To do the trip I am doing, you gotta love to drive. And I love to drive. I left Driggs and the weather was high and dry, so rather than drive the interstate, I took the backroad Hwy 33 south to Hwy 31 out of Victor following Pine Creek to Swan Valley. From there I drove Hwy 26 down the Snake River Valley to a beautiful reservoir on the Snake from Palisades to Alpine. At this reservoir the Snake follows Hwy 89 east, the Salt River goes south and follows Hwy 89 south. This is spectacular country that I didn’t even know existed. Just south of Alpine is a small town named Etna, that was on my radar because there a woman who is selling her Navajo turquoise jewelry. I had spotted her while surfing Facebook Marketplace in Minnesota months ago, so I texted her to see if she could meet. But I reached out too late, and had passed through the wide spot in the road before she got back to me.
A treasure along the route was in Afton, Wy. There on the north end of town was an inverted snow cone! Or ice cone. I have googled the phenomenon, but cannot find anything on it. On the right side of the road, maybe a mile north of Afton is a cone of ice—I am deducing that it is formed from a thermal whose moisture and condensation had formed this cone, about 15 feet tall. It had steam rising from the top. It was the shape of a tall, skinny teepee with a hole at the top. I had never seen anything like it, and may never again! Except for maybe the Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah. Homestead Crater is a limestone dome that formed over a thermal spring which deposited minerals over thousands of years, creating a dome with a small hole at the top. It is an amazing place where a person can swim, soak or get certified in scuba diving!
Five hours of two-lane mountain roads, through passes, along valley floors. Mountains rising on either side. Farm and ranch land. Snow, sun, gas stops, pit stops, fast food at ma and pa restaurants. The road began in Idaho, then wove between Wyoming and Idaho at least three times.
Evanston, Wyoming was the largest town on the route. I stopped at the Walmart to buy some staples and a few groceries. It’s amazing how little food one person needs. From Evanston the drive was easy on Interstate 80. Midway is south of I-80 on Hwy 189 west of Heber City. It’s nestled to the backside of the Wasatch range; Deer Valley’s Jordanelle Gondola is about 10 minutes away right off the four-lane Hwy 189. Park City proper is at most 20 minutes. I’ve stayed at this Worldmark Midway before, and have always had a good experience. There are hot springs throughout the area, the most spectacular, Homestead Crater mineral dome. Amazing.
I was anxious to ski Deer Valley as I had never skied there before and had heard what a great resort it was. And I didn’t realize how close the Jordanelle Gondola was to my Worldmark Resort. Deer Valley is part of the Ikon Pass.
I was early to the Gondola, but it takes me 20 minutes to park, boot up, layer up, make sure I have passes, snacks, extra layers, hand warmers, phone & Ski Tracker app started. Jordanelle is in a low spot, so taking the gondola in part just gets you out of the lower mountain. I cut across Deer Hollow to Little Stick to get to the Carpenter and Silver Lake Express. My mountain tour started at 10, so I had time for a run or two.
I took Silver Lake Express to get up the mountain. I had my Alchemy of Ride ski jacket and pants on. Wearing the wild, retro outfit, I sometimes forget that I stand out because I don’t see the crazy print. But others do. The man on the chair with me said, like many have said to me before, “I LOVE that ski outfit!” I just laughed and said, “Yeah, I make a good target on the mountain.” Silver Lake is one of the longer high-speed quads, so this man and I chatted all the way up the mountain. We talked about Deer Valley, places to eat, the mountain tour, where I got the Alchemy outfit, my trip, my book, my blog. He said he does video interviews on chair lifts. He was a marketing consultant. He thought he could help me improve my social media presence. It’s amazing how much ground a person can cover on a chair lift ride. As we parted ways, we planned a chair ride interview. I gave him my business card and the Alchemy of Ride card, he gave me his card, and he said his name was “Ernest.”
I said, “Ah, the Importance of Being Ernest.” And that’s how I remembered his name.
The mountain tour at Deer Valley was a large group of about 12 people. I don’t like skiing in big groups, and this was no different. I tend to trail behind to avoid the crush. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it every time I have taken the mountain tour—These are the best way to get familiar with a mountain. Our guide took us from one end of the resort to the other, explaining where we were, showing us at the top of Empire chair where McConkey’s Express on the Park City side is just over the boundary rope. He gave us a feel for the breadth of Deer Valley. The only area he didn’t hit was the Jordanelle gondola and the Mountaineer lift that I had to ski through to get back to my car.
Deer Valley gets a bad rap for not having tough runs, but I didn’t get that sense at all. It is definitely a vacationer’s resort, and a high end one at that. It’s not a Revelstoke or a Grand Targhee where the locals rule. It’s also skiers only—no snowboards on the mountain.
I had lunch at the Stein Erickson Lodge Restaurant. Stein’s ski trophies are displayed in a large cabinet in the entry. The restaurant was busy, but I opted to sit at a rail—and got into a nice conversation with a gentleman who was waiting for his Airbnb host. I had their chicken pot pie and a glass of wine. The server brought the glass, then brought the bottle. He showed me the label and gave me an elegant back-handed pour. It was all very bougie, very posh. Even the pot pie was so well done—the crust baked to perfection to a dark golden brown. It didn’t taste bad, either. Of course, it wasn’t cheap. If you want a cheap pot pie, buy a Banquet. I was paying for the atmosphere, the legend of Stein Erickson. Outside the restaurant/lodge is the Olympic flame, still burning after all these years.
One observation about the Stein Erickson restaurant persists, that I’ve not resolved: most of the servers I saw were African American. To clarify, I make the assumption African American, though ski areas do hire many non-citizens to work on a J-1 or H2-B visa, so the servers may have been foreigners. My server sounded American, and he and I joked back and forth. I didn’t speak to all the servers, of course. It was a situation that made me a bit uncomfortable. This is a high-end restaurant, and I am sure the tips and perhaps the wages are higher than run of the mill ski restaurants. I can draw no conclusion, and I only mention it as it has stayed in the back of my mind.
I skied a second day at Deer Valley and met Ernest at the Jordanelle Gondola for one hour. He and I took a few runs off the Mountaineer Express chair. Ernest is a natural instructor, and he gave me several tips to work on my skiing. He told me to drive the turn by leading with my outside ski’s big toe. He asked me if I knew what he was talking about—I was familiarized with the term through my PSIA ski instructor training. I finally confessed that I was a certified ski and snowboard instructor in the Midwest. We had a good laugh, but as I said to Ernest, “Even Novak Djokovic has coaches.” We never stop learning. I used Djokovic’s name because later that day Ernest was going to ski with Djokovic’s tennis strategist’s family. Pretty cool, huh?
On our last run Ernest videoed me on the chair talking about advice to leaders. He gave me the opportunity to talk and talk I did. We almost ran out of chair lift ride before I got done! We had just enough time to grab our poles and make a safe get-a-way. It made for a good laugh! See the interview on LinkedIn: https://tinyurl.com/s8pafcc Ernest Oriente is what I have heard referred to an Aggregator—one who brings people and things together. He is probably the ultimate networker, but it is his generosity, curiosity and zest for life that captivates.
Later that same day, as I skied Deer Valley alone, I stopped at Empire Canyon Lodge for lunch. I joined a man who had a table for four by himself. He left, and I saw a couple searching for a table. I invited them to join me. Susana and her husband were part of the 70+ Ski Club! There were 160 members skiing Deer Valley for the week, some members in their 90s! This couple lived in Chicago by way of Uruguay, Toronto, Geneva, the Bahamas, and points that I can’t recall. Our conversation ranged from their travels, to the Japanese in South America, the Nazi presence and movements after WW II and Peron’s (Evita and her husband’s) corruption. It made me realize how very little I know of the history of South America, and how really interesting it would be to dig deeper. Just maybe not today…
By the end of the day my head was exploding with all the new stimuli. Between the conversation with Ernest, the history lesson from Susana, to skiing a full day, I was whipped!
But I did have time to stop at a hardware store in Heber City to check to see if they had any facemasks in stock. The Coronavirus has been the big news, and the world is in a panic. My son Lee is in Japan, and we all wonder how he is doing. China is quite a distance from Japan, but even so, when the chicks are away from the safety of the coop, one worries… And no, the store had no facemasks…