Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Farmington Canyon, Bike and Ski, March 30, 2013

Sunrise from about 2 miles up the canyon.

Brett and antelope island at sunrise.

Gear adjustment and a rest. Brett and John. 

Layne's skin track from last week.

John and Brett on the divide between Rice and Mud Bowls.

Getting there. Views opening of upper Mud and Rice Bowls.

John and Brett with Mud Bowl above. A quiet year up Farmington Canyon in terms of both people (road closed) and wind. I've seen 15-20 foot cornices on that ridge. 

Antelope Island.

Brett and first run ski tracks in upper Rice.

Owen and John. (B. Fuller photo)

Owen upper Rice Bowl (B. Fuller photo)

John skiing upper Rice Bowl. (B. Fuller photo)

Owen and John, skinning up for lap #2. Brett was sandbagging all day, but I was chasing him up the hill for another.  He stopping briefly for this photo. (B. Fuller photo)

John topping out on the Rice Bowl. (B. Fuller photo)

Brett's skis ready for #2, upper Rice Bowl. (B. Fuller photo)

Brett, upper Rice. (J. Mills photo)

Brett, upper Rice. (J. Mills photo)

Owen, upper Rice. John should be a ski photographer, makes even a hack like me look good. (J. Mills photo)

(J. Mills photo)

Brett, run #2 in upper Rice Bowl. (J. Mills Photo)

Brett, run #2 in upper Rice Bowl. (J. Mills Photo)

Owen, run #2 in upper Rice Bowl. (J. Mills  photo)
John, upper Rice. (b. Fuller photo)

John. (B. Fuller photo)

John, upper Rice. (B. Fuller photo)

John and Brett.

First run tracks, upper Rice Bowl.

View NW from upper Rice. HAFB runways at mid-right.

Bountiful Peak. 

Brett and John.

Ski tracks from the beaver ponds, almost down to the bikes.

Tracks from the bike cache. 

Farmington Canyon Bike and Ski, Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Brett, John and I ride our mountain bikes up Farmington Canyon to go ski some corn. The road is closed to winter traffic but I heard that it had been plowed for cabin owners, making it passable on bikes (gate still locked to the public). We strap skis to bikes, or a pack in John’s case, and start riding before it’s light. The ride consists of about 7 miles and 2,500 feet vertical gain on a gravel road just to get into position to skin another 2,000 vertical to ski the Rice Bowl. The first two or three miles are steep, too steep to be riding a bike with ski gear.

A mile up we are all gassed. Brett is a strong skier and is always the last to say ‘enough’ after a long day on the skin track. He skied yesterday (3-29-13) in Cutler Basin so he’s not well rested, like me. John is just plain strong. In early January I followed him while he broke trail up a steep mountainside, through 20 inches of bottomless powder. I couldn't keep up.  Today, if I had any advantage, it was my super-low gearing. I had at least three extra teeth on my lowest gear. They are grinding like Jan Ullrich, whereas I'm spinning like Lance while climbing Alpe d'Huez.

At the first switchback, where the pavement ends, Brett intimated that this was a bad idea. I’ve never heard him ever suggest defeat. I’m always the one to bail with tail between my legs. I figured he was just toying with me as I was staggering drunk on way too few “O’s”. I told him this was NO race, that we’d go slow and see how it goes. I learned in my youth to never compete with your peers. All it does is suck the fun out of anything.          

In 1972 I was 10 years old. It was the year I started skiing and it was the year I came to realize I was quite average. I was undersized and scrawny as a fourth grader, and, compared to my class-mates, I was physically pathetic. I was picked last for every team - including the girls – and I realized there will always be someone bigger, stronger, faster and better.  No matter how good one gets, there is always someone better.

In 1972 Pat Nixon, the wife of Richard Nixon, our 37th President and our first and only President to quit for larceny, was pushing the new Presidential Physical Fitness Award. The “Prezy” was an award given to grade-schooler's for achieving 90th percentile for such events as the ½ mile run, the softball throw, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. I was a pathetic troll in every event except for pull-ups, in which I ruled the world at Valley View Elementary. For some reason I could do pull-ups.

If a small, wiry body had any advantage it was only in lifting one’s body. No one could touch me. Remember those peg-boards where one would climb a vertically mounted board, drilled with holes, using two inch-diameter dowels clenched in each fist? Yes, that same peg board that is now banned by Mothers Against Stupid Sports (MASS), PETA and probably the Eagle Forum (for encouraging provocative, suggestive actions by school children). Yes, I could ascend and descend that thing with ease, doing laps for as long as I wanted, only stopping when the teacher needed a smoke. In everything else I was obliterated by the class jocks, who incidentally, by senior year would look like Gerard Butler, women swooning left and right, but by the 30th class reunion would be just shadows of their former selves, transformed into flabby, busted-down old men, hair long gone and toes just a myth, hidden by their ample bellies, unless sitting in a bathtub. To be fair I should also admit that as a fourth grader dreaming of athletic gold, I was also obliterated by the tall, leggy, puberty-superior girls of the class. Now those were real women, who, by our 30th reunion, were still lean, fit and beautiful. What happened to the men? Sadly, I even lost to most of those stout, gamey girls, the masculine type who would go on to high school and fail home-economics yet excel in wood shop and auto-shop. I’m not judging, just observing. Have you ever lost an arm wrestle to the class tom-boy? It is NOT a good feeling.

My best friend had the highest combined score for the “Prezy” for the entire fourth grade. He was a natural athlete whereas I was not. I was lazy and gave up too easily. I didn’t like to walk, let alone run.  Weird considering that running, hiking and BC skiing now bring much joy and satisfaction. I can only surmise that, with 40 years of hind-site, I was just saving myself for adult-hood. 

That same year I watched the Sapporo Winter Olympics on our round-screen, Motorola, B&W television, and I was captivated with the skiing. Bernard Russi won the Olympic Downhill and I was smitten. Who needed to throw a softball when there was skiing?

By high school I was a decent, but not great, skier. I raced independently (no club or coach) and did okay. When I was a junior, I raced in the preliminary rounds of the Utah High School Ski Championships and finished 9th in my heat. Good enough to qualify for the finals the following week, wherein the top 20 from the preliminaries competed for the state championship. At the finals I saw four of my classmates from high school, who had also qualified. Our high school was loaded, with 5 of the top 20 hailing from BHS. I panicked; they were real athletes and had raced for Park City since before weaning from their mommas. I told myself I could never win, and I proved myself a prophet, finishing almost dead last, 19th out of 20 to be exact. My classmates dominated, all four finished in the top five, including first place by a large margin. Three of those four were my age and would be returning to race the following year.

As a senior I worked hard to improve my technique. I actually learned to turn like a racer (head out, hips in, hands forward, ankles rolled in and cutting),  instead of like a Gumby  (head back, hands further back and wide, knees even wider, eyes wide and shocky).  On the day of the race (the Knudson Cup) I was ready, and I drew a great start position, something like 20th out of 80 or 90 racers. My school chums were there with all their pomp and circumstance: skin-suits, Rossi-S7’s and parents clanging cow-bells. They had it all. I had no entourage, I was there alone just to race. Based on last year’s results my school team was totally stacked. Personally I was never close to my teammates, they were from the rich side of the hill and ran with different friends, but we were cordial to one another. During warm-ups we skied some laps and I kept over-hearing them talk about some sophomore girl from our school who was good. Not just good but really, REALLY good. I blew it off as just talk. She was just a girl, and a sophomore girl at that. No threat.    

Have you ever wanted something so bad you could taste it? Well, in this case that taste was pure bile, or at least it should have been. My run was a disaster. The course ran from the top of the Millicent Chair (Brighton Ski Area) to the base, covering the steepest roll-overs and blind corners that Brighton can throw at a skier. Within the first 100 feet of the start gate, upon setting a hard edge, my right ski pre-released and my day was over before it had begun. I was in shock, "this can't be happening", but with nothing to lose I quickly retrieved the ski and clip back in, then started down the course. I'm not sure why I continued, I was out of contention, but I just wanted to finish. I was reeling with disappointment and anger. If there is a God he certainly worked a mystery that day. About half way down the course, now skiing with zero passion, a spectator unexpectedly skied onto the course right in front of me. I had to hockey-stop to avoid a collision. Now the situation was just stupid, but I continued down the course anyway, totally pissed knowing my time would be dead last. My name would show just above the real Gumbies who yarded and quit, taking an embarrassing DNF. At least I didn't quit.

I crossed the finish line and hucked my goggles at the nearest cow-bell-clanging-parent and started cursing like a sailor without a mother. Whom, by the way, was not there, so my words were a total freebie. As I was screaming the worst words known to man or beast, the race director came running over, radio in hand, and through my ranting tells me I've been awarded me a “re-do” because of the interference by the spectator. I stop swearing. I might have even smiled. I politely asked that cow-bell-clanging parent for my goggles back.

I got back on that ancient, slow lift and by the time I arrive at the start gate all racers were done, I was the only one left. The race crew is staring, looking at me then to their watches then back to me, wanting to call it a day. I was racing dead last after 80 or 90 racers. The course is now rut heaven, the worst conditions of the day. Before sliding into the start gate I took off both skis and cranked the DIN setting up to elephant weight, all the while the start crew looking annoyed for the delay. My skis would not be coming off this time. Now into the gate and the start judge impatiently counts down: “Racer ready! 3-2-1-GO’! I was on course and raced for my life. The ruts were hip-deep but my skis held and no spectators crossed my line. I finished without a hitch, if starting dead-last is not a hitch.

I did not win but I finished strong. The time-keeper tallied the times for the team competition and we finished first. Individually our team dominated the top ten, our boys finishing second, third, sixth (me) and seventh. Our girls finished first and tenth. Good enough for the state championship.

Oh, that sophomore girl on our team who was no threat my manhood? She finished in first place, first overall including boys, the girls, and an errant spectator or two. She won with a margin of over two seconds, a huge margin by skiing standards. She beat me by three. I was stunned to be beaten so badly by a girl two years younger. The fourth grade "Prezy" had taught me nothing. I was still young, stupid and a chauvinist.

The next year, my freshman year in college, she was racing for the US Ski Team on the world cup circuit. She had a long career and went on to race in three Olympics. Like I said, there is always someone bigger, stronger and faster. Much faster.

Back to Saturday, Brett, John and I ride up Farmington Canyon, being passed at mile seven by a friendly jogger, and after much effort finally reach the base of the Rice Bowl. While we transition to skis a cabin owner drives up and stops and we talk. He says he’d gladly give us a ride up next time. We should have pulled the Alta-skin-track shuffle (waiting for another group to break trail - only fools break trail out of Alta), in this case, wait for a ride rather than bike.

We cross the stream on a snow-bridge and skin up the ridge dividing Rice and Mud creek drainages and the snow is mostly hard and frozen.  As we climb, the sun is strengthening and it softens the snow the higher we climb. At the top, 2,000 feet higher than our abandoned bikes, 4,500 feet higher than our trucks, Brett says he’s going to ski one run then work on his tan while John and I ski laps, but this time he’s smiling that familiar, bull-shit smile I've seen so often. We ski great corn down about a thousand feet and Brett says he’s going home, but all the while re-skinning. Yeah, I’ve heard his talk before, he never goes anywhere for just one run. John is game for anything and seems totally fresh. Oh to be young again.

Brett is a hundred yards up the hill before I realize we’re actually going to ski another lap. I quickly re-skin and start up. This is no race; we’re there only for a good time. There's always someone bigger, stronger, faster. . .                     

The only casualty all day was Brett's flat front tire with about 2 miles to go. He rode down on a flat after the CO2 refill attempt (operator error on my part) blew out the seat.


  1. Owen,
    Another great blog post! You're quite the writer...funny stuff! And the pictures are awesome...the shot with the sun coming through the aspens belongs in a gallery. Thanks again for letting me tag along with you and Brett. It was a good time indeed!

  2. That first bit of read was nuts, I thought I was done. Really, I thought that if the pavement was this hard, then the loose gravel would be even harder. It was not going to be a good day. Then the dirt road was 0K, not too steep and even nice in some spots. The skin up hill was more of the same, Owen and John out leading the way with a typical Wasatch skin track. I put in a more geriatric skin track and figured I could get up to the top and then work on my tan while the kids did another lap. I also took some vitamin I. Better living through chemistry... At the end of the first lap I was feeling rather excellent. Could we do a third lap??? Actually it was probably a good thing I only did two laps... The bike is old, the front tire was shot, sorry you wasted a CO2 unit. I got down fine, what an excellent day.

    Good to ski/meet you John - get some new boots!

    Great story Owen, the things I learn about you after all these years... And I remember Sapporo, Barbra Cochran won the slalom race skiing on Rossignol Strato 102s?

  3. PS. The snow was a little tricky in spots, but the top section in the Rice Bowl was most excellent. Fine weather, great skiing. Thanks for sorting through the pics and putting this together.

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