Anticipating More (and How to Find It)

Solitude Secret Stashes

Do you know what lies beyond Honeycomb?

It’s starting: we’re getting past the point of early season skiing in Utah and are starting to lust after some of our favorites lines. We hungrily eye the routes we haven’t taken since last season as we pass overhead on the lift. People stack up next to closure lines to assess how long until their favorite stash will be filled in and ready to tear into.

It’s almost there.

The anticipation is nearly as heavy as pre-season excitement, when folks are putting off their summer adventures and tuning up skis, practically jumping at every forecast that dips below 32˚F. We’ve patiently skied the opening day groomers, kept pristine for our pacification. We jumped off trail much too early, turning last year’s gear into next year’s rock skis, grinning during every turn and taking any gouges as badges of honor. We’ve explored all we can, and yet, there’s more coming.

That’s the beauty of Solitude Mountain Resort. Even when you’ve skied it all, you really haven’t skied it all. The place is filled with gems that many locals don’t know about. But listen closely: You’ll hear the whispers, the tales of powder that lasts for days after a storm. This is knowledge that isn’t given up willingly; it’s knowledge you have to earn.

Right now is the time to be doing just that.

We’re verging on mid-season greatness. Storms will be filling in those final inches that make it possible to drop in Solitude’s sweet sidecountry and traverse into terrain that goes unnamed on the trail map. So here’s my insider tip: Take lift laps with those in the know and find your way into their inner circle.

How do you recognize these folks? Well, you won’t unless you’re “on hill” and being observant. They are the ones up there several times a week, usually roving about the resort in the same small group of two or three skiers. Don’t look at the lodge during lunch; they are too far out to be bothered with warming their toes by the fire. And looking at the base will end your search fruitless: They use Moonbeam only to make tracks for the far reaches of the resort, namely its top elevations or peripherals.

If you happen to find the ones who know the places in-between, you’ve struck gold.

Admittedly, it will be hard to track down the most knowledgeable skiers while the lifts are spinning since Solitude has enough places to keep these skiers elusive. It’s time for “Plan B”: The Thirsty Squirrel. This pub plays after-party for the hill’s guests. In this après scene, you’ll find that skiers need little time to loosen up and get into the festive spirit of story-swapping and tale spinning. When it happens, pay attention: Feeling a bit of bravado, skiers let their guard down and their secrets out — and you’re there to soak it all in.

Now is your window to make this the season you’ve been waiting for: one filled with steep lines and trees that hold powder days after a storm. Oh yeah, and the one that your friends start asking you where to find all the goods you’re getting.

Just Add Chocolate

I just stumbled across one of the greatest things I’ve heard all season. No, it’s not a miraculous powder dump on my favorite mountain. It’s not that winter will be extended into next season. These are spectacular thoughts, I admit, but it’s spring and closing day is just over two weeks away. With those facts in mind, what could possibly be one of the greatest things I’ve heard all season?

To get the answer, let me ask you one more thing: how can one possibly make skiing- heck, anything in life- even better? The answer: Just add chocolate. According to the resort bulletin I caught this morning, that’s precisely what Solitude is doing tomorrow.

Skiing + Chocolate = perfection. Both are sensual experiences, enveloping you in a state of focused concentration. Both skiing and chocolate entice intense cravings; both are worthy of addiction. Both release endorphins in your brain, giving you a euphoric rush. The very idea that I will be rewarded with one for participating in the other is close to causing sensory overload as I sit here in anticipation.

Not that there needs to be more incentives to devour this ancient treat, but Soli is giving away prizes for those who complete their chocolate passport. Surely, this implies that there will be more than one place to load up on chocolate. That’s right (ladies, do you hear me?)- the smooth, intoxicating cocoa bean concoction will be making its appearance all over the mountain. I’m so there.

Missing Home

Honeycomb Canyon, Solitude Mountain Resort

Today I changed my Facebook background picture for the first time this ski year. Since November, it had been a photo I snapped in Honeycomb Canyon last season. I’ve been proud to sport that photo and rep my home resort all this time. However, for the past week, I’ve been heli-skiing in Alaska and thought maybe I should go for a change- everyone else flying with me here had updated their profile pictures and I felt the need to follow suit.

It’s funny how a little thing like where you ski can be such a source of pride. As I changed my photo from my sweet Honeycomb shot to an impressive aerial view of the snowcapped islands dotting the Gulf of Alaska, I felt a twinge of guilt creep in. Was this being disloyal to my local mountain? Did this mean I didn’t love Soli as much as I believed I did? Would Honeycomb ever forgive me for enjoying the snowy pitches to the north?

And it’s not just pride that I discovered, but jealousy… even though I was in the wilds of backcountry Alaska, high in the most rugged peaks and pristine landscape I had ever witnessed, I still felt left out of the fun as I read news of the 40″ of snowstorm back home. Here I was, skiing fresh tracks all day, enjoying what others pay thousands of dollars to experience, and I kept thinking, “Man, my friends back home are having the time of their lives in our favorite secret stashes.”

How is it possible to feel both guilt and jealousy when I was in a situation others would give up their life savings for?

I figured it out- while being here in the Chugach mountain range is impressive and undoubtedly the experience of a lifetime, I have never had a day to complain about at Solitude, and many to rejoice over. I know my way around the mountain and can find the good stuff even on a day when the snow may be less than ideal. It’s close to home, so I can sleep in my own bed and be on hill within a half an hour. I don’t have to get geared up with avalanche equipment just to take turns. And days after a storm, I’m still slaying powder at Solitude- no helicopter necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I love this heli-skiing gig and am grateful for the every minute I’ve been here. But my local mountain- 3,000 miles away from the remote beauty of Alaska- has my heart. And if Honeycomb has a forgiving demeanor, you’ll know where to find me my first day back.

Skiing the Deepest “2 inches” of Powder

Photo: Brian Thurber

The caption above explains just how I feel about skiing yesterday. The double punch of being both a snow day and President’s day, I headed up to Solitude just after lunch hoping to miss at least a portion of the crowd. Nearing the first entry, the sight of an unusually packed parking lot hit my eyes. Cars were spilling out onto the shoulder of the highway. Ugh. There goes my powder day… if you can call two inches of snow a “powder day.”

However, as a Solitude regular, I should know better than to ever be worried about finding snow. As if rewarding my efforts to ski, the resort always hands over a plentiful amount, and yesterday was no exception. Giving over the groomed runs to the holiday skiers and checking out the off-piste, there were suddenly no crowds and…

Find out more in this photo-packed post on

Fine Dining Worth The Hike

Solitude Mountain Resort Yurt

Our guide explains the history and structure of the Mongolian yurt at Solitude Resort

The moon was hidden behind the frosty mountains as we wound our way over the wooded snowshoe trail to Solitude Resort’s yurt. Three or four of us carried lanterns to assist the group of diners- roughly 20 of us- to the structure located about a mile away from the base of the resort. Energy ran high as we picked our way through the forest, some stumbling over the snowshoes strapped on their feet and laughing as they learned a new way of walking.

Putting on Snowshoes at Solitdue

Getting ready with provided gear

Hidden away at Solitude, it is not surprising if you haven’t heard of the yurt dining experience. An observant rider may catch a glimpse of the round, tent-like structure while riding the Sunrise chair, but other than that, this restuarant- though I hesitate to call it that as the dining area is intimately limited to 22- is strategically located to create a solitary mountain experience.

A warm glow intensified as we neared the yurt, and though the sub-freezing temperatures didn’t stop our cheerful spirits, we were eager to remove our snowshoes and step inside…

What’d we find?

The Fat Flakes Fall

That’s more like it…
from the Solitude Facebook page

It’s hard to get more depressing than rain in January when you live in Utah. Adding insult to injury is that thousands are gathered here in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show this week and the skies in the valley have been dumping nothing but 33°+ water droplets. For some attendees, this was their first taste of Utah’s winter. Our mountains should have been cutting a crisp white line across bluebird skies- instead they’ve been socked in gray while rivers of rainfall run through the downtown gutterways.

But that changed yesterday. I was buried in my smartphone’s calendar, busily trying to sort out my next appointment at OR when I quickly took a glance to establish my surroundings. A ceiling to floor window caught my eye, revealing the magic that had taken place: the 33°+ droplets had transformed to fat feather-like flakes drifting through the air. I stopped still and stared, forgetting my smartphone and appointments…


Seek and Ye Shall Find

With so many neglected skis gathering dust in closets, there’s bound to be treasure out there for the one who searches in the right places. To this minority, I applaud. While the snow snobs keep sighing over lack of snow, your skis, dripping from melted snow in the back of your truck, have just enjoyed a day of secret stashes. This is the story of how I found mine:

I was running on about two hours of sleep after baking all night for a Sugared Magnolia order when I was asked to go skiing at Solitude Mountain Resort. I didn’t think I would have the energy needed to keep up with my own skis, let alone those of my friends. But, already missing the cold mountain air I had been in this past weekend, I complied and hoped for the best.

Since I was ice climbing in Colorado during the last snow storm, it completely escaped my mind that a new layer of white had fallen on the Utah mountains and patches of it still hung around off trail- my favorite area anyway. I was expecting more icy conditions upon my return to Solitude, but was surprised by how soft even the base layer was. No, these were not pristine conditions that begged for my powder skis, but my trusty rock skis could maneuver between the occasional exposed hard spot and the soft snow that was plentiful off-piste. And when I was funneled back to the trail from my wanderings in the ungroomed, I found no occasion for keeping a wary eye- the runs were clear of obstacles so I was free to make the wide, arcing turns that are the beauty of groomers.

Now, dear reader, you get a bonus for joining me on my search for snow. I’m about to divulge what another skier should never share. If you want the good stuff…

(Want it?

Yes, Virginia, there is a sun!

Study the two pictures below. The one on the left is the view of the city. The one on the right is from  Solitude Resort. Both are taken within an hour of each other.

Let us begin our examination in comparisons. Both photos have clouds. The photo on the left features a pollution cloud filled with smog particulates from an inversion that hangs over the otherwise picturesque valley of Salt Lake. The clouds on the right are happy little clouds filled with H20 and little else.

Both have lines. The ones on the left are power lines that crisscross the city and obstruct views of the mountains- which are visable when the city isn’t blanketed in yellow air. The lines on the left are chairlift cables that whisk you up to incredibly clear views of unobstructed panoramas.

Both pictures have people. The people on the right are hidden in buildings and cars- boxes that keep them from interacting with the outdoors- which is probably a good thing since they’d otherwise be sucking in the chemicals floating in the city air. The people on the right are fully exposed to the outdoor elements- a good thing because up in the clean mountain air, they are filling their lungs with freshness, getting vitamin D from the sun, and awakening their senses with crisp air.


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