Chapter 2 Always an Adventure

The next year, my third at the University, a Utah County Ski Patrol was organized. A group of us took the Standard and Advanced Red Cross courses and we received some support from the local Sheriffs' Department. There were 13 of us, 10 men and three women, and we generally did our Patrol work at Timp Haven. Junior Bounous was leader of the newly formed Patrol. Maxine Overlade, one of the women, later became Mrs. Bounous. Most of us had been skiing together for some time. Frank Hurst, Reed Biddulph and Grant Larsen were some of the patrolmen I often did cross country tours with.

That year the Provo Parks and Recreation Department also started conducting ski classes and I would go along as patrolman "in residence" so to speak. I was skiing six afternoons a week that Winter Quarter as patrolman both for the Parks Department and the BYU classes. Somehow I still managed to carry sixteen units of class work and was Sports Editor for the College newspaper. That year I was chairman of the first ever Winter Sports Carnival held at the College.

Also the University allowed a campus Ski Club for the first time. It was called the Penquin Ski Club and a close friend and good skier, Jim Wegner, was president.

Another good friend from school was Cal McAffee. Cal was not a great skier but he had lots of elan and desire. He had an old Chevy and we were constantly getting stuck on some snowy byway, "looking for a good slope".

One memorable occasion comes to mind. It was mid winter and unusually cold for Utah with temperatures below zero each night. Three of us in Cal's Chevy headed up American Fork Canyon on a midweek afternoon. In those years during the winter the Canyon was all but deserted to traffic. The road had not been truly plowed. There was a working mine and one of their trucks had made a track no wider than its wheels. The problem was that with Cal's Chevy once in the track there was no way to get out without getting stuck. So we had to go all the way to the Mine to turn around. By now it was getting late and we decided to forego skiing and concentrate on getting out. Half way down the canyon we ran out of gas. A nice predicament on a lonely road with night almost upon us and the temperature hovering around zero.

However we did have our skis which we put on for a long langlauf down the snow covered road. We had a long way to go. First settlement was the Park Ranger's residence located at Timp Cave National Monument. This was about five miles from where we left the car. Fortunately it was mostly downhill. We ran out of snow about the time we reached the Ranger's House. No one was home which meant no access to a telephone. So we just left our skis and poles leaning against a nearby tree. This meant we had a further 10 mile hike to the nearest town which was Pleasant Grove. From the time we left the car till we reached Pleasant Grove we did not see a single car or person. In Pleasant Grove we called on some friends in our Dorm to come and fetch us. In those times you could walk in leather ski boots. I certainly wouldn't want to do it in the plastic boots used today.

Everything was an adventure in those years. Once Earl Miller wanted to reconnoiter a possible ski area behind the front range bordering Provo. There were six of us on this outing which meant climbing Ironton Mountain from the Utah Valley floor. Jim Wegner and Cal MacAffee were on this trip as was Irma Sturman. It was late in the season and the west side of the mountain was bare of snow. So we shouldered our skis and made the long climb on foot, once again hiking in ski boots. On top of Ironton Mountain we had a wonderful view of Utah Valley on one side and on the other a hanging valley below the slopes of 11,500 foot Provo Peak.

Earl was right, it would be a wonderful area for skiing. The back side of Ironton Mountain had ample snow pack and a powder surface making for whoops of joy on the first runs. After this initial ski run our route wound down a long canyon back to Utah Valley. Here one of our group had a mishap. In a fall he broke a ski. And lacked the skill and leg strength to make the canyon run on one ski. Here Earl Miller took over, giving him one of his skis. With bear trap cable binding adjustments were simple. Earl took upon himself to make the canyon run on one ski and kept up with the rest of us as well. It was a great performance of skiing prowess. Much later Earl tried to interest investors in the proposed area but nothing came of it.

When it came to skiing Earl was a fountain of ideas. That summer Earl and a few of us approached the Provo Chamber of Commerce about sponsored a July 24 ski race on the perpetual snow field that lies on the northeast side of 12,000 foot Mount Timpanogos. Eventually we also got the Deseret News, one of Salt Lake City's daily newspapers, to cosponsor the event. July 24 is a State Holiday in Utah and we were quite sure that the race would be the last ski event of the year in the whole country. Frank Hirst, another good Utah County skier and I were co-chairmen for the race

Planned as a giant slalom it attracted many of Utah's best skiers. We asked the Engen brothers, Alf and Severre, to set the course. All this involved much hiking. Locally it was always called the Timp Glacier and getting there involved a stiff hike from Aspen Grove of about five miles and 5,000 feet elevation climb. We did have a couple of horses to carry up the slalom poles used for gates. In those years we generally used poplar saplings for the poles tying blue and red crepe to the tops for visibility. The racers walked and most carried their skis rather than entrusting them to pack horses.

In all this planning Earl and I climbed the mountain at least four times before the event. The day of the race the weather refused to cooperate and we had a cloud sitting on the mountain all day. And it was cold too. As a gate keeper I borrowed one of the horses' saddle blankets to keep warm. But the race took place as planned even though visibility was measured in feet rather than yards. Winners were Hugh Cummings for the men and Suzy Harris for the women.

The magnificent scenery on the north side of Mount Timpanogas has now become familiar to millions of people thanks to two movies made by Actor-Producer Robert Redford. For much of the filming took place with the area as location.

The climb from Aspen Grove to the Timp Glacier made a wonderful late Spring Alpine cross country trip. This after the mighty winter avalanches have run their course and the snow has turned to forgiving corn. With the summer hiking trail still snow covered we would take a straight line up the slope avoiding the rock outcropping and sheer ledges. It was too steep to use skins so we would just shoulder our skis. On one of these trips I took an unwanted descent of a few hundred feet. I had planted my skis in the snow and was attempting to get a drink of melting snow water running over a rock ledge. I slipped on an icy spot and was instantly tumbling down the steep face at a dizzying pace. At one point I managed to land on my feet and used my skiing technique to christie to a stop.

My first ski trip to the Timp Cirque was one more learning experience. For skis with wooden bottoms waxing was most important. And in that era all skis were made of wood. Klister was a favorite for waxing, used lightly and polished for cold snow and smeared most liberally for wet spring snow. Paraffin was popular and it worked well on a wet spring surface if the snow was clean. If however the snow was dirty as it often is in late Spring the paraffin would pick up the dirt making an almost immovable ski surface. This happened to me on that first trip on Timp. A serious effort was made to scrape as much paraffin off the skis as possible while my companions watched in amusement. This helped but it still greatly diminished the thrill of the downhill run earned with so much physical effort. I never made that mistake again.

A second trip to the Glacier that Spring worked out much better but demonstrated just how Gung Ho we were. We were only about a quarter way up the Timp Cirque when we noticed that the corn snow had achieved exactly the right consistency for great skiing. So we skied it to the bottom and started the climb a second time. By the end of the day even we thought this had been a little much. I remember that Cal McAffee, Jim Wegner and Glenn King were all on this trip.

I had many learning experiences in those early years. I read somewhere that cross country skiers often did not use skins or climbers but depended on waxing techniques that would grip the snow on the uphill while still maintaining excellent glide on a downslope. One day a group of us decided on a cross country trip up Rock Canyon conveniently located above the University. I waxed my skis as directed and left my canvas climbers home. In the dry Utah powder we encountered that day the wax would not hold so I was reduced to herringbone and side stepping when the others had a straight line up the slope. It was a tiring effort but I refused to quit and made the complete trip with the rest of the group. But that was another waxing experiment I never repeated.

A few of these cross country trips were made in bottomless powder and even with our long skis put the snow well above our knees. This is extremely tiring so we would trade off as leader plowing through for a few hundred yards, then stepping aside for the next in line to take over. And then taking it easy as last in line with the snow now compacted.

Most of the people I skied with on these trips were from Utah and very knowledgeable on avalanche danger. If the danger was extreme, and it sometimes was, we would postpone the trip. This type of caution paid off. In all our trips we never set off a snowslide. In late Spring it was different and we would seek out old avalanche paths which retained snow when it had melted everywhere else. Rocks, tree limbs and other debris in these chutes were just part of the challenge.

In those years when you were in the back country you were completely on your own. Snowmobiles and helicopters were still in the future. In those years the snow covered Wasatch range was completely isolated once you left the road. You were in a pristine winter wilderness. Knowing this we were always careful; mindful that getting an injured companion out would be a difficult task. We always drilled holes in the tips of our skis so two could be made into a crude toboggan. But in the deep powder that we often encountered it would have taken a great amount of physical effort by everyone to get an injured skier to safety. Fortunately on these trips we skied to our limits and never had a serious accident.

One cross country trip I wrote about was printed in "Wye" Magazine which was published by the University each Quarter. I include it here in its entirety mostly to illustrate how much skiing meant to me in those first impressible years. The year is 1949.

"It is an early Saturday morning in March, and we are going on a cross country ski hike. Spring hovers close by, but winter is still to be reckoned with. I can feel the warmth of the sun's rays through my ski clothing, but fingers soon become numb when exposed to the sharp coolness of the morning air.

The snow is fast disappearing from the walls of the canyon. But on the floor away from the rays of the spring sun the snow lingers. No need for a compass here, the south and west slopes are bare of snow, and the first leaves are visible on the scrub oak. The east slope has that ugly look that comes from fallen leaves and dirty melting snow. Only the north slope retains its all covering layer of white.

We take the skis from the car and busy ourselves with the dozen chores that skiers love--tightening boots, adjusting bindings, discussing and applying waxes to the skis. The warm sunshine encourages us to leave our heavier jackets in the car. We are about ready to go. We help each other with our packs and take the first steps up the canyon.

The snow has an icy crust which is just beginning to surrender its hardness to the heat of the sun. In another hour the snow will be wet and heavy. Up above, where we are going, the canyon walls frame a picture of white covered mountain slopes, broken here and there by groups of firs and outcropping of rock. The tops of the peaks are hidden in the foggy residue of clouds which are slowly disappearing to the east. The weight of the pack feels good on my shoulders. As each man settles down to his own individual gait, we string out in single file. Under our steady pace gloves are soon discarded, and we stop to take off on more layer of clothing.

Our trip has just one purpose--to get away from the packed ski slopes and ski new, unfamiliar terrain--to be able to look back and see just one set of tracks already being covered by windswept powder--to make graceful christies in powder snow that rises and drifts behind like white dust--to crouch on down pointed skis and listen to the sound of a million different shaped snow crystals as they pour over the skis--to stand on crags and ridges and listen to the murmur of the wind as it moves through the quaking aspen.

We move quickly and quietly along the floor of the canyon. It rises like a slanted stairway with scenery alternating between aspen covered slopes and flat open meadows. We leave the icy snow and now glide through deep powder. At one of the flat meadows we stop at a spring for a drink of water so cold that it makes the teeth ache.

Leaving the spring means leaving the aspens too. Up ahead, patches of fir trees come into view to break the monotony of white. We cross one last flat meadow, and the mountain slopes tower above us. We are now at 8,000 feet and our climb has just begun.

Up ahead, the canyon narrows to a steep ravine. As we climb it the wind becomes stronger and carries particles of snow which bite and sting our faces. Fog settles over us, blotting out the sun. Everything changes from white to gray. The patches of bare rock take on a dreary and sinister appearance. Now and again the wind sweeps wisps of fog past our faces. The snow here has a windswept crust. The wind ripples and ebbs the powder to form whirlpools of whiteness.

The ravine carries us to the top of the "stairway". Here, on three sides, open slopes rise up to form the ridges of Provo Peak. Patches of firs cling tenaciously to the precipitous slopes. One side we judge to ascend; the other two present hazardous slide areas which must be avoided. We traverse up the slope each man taking his turn at breaking the trail through deep powder. Here is the part of the climb that makes legs and shoulders ache and lungs gulp hungrily at the cold air. Still we climb--one minute with the wind on our backs, and the next with it hitting us in the face.

We arrive at the top of the ridge. It isn't spring here. The cold is intense and the wind knifes into our bodies. Fingers become numb in an instant as we remove the climbers from our skis and adjust our bindings. Here the altimeter reads 9.800 feet.

If only the fog wasn't here, Utah Lake would be sighted in the Vee of Rock Canyon. Behind us we could look down the giant stairway we have just climbed. Across from us, rising still higher, would be Mount Timpanogos silhouetted against a blue haze. Hobble Creek Canyon would be spread out in vivid relief. Below us we would see the open slopes and valleys we will ski on our way back.

But we do not see these things. Our world is in half shades of grayish white without variation. It ends just fifty yards down the slope. We all start down at the same instant. A long S forms behind me, and then I point the skis straight down. I crouch low to hear the whisper of the snow being cleaved by my skis. Everything is forgotten in the luxury of speed.

We stop at the bottom for a quick breath and some much needed rest for our legs. The next slope is before us. All ready, let's go. We do not bother to turn here--six men form six straight lines of parallel tracks. A figure streaks past me and disappears into the fog. Only a slim line in the snow marks his passing. But for those tracks he is a figure of fancy, a spectre from another world.

We come out of the fog and are almost blinded by the brilliance of the afternoon dusk. We push off once more with breathless exclamations of joy and exhaustion. Here the snow is deep powder. The skis sink and lose themselves in the snow. The powder flows and eddies around my knees. The snow is a sea of softness. I point the skis straight down and yell in sheer exuberance and enjoyment as trees whip past with every increasing speed.

My strength is gone and my legs are no longer mine as we prepare to schuss the "stairway" No christies from here on--legs are too tired to stand the strain. We schuss the slopes and coast through the meadows. We pass the Spring with a headlong rush. The snow beneath the aspens is wet and heavy, but we still make good time. We ski the last mile to the car with a burst of feverish poling.

There is no conversation when we arrive at the car. It feels so good to sink against the cushions. The warmth of the car settles like a blanket on the legs. The music from the radio is soft and soporific. It has been a good day."

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