Untitled photo

Ski the Grand Staircase

posted on: July 25, 2021

Originally produced for Armada skis in 2019

view the Joint Efforts microsite here: https://www.armadaskis.com/en-us/provojointefforts

“Somewhere in the west”

It’s a classic blue-sky powder day in Utah. Thousands of hungry riders line up at the bottom of one of those famous canyons, idling their rigs, ready to fight for the last parking spot… if they ever make it up. Around 11am the road opens, and the masses are herded from one line to another. Shuffling through the cattle chute, ID scanned, the lift breaks so there’s another holdup. I assume that eventually some incredible powder skiing was had.

I drive past the Wasatch “sheep pen” as it’s sometimes called, heading south on I-15 for a few hours looking to make a run for the desert. At this point in the season, my skis had waited in enough lines, wallowed through enough champagne powder, and were fixing on making some new lines somewhere else. The jet stream was busy all winter delivering big storms to the southern ranges, building up a snowpack three times the average. I’m drawn southward by historic snowfalls and the promise of new lines, memories of red rock spines, but there is something more.


Untitled photo

“Desert Solitude”

With much of the known ski world a tool for capitalist interests, many ski areas homogenized, bending to the rule of mega corporations and added to their portfolios, social media and the internet exposing every nook and cranny of the earth, it’s no surprise that I find myself in this place. Out there looking for a glimpse of the old west. Someplace overlooked by others. Someplace weird and lonesome. Using my skis simply as a tool for exploration, a chance to investigate an obscure landscape up close. In the heart of the winter, under a blanket of snow, the noble desert reveals things to me that I didn’t intend to find. In this case, some damn fine skiing.

Untitled photo

“The Plateau Province”

Free from “the pen” now, with two thirds of the state of Utah to roam, the high plateaus are not the most obvious destination for skiing. The terrain is devoid of traditional alpine features, but what it lacks in jagged peaks and deep valleys it makes up for in otherworldly ways. In fact, this place offers little more than scenery. Rising and falling under Triassic oceans and Cretaceous seas, under the freshwater lakes of the Eocene, before being thrust skyward by the plate tectonics of the Colorado Plateau, the land was then exposed to the forces of wind and rain and snow to create what we see today. Rock formations that have no equal. The Grand Staircase as it is now called, preserving earth’s history like a book, each layer a detailed chapter.

It’s on the highest step, the pink cliffs, the uppermost and youngest layer exposed, with its sixty-million-year-old limestone sculptures caked in snow that interests me. Ten years ago, skiing powder off the rim of the highest plateau with my brother through implausible cliffs and tangerine spires, I knew we had found someplace special. Technically, this was the last place to be “found” in the continental US. The last place to be put on the map. Either it was too rugged and wild, or it didn’t have anything to offer until John Wesley Powell came along and made the first voyage down the Colorado river, which was unknown then in 1869. At one of his camps, he looked up and saw the steep and colorful cliffs of the Aquarius plateau where 150 years later my brother and I would leave our first ski tracks.

Untitled photo

“No place for a man”

It seems like a weird place to be skiing. At times, gliding over cactus and cryptobiotic soils with just a few inches of snow to spare, and other times where the snowpack is a robust nine feet. From the rim, where the ancient bristlecones live at eleven thousand feet and the wind is always fierce, where everything funnels down into a death trap, it seems like a weird place to be dropping in. But that’s what I love about it; obscure and unusual with sweeping panoramas over complex terraced terrain, fantastic formations repeating for endless miles. Hoodoos colored pink and yellow and orange and white. Colors of salmon and sugar and strawberry ice-cream. Vermillion cliffs streaked with gray and byzantium. The entire palette monotonous in its beauty. Every color nearly fluorescent against the white snow, turning neon under the setting sun. Skiing here is a mind-boggling novelty.


Away from the jerry’s and the lift lines, with a backpack full of supplies and a camp site on a bluff overlooking earths clever designs, celestial wonders working their magic from above, a sturdy fire, and I am one happy man. No need for heated gondolas or $18 dollar hot dogs out here. The cheap ones from the gas station and a pair of skins is all I need .


~


Untitled photo
Untitled photo
Untitled photo
Untitled photo
Untitled photo
  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In