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Unluck of the Dutch's Draw

"I'll probably go home after skiing, keep my ski gear on, open a beer, crash on the couch. You know, the usual."

-Ryan Cutter, Feb. 23, 2012

A dark gray cloud forms over the Park City ridgeline, bringing intermittent sun and snow showers.  The snowpack is a creamy 6 inches of peace and soulful skiing. Hardly a soul out today, allowing our signatures to remain encrypted in the blizzard of ahhhh's for eternity, which means a few hours today. Wasatch winds try to erase our hard work where we would earn our turns and look back, knowing a job well done.

 

Lap after lap, we would pass on certain slopes, knowing what might be, and move onto lower angle creamy greatness. Our skis would slice and dice into the silky smooth butter topped with tiny white ball bearings, sometimes a translucent rime crust formed from a few days ago. Laughter was shared; fists would punch fists and then explode in a showcase of skiing fireworks. As usual, the show would end and we would be on our way home but not before one last lap.

Up and up the boot pack we pushed, our 6th of the day knowing the fatigue in our legs would not stop us from another set of signatures, another line in the snows of time. Click click go our boots into our bindings and down we go through White Pine and aspen groves, chasing each other's rooster tails of snow.  We'd change over to skins and begin our trek up the graupel filled skin track, into the rays of the orange globe draped in white and gray cloaks.

"If you don't like the weather, just ski another run."

So we did, and this time it was pure satisfaction, better than any one night stand on ecstasy with a Latin lover. Finishing what would be the grand finale to an amazing day, I look up slope to see my partner high on the ridgeline waiting. Waiting, as 3 hacks would ride down an avy prone slope that nobody else in their right mind would touch and they rode it three wide.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I slide my skis closer to the edge of the avalanche run out zone just in case. Two members stop mid-slope, bad protocol as they are exposing more than one person at a time and placing themselves in the line of fire with no way out.

"Get off the slope!" I yell but they don't hear my cry of concern as they are cheering that they've had "the greatest run of their lives!" So I yell once more and once again and then again. My partner up on the ridge yells too, knowing he can't drop in until they are out of harms way but, we are having no luck. The third member of the party flips and spins and tumbles and star fishes and takes digger after digger. I can't tell if it's a snowboarder or a skier they are that bad. I yell once more,

"GET OFF THE SLOPE!!!!"

Finally, the two lower on the slope turn their heads, hear my call of the wild and come skiing down right past me, no fist to fist but there is an explosion,

and its me,

"Hey guys. What the hell are you doing?! You skied on top of me. Skied 3 at a time, stopped mid slope and you don't have any gear. How do you expect to save yourself if you get caught in a slide? This is one of the most avy prone slopes in the Wasatch. What happens if you break something? Ski Patrol doesn’t bomb this area nor will they come rescue you until they know the slope is safe and then, you're gonna pay the rescue fee. Do you guys even have beacons?"

I just ruined there epic run, the run of their life and destroyed the jubilation faster than when the world heard about 9-11. They don't shake their heads yes or no, they just stand there knowing they are in the wrong. I look back up the slope and see my partner heading further south on the ridge to get onto a line that won't impact the Hack making a disaster of the slope they shouldn't be on by putting more head imprints than ski or board prints. Ryan comes ripping down, ready to rip a new asshole into these guys that skied right on top of me, never mind putting some ugly signatures into the snowy slope but I'm already on it, using a calm, penetrating voice that I heard when I did the exact same thing to my mentor about a decade ago.

"You guys are putting our lives at risk. You're putting your lives at risk. What would happen if one of you gets caught in a slide? I'm not gonna put my life in danger to help you or dig anyone out. He's not," pointing at my partner.

"What would you do? Did you guys even look at the avy forecast today? High, considerable. This is one of the most active slopes in the Wasatch and one of the most deadly. Do you realize you're not just putting yourself out there, you're putting all of us skiers, ski patrol, search and rescue, in danger."

Nothing but a blank stare resonates from behind the orange, white and green Oakley goggles and black turtle fur neck gaiter.

"Do you guys realize your putting my life in danger. You're putting your life in danger," I said as I skied off staring with a cold, piercing stare, shaking my head tisk tisk.

The sun lights up the 'meadow skipping' ahead of us, illuminating each and every individual snow crystal.  Douglas fir stands in the snows of time, plastered with last night's creamy goodness. Silence consumes my ear drums and all I hear is the sound of nothing, thinking nothing and enjoying the love of my life and how peaceful and soulful skiing is. I grow calm within, feeling completely at peace with my reaction to the irresponsible skiers I just 'educated.'

I look up to see the sun disappear behind a dark gray cloud, darker than the rest. Thinking and hoping the sun will shine through one more time, for one last run, one last signature in the 'Greatest snow on Earth' but today,

today it did not. And today wasn't the usual.

Ride In Peace, whoever you were.

***A few minutes later, 24 year-old Timothy Robert Baker of Salt Lake City, Utah was caught in an avalanche he let loose in Dutch Draw, an out of bounds backcountry bowl near the Canyons Ski Resort and perished underneath 3.5 feet of snow. He, nor any member in his party, were wearing any avalanche gear, beacons, shovels or probes. Witnesses to the accident responded searching for Timothy using their ski poles as probes for they, like the victim, did not have any of the necessary avalanche gear.

The Utah Avalanche Center (www.utahavalanchecenter.org) reported for February 23, 2012 the avalanche danger was CONSIDERABLE to HIGH.  

About the Author

Alex Stoy is an adventure sports junkie who has been exploring the world for over 25 years. Stoy lives in Park City, UT and is always on the lookout for 'idiotic adventures' including running, yoga, ski mountaineering, canyoneering, mountain biking in random and off the beaten path locations like Argentina, Colombia, the desert southwest and Rocky Mountains of North America as well as interior Canada and Hawai'i.

Stoy's writings capture his life experiences through his own eyes and travels. His goal is to bring people the most intimate view of what it really is like travelling and adventuring in his shoes which are sometimes buried in a foot of Death Valley sand or fresh Wasatch Powder.

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