By Jared Hargrave
“Why We Should Have a Winter Vacation Instead of a Summer Vacation.” That was the title of a grade-school essay I wrote as a young lad growing up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Back then, when my peers were frothing at the mouth to escape locker-lined hallways and life controlled by morning and afternoon bells, I was dreading the inevitability of sweltering temperatures, another losing season of little league baseball, and most soul-wrenchingly, no snow.
So I wrote a plea for any like-minded teacher, student or parent who may listen to the reason of a picked on, freckled ginger, to please consider changing the school year so we could have three months off in the winter instead of the summer. My argument was simple: in the winter you can ski, in the summer you can’t.
It didn’t work.
Laughed at by my non-skiing friends and an English teacher who thankfully graded on a curve, I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t change the course of school policy across the state, much less in my own cow-town school. So I needed to find a summer outdoor activity that gave me as much joy, peace, and good will toward men as skiing.
It didn’t work.
I graded myself an A+ for effort though. Summer league baseball was a good distraction until I went for a fly ball in right field and got beaned on the nose when the sun got in my eyes. I gave a sporting go at swim lessons, but soon discovered the embarrassment of taking off my shirt and exposing my baby-fat, fish-like, white belly to the disgust of the girls in my class. Plus, I hate to get wet. I tried road biking with my K-Mart Huffy, but consistently got run off the road as rural highways have no shoulders. I did, however, get a wave from Kurt Russell, aka Snake freakin’ Plissken, as he drove by in a beater truck near his ranch in Old Snowmass. That was the highlight of my young life. But it didn’t even come close to the feeling I would get while floating through a righteous powder turn after ditching class.
Now, in the where-did-the-time-go present, I’ve been living in Utah for 13 years, and I’m still on a search for summer’s skiing substitute.
Of course, it actually is possible to ski Utah in the summer. In a good year, one can hike to the cliffs below Devil’s Castle at Alta and make, at most, three crusty turns. The north-facing, twin couloirs on Deseret Peak hold snow until July, and the effort is worth the vertical (as well as the entertainment of viewing wet avalanches cascading down the summit cliffs.) And of course a summer-skier’s rite of passage lies on the permanent snowfield of Mount Timpanogos. But below-average snow years and record-breaking summer temperatures have forced me to put quotes around the word “skiing” when describing the descent from Timp’s summit ridge to Emerald Lake.
With summer skiing nothing more than a novelty, I branched out. Rock climbing was my first foray into doing something other than developing bed sores on a flat bean bag while playing Final Fantasy for six months straight. I met some climbing friends, bought my own shoes, harness, rope and quick draws, and soon found myself leading 5.10 sport and 5.8 trad climbs everywhere from the Cottonwood Canyons to Lone Peak Cirque and Castleton Tower in Moab. It was a good four-year run. But then one summer, I just stopped. My buds were as perplexed as I and didn’t understand my sudden ambivalence to ascending cliffs. I’m sure it’s psychological, fear maybe, or perhaps the fact that I decked in American Fork Canyon after losing a hold at the second bolt from slipping on guano. Or the time I fractured my tibia on a ledge from a bad swing at the S-Curves in Big Cottonwood. Or discovered that I climbed an entire pitch on Frog Land in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and my belay partner never actually had me on belay. A fall would have been death. At that moment I wished I was skiing.
Sufficiently spooked, I took up something a bit safer. Running. Ragnar Relays, a half-marathon, and a full, trail running marathon from Deer Valley to the Canyons pretty much burned me out in two short years. While I got in the best shape of my life, I hated every mile of it.
Mountain biking is now my newly adopted summer activity. And while I like it okay, it still doesn’t compare to the feeling I get of cold, crisp air in my lungs, breaking trail through a grove of aspen trees as fat flakes shimmer down on a windless morning, or literally flying down a mountain as my skis never touch the ground no matter how deep I drive them or how much snow cascades over my head in a never-ending powder wave.
My grade-school essay about moving summer vacation to winter didn’t work on the Colorado school district authorities. So this time, I’m going global… hell, universal. I’m taking this column directly to Ullr, Vishnu, Buddha, or whatever deity controls the icy elements on this speck of planet in the vacuum of space. And since I’m an adult with a full-time job and don’t get summer breaks anymore, I’m upping the damn ante.
So here is my plea: For the love of Ullr’s beard, Buddha’s belly, Vishnu’s octopus arms and Jesus’ um… flowing locks of blond hair, please make winter last all year long. Global cooling, daily powder, hell, even glaciers as far south as Mexico, I’ll take it all. Why? Because in the winter you can ski, in the summer, you can’t.
I hope it works.