A black van sped through the darkness at 4 a.m., the icy road like a tunnel between 10-foot walls of snow. Inside, the groggy group already felt hurried. They’d gotten a late start and now it was as if every tick of the clock was against them.
Then they realized they’d missed their turn. Then they missed it again. And, when they finally pulled into the Giant Steps parking lot at Brian Head Resort, where a snow cat was supposed to lead them to the starting point of their grand adventure, it was nowhere to be found. With precious seconds ticking away, they pivoted and made their own way up the narrow road to the edge of the ski area. With only their headlamps and the van’s headlights to light the way, they clipped into their skis and skated up a small hill. Then they plunged into the darkness.
Seventeen minutes later, the six skiers were back in the van and barreling toward Beaver. One Utah ski area down, 14 more to go and already 30 minutes behind schedule.
To be sure, Friday’s quest by a Ski Utah group to ski or snowboard all 15 Utah resorts in one day got off to an inauspicious start. But where’s the adventure in an undertaking in which everything goes to plan? And adventure, more than speed records or recognition, was what the six skiers who signed on for the marathon were seeking.
“It’s pretty rad,” said professional skier and Utah native Tommy Flitton, who joined three Ski Utah employees and two journalists, including this one, in making the attempt. “I’ve never done this before. I’ve never really considered it or [thought] about it. It’s fun to get each flavor of every resort and kind of see them all in one day.”
Alison Palmintere and Hailey Klotz of Ski Utah modeled the expedition after previous successful attempts to ski all of Utah’s resorts. A group picked off 13 resorts in a day in 2009 and another one cruised through 14 resorts in 24 hours in 2012. Both those attempts were also organized by Ski Utah, the marketing arm of the state’s ski industry. Last year, a skier and a snowboarder in Michigan set the Guinness World Record with 23 resorts in 24 hours.
Those attempts proved it could be done, but in addition to one more stop, this group faced some challenges those others did not. For one, the trip would have to take place on a weekend on account of Eagle Point Resort only being open Friday to Sunday during the late winter. The 2012 trip was held on a Thursday and the 2009 one on a Tuesday. Furthermore, the date that worked best for the group turned out to be in the middle of spring break, one of the busiest times of the year for ski areas nationwide, and fell on St. Patrick’s Day.
The biggest wild card, however, was the crowds and everything that comes with them. Since that group skied 13 resorts in 2009, Utah’s ski areas have seen almost a 50% jump in skier visits, from almost 4 million to just under 6 million per year. That has translated to longer lift lines and more traffic in and around ski towns and especially in the Cottonwood Canyons near Salt Lake City.
“When you look at the timeline of previous endeavors, they end at 8-8:30 [p.m.],” Palmintere said, noting they also started earlier. “So we needed to make sure we could do it with this many resorts.”
Palmintere acknowledged it would be difficult for Joe Skier to attempt to visit all Utah’s resorts in a day since Ski Utah had to get special permission from some resorts and others stayed open late to accommodate the group. If someone were determined, however, she said it could probably be done.
“Theoretically if you got up early enough and got permission, you could be able to do it,” she said. “But obviously the way we did it we did need some help from the resorts.”
Even with that help, the outcome was uncertain.
When the trip started to unravel before it even began with the miscues at Brian Head, Palmintere tried to trust her planning. Then, knowing she and Klotz had built in some padding along the way, she tried to just enjoy the adventure and the skiing.
The latter part proved no problem at Brian Head. Despite the stressful start, it offered a peaceful opener to the mission. A soft snow fell atop freshly groomed corduroy and the green run that unfurled before them was exciting yet easily navigable under the glow of a headlamp. After popping over one of the rollers, the orange lights of street lamps cast a warm glow on the parking lot below, where the Snow Country Limousines van met them right on time.
A little less than an hour and a half later, having spooned some overnight oats and chocolate croissants down their gullets, the group was greeted by a crescent moon and a bumper crop of stars at Eagle Point. It took mere minutes to cruise down the tranquil, freshly groomed track lit only by the stars, headlamps and lights from on-mountain cabins. Afterward, some wondered if they would get in trouble for technically poaching one of the rustic resort’s storied “Powder Fridays.”
Visiting Eagle Point generally feels like taking a step back in time, but the skiers couldn’t afford to go backward. Despite their efforts to hurry, they were still more than 30 minutes behind schedule and felt the clock ticking as they loaded up for the long ride to Provo to ski Sundance.
Three hours later, each was thanking the stars for their van driver, Mario.
Propelled by ‘90s hip-hop, Mario cut into that deficit like a freshly edged snowboard. By the time the red cliffs and Mount Timpanogos came into view, the skiers were within 10 minutes of their goal arrival time. Now decked out in green tutus and shamrock glasses they changed into during the drive, the travelers took a moment to marvel at the contrast between their two previous stops and this one. The darkness, solitude and self-reliance they experienced at Brian Head and Eagle Point were replaced by brilliant sunshine, other skiers and modern amenities like high-speed lifts.
Back at the base, a Sundance employee sprinted in ski boots to grab the group breakfast, which they scarfed down in the van. Then the snowboarders changed back into ski boots — an exchange they’d become quite good at by the end of the trip — as they drove toward Deer Valley, stop No. 4. They arrived at 10:47 a.m., just two minutes late.
“I was a little worried when we got off to a slightly later than planned start at Brian Head,” Palmintere said, “but I felt pretty confident once we made up the time getting to Sundance and Deer Valley.”
The Park City area resorts were a whirlwind. They checked off Deer Valley, Park City Mountain and Woodward Park City in less than two hours. This despite dealing with lift lines and a van change and making the most of Woodward’s terrain park.
“It’s not a Woodward run,” an employee warned them, “if you don’t do a jump.”
Though back on schedule, the group braced for what would be the most challenging segment of the trip. It wasn’t the skiing in the Cottonwood Canyons that they were concerned with — though it is considered some of the steepest in the country — it was the traffic. On a powder day, it can take hours to go through either Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon, and sometimes the Utah Department of Transportation won’t even open until after noon while it undertakes avalanche mitigation. Even on this bluebird day, UDOT announced it would be closing the road for at least half an hour for avalanche work — right when the Ski Utah group planned to arrive.
Call it divine intervention or the luck of the Irish. Somehow, despite encountering resorts teeming with people, neither the traffic nor the lift lines slowed the group down in Big Cottonwood. In Little Cottonwood, they got word that the parking at Snowbird was “a disaster.” But the van, now driven by Chris, pulled right up to the top of Chickadee. The skiers formed a “tunnel of stoke” with their poles before picking up lunch from an employee at the bottom and delivering it to the van via chairlift.
Back on the road by 4 pm., the group was nearly an hour ahead of schedule, and the weight of the clock had begun to fade.
As Flitton put it, “To not have traffic was pretty wild.”
Powered by Sour Patch Kids, Goldfish, Red Bull and canned coffee, the group motored through the three Ogden Valley resorts: Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley. The Wasatch back ski areas served up stunning sunset views, a night-skiing sampler and no hitches. The group’s collective confidence grew as the goal got closer. Some even started suggesting going for second helpings when runs were especially good.
They stayed the course, though, and it’s good that they did because they forgot about one thing: dinner.
A stop at a closing-in-5-minutes, sort-of-fast food joint and a lingering visit at Beaver Mountain ate up any spare time they’d accumulated. They arrived at stop No. 15, Cherry Peak near Logan, half an hour before midnight — right on schedule. Cherry Peak is among the resorts that wasn’t open during the last “Tour de Ski” in 2012, which was too bad for those skiers. Operations manager Dustin Hansen fired up lights and a chair lift and then took it upon himself to groom a blue run to perfection to meet the moment.
After more than 11 hours of driving, less than two hours of actual skiing and 20 hours total, the group took their final run at 11:55 p.m. Then the skiers piled back into the van one more time. The Champagne they’d brought remained uncorked. All they wanted at that point was sleep.
Not that the moment was lost on them. They got their adventure and 15 resorts worth of fame.
“I have to say guys,” Flitton said as the mostly quiet van sped through the darkness toward a Logan hotel, “I’ve made a lot of memories in my life, but that was one of the sickest.”
How they did it: 15 resorts in one day
#1 Brian Head Resort
Route: Blackfoot-Blackfoot Express-Desbah
Stats: .9 miles, 630 vertical feet, 14 degrees
Conditions: Groomed corduroy freshies under fresh snowfall by headlamp
Depart: 4:57 a.m.
#2 Eagle Point Resort
Arrive: 6:24 a.m.
Route: Skyline Lodge-Glacier Glade
Stats: .8 miles, 503 VF, 9 degrees
Conditions: Fresh corduroy under the stars and crescent moon by headlamp
Depart: 6:37 a.m.
#3 Sundance Resort
Arrive: 9:42 a.m.
Route: Outlaw Express (off at midstation)-Outlaw Trail-Stampede
Stats: .7 miles, 635 VF, 20 degrees
Conditions: Sunny, bluebird skies with morning hardpack
Depart: 9:55 a.m.
#4 Deer Valley Resort
Arrive: 10:47 a.m.
Route: Jordanelle Gondola-Deer Hollow-Little Stick
Stats: .9 miles, 754 VF, 19 degrees
Conditions: Groomers, groupies and a view
Depart: 11:10 a.m.
#5 Park City Mountain
Arrive: 11:30 a.m.
Route: First Time lift-First Time run
Stats: .42 miles, 289 VF, 20 degrees
Conditions: Ski school galore at the lift, wide, soft groomer run
Depart: 11:45 a.m.
#6 Woodward Park City
Arrive: 12:18 p.m.
Route: Hot Laps-Peace Park
Stats: .6 miles, 368 VF, 20 degrees
Conditions: Park lap, hard-packed groomer
Depart: 12:33 p.m.
#7 Brighton Resort
Arrive: 1:32 p.m.
Route: Milly Express-Backbone-Main Street-Christy Bowl
Stats: .9 miles, 1,138 VF, 26 degrees
Conditions: Ungroomed run in perfectly sun-softened snow
Depart: 1:48 p.m.
#8 Solitude Mountain
Arrive: 2 p.m.
Route: Moonbeam Express-Little Dollie
Stats: .81 miles, 667 VF, 28 degrees
Conditions: Park lap, bluebird groomers
Depart: 2:16 p.m.
#9 Alta Ski Area
Arrive: 3:09 p.m.
Route: Sunnyside Express-Crooked Mile-Patsey Marley
Stats: 1.2 miles, 784 VF, 27 degrees
Conditions: Views for days, perfectly sun-softened snow
Depart: 3:21 p.m.
Arrive: 3:40 p.m.
Route: Chickadee run-Chickadee lift
Stats: .46 miles, 179 VF, 33 degrees
Conditions: Sunny, fun, short
Depart: 4 p.m.
#11 Snowbasin Resort
Arrive: 5:48 p.m.
Stats: .6 miles, 263 VF, 27 degrees
Conditions: Fresh-groomed corduroy, surprisingly lively for a cat track
Depart: 5:55 p.m.
#12 Powder Mountain
Arrive: 6:48 p.m.
Route: Sundown lift-Confidence
Stats: .8 miles, 546 VF, 26 degrees
Conditions: Stunning sunset views, perfectly set, fast snow
Depart: 7 p.m.
#13 Nordic Valley Resort
Arrive: 7:33 p.m.
Route: Apollo lift-Falling Star
Stats: .7 miles, 973 VF, 27 degrees
Conditions: “Spicy” at dusk as snow refreezes
Depart: 7:44 p.m.
#14 Beaver Mountain
Arrive: 9:50 p.m.
Route: Big Eezy-Little Beaver (x2)
Stats: .2 miles, 525 VF, 5 degrees
Conditions: cruise-worthy, cold
Depart: 10:25 p.m.
#15 Cherry Peak Resort
Arrive: 11:30 p.m.
Route: Gateway Lift-True Blue
Stats: .42 miles, 600 VF, 19 degrees
Conditions: Super fresh corduroy, fast, rolling and fun
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