Late Winter Leads to Natural Disaster Preparations in Utah

It’s hard to believe we are still being dumped on with snow in Utah. And not just a little bit of snow—Snowbird has received nearly two feet of snow in the past few days, with more on the way! Utah is notorious for excellent spring skiing conditions, but this isn’t your typical May snowpack. While the late season snow is welcomed by many skiing enthusiasts, it also brings numerous environmental dangers: historic flooding, avalanches and mudslides.

Prepping Utahans for a Repeat of 1983 Flooding

For those of you not familiar with Utah’s history, here’s a little background. Utah ski resorts broke records during the 1981-82 and 1982-83 ski seasons. With record level of precipitation, comes record level of water runoff when temperatures rise in early summer. Thus Memorial Day Weekend of ’83: temperatures rose to the 90s, canyon snowdrifts melted at an astonishing rate, and the results were actual rivers running through various streets in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ve even heard stories of people kayaking down State Street during this chaotic time!

Flooding of State Street in 1983

Flooding of State Street in Downtown SLC May 1983

There has been much foreboding from media outlets, warning similar runoff dangers are in store for Salt Lake City this summer. Whenever summer decides to visit…

“At this point, everybody is just sitting back chewing fingernails and waiting because the longer it stays cold and wet, the worse it’s going to get,” said Randy Julander, a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.— ABC News story
“You should have 90 days of the water from snowpack flowing normally out of the mountains,” said LeRoy Hooten Jr., the public works director for Salt Lake City in 1983 who is now retired and still lives here. “But when you go quickly from winter to almost summer weather, it goes into one large flush.” — Salt Lake Tribune Story

Mudslides are another negative effect of our mountain snowpack melting. Mudslides have already hit Wyoming, closing the interstate leading to Utah.

Avalanche Dangers

Due to a lack of funding, the Utah Avalanche Center has concluded their daily, not to mention very thorough and informative, avalanche forecasting. The UAC was forced to close its doors on April 24, 2011 due to funding. This unfortunately does not mean that avalanche dangers in the backcountry have ended. Now more than ever, backcountry skiing enthusiasts need to use their own knowledge and preparation to ensure their own safety while touring. The changes in temperate and continuing late season snow add to avalanche dangers. Thankfully Snowbird Ski Resort remains open and continues to do avalanche control work as necessary.

So What Can We Do?

Well, there isn’t an easy answer to this question. Many Salt Lake homeowners and business owners have begun flood preparations by purchasing a multitude of sandbags and other tools to help minimize flood damage. Stay informed. Listen to flood and mudslide advisories. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. We can rest easy knowing that Governor Herbert and our state legislature are prepared for the worst. They have funding put away to deal with the possibly great expenditures of repairing flood damages.

If you’re a skier or snowboarder, get out to Snowbird or the backcountry and enjoy our endless winter! If you’re a rafting enthusiast, this may be putting a damper on your spring activity, but our rivers should be high and fast this summer.

Do you have what it takes to heli ski?

As winter in Utah is winding down, most people are ready to leave the cold weather behind—but many are already looking forward to next season’s adventures! Powderbird is already getting many inquiries for 2011-2012 heli skiing trips. For first time heli skiers, often the most common question is: “Can we really do this?”. In most cases, the answer is ‘yes’. Many people fear they are not capable enough skiers to handle heli skiing. The truth is, most accomplished skiers and snowboarders have the necessary skills to heli ski. Wasatch Powderbird Guides tries to match your ability to our broad mix of terrain, from gentle ridges and bowls to the steep and deep. Perfect style and technical expertise are not pre-requisites, but the ability to control your speed in a variety of snow conditions is critical.

It is absolutely necessary that you are proficient at:

  • kick-turning
  • traversing
  • side-slipping
  • snow-plowing

These skills will help you handle anything we might encounter.

Family heli skiing in Japan

Heli skiing can be fun for the whole family

Tips to make sure you are ready for heli skiing

  1. Some previous powder experience is a must. Even if you are an expert on the groomers, you will not enjoy heli skiing if you’ve never been off piste.
  2. Do yourself a favor, try some powder skis. The new technology available (wider underfoot, rockered tip and tail, etc.) will make heli skiing far more enjoyable! Don’t just buy a pair though, demo some first, or better yet rent a pair from us if you aren’t sure about your current equipment.
  3. Come to Utah in reasonable physical condition. Once we leave the heliport, we are in the backcountry for 6-7 big runs. You must be able to ski or snowboard a full day at a moderate pace to keep up with our crew.
  4. It’s ok to fall, but you should be able to get up quickly and not let your mistakes get in your head.
  5. Don’t over or under estimate your skills. Be honest when you make your reservation, and we’ll make sure you get the best experience possible!

If you have any questions about your ability level, feel free to take our Heli Ability Questionnaire, located at the bottom of our ability guidelines on our web site. And always feel free to call or e-mail us with any specific questions. Remember, you don’t have to be expert skier to experience the thrill of heli skiing, but you do have to do a strong resort skier. Our goal is to make this the greatest skiing adventure of your life, which begins with matching you and your other groups members with skiers and riders of a comparable ability level.

Powderbird Wraps 38th Season

Hello everyone! It’s official. The birds have left the building. We have completed operations for the 2010-2011 season at Powderbird—and it was a great year! We have had the privilege and pleasure to ski with many new faces, as well as old friends, out of Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT and Canyons Resort in Park City, UT. Utah experienced an abundant snowpack this season (currently over 650″ of snowfall to date), making for consistently excellent backcountry conditions. We were able to fly approximately 50% of our season, slightly lower than the previous season’s count. Merchandise sales were up, likely due to increased merchandise options for men and women. Powderbird just wrapped a week-long trip in Greenland as well! Photos from Greenland will be posted shortly. Here are some photos to remember the amazing 2010-2011 season in Utah.

Helicopter preparing to touch down in beautiful Wasatch

Snowboarder enjoying a bluebird heli day

OrangeStar picking up Powderbird guides and skiers

Powderbird skiers picking their perfect line

Powderbird heli in flight

Beautiful day in the Wasatch with Powderbird

Thanks to everyone for another amazing season! We hope to see all our favorite skiers and boarders again next season, along with some new faces. It’s never too early to book your next Powderbird heli skiing adventure. We’re now taking reservations for 2011-2012, book early to reserve your spot!

Check out this Powderbird story recently printed in the Salt Lake Tribune: Heli Skiing Business Boosted by Park City Flights.

Powderbird Supports 25th Annual Steve Young Ski Classic

Snowbird to host Steve Young Ski Classic March 19

2010 Steve Young Ski Classic

March 19, 2011 will mark the 25th Annual Steve Young Ski Classic—all proceeds are to benefit Wasatch Adaptive Sports (WAS) and its premier scholarship programs. WAS, established in 1977, is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for children, adults and their families with special needs, through recreational, education and therapeutic programs. Powderbird is once again donating two heli-skiing packages to this year’s live and silent auction. We are excited to support such an amazing organization. WAS programs provide support and skill instruction to those who may otherwise never be able to enjoy the mountain and outdoor environment that we are fortunate enough to experience on a daily basis.

Participants line up on Chickadee

WAS relies almost entirely on proceeds from the Steve Young Ski Classic to provide scholarships for year-round lessons and activities to those in need. If you have a chance to attend the Ski Classic next weekend, come on down to Snowbird Saturday March 19.

Taking the slopes with WAS

Taking the slopes with WAS

Skiing events will take place on Chickadee, followed by a BBQ, reception, and live and silent auction.

Show your support for Ski Classic participants on March 19

Click here for more information about the Steve Young Ski Classic. Registration deadline is March 14, 2011! To learn about Wasatch Adaptive Sports and their wonderful programs, please visit their website.

Getting to (and around) Utah

Getting to Utah—Easier than Ever
Utah is truly the most accessible and convenient ski destination. Once you arrive at the Salt Lake International Airport, you are within a one-hour drive of 11 (yes, 11) renowned ski resorts. And you’re only 10 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City, and 40 minutes from Park City. All you have to do is choose your own adventure. Powderbird conveniently operates in Little Cottonwood Canyon and Park City, offering resort backup skiing on no fly days at Alta and Snowbird Ski Resort, as well as the Canyons Resort in Park City, which is also minutes away from Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley. That leaves you with a whole lot of options.

Utah Resorts Map

Utah’s Ski Resorts:
Snowbird Ski Resort
Canyons Resort
Alta
Brighton
Solitude Mountain Resort
Snowbasin Resort
Powder Mountain
Deer Valley
Park City Mountain Resort
Sundance
Eagle Point
Wolf Mountain

Flights to Utah
Salt Lake City International Airport is easy to negotiate, has a friendly and helpful staff, and extremely fast check-in, security and baggage pick-up. JetBlue, Southwest, Delta and American all offer a wide variety of reasonably priced flights into Salt Lake City. Check out Kayak to see for yourself.

Once You’ve Arrived
Getting around Utah is easy. If you purchase a Super Pass through Visit Salt Lake a Ski Bus pass is included! Check out the UTA winter Ski Bus route and schedule at www.rideuta.com. Other options include airport transfers through Canyon Transportation directly to Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude or Park City, which runs for $68 round trip per person. Renting a car or SUV is also a very convenient way to navigate Salt Lake City and its surrounding resorts. There are tons of options available directly from the airport. Shop around for the best rates and service.

Many people don’t know how easy—and affordable—it is to get to Salt Lake City and Park City. Next time you’re planning a ski vacation consider Utah. There are many amazing ski resorts, hotels, bars, restaurants, and heli-skiing all within one hour of the airport. Spend less time traveling and more time enjoying your vacation!

Tips for Planning a Utah Heli Trip

We get calls every day from skiers and snowboarders, young and old, families, couples and large groups of friends, who are trying to plan a Utah vacation around a day or two of heli-skiing or boarding with Powderbird. As most people familiar with heli-skiing already know, even if you make a reservation, it is not a guarantee that you will be able to complete your heli day. Utah has extremely unpredictable weather patterns that often result in day after day of snow during a storm cycle. Here is the best advice I can give to make the most of your trip to Utah (whether you are able to heli-ski or not), and also how to increase your chances of experiencing an unforgettable day with Wasatch Powderbird Guides.

Choose your Lodging and Resort Wisely
Make a specific checklist of what you are looking for in a ski resort and a hotel/condo. The great thing about planning a ski vacation to Utah is the variety of resorts and lodging options—all within reasonable driving distance from the Salt Lake International Airport. Your lodging options range from:

1. Rent a car and stay in downtown Salt Lake City. This gives you the opportunity to hit up more than one of Utah’s unique resorts during your vacation. You can also ditch the car and try Utah’s public transportation system. The UTA Ski Bus is available from many pickup locations for $7 round trip to Alta/Snowbird or Brighton/Solitude resorts. For schedules visit www.rideuta.com. The upside to staying in Salt Lake is possibly saving money on your hotel package. The downside is a further commute to the ski resorts.

2. You can also choose to stay at any of the properties offered by Alta Ski Resort and Snowbird Ski Resort, located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, a 45 minute drive from the airport.

High speed tram, Snowbird Ski Resort

Here you will have everything you need, along with ski-in, ski-out access to two of the country’s and most highly regarded and challenging ski resorts. The bonus of staying at a hotel in Little Cottonwood Canyon is your close proximity to Powderbird’s heliport—located on the Alta bypass road, nestled in between the two resorts. Both resorts offer a variety of terrain, lodging and restaurants choices, but they each have their own unique feeling environment and culture. My advice is to check their web sites and other reviews on the Internet to decide where you and your group will fit in best. The upside of staying in Little Cottonwood Canyon is the ease and convenience of sleeping, skiing, eating and heli-skiing within walking or shuttle distance.

3. If you are looking for a more high-end, full-service experience, you may want to consider staying in Park City. Powderbird now offers daily heli trips out of the Canyons Resort in beautiful Park City. The Canyons itself has a wide selection of high-end properties (with 4-star restaurants, spa services, and a helpful concierge team on site), many within walking distance of the gondola and brand new heated bubble chair.

Sundial Lodge at Canyons Resort

If you are planning to go heli-skiing with Powderbird, but are also looking for more activities outside of skiing, Park City is the way to go. Downtown Park City and historic Main Street are a short bus ride (free!) or drive from the Canyons and offer a variety of nightlife options. Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley are also nearby, which offer an entirely different resort feel, along with many additional lodging, dining and skiing terrain options.

Do your research. Ski vacations are not inexpensive! You want to make the most of this trip. Read about all the different activities each resort has to offer—ski school, shopping, restaurants & bars, nighttime events, spa services, childcare, etc. The options are endless. And now Powderbird offers our guests the convenience of staying any of these places during their Utah ski & heli vacations!

Allow Room for Unfavorable Weather Conditions
Like I said before, high winds and low visibility often leave our helicopters grounded, sometimes for a few days in a row. Allow some flexibility when planning your trip. If you are planning to spend four or five days in Utah, I suggest one (or two) day of warm-up at any of Utah’s wonderful resorts, then book your heli trip on the 2nd or 3rd day, allowing a few days afterward if we need to reschedule your trip. Of course the trip is 100% refundable if we are grounded for poor weather, but spare yourself the disappointment and allow a few days of leeway around your scheduled heli trip. The more flexibility in your vacation, the better your chances of getting out in the heli. Also feel free to check the weather. Although is impossible to accurately predict more than 48 hours out, do a little research to see what Utah is expecting in terms of weather during your stay. Here is a good resource: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .

Stay in Shape
Most people don’t understand how much physical strength and endurance are required to complete a full day of heli-skiing or boarding—feel great about it instead of beat up and exhausted when the day is finished. I understand that not everyone is lucky enough to live within such close access to ski resorts, like we are here in Utah, but there are other ways to stay in shape in the days and weeks leading up to the heli trip. Run, bike, life weights, do lunges and squats, take yoga—anything you can do will help to make you feel better throughout your ski vacation!

And don’t forget to relax and have fun when you get here! Good luck planning! If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact Wasatch Powderbird Guides at info@powderbird.com or 801-742-2800.