Fantasy Ridge was Open?!

Fantasy Ridge

For the Utah skiers and boarders who have experienced hiking Fantasy Ridge the name elicits memories and maybe even a couple of butterfly’s in the stomachs of all of us.  I was surprised to find that the ridge was open so early in the season!  Solitude is known for it’s fantastic skiing within the resort, but what often goes overlooked is what lies in store for those willing to explore the best ski resort in Utah.  Journey through the many gates that access the rest of Solitude’s Mountain Resorts in-bound and side country terrain and you are in for an epic treat.

As you get off the Summit lift and take a quick left past the patrol shack you stay right and come to a couple of gates awaiting your exploration.  The first is the Fantasy gate that heads straight up the spine that separates Honey-Comb Canyon from the resort boundary.  You are basically climbing the resort boundary line with the terrain that leads into Honey-Comb as in bounds with the additional “side-country” terrain adjacent to it and considered out of the resort boundaries.

The hike is not for the faint of heart and can be likened to the part on Angel’s landing in Zion National park where there are “no fall zones” with chains to help you along.  On the ridge hike, cables have been placed in certain areas to help you negotiate some technical aspects.  With some care and a little courage you can overcome the obstacles with some well placed footwork and a decent level of fitness.

Ridgeline Hike

Of course, like all of Solitude’s skiing the access and control is done by the world class Ski Patrol who kick in the initial hiking lines and make sure the avalanche danger is “controlled”.  With that said each skier and snowboarder must do their part and come prepared with a beacon, shovel, and probe as well.  Their is a beacon testing sign at the entrance to make sure you’re ready to go.  Take advantage of the testing site at the base of Eagle Express to hone your skills and make sure you’re ready!


hike2
hikerocks and trees

 

After entering the gates you will find a boot line that is fairly easy to follow along with a couple of rocky sections that will definitely get your attention.  This is not a leisurely stroll by any means.  It is one of, if not the most technical lines accessed from resort boundaries.  The views are magnificent and make the hike worthwhile if just only for the views provided.  You have unobstructed views of Solitude and Brighton Ski resorts including lake Mary.

Lying above the lake slightly to the Southwest is the Wolverine cirque. wolverineBig Mountain skiers from across the globe come to drop some of the biggest lines and air in the Wasatch in that arena.

Cold and Beautiful below Fantasy Ridge

Cold and Beautiful below Fantasy Ridge

 

 

Views of additional Wasatch Mountain resorts including Alta and Snowbird lie below you as you feel that you are on top of the world.  In fact, looking down at the Powderhorn gate access point you are literally hundreds of feet higher while anticipating an awesome ride down.

 

Well, that is what we came her for right?  To ski or snowboard some awesome lines of most likely POWDER.  The choices seem limitless especially if you are considering some “side-country” skiing outside the resort boundary.  The hike allows you to access literally hundreds of skiable acres of terrain.  An awesome option is to ride into Silver Fork Canyon and end up on the road that leads to the base of Eagle Express.  I usually choose to ski back into Solitude using the multiple options available.

chute To the left is a nice tight chute that presents itself after the initial hike.  My buddy Kendall liked to drop in early and take a mandatory 40 footer, which goes to show you there is a line for anybody.  After the first couple of chutes there is another peak to bag and several options that present themselves for the taking.

peak

 

Yes that could be you standing  right on top of the peak taking everything in…

 

 

JakeFantasyThe farther down west you go there is some cliff bands that allow you to get pictures like these.  When heading down the mountain it seems something like a fantasy in which you are playing the starring role.

Welcome to Solitude.

Veterans Day Skiing

As I arrived at the Solitude Village the bell tower struck eleven and greeted me with tunes that completed the feel of strolling through a small European ski village.  Instead of finding myself in Austria or Switzerland I have arrived at a resort that represents Utah skiing at it’s finest.  After a quick trip to the ticket office the day was afoot with plenty of sunshine and other fortunate souls that would find excellent coverage and a great spring skiing experience in November.  Amongst the lucky was a wonderful Peterson family from Park City including their young daughter Sonja.

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I commented that she was fortunate to have such awesome parents to take her up and enjoy the mountain today.  As for me the reward of a great skiing experience is not only being up in the fresh air, but getting in ski shape.  With some Slalom skiis on for the day carving turn after turn is the best way to knock the rust off for what I know is coming in the near future……POWDERfile://localhost/Users/Mikes/Desktop/photo-10.JPG

If you only knew……

If you Only knew….
But I’m glad you don’t…..
So goes a little sticker I have from years ago from Solitude. In all sincerity April 9th it was like a virtual dream occurring days before the resort will run its last chair, the patrol conducts it’s last sweep, and the skiers ski their last lap through the magnificent terrain of honeycomb. Was it windy up there? Did they get much snow overnight? Questions are most easily answered by the personal experience of getting in touch with Solitude. As I pulled into the parking I threw the truck into 4wd to no less than 12 inchest that greeted me in a lot devoid of cars with the exception maybe a dozen. As I started my evaluation of what my expectations were for the day I faced my usual dilemma. Snowboard or Skis. As the phone rings my buddy Mark (snowboarder) calls and asks me what’s up. “There is about 12” in the parking lot right now so get your butt up here!” I exclaim.
My other buddy Steve (Skier) calls minutes afterward stating, “I’m on the way up.” I usually ski with skiers, and board with boarders, but today I’ll throw on the board cause I figure it will be that creamy spring powder just dense enough for a boarder to float without crusting out. Then the plan is to don the Skis and start shredding headwall and then honey comb when it opens up. Cause it always does with Solitudes Patrol. They take care of business, and Me!
Off I head on the board and I can see it looks like George again, in the straw hat blowing cold smoke down sunshine bowl as I watch the contrails of powder rise in the air. That ain’t dense and creamy; we are talking bonifide mid season powder! I consider taking a quick one on the Express, or head to Powderhorn. Powderhorn it is as I start floating effortlessly through the powder on my usual line just above the cliffs then darting down the terrain that other people avoid thinking it’s too thin. Well it’s not. Up Powderhorn I am looking at the other 5 people on the hundred chairs and start wondering. Where is everybody? As I make a couple calls I nearly lose my hand to frostbite. Man it’s cold. Well that is what made this snow so epic. Yeah, I said it. EPIC That is what this day turned out to be.
I noticed that skiers right of the lift on Concord is looking deep and untouched. With a perfect pitch I figured it was game on. I qued up some music by muse “uprising” and then ventured into an ethereal experience. I really don’t know how to explain the ecstasy of bounding through over a foot of powder taking face shots and entering the white room crystalline experience of shear joy and exaltation. Turn after turn of untouched powder greeted me as a continual climax of jubilance radiated through my body as I threw my hands up the air at the end to honor the experience just obtained. As I literally basked in the afterglow of my run I realized nearly no one was witness to the best snowboard run I have had all year. Why, I must do it again! EPIC, Unfortunately my Zen was slightly interrupted by the ringing in my ear of my skier buddy arriving in the parking lot. On the lift in 5 he tells me. Hmmm, opportune time to shed the board I think to myself. Going to have a lot of touring’ to do today cause I can always count on Solitudes Patrol to “Take care of business, and ME!”
Pit stop at the car and BAM, I’m a skier. Like Clark Kent turning into Superman I’m on the sticks and on a mission of shear enjoyment. We know where were going and there is only one way to get there. As we head up Sunshine on our way to summit I reminisce about my days as a kid here where I owned this lift. I loved to ski under the liftas a 6 year old mini me with my dad as my sister and mom meandered down cornucopia and new sensation.
It’s on, off the Summit lift into the rollercoaster of the headwall. Two sweet runs of powder and then whoop there it is. As the masses, 12 people, head out on the east face we take the gate and head out to the black forest and have an untouched powder stash that was no kidding, at least two feet deep. Ugh, Link is done. As I reflect back in the day you had to earn your honeycomb laps and that would require you to make the run out to the bottom of the inspiration lift. Of course this was back in the infancy of snowboarders and one thing was a given. You wouldn’t find many willing to work their way out. There was only one thing that this would mean to us. Endless honeycomb powder. All day long. Lap after lap  coming off of Eagle Express it was untouched between Gary’s glade and rhapsody down to the Powder horn lift and then farming out here be dragons of epic Solitude powder.
I can honestly say that I would rather not be anywhere else. I am talking anywhere. Whether it is in the Bahamas on a beach, some backstage rock party, or ANY other resort. Maybe, just maybe I would consider a helicopter. Except this is quicker. I finally break down after lap three I give in and follow my friend Steve a little right of my untouched lines and break over into another untouched stash hundreds of yards long. Is this for real? Yes, This is Solitude after all.
Super fresh untouched two feet of light Utah powder at 1:30 in April with NOBODY around. Such is SOLITUDE.

The Yurt Dining Experienced

Oh what a night….

In today’s world people often look for a unique experience that stands out from the routine that generally encompasses our daily lives. A lot of restaurants claim to provide a unique culinary experience for their patrons but my experience at the Solitude Mountain Yurt was truly outstanding in several ways. In today’s world, “foodies” can appreciate a good meal, whether it is down home comfort food to a fine dining experience. With the setup at the Mongolian style yurt located adjacent to the slopes of Solitude you would think that the cuisine would be rudimentary at best. Not so…. It was hard to imagine how the resort would be able to pull off a fine dining experience in a large tent with no electricity and running water located a half a mile up from the village sitting adjacent to the slopes of the resort.

The night started off with the guests assembling at the Thirsty Squirrel bar in the Village located at the base of the mountain. Guests from New York, Alabama, Connecticut, and a some local couples were in for a treat as we socialized before our journey to the yurt. Jaseth, our guide introduced himself and informed us that we would be donning snowshoes for our trek through the woods to the Solitude mountain yurt. We put on our snowshoes and headed out onto the mountain trail under the remaining light of dusk. A purple hue hung in the air while the stars were just appearing in the fading light of the day. As we trekked through the woods you felt yourself get lost in the natural world surrounded by a foot of new powder while the spruce and fir trees stood sentinel throughout the wooded forrest. The trail wound through the woods and had a very comfortable incline that was not too demanding even for the sea level guests that were not accustomed to the elevation. After about 15 to 20 minutes of hiking we emerged from the woods to observe a rather inviting yurt providing a glowing invitation to enter to enjoy a night of dining on the mountain. As we entered you were struck by the ambience of gas lit lanterns lighting two long tables prepared with a display of fine glassware and dishes juxtaposed with the rich wood and rustic look of the table and chairs. It was surprising how spacious the yurt was when considering that our chef Joe had his operation already in full swing taking up a third of the yurt with his seasoned gas Viking range and a large wood preparation table in the middle where he would soon plate the food.
I immediately gravitated to our chef Joe, and commented on the set up inside the yurt. He mentioned that the heat from the gas range served as the main warmth for the yurt as the guests took off their jackets enjoying the comfort that the structure provided.

I have had a previous experience staying in a yurt on an overnight trip in the Uinta Mountains. The structure is basically a tent that is set up over a round octagonal frame and usually features a central wood-burning stove. Jaseth mentioned that the Mongolian tribes have used these structures for generations providing them shelter and the ability to move quickly and efficiently due to their nomadic lifestyle. Unlike the dirt floors the Mongolians use the Solitude yurt has a nice wood decking for the floors. The center ring at the top of the yurt is the heart of the structure and would be passed from father to son in the Mongolian tribes.

After the guests were seated Jaseth mentioned that he had come to Solitude in 2004 seeking the legendary Utah powder he had heard about. Coming from central Mexico he was an unlikely candidate for a powder hound but soon found himself snowboarding over a 100 days a year. He joked that the Yurt was like Vegas, in that what happens at the Yurt, stays at the Yurt…. We were here to enjoy some excellent food, the unique atmosphere, and each other.
I had a chance to talk to our chef Joe before the meal and found his introduction to cooking an interesting story. About 10 years ago he was working on a fishing boat in Alaska and they were looking for a crewmember to be the cook. He jumped at the opportunity figuring it would be a good way to get out of the incessant rain. He fell in love with cooking and found a lot of satisfaction when people enjoyed his cuisine. At Solitude he has the creative license to make his own menu at the Yurt. Another guest had commented that this was his fourth time at the Yurt and has had something different every time. Joe starts his preparation for the dinner early in the afternoon down at St. Bernard’s restaurant selecting menu items that he will use in his 5-course meal. He mentions that he often takes a couple laps on the ski hill and works up the menu in his head. This meal is going to be interesting!

Scallops

Joe previewed the cuisine for the night, which started with a tomato soup with mascarpone cream that had the most interesting sun choke chip in the middle that had the consistency of a potato chip but had an incredible taste.
A salad of mix frieze lettuce with baby kale was topped with a perfectly prepared piece of Salmon drizzled with a warm bacon challotte dressing for the second course. Some blue cheese and pomegranates gave the plate an interesting mix of complementing flavors.

Enjoying our meal

It was funny how the realization that you are up on a mountain in a tented yurt fades into what felt like an experience in one of the finest restraunts around. The expression on the guest’s faces really summed up the environment as everyone was really enjoying the meal.
I took the opportunity to talk to some guests from Alabama and got to laugh with them about their travel stories getting to the greatest snow on earth. Ironically the two groups were both from Alabama and had just met this evening. I asked if this was their first visit to Utah and they mentioned it was. One of the ladies mentioned she had done a bunch of research and had to have the experience of dining at the yurt. Her travel story was interesting in the fact that she was staying here at the village and drove her 4-wheel drive rental car in 2-wheel drive all the way up the canyon. She had white knuckled it all the way up and finally ended up sliding off the road just as she got up to Solitude. Some nice young men came to her rescue and informed her that she had been in 2-wheel drive the whole time. Her husband on the other hand had just as bad as an experience with the airport in Salt Lake closing because of the icing. It forced his plane to stop in Colorado Springs. Then to make matters worse they had a mechanical problem and had to spend the night waiting for parts and a mechanic from Denver to fly down and fix it.

It amazes me the trials people go through to experience a great ski vacation when the locals here (like me) can jump in their car and within 40 minutes be immersed in Solitude..

Scallops. Big ones. In saffron sauce none the less with some amazing greens in the middle that I could not recognize was presented as the third course. I have always found that the sauce is such an influential key to the main element in a dish.

For the main course I was preparing myself for a menu item I am totally unfamiliar with. Moroccan pan seared duck. I have only had duck once before and was quite disappointed. I have always wondered why it was offered at fine dining restraunts as a specialty dish. Well, I have found out. Amazing. It reminded me of lamb in the consistency and tenderness of the meat. Joe prepared it by searing the outside of the duck that is covered by a layer of fat and then the meat. He finished it up in the oven resulting in an amazing taste and flavor not to mention the tenderness of the meat. Yep, I’m a fan of duck now.

Moroccan Pan Seared Duck

The mash potatoes were infused with polenta green beans and added a new dimension to a common menu item.  He accompanied the dish with a pomegranate reduction sauce that complemented the meat so well.  It is a five-course meal after all and I always have room for dessert that can best be described with a picture….

Dessert

 

As we wrapped up the night of fine dining I still marveled at the remarkable experience that the Yurt at Solitude provided us that evening.  As we exited out into the natural world that encompassed us the past couple of hours I realized how special this experience truly is.  The stars shone brightly with orions belt hovering above us as the light of the moon illuminated a cloud just down the canyon.  We hiked back down into reality with our palettes satiated with an incredible evening of wonderful food.   When prepared right food is simply amazing.  I couldn’t help but notice the few people in the village enjoying what seemed a private resort surrounded by a mountain full of incredible skiing.  This is Solitude after all.  I guess I should expect nothing less.

Under the Stars

Life is just a Fantasy

Stairway to Heaven

Fantasy Ridge is OPEN!!   That is what I read today while I sat in the Fire station wishing I was on that ascent to the top of the ridge.  I honestly can’t think of a more exhilarating hike at any resort in the Wasatch.  The route starts at a decent degree of slope and keeps on demanding fitness as you gain elevation rather quickly.  Soon you are looking left  and right and realize that the precipitous drop to oblivion is within several feet on each side of you.   I’m sure the boy’s in Red setting the trail and dropping bombs got their heart rate pumping on this climb.  The views are incredible.  When overlooking Honeycomb Canyon to the right and looking over Twin Lakes to the left you realize you are somewhere special.  Only the sound of your heart pounding and your lungs heaving breaks the silence as you contemplate the route down.  The options are endless and it is a difficult decision sometimes on where to drop in.  You have easy entries into epic powder and some rather technical intro’s that may require a mandatory air somewhere down the line.  Fantasy Ridge always offers a memorable run for skiers with the ability and desire to ski one of the most classic slopes around.  Only at Solitude.

 

 

C is for Carving

It has been about a year since I jumped on a hardboot carving snowboard with my buddy Mark. He has 36 days and counting on the mountain already and is looking forward to alot more. I re-discovered how fun it is to jump on this snowboard whose width is almost as narrow as some of the powder skiis out there these days. You stand with both of your feet facing the same direction at an angle and off you go. It is a completely different technique than regular snowboarding but when you get the hang of it there is now better way to carve some trenches on Solitudes groomed slopes. The wildest ride is when you literally get on edge and nearly make a 360 degree circle. I bow out around 260 or so but with some practice and speed I’m gonna make it some day.  I have to say that it still amazes me that a 30 minute ride will get you up here to enjoy a world class ski mountain that feels like a private resort. We met a guy from Virginia who was raving aout how awesome the snow was. With the couple of inches that keep falling every couple of days the snow is soft and carve -able so you don’t wash out very easily. Not only is C is for Carving it also is for commitment. When you get on edge on these carving boards you are on the “rails” and it requires you to commit to your line and you are rewarded with a sweet arc that feels awesome when done right. The moderate slopes seem to suit it best allowing you to “lay it down” a little bit as you hover over the snow. That is where the commitment part is definetly required. At the end of an awesome carving session I would have to say S is for Solitude…….Get up here for President’s Day weekend the forecast looks great for some great skiing and maybe even a Sun Tan!

Any Given Sunday

On any given Sunday you can find a great skiing experience as Solitude. What you will find on the weekends is lot’s of families enjoying the great terrain and facilities on the mountain. It was great hitting the slopes with “Oma” and Aunt Becky who make it a routine of spending the weekend skiing at the resort. My 10 year old Ariel was busy showing off and scaring her Grandma as she ducked in and out of the trees just off moonbeam. It reminded me of when I was a kid where we would find the “deer trail” off of the Sunrise lift. As a small kid it was easy to snake your way through the trees while as an adult it requires a little more attention.  The sun was shining and we were soaking up the “resort”. Skiers were enjoying the weather hanging out on the deck above the moon beam center while others were busy enjoying their lunch break inside. It still boggles my mind that even with a full parking lot there was no waiting in lines for the lifts.  We enjoyed the freedom of skiing the mountain free of the crowds that plague other resorts on the weekends. I usually rave about the advanced skiing on the mountain on Solitudes phenomenal powder days but I can honestly say I am very impressed by the immaculate grooming Solitude provides to it’s skiers.   Another great reason why people choose Solitude when they take the family skiing. As another “resort” day concluded  I know where I am going to be on any given Sunday. Solitude

Powder Time

What can you say?  Another awesome weekend of powder for the people.  With the Holiday skiing crowd taking some incredible memories of powder home with them,  the locals were having a field day on the mountain this weekend.  With nearly a foot of new snow friday and  the typical Solitude crowds,  the mountain was loaded with fresh lines for the day.

That’s the beauty of it.  The only lines on the mountain are the ones your laying down with your friends!  Milk Run was full of creamy white vitamin D goodness.  The headwall forrest awaits all comers with the roller coaster powder ride for all those who have the fortune.  After 3 runs with my  buddy’s riding their snowboards the Summit gate opened and I knew that one of my best runs of the day awaited me.  After a little traversing and sidestepping the reward of a blank slate of powder enabled me to be in that moment of zen powder riders are all familiar with.   One with the mountain, effortlessly turning through a billion snowflakes that make skiing so much fun.  I did eat a lot of powder today and Oh it tasted so good.   It is like a 5 course meal here at Solitude.   You have an idea of what awaits you but my favorite part of this meal is always the dessert.  You would think it was the rapture or something but it seems like all the powder hounds kind of disappear.

LunchtimeAt around 1 p.m. it seems like everybody is gone?!  I hooked up with my buddy Steve and we stopped at the roundhouse so he could warm up his toes and I could grab a bite.  Powder sure is nutritious.  Dessert is always good especially when you feel like you have it all to yourself.   Laps through Honeycomb offered some pretty epic lines through the trees and we kept hitting the same area finding untracked throughout the afternoon.   THAT is why you ski here ladies and gentleman.  Powder to the people because I know that anyone up here today had alot of fun.   More snow to come this weekend!

ROUNDHOUSE

The Best of Both Worlds

There is nothing short of frustrating listening to your buddy’s voice mail as he raves about the 4th lap on Honeycomb on the Saturday after the dump. Basketball games and Boondocks for the kids today, powder tomorrow. With a little negotiating with the wife a  Sunday morning powder church was in store for me. Arriving at Solitude was the typical scene. A lot devoid of cars stretching towards eagle express where George and his buddies were starting the day off right with their pow wow at the end of the lot. You know George, the guy with the straw hat?  He has probably skied every day Solitude has been open ever!   As I stared into the truck bed I really had only one choice to make. Board or Skiis.Why not both?My plan was hatched and on the board I went. Oooh it looks good. FLUFFY low density stuff. I enter the ticket gate and notice the threesome 2 back from the first chair and I invite myself into their stead. A quick lift up and minutes later. POW. Yeah POW, and lot’s of it. I motor down to Powderhorn through the Rhapsody run and knew it was going to be an incredible day. Superlight, fluffy, low density, crystalline blessings of great joy…. Powderhorn. You just say the name and my mind races to the top picturing that awesome swiss style patrol shack with the red cross on it housing the guys that make all this possible. Except for the fact they aren’t in there. They are busy throwin’ bombs in Honeycomb preparing for my second act to come later. I find my self in Paradise.  No kidding, Paradise.  Literally and figuratively because that’s the run’s name and it is exactly what I’m experiencing. At least my version of it. Floating effortlessly through powder while throwing up a face shot with every other turn. Aaaahhhhh. Thank you sir may I have another, and another, and another. Cause’ that’s what you are going to get here at Solitude.

After six amazing runs of Vertigo, Concord, Paradise, and Paradise lost it was time to prepare for the second act. Skiis. Mainly because when my boys in red are done droppin’ bombs there is this magic gate to ecstasy off of Summit that I like to take and I have no interest in boot stompin’ that traverse!! Grab the skiis from the car… even found fresh tracks all the way down the mountain. A little Sunrise, and off to my favorite stashes in Headwall. Yeah, I know some of the shredders have been partaking but I can always find a line and it was very nice. After two headwalls I am on the lift and it grinds to a halt. Uh, oh. As I look at the watch I discover this is it. Gotta be home for sledding with the kids in an hour, so if the gate doesn’t open there will be no Honeycomb for me. Yeah, right. We are at Solitude people. As the gate to my powder destiny opens right as I get off the lift, I know what awaits. I could try to write about how that run went but I’ll leave it to your imagination, or you can make it your own reality. After all, you can have the best of both worlds here at Solitude.

Paradise on a weekday

There is a first time for everything. I’m not sure if I was looking to seek some humility on the slopes but
I was pretty sure my first day on some telemarking gear would give me some. I mean, c’mon. $250 bucks on KSL for boots, skiis, bindings,
and even some skins!? Too good to pass up. So here I go hitting the slopes at Solitude. Of course I won’t have to worry about
running into anybody, literally, cause’ theres hardly anybody to run into. Just some creamy powder and what feels like my private
resort. We’ll, private except my buddy Steve who had to repeatedly show me how slow I really was on this tele gear.I never knew
the appeal of telemarking but I figure I would find out for myself. First thing I found out is if you get to far forward it feels like your
tripping forward. If you don’t catch yourself, over the handlebars you go. Other than that it was a blast. It was kind of fun trying
a new way to slide down the mountain. I will say that if I was on my downhill skiis I would have switched to the snowboard today
because that creamy powder setup was ripe for surfin’. We found that Eagle Express was closed the day before so to be skiing
5 inches of powder the day after was pretty good. Only at Solitude, I can guarantee that. We split over to Summit for a couple of runs
and the snow at the top had amazingly good consistency. As for you potatoes down in the valley saying we need more snow. Well, it’s
up here! The coverage was good and we hit a bunch of off piste skiing that was pretty fun. Looking across the Road at the South slope,
(reminds me of Park City) it’s as brown and snowless as you can imagine. Solitude is on the North slope baby, so get up here and have
some fun! Yes I am willing to share…..like I did with maybe the 100 or so lucky people that have the flexibility to enjoy paradise on
the weekday. See you on the slopes. I’m bringing the snowboard tomorrow!