Good Clean Fun

Sundance Ski Area

Lunch Somebody was calling it 'Ocean View.'

I popped open a Mr. Pibb and tore into a sports bar. Bill stuffed a gob of philly sandwich into his mouth, let some drip onto the napkin tucked into his shirt, then sat back and took in the view. It did indeed seem as though the world below us was a wavy ocean. Massive white waves rose silently, arched, and settled back down as another rose next to it. The waves lapped up along the mountainsides in spray, like spray laps up against Big Sur on angry days.

I set my Mr. Pibb down in the snow. Bill scarfed down some more sandwich. The ocean swayed and mellowed as the sun shone. Silently we threw our trash away and stepped back over to our gear. I put my skis on and Bill snapped his board on. We stood for a few more minutes, looking down.

The ocean was in fact water, though you couldn't really drink it. It was pea soup fog hugging the valley bottoms. Down in Utah Valley, 4,000 feet below us, you had to drive with your headlights on and there was not a hint of the sun shining above. Up here, at Sundance, there was not a cloud around, and the sun's glare off the south slope of Timpanogos hurt your eyes and burned your nose. Bill and I headed back to Bishop's Bowl, enjoying another spectacular mid-winter afternoon.

Good Clean Fun

Timpanogos Centuries ago, the Ute Indians who lived around Utah Lake retreated to Provo Canyon to escape the summer heat and enjoy the abundant game. The mountain towering above them was called Timpanogos and some believed it had a heart. Timp, as it is sometimes called, reaches to 11,750 feet and is the second highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains. Its summit is a strenuous day's hike and its upper cirque shelters a small glacier.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Stewarts, a Scottish immigrant family, had settled Provo Canyon. That first generation surveyed and ran sheep; the next generation opened Timphaven, a local ski hill that boasted a chairlift powered by a truck engine, a rope tow, and a burger joined named Ki-Te-Kai-Maori, or 'Come and get it.' Timphaven remained small but loved; in 1969, Robert Redford bought the hill and the surrounding mountainsides and named it all Sundance - a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. While never a huge resort, Sundance became known for its pristine mountain setting and low-impact environmentally friendly ethics. These days, Sundance is as well known for its skiing as it is for its Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival, an amazing but painfully difficult to get tickets to ten-day independent film festival which starts this Friday.

But like many resorts in Utah, what Sundance lacks in size it makes up for in sincerity. It's a stunning place, but it is also disarmingly unpretentious, I think. What's more, considering it is owned by a movie star and is just miles from nuts-about-families Provo, it sure does have a lot of steep skiing.

Two Worlds

Don't Look Down! Sundance's base area is too cute for words. All you see when you arrive is a small parking lot, big piles of snow and a great big-beam dark wood lodge. Most of the parking, it turns out, is hidden up a narrow road and around a hill. A shuttle takes you back to the lodge, which is just feet from the ticket window which is just a few more feet from the chairlift. That's especially good for a guy like Bill who lives down in low-altitude Georgia and who has skied four days in a row (and was up until 2 or 3 this morning partying at the Zephyr Club in Salt Lake City.) Just one lift leads from the bottom of the mountain, a four-seater called Ray's. It meanders through open slopes and dark woods; most people disembark at the midway station. We went to the top and warmed up for a few runs on wide open slopes like Center Aisle and Maverick. Then we went back to the top of Ray's and skied down to Arrowhead.

Sundance is set up kind of screwy, sort of like Deer Valley. Though the vertical is 2,150 feet, you can't really ski from the top to the bottom. (Technically, you can, but it's not very fun.) Ray's ends at a mid-mountain summit - down one way is the main base, while down the other way is the bottom of two more lifts that chug up to the real summit. These two lifts, Flathead and Arrowhead, access a handful of wonderful intermediate cruisers and a dozen or so trails that are so steep it can be hard to hold an edge on them. More than once I felt myself starting to fall, and was afraid that not simply would I fall but also that I would literally be flung off the mountain into deep space. Runs like Redfinger and Grizzly Ridge hold tight to a ridge sticking in to the sky and all eternity seems to drop off on either side.

The view from Bearclaw's Cabin, where Bill and I had a quick lunch while gazing out at the ocean, is much the same, except the cabin itself is on a level spot. But one definitely has the feeling that on a bad day a single wrong step and you could find yourself along the highway a few thousand feet below, not sure what hit you. Luckily, there is an easy way down from the top.

All day long Bill and I rode to the top of Arrowhead and, while I tightened my bindings and he buckled into his snowboard, we gazed down at the ocean. It stretched out as far as I could see, way beyond Mt. Nebo and the Canyon Range, some 80 miles distant. At times, especially later in the afternoon, it seemed to swell in the late day sun, then pucker down as the sun lowered and the day cooled. And cool it did. The upper slopes hardened up and Bill and I moved down to the lower mountain, which was a very different world. Here, after gripping for our lives on runs like Shauna's, we mixed with first-time boarders and teens and throngs of elementary-aged kids who had all the lingo to be cool but none of the moves. Eventually, cold and hungry and tired, we skied down the car and left Sundance. Not long after, the sun was swept from Timpanogos, and another long winter night began.

Sundance Particulars

Sundance's Second Side One four-seater chair, two three-seaters, and one rope tow
Base elevation: 6,100 feet
41 runs
450 acres
Lift tickets: $27 on weekdays, $32 on weekends and holidays, $16 for kids and $10 for seniors
First timers: have lots of options for ski schooling, day care and workshops
In the summer: Ray's lift gives access to mountain biking
The resort is: a few minutes from Provo off U.S. 189; in Provo, take I-15's exit 275 or University Ave.
For more information see: Sundance Ski and Summer Resort

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