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Utah–Day 1: "Deer Valley"
After picking up the rental skis at Salt Lake City's local REI we head east through the mountains in our trusty Chevy Cobalt rental. In truth I wouldn't trust this car much farther than I could throw it, if it weren't for the fact that, judging from the thin feel of it's door slam, that throw may actually be quite a distance. I've never heard of the Chevy Cobalt outside of rental car agencies. I don't know anyone who owns a Chevy Cobalt. I've never noticed one on the road. Never seen an ad for one. This car doesn't exist in the real world. It doesn't inhabit the world you and I do. Maybe it can't survive outside of the rental universe with its redundant insurance coverage and weekly trunk vacuumings. It turns out our Cobalt has over thirty thousand miles on it, too. Positively geriatric for a rental. No. I don't trust this car. Not in the Rocky Mountains.. in winter. But it's all we have for the next few days so we hope for the best and go east on I80 through the mountains toward Park City.
We're looking for Deer Valley Resort which offers free lift tickets to those newly-arrived Utah tourists still in possession of their airline boarding stubs. After one false stop at a ski lodge-looking real estate office with a similar name – where we clearly interrupted the receptionist IM-ing her boyfriend (nobody's that
happy at work) – we're finally there. Deer Valley's claim to fame is not great snow or lots of it, or high mountains with long runs, or fast lifts. Deer Valley's defining characteristic is service. This is evident from the moment we pull up to the unloading area where dozens of green jacketed attendants eagerly wave cars forward to the open curb spots they're holding. They're happy to give you a hand with stuff, too, though they look more like middle-aged ski instructors staying productive between group lessons than high school valets.
After unloading, stacking our skis in racks at the curb, my girlfriend, L., goes to get the lift tickets while I go park the car. The entrances to the closest lots are blocked with “Lot Full” signs but I squeeze around one and easily find a space freshly vacated by some weary skier calling it a day. Flush with disproportionate pride over my small parking victory I turn off the car and take a moment to think clearly. My mind is active now, both from trying to anticipate what items we might need or want on the slopes and wondering if I'll catch on again after not having skied for close to twenty years. I want this trip to start well and forgetting your girlfriend's gloves or lip balm is in no way balanced by snagging a great parking spot. So I take a moment to think.
Should I bring a bite to eat? A couple granola bars? Gum? Extra socks from the suitcases? Camera? Damn, that's right. I forgot the camera back in Iowa. Don't try anything stupid up there. Nice and slow. I'm not worried or scared but just don't try anything stupid. Nothing fast and steep. Remember how you felt on little Rib Mountain when you were learning? Looking over the edge from that top run? You wanted to puke. You wanted to get back on the lift down. And Wisconsin doesn't even have mountains. This is a mountain. Nothing fast or stupid. I don't think I have any gum. One pair of wool socks each should be enough. No granola bars. Won't need anything to eat for just a couple of hours of skiing. Nothing fast. Okay, enough thinking. Nothing steep. Enough. Nothing stupid.
I spring into action by popping the trunk. I empty the contents of my backpack, except our ski helmets, into L.'s purse and start filling it back up with essentials. Gloves, hats, socks, wallet, sunscreen. Then with a slam I'm headed back to the lodge, thumbing the key fob until I hear the car's corroborating horn chirp.
I happen to enter the lodge from the parking lot through a second, underground loading area and must find my way back upstairs, walking past a locker room, a ski rental office and a packed in-house restaurant. I'm still in street shoes and it feels very strange to be surrounded by unsteady lurching throngs walking tall and wobbly like Frankenstein's monster in heels. I'd forgotten how people have to move in downhill ski boots. For a moment I'm a little lost, coming in another entrance as I did, but after a few retraced steps I spot L. outside by the lift ticket window. I choose an oblique angle of approach to surprise her but she's scanning the crowd and her eyes catch me quickly. I'm greeted with a tired, disappointed look that averts downward after meeting my flashed smile. Immediately and instinctively I wonder what I've done wrong.
With a slight tilt of her head and a simultaneous blink L. looks me in the face again and says plainly, “Our boarding passes aren't eligible.”
“What?! Whadda you mean?”
“She won't take them. They're not eligible.”
“Jesus. So what do you wanna do? Should we pay, then?”
“Seventy dollars? I'm not paying seventy dollars to ski for a couple of hours.”
Then, “Just kidding,” she smiles.
“I got the lift tickets and...”
“Christ. Boy, you got me.”
“I got you?”
“You're good. Have you ever tried out for community theater?”
“I got you, huh?”
“Very underacted. That was the key. You're good.”
And we're off, me, elevated with the relief that comes from the sudden evaporation of a problem, even a fake problem, and L. with a self-satisfied little pucker of a smile and a tiny new spring in her step.
“So I got the free lift tickets,” L. relays to me as we walk back toward the curbside ski racks. “That's an amazing deal, you know. And the woman pointed me to an area over there that's used for teaching beginners. And the lift back over on that side should take us to some easy green runs you can try later. Oh, and she showed me the rack where we can move our skis while we change... ”
“Hey, I found the changing rooms,” I interject trying to inflate my contributions to our adventure.
“Yeah. They're downstairs. I know.”
“Uh, parked real close, too.”
“Cool! I'll take the boots, you grab the skis.”
I move our skis, sandwiched in pairs, bottom-to-bottom, to a rack behind the lodge, nearer to the lifts, and hang the poles from their hand-straps in the “v” created by the diverging ski tips. “Hey, I'm starving,” L. says as we head downstairs into the lodge to change from our street clothes into just another couple of anonymous staggering snowsuits. “Shall we have a granola bar before we head out?”