Archive for the ‘ski’ Tag

Architecture of Snowbird, Utah

I’ve been to Snowbird a handful of times, and aside from the amazing terrain, powder snow, and views, I was very interested in the buildings scattered around the base and the mountain. These are period pieces in classic Brutalist style, conceived in the mid-1960s and completed in the 1970s. Despite the seeming mismatch of lots and lots of concrete and wood, they strangely fit into the landscape, avoiding the often unexceptional, derivative nature of architecture at ski areas. Now architecture is normally not what one thinks of when going skiing, but I had to pause and explore some of these buildings in closer detail and loved what I saw.

I’ll also say a bit about the snow, my visit was timed with a moderate snowfall, with up to 6 inches accumulating overnight, and since some areas were closed until the avalanche danger eased, there were plenty of fresh tracks to be found. The crowds were minimal, despite being on a weekend, and there was no waiting in lines. The weather even cooperated on my second day there, as the sun came out. It’s a steep mountain, with lots of high speed lifts, and I probably got nearly 20000 meters of vertical over the course of two days. Fun! Incidentally, I purchased a Mountain Collective pass, which has been a good investment this year, especially now that the snow returned to the West.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The buildings are Brutalist, with no attempt at hiding the modernist roots and the architecture in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. They reminded me of Louis Kahn, with the blend of concrete and wood, but are mixed in with plenty of dark, reflective glass. The master plan was completed in 1966, and the buildings were completed between 1971 and 1973, designed by Enteleki, Architecture, Planning, Research, and Brixen and Christopher architects (closed 2016).

The best building is probably the mid-mountain lodge, designed to withstand the elements, but also graced with wood beams that blend with the trees, and plenty of windows that allow for views of the mountains. Designed by Enteleki and completed in 1971, it looks clearly 1970s in the color scheme, but has weathered the 45 years very well. The entrance is a bit awkward though, with a ground level entrance splitting the lower level in half, and stairs lead up to the lodge level.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

The base tram terminal shoots out of the ground like a church, but is a simply designed, logical structure that expresses exactly what it does. It’s unadorned form following function.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

So even the distinguished architectural photographer Julius Shulman dropped by and took photos, it was that good!

At the top is the Summit at Snowbird, which opened on 26 December 2015, and is the least distinguished structure, resembling a bunker. The views from the balconies and from behind the reflective glass are amazing, but it stands out like a sore thumb on the summit of Hidden Peak. The restaurant and seating is nice, though, serving healthy food with a touch of class and even linen tablecloths! It does provide a necessary stopping point at the junction of the upper tram terminal and the Mineral Basin lift. This “entry column” evokes the concrete architecture of the other buildings, but the materials don’t quite fit in.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

And the logos and fonts, they evoke the 1970s as well, large and clean, with the Snowbird “triangles” logo imprinted into many of the structures. This is a great 1970s period piece and remains fresh even today.

An excellent page with more info and photos can be found at the Salt Lake Modern website.

 

 

Advertisements

The Mountain Collective, Banff

I bought one of the Mountain Collective passes, which gives two days each at a variety of West Coast and Rocky Mountain resorts, plus a couple of days in South America, if you can make it there. For $369, it’s reasonably priced, you get an email with a barcode, and exchange it for the tickets at the season pass office. So the resorts are Alta / Snowbird, Alpine / Squaw, Mammoth, Whistler / Blackcomb, Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Sunshine Village / Lake Louise. Sun Valley joins the group in 2016. And if you’re staying longer than two days, extra days are 50 % off.

I managed (so far) to go snowboarding at three of the locations. It’s been a mixed bag conditions-wise, as the western US has generally had a dry winter. So given that, the California resorts were in awful condition, and the plane tickets to actually get to the resorts are not cheap. Still, I bought a plane ticket to Calgary and headed there in mid-February.

My travels started in Calgary, Canada, in unusually warm weather for February, where I caught an evening bus ride to Banff after clearing customs and grabbing my bags. I last visited many years ago, during a chilly, overcast August. It’s a roughly 90 minute ride on mostly freeway, through the national park gate, and then into the town of Banff. I stayed at the fancy-schmancy Banff Springs Hotel, a rather sprawling property that occupies a very prime location uphill, about a half mile from downtown. I could see why after waking up the next morning, it’s a million dollar view, and the facilities and amenities in the hotel are pretty good.

Mount Temple (11627', 3544 m) seen from Lake Louise

Mount Temple (11627′, 3544 m) seen from Lake Louise

The snowboarding was not that great, lots of rocks, rather thin cover for mid-winter, and warm temps. Lake Louise appeared to a magnet for park riders, with a section on the backside full of steep stuff, and more rocks. Of course the views were amazing, it’s kind of a magnified version of the Elks or San Juans, muscular, burly peaks. But it was a mix of ice and spring conditions, more towards the icy stuff at the end of the day.

Bow Range, Canadian Rockies

Bow Range, Canadian Rockies

Sunshine Village, which is much closer to Banff, lies on the Alberta / British Columbia border, and is accessed by this gondola that curls around a mountainside. It leads to this mini-mid-mountain village, with a hotel and a smattering of lodges and restaurants. One lift leads to the ridge that separates the provinces. Another lift crosses the border a couple of times, so that was definitely a novelty. As for conditions, it was a mix. I met a fellow local rider Geoff, who knew where to go, and the place was pretty fun, with lots of side hits and still a bit of powder hidden away. He kindly gave me a ride back to Calgary at the end of the day after some dinner.

Above Sunshine Village, in a wonderland of snowboard-eating rocks

Above Sunshine Village, in a wonderland of snowboard-eating rocks

Geoff, taking in the scenery

Geoff, taking in the scenery

A final word about crossing the ‘border’ at YYC, it’s atrocious, with the combined effect of a holiday and a Monday morning. It was easily 90 minutes of hauling bags and security and immigration lines. Surely this process can be better?

 

Taos, December 2008

First installment of a few writeups of more memorable trips I’ve taken recently, here goes. . .

This is the first full season Taos has been open to snowboarding. Being the stuff of skiing legend, for its isolation, snow quality, and difficulty, I decided to check it out, since it was a 90 minute drive from where I had been on business. Originally I had intended on flying up to Colorado or Wyoming for a few days, but work-related issues put an end to that, and also allowed me to avoid the bitterly cold temperatures. It was comparatively mild in Taos, and here are some of my observations from a couple days spent in the area.

So is snowboarding welcome? Well, from the people I spoke to on the lift, it was a necessary move, the story was that for the investors to pump in money to keep the place running, that the owners had to agree to allow snowboarding. It’s still a 70-80 % skier / rider ratio, so it will probably be some time (if ever) that snowboarding catches up to the ratio nationwide. At least for right now, it’s a rather awkward relationship. 

The terrain and snow? It’s everything that it’s stacked up to be, luckily the snow for December has been generous, so I got to sample some very nice, but still early season, powder. It’s indeed good, light and dry. This is the blower stuff, you puff on a pile of snow, and it just scatters. The terrain is the very steep stuff, the closest parallel I’ve experienced is Snowbird or Kirkwood. But the double diamonds are relatively short vertical drops, but on the challenging side. Half the mountain was still not open yet, and this included the ridgeline hike beyond the Juarez trail.

 

Feeling good at 12000 feet

Feeling good at 12000 feet

 

Ridgeline view

Ridgeline view

 

Wheeler Peak (13167', 4013 m), one long, difficult hike.

Wheeler Peak (13167', 4013 m), one long, difficult hike.

 

 

 

I briefly demoed the 2009 Custom X with the EST, C60 bindings, and tried out the Ozones (okay, a park boot, but I wanted to give them a test drive). The board is excellent and responsive, the boots were quite comfortable, despite being a bit icky from sitting outside all day in the cold. Putting on my own boots afterwards was even ickier. 

I spent one day mixing it up, snowboarding in the morning, skiing in the afternoon, and had the chance to speak with a couple of the instructors. One voiced her opinion, paraphrased- ” This is a skier’s mountain, lots of flat spots and narrow lanes that are difficult for a snowboard.” What’s a “skier’s mountain”? I found that to be far from the truth, Heavenly is considerably worse in terms of bad traverses, and it is not all that narrow in general. Plus the overall lack of crowds makes it ideal for snowboards and skis. No high-speed lifts, though, a bit like Kirkwood used to be. 

Had one bad set of attitude from the one of the rental staff, who was a bit of an ass about letting me stash my snowboard while I was out skiing. But generally they’ve been pretty mellow about snowboarding, if not completely welcoming. 

 

Looking towards Colorado

Looking towards Colorado

 

I was hoping for another day, but very high winds and lift closures ended that, despite a foot of snow overnight. So I played tourist instead and braved the terrible roads to explore for the day before returning to Santa Fe. Alas, next time. The price for lift tickets, incidentally, is $66 / day, which is good value, although no real discounts are offered. The resort’s rather isolated, being 150 miles from the nearest major airport and 4.5 hours from Denver. 

The town and atmosphere is special. I’ve been here several times before, and have always approached it from the Low Road, it’s an incomparable view once the road veers away from the Rio Grande and you have an airplane-like view of the town and the Wheeler Peak wilderness. Winter is also special, with that mix of fluffy snow and the pervasive smell of pinyon smoke. It’s one of the most spectacular natural settings, mixed in with the distinctive Southwest mix of cultures and people. Plenty of chile, good food, adobe buildings, nifty architecture, endless views, and a special quality to the light. 

 

Low road to Taos. . .

Low road to Taos. . .

San Francisco de Asis, Rancho de Taos

San Francisco de Asis, Rancho de Taos

 

 

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

 

The hotel / B+B I stayed at was excellent as well, so I’ll give a plug for the San Jeronimo Lodge, located about 2 miles east of the plaza off of U.S. 64. Hard to find, but good lodging, and the price was right. The green chile breakfast casserole was delicious, my only minor gripe was that breakfast started a bit late to make it up to the hill by opening time. 

I’ll hopefully be back.