreek friends, Blaine and Elyse! So that was exciting.
“You can’t be hungover if you’re still drunk.” Ok Alta, you win for the most rowdy closing day shenanigans I have ever been a part of. The parking lot was full by 11am, and the outfits were some of the best ski attire I have ever seen. A lady came up to me in the ticket line and gave me the ticket she wasn’t going to use for the rest of the day, which was definitely some kind of Easter miracle (is that a thing?) and the rest of the day was spent being semi-obnoxious, drinking a lot of beer flavored water, passing out tortilla chips to strangers, and being the weirdest version of myself I could think to be. There were jumps, a wiggle track, megaphones, banked turns, a bajillion humans on the spectator side, a lot of carnage, and a lot of naked butts. Then the party moved to High Boy for the last run of the season, and things continued to be weird. There was a show in the parking lot, free candy being shoved into pockets, and before I knew it, it was 8pm and Hannah, Taylor and I were loading into the car headed home. We dropped Hannah off at her car in Sugarhouse and I remembered a diner called Dee’s that I thought would be open at 9pm on a Sunday. It was. So we nommed breakfast food and giggled about the day and allowed my first ever Frank to soak in. And just like that, it was Monday again and I was packing my car, trying not to buy everything in Trader Joe’s, and driving through a wind storm in Idaho to get the hell back to Montana.