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Clown day's gorillas in Park City Utah. Sonja Stark photo.
Tags: Outdoor Adventure United States Utah Sonja Stark

 

Clowning Around at Park City, UtahVisitors take note skiing the Wasatch Mountains on Clown Day.  Skiers descend the slopes dressed to impress in grass skirts, striped neckties and red sponge noses. Sonja Stark photos.Visitors take note skiing the Wasatch Mountains on Clown Day. Skiers descend the slopes dressed to impress in grass skirts, striped neckties and red sponge noses. Sonja Stark photos.

Grab some face paint and color your world in silver

oNOMAD Senior Travel writer
 

Chasing spring powder on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, teetering on the desert’s edge, can be white-knuckle experience.   The heart pumps wildly at 10,000 feet, and deep drifts leave you exasperated. 



The muffled booms of explosives echo in the distance.  Myth or not, all it takes is a high-pitched yodel to loosen the silver snow and start a tumbling landslide. The bumps and bruises on the Thayne’s Canyon trail at Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) is not the mellow run I was anticipating.  In my wake are gigantic mountain bowls covered with loose layers that shiver and shake.

Snowflakes course like blood through the veins of the average Parkite but this upstate New York native is gripped with trepidation.   I watch as the fringes of the ski society rip up the resort’s signature Jupiter Mountainzone.   They manage untamed wooded areas and expert-only runs with the grace of a ballerina; ski porn at its best.  Now it’s my turn to have a love affair with this legendary backcountry terrain. 

I chase this pink retro-wearing ski bunny down several slopes.I chase this pink retro-wearing ski bunny down several slopes.
A powderhound wearing a vintage neon one-piece ski suit, so bright that it hurts my sunglasses, stops alongside me.  

The heat is on!  Two girls dressed like firemen chase a white-hot day of spring skiing in Park City, Utah.The heat is on! Two girls dressed like firemen chase a white-hot day of spring skiing in Park City, Utah.Do you mind if I follow you down the mountain?  You’re dressed for success!” I ask. 

“Sure, but I’m not really a great skier. I just feel like one when I dress retro,” she smiles.  


White Powder Utopia

I’ve been invited to the Wasatch Mountain Range for three days of spring skiing punctuated by dining and drinking - yes, all necessarily in that order. Those in the know realize that the Beehive state rejoices with 500 inches of  “The Greatest Snow on Earth” - a superlative based in science.  To put that into perspective, that’s more than a foot of snow every five days with an average of 6.7 feet falling in April alone.   The precipitation is special because it’s bone-dry, like the desert.  

In fact, meteorologists use a snow-to-liquid ratio measurement to compare.   For example:  it takes up to 35 inches of snow to yield one inch of water in Utah.  It takes only eight inches to replenish that same amount in California. Have you ever heard the term, Sierra cement?  Now, you know why. 

This northeastern corner of Utah plays host to seven surrounding world-class ski resorts (or rather six because of a recent merger):  Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude, Deer Valley, the Canyons and PCMR. Canyons and PCMR merged in September 2014.  Only a single ridgeline separates the geographically cozy bedfellows. 
Utah, a conservative state?  I don't think so.  Early stories of vice and tomfoolery during the 1970's are legendary.Utah, a conservative state? I don't think so. Early stories of vice and tomfoolery during the 1970's are legendary.

This is Utah and the notion of marrying all seven under one name isn’t such a far-fetched idea.  The vision, known as ONE Wasatch, has been percolating for years.  

Planners envision a playground similar in size and scope with a European-style ski experience. The goal is simple: more time on the snow and less on the road.  Just by adding a few new chairlifts to Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons and removing a rope barrier between PCMR and Deer Valley, the area could explode into 18,000 skiable acres of terrain, making it the largest on the continent.   

“Connecting seven of Utah’s finest ski resorts while preserving both our water quality and a pristine backcountry experience is not an impossible task.  With thoughtful planning and sincere cooperation, ONE Wasatch would add significantly to what is already one of the greatest ski destinations in the world,” said Ski Utah President & CEO, Nathan Rafferty. (Ski Utah is the primary promoter of the future of skiing in Utah.)

While most agree that it would be the ultimate tourism product for the state, the idea isn’t without its share of critics.  Many worry about the environmental impact while others are concerned about public access to adjacent lands maintained by the US Forest Service.   The one thing that everyone agrees on is positive stewardship is required to preserve 220 square miles of pristine alpine landscape.  


Spring into Clown Day

As I chase my fuchsia Supergirl down the mountain, we pass colorful pranksters sporting goofier outfits than hers.   Someone is wrapped in a sexy t-shirt, another a feathered boa and the wind-burned boarder has a humorous sombrero gaffed to his helmet.   All are shredding so perfectly that it’s as if they just came home from winning gold in Sochi rather than a performance under a circus tent.  

Sexy GirlOf course, today is April Fools’ Day!   Better known as Clown Day, April 1st has been an unofficial tradition in this old silver mining town since the mid-1970s.   The funny thing is, with or without clowns, there’s no shortage of entertainment here.   Any bluebird day (spring or not), is ideal for hours of snow-covered hedonism.  Today, the vibe in Park City is a mischievous mix of sunshine and flurries.   The mercury is rising and there are plenty of skiers with pseudonyms like BoBo and Groucho.    

Clown Day started in 1974 as a fundraiser with what the local newspaper described then as: “49 clowns, four hobos, a shah and a ringmaster parading down Main Street.”  The crazy troupe tooted horns, laughed, howled and juggled rubber chickens.  Onlookers pointed and took photos. 

They made their way to the nearest PCMR ski lift where resort staff got in on the action by giving away free lift tickets and donating half of the $10 entry fee to a local ski team.  For the next decade, excitement over the town’s favorite annual tradition exploded.  

Thousands from all over the country descended on Park City to cavort and frolic.  But, by the early 1980s Clown Day was awash with skiers pulling offensive pranks, getting drunk and singing obnoxious songs.   The revelry escalated out of hand when local high school students started coming down with what was commonly referred to as “Clown Flu."

 They would skip classes to spend the day on the slopes. Not everyone loves a clown and in 1983 a crackdown ended the unadulterated day of fun.  For the next 10 years anyone caught wearing a clown costume, on any day, had their ski pass revoked.   A clause was written into the pass forewarning would-be merrymakers of the consequences. 

2014 marked the 40th anniversary of Clown Day and I think it’s safe to say that it has resurfaced barely a shell of its former self.   Great imagination and creativity still goes into the costumes but it’s nothing like it was during the heyday.  Gorilla suits, Elvis impersonators and circus acts are kept to a minimum as to not attract too much publicity and risk a riot.  


Follow along at http://onewasatch.com for details on 18,000 acres of interconnected mountain resort skiing. Follow along at onewasatch.com for details on 18,000 acres of interconnected mountain resort skiing. Chasing a Dream

I’m doing what I can to keep pace with my pink apparition as she soars down a short, windy chute called C.B. Run.   In 2002, all eyes were glued to this particular trail when Bode Miller won silver in the men’s giant slalom during the XIX Winter Olympics.  

PCMR also played host to several snowboarding competitions including one that made US Olympic gold medalist (and Vermonter) Kelly Clark, a household name in the women’s half-pipe competition.  

To learn more about Olympic history, visit the Utah Olympic Park (eight miles north of Park City), home to several 2002 competitions including the world’s highest altitude ski jumps and the fastest bobsled, luge and skeleton tracks.  

For a scrapbook of skiing memorabilia and history, visit the Alf Engen Ski Museum and George Eccles Winter Games Museum.  These cool facilities include interactive exhibits and virtual reality dioramas.   

I found it fascinating to read about Alf Englen, the person credited with skiing powder for the first time.  I was also thrilled to feel the thrill of an alpine competition and the power of an avalanche through a simulated ride. 

Admission is free; should you want to try something more adventurous, $185 will get you the experience of a lifetime aboard the Comet Bobsled.   You and an instructor will hit speeds of over 80 mph, absorbing the same G-forces as do Olympians plummeting down the curvy, ice tunnel.     


Pay Dirt in Parley Park City


Sacrificing comfort for the shenanigans of Clown Day at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.Sacrificing comfort for the shenanigans of Clown Day at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.Long before Park City became a world-class mountain resort, it was famous as a silver mining town.  In 1869, soldier prospectors living in Parley’s Park City (original name of Park City) found an outcropping of glittering bluish-gray rock on Bonanza Flat.  The rock turned out to be a large vein of silver and lead sulfide called galena.  The prized precious metal sparked large crowds of settlers to the boomtown for the next 100 years.   All went bust in the 1950s when the price of silver plummeted.  

“Miners should be credited with skiing here before everyone else,” said Park City Mountain Resort Communications Manager, Andy Miller.   “In the early days of mining there were 1000 miles of tunnels snaking underneath us.  Miners strapped hickory barrel staves to their feet to navigate back down from the summit.”

Miller is a most valuable PCMR employee, a polished skier who can recite history like a town historian.  Sitting alongside him on his favorite lift, we’re launched high overhead trails with names that pay homage to the miners’ pioneering spirit:  Dynamite, Prospector, Mel’s Run and Detonator, for example.  

When mining ended, United Park City Mines resourcefully turned to the sport of skiing to revitalize the economy.  They applied for a federal recreation loan to help develop the area, but the application got lost in a politician’s desk drawer.   In August 1962, President Kennedy, running for re-election, invited a number of Utah publishers to Washington for a briefing.  

During the luncheon, Kennedy learned about Park City’s struggles and quickly instructed his press secretary, Peter Salinger, to green-light $1.2 million in funding.  Treasure Mountains Resort (now PCMR) opened a year later and the resort industry was born.  PCMR celebrated their golden anniversary in 2013-2014 with celebratory activities and festivals. Miller interviewed dozens of ski and mining legends that spoke nostalgically for the days when a lift ticket cost a mere $3.50.  

Utah Olympic ParkUtah Olympic ParkFor more on the mining days of old, I visit Main Street for a tour of the Park City Museum.   I scoot inside what used to be dubbed the skier subway, a slow moving mine car turned into a subterranean shuttle for access to the top of Treasure Mountains (now PCMR).   This was what was used before lifts were widely available.  


Slope-Side Cravings


With a dozen or more runs in a day, I think I justify grazing on a little grease and protein.   While atop a section of PCMR called the Motherload Mountainzone, I recess above the clouds with a bowl of bison chili and hot chocolate at the Summit House.  

During lunch, I peel off my ski boots for a signature Wagyu beef burger at PCMR’s Legends Bar & Grill.   As luck would have it, my server hails from Albany, New York, my hometown.   Meg fell in love with skiing here two years ago and says she isn’t going home anytime soon.   

Historic Main Street is crawling with apres-skiing choices from small-batch brewers to upscale haunts.   In the evening, I share a mouthful of appetizers and cocktails at the world’s first and only ski-in, ski-out gastro-distillery and oldest distillery in Utah, The High West Distillery and Saloon. 

I’m tempted to buy one of their artsy flasks and fill it up with their latest spirit.  The clowning around continues at the No Name Saloon, another vestige of the cowboy era with the catchphrase: “Helping people forget their names since 1903.”  I

"Why have just one?" The suds are flowing after the snow stops blowing at the No Name Saloon and Grill"Why have just one?" The suds are flowing after the snow stops blowing at the No Name Saloon and Grillorder two beers, each with funny labels; one called Yard Sale by the Uinta Brewing Company and the other called Polygamy Porter by Wasatch Brewing.   With an ABV content of only 4% on beer (state law), I’m destined to imbibe all night without any regrets.  


Sleep Tight at Silver Star Lodging

I hibernate like a grizzly bear at an artisan development community called the Silver Star Resort found at the base of PCMR.  My cave is a four-bedroom townhouse (Building 3000) accented with rough-hewn timbers, Native American art and several fireplaces.  

My friends are gracious enough to let me take the master suite full of amenities.  From our building, there’s a short 3-minute shuffle to the Silver Star chairlift, a private ski-in and ski-out entrance to PCMR. A delicious piping-hot breakfast of huevos rancheros is served up at the rustic Silver Star cafe conveniently next to the lift.  

I highly recommend returning for the “Park City Limits” bluegrass and dinner show with a voracious appetite.  You might even be tempted to share slices of your hearth-fired pizza with the resort’s beloved ambassadors:  English and French bulldogs, Vidalia and Talluluah. 

The friendly pups greet guests with sloppy kisses at the front door of the Ski and Sport shop.  Affectionately dubbed Team Onion - no, they do not mush or pull a sled - rather, they are part of a wildly successful marketing campaign of ski apparel and accessories.  Their faces emblazed on t-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers are popular with returning customers.  


Utah’s Newest Giant

If size matters, and it does, PCMR just got a whole lot bigger.   Ski firm juggernaut, Vail Resorts, purchased the resort for $182.5 million in September 2014 with plans to christen it the biggest skiable terrain park in the country when they complete an eight-passenger, two-way, high-speed gondola to neighboring Canyons Resort.  Another $50 million injection goes towards amplifying lifts, restaurants and lodging.   You can already purchase the “EPICDAY” ski pass ($20 cheaper online) and gain riding privileges at both resorts.    


Planning your Trip 

When you ski PCMR this spring, be sure to harness your inner-clown and pack a red nose and face paint.   Forget the barrel staves that the miners wore and, instead, rent a pair at the Silver Star Ski and Sport shop and stay close to the slopes at the Silver Star resort.  If you need a rest, visit the history museum on Main Street or the Alf Englen Museum at the Utah Olympic Park.    I found everything I needed to color my your adventure in silver following these links:

Park City Mountain Resort:  www.parkcitymountain.com/

Silver Star Resorts:  www.resortswest.com/rw/info/silver.star.aspx

Silver Star Café:   www.thesilverstarcafe.com


Silver Star Ski and Sport Shop:   silverstarskiandsport.info/

Utah Olympic Park:  utaholympiclegacy.com/park/

High West Distillery: www.highwest.com/
sonja

Park City History Museum:  parkcityhistory.org/




Sonja Stark is the owner of Pilot Girl Productions, a video production company in New York, and she's a regular contributor to GoNOMAD. Read her blog, Pilotgirl Travels.

Read more stories by Sonja Stark on GoNOMAD



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 A moose in Yukon territory, Canada. Terence Eder photo.
Tags: Outdoor Adventure Canada Yukon Territory

A Yukon white out.  Terence Eder photos.A Yukon white out. Terence Eder photos.

Exploring Canada's Far North, Yukon




Canada is a vast country with outstanding landscapes. However, few travellers to Canada cast a glance beyond the favored ‘go to’ provinces of British Columbia, Alberta or Ontario. 
However, Canada’s three Territories – Yukon, Northern Territory and Nunavut offer a travel experience like no other and are slowly gaining more attention, not only from travellers abroad but for locals alike.

Yes, they are more isolated and costly to visit but with a bit of pre-planning can be affordable, meaning you won’t have to mortgage the home or sell your grandmother to get there. The territories really offer a once in a lifetime experience and the cost is priceless and quickly forgotten, once you venture into this unique setting.



I did just this last winter. I ventured into the heart of the Yukon Territory for 10 days in the dead of winter.  It was something most of my Canadian friends could not really comprehend. It was cold enough across the provinces with temperatures falling lower every day as we neared the holiday season, so why the heck would I be enticed in roaming around the arctic like conditions of the North!!

A moose in a field in the Yukon.A moose in a field in the Yukon.Canadian snow birds prefer to fly south for the winter to evade such conditions.

I guess for me, having come from the Southern Hemisphere, where we generally only experience two seasons with much milder winter temperatures by comparison, it would be a truly novel experience. In truth, I love nothing more than passing away the summer months, basking in the sun enjoying the beach. My idea of cold is when the mercury level falls around 50 degrees. Perhaps it was a test to see how far I could push my coping mechanisms or simply to prove to my Canadian compadres that this Southerner really could survive a week-long trip up North.

Climbing off the Yukon North Klondike Highway.Climbing off the Yukon North Klondike Highway.
Either way, there was something alluring about winding up North in the frigid cold, surrounded by endless snow and sub-zero temperatures.

The Yukon is situated north of British Columbia and East of the US State of Alaska.

I flew with Air North, one of the few airlines operating into these territories and landed into the capital of the Yukon – Whitehorse. Whitehorse, a small Klondike town, is situated off the Alaska Highway and is one of the largest towns in the Yukon. Incorporated in the 1950s, it was a key stop off point by fortune seeking prospectors heading north to Dawson and was integral during the Klondike gold rush.

Flying in is an experience itself; the plane descends through vast mountains and forests along the Yukon River, before landing on a snow covered plateau high above town. The icy wind billows outside and the low fog makes the arrival a little ominous but simply breathtaking.

I don’t think I will quite forget that landing and the moment the plane suddenly dropped through the thick fog before sliding onto the snow covered runway and coming to a quick stop. A glance across the cabin and the reassuring sighs, tells me I wasn't the only passenger sitting with a lump in my throat and pulsating heartbeat, as we came in for the precarious landing.

 The temperatures drop well below zero, reaching as low as -40 degrees Celsius. Most of the territory is frozen over; hence Yukon being called “The Great White North”. In summer, Yukon is known as the “Land of the Eternal Sun”, receiving 24 hours of daylight. However, in winter, there is around 4-6 hours of daylight, giving you limited time to explore.

It’s a charming town with many buildings retaining the colorful wooden facades and style from the bygone gold-mining era. Today there are many small eateries, cafes and historical hotels which line the main streets along 2nd and 4th Avenue. Relics of the Klondike era are scattered around town and the historic SS Klondike sternwheeler ship stands alongside the frozen Yukon River.

The plateau above town offers outstanding views over the small grid like town bathed in white.

From this vantage point you begin to understand how remote Whitehorse is. Along my travels, I am constantly intrigued by the locations and settings people choose to call home and what it is that they find so alluring about these far flung abodes.

Active Living

Each morning, I would bypass a nearby school – Ecole Whitehorse Elementary where a frenzy of kids dressed from head to toe in thick winter wear were running around a sports field covered under snow.

Whitehorse.Whitehorse.It was around 9am and the only source of light came from the stadium like spotlights. I watched with curiosity before stopping a teacher to ask what they were doing. She informed me, that the kids take part in what is called “active living” each morning. It is a chance for them to get some morning exercise and warm up their bodies in the frigid temperatures before retreating indoors to begin class for the day.

As a scholar, I recall hating the thought of getting out of bed in 10 degree weather, so having to run around in -35 degree temElk on the move in Yukon Wildlife Preserve.Elk on the move in Yukon Wildlife Preserve.peratures sounded quite ludicrous. I guess, life in these parts means adapting to the environment you find yourself calling home.

The temperatures were the coldest I had ever experienced with the icy wind penetrating the multiple layers I had on. My hands froze instantly each time I took my gloves off to snap a quick photo. At one point my right hand succumbed to the cold. Testament to the many photos I had taken.

I quickly sought cover indoors and found a hot water tap to run my hands under to restore blood flow. I subsequently got frost freeze and lost feeling in the tips of two fingers for a few days. There is no time to mess around and it’s essential to come prepared for the most extreme of weather.

Despite the cold, I found a balance between exploring outdoors and recuperating indoors with a much needed bowl of soup and a few cups of the favoured, locally brewed - Bean North Coffee.

The town has a few local galleries, museums and sights to keep you busy. Outdoor enthusiasts wanting to experience the very essence of the Yukon should pick up a rental car and venture further out to partake in some of the very best winter activities for which the Yukon is renowned for.

A Yukon mushing dog.A Yukon mushing dog.Drive the North Klondike highway and visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s outstanding natural enclosures. A chance to spot the elusive moose, herds of bison, elk & caribou and the arctic fox. After a chilling walk through the compound, stop for coffee at the Bean North fair-trade coffee roaster and then try your hand at Ice Climbing at a local tour operator, as you don your crampons, ice axe and harness traversing ice stacks or Zip-line over frozen terrain and lakes. An unforgettable experience that will leave you feeling like a true mountaineer and pioneer for the day.

Sled Dogging with MukTuk Kennels

If you’re still left wanting more, head out to MukTuk Kennels for a unique dog sledding experience over the alpine terrain and let the entrancing echoes of the sled dogs mesmerise you as you’re whisked through enchanting scenery. The Yukon also offers fa
Whitehorse airport.Whitehorse airport.
ntastic back-country skiing and snowshoeing through the endless forests dusted in white. You take a moment to appreciate the absolute stillness of the setting until silence is broken by the piercing shriek of a raven passing overhead.

If time permits, drive the famed White Pass Route from Whitehorse to Skagway, Alaska on the South Klondike Highway through the winding mountain passes. The journey takes around 3 hrs depending on the weather and road conditions.

Along the way stop off at Carcross, another Klondike era town, Carcross Desert – the world’s smallest dune desert and multiple frozen lakes before crossing Canada – USA immigration and winding down into the port town of Skagway. Although the cruise ships and hordes of tourists are long gone, this charming town is still worth a visit in winter.

I hear the summer months in Yukon are equally, if not more breath-taking and offer the perfect setting for nature, outdoor lovers and road trippers traversing the Alaska Highway but for me, Yukon in winter, will remain one of the coolest (no pun intended) and memorable journeys I have yet to encounter.

Whitehorse and the Yukon offer a uniquely different experience for the avid adventure traveller wanting to get off the beaten track and experience more than the usual tourist ‘go to’ hot spots and city destinations.

Here is a quick List to get you on your way:

minus thirty eight degrees xc skiingMinus thirty eight degrees xc skiingAir North – Local Airline servicing the territories
www.flyairnorth.com

Air Canada and Alaska Air also fly this route.

Muktuk Adventures – Dog SleddingA Yukon totem poleA Yukon totem pole
info@muktuk.com
Toll-free: 1-866-968-3647

Equinox – Zip Lining / Ice Climbing

www.equinoxyukon.com
equinox@equinoxyukon.com
Phone: 867-456-7846

Thakini Hot Springs – Thermal Hot Springs
www.takhinihotsprings.com
swim@takhinihotsprings.com
Phone: 1-867-456-8000

Yukon Wildlife Preserve
www.yukonwildlife.ca
info@yukonwildlife.ca

Bean North Coffee Roasting - Fair-trade Roaster & Café
www.beannorth.com
Phone: 867) 667-4145

Terence Eder




Terence Eder
, a television producer, calls himself as a citizen of the world having lived in four Countries and travelled to 39 to date.
While 'home' is where ever his suitcase lands, he is constantly on the lookout for his next far flung adventure abroad. He lives in Austria and his native South Africa.








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