Picking a resort buddy is easy.
You hop on Facebook. You say where you’re headed. You carpool. After that, and particularly on a powder day, all friendships are null and void. Those are the rules.
Picking someone to travel with you to every one of Utah’s 14 resorts in seven days — and to document the adventure — is a different challenge. Salt Lake magazine’s “Ski (all of) Utah” itinerary includes about 1,000 miles on the road and a few hundred thousand vertical feet on the slopes. We’re anticipating late nights writing and editing video, fueled with Red Bull by day and Maker’s Mark at night (or maybe vice versa.)
Given the amount of skiing we’ll be doing, everyone’s got to be respectably fit. Given that I’ve been praying for powder for months — and God appears to be listening — everybody’s got to be able to keep up. And since Alta and Deer Valley still don’t like us knuckledragggers, everybody’s got to be at least passingly twoplankable, and preferably better than passingly.
That last part is important. My relative lack of confidence on skis was a major factor in how we built this team. On a board I’ll follow just about anyone just about anywhere. Promise me there’s a sweet cushion of powder down below that cliff? I’ll take it. (I probably won’t land it, but I’ll take it.) But on skis? I’ve got to be honest here: I’m intimidated as hell.
Why? Well, among other reasons, come Sunday afternoon we’ll be skiing at Deer Valley with Heidi Voelker. Heidi. Effing. Voelker.
Even if you don’t know Heidi, you know Heidi. She’s the three-time Olympian carving a sick turn on our state’s “Ski Utah” license plates. (Seriously, I would not be able to drive my car anywhere. I’d be like: “There’s me! Hey, there’s me again! Hey everybody, see that? That’s me!”)
We’ve asked everybody we’re skiing with to show us their absolute favorite spots. I don’t yet know where Heidi’s favorite place is at Deer Valley, but if it’s some double-black chute off Empire Mountain, I’ll be damned if we’re going to miss the opportunity to shoot her taking it like the skiing god she is.
That’s where JJ comes in. A former high school ski racer, Jared Jones spends most of his mountain time on a board these days, but he can still hang on parallel planks. He’s also got a degree in film from the University of Utah (which totally makes sense for someone who flies attack helicopters for the Utah National Guard, right?) His YouTube videos of Apaches in action have more than 1.6 million hits. Not for nothing, he’s not hard to convince to do bucket-list stuff like this. We’re plotting heli-skiing adventures for out 40th birthdays and keep talking about a taking trip to snowboard one of the least-explored mountain ranges in the world, the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, where JJ has twice been deployed.
JJ was my first call. He was on board before he even asked his wife. (But let’s not tell her that, OK?)
Swede came next. Another life-time skier, Erik Price also flies for the Utah National Guard and has multiple Afghanistan tours under his belt (that Hindu Kush thing is looking better and better.) As we’re not quite a year past the human-to-tree encounter that took me out of action and damn-near took me out of the gene pool, my wife is digging the fact that the Telemarking Norwegian is a former ski patroller of five years at Park City. And as we’ve only got a few precious hours to build a roll at each resort, Swede’s video experience — he’s the co-owner of Wrk2Play, an aerial photography and videography firm focused on real estate and the outdoors in Utah — is bound to come in handy.
But skills are one thing. Chemistry is another. This is, after all, a road trip. JJ’s picking us up before sunrise on Sunday morning and we’ll be in one another’s space for pretty much all of the following 175 hours. And that, I think, makes the military experience of this gang (I’m a Navy veteran and former war correspondent) a good attribute. If there’s one thing veterans know how to do, after all, it’s share space with one another.
Oh, and kill people. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Matthew D. LaPlante is skiing or snowboarding at all of Utah’s 14 resorts this week for a coming story in Salt Lake magazine. You can follow the trip on Twitter, @SkiAllOfUtah. His reporting work from around the world is available at mdlaplante.com.