For Christmas 2018, we packed up our clan and headed out to southern Utah for a family week of skiing and holiday cheer. Packing for such a trip is no easy feat for a bunch of sea-level dwellers who wear shorts and flip-flops the entire year. Monica dusted off her ski clothes which date back to her post-college years living in Switzerland (when she was 40 lbs heavier, Gore-tex was still a NASA secret and Hootie and Blowfish were touring). We hit a local outdoor store for some essentials for the kids ($200 on long underwear?) and we filled two huge duffel bags with puffy cold-weather gear that the kids were likely to outgrow before the week was over.
Packing cubes are effective, but they still adhere to the laws of space and time. We checked four bags with our discount airline. Monica made up for it by packing sandwiches.
For me, this would be my first ski trip since all the surgeries of 2016 and getting diagnosed with VEDS. Monica and I took a couple of ski trips in our pre-kid days and let’s just say I was not always the most graceful with two long sticks strapped to my feet, but I was fun to watch. For a long time we’ve been eager to get the kids skiing while they are young and it’s easy to learn. But I had to face the music: skiing is not in the cards for me anymore.
I was happy to play Sherpa, getting the kids ready for their lessons. I had visions of sitting in a ski lodge coffee shop, enjoying a hot mocha and working on a personal writing project. The family would join me for lunches and snacks. Truly a dream vacation.
We landed in Las Vegas and rented a Hyundai Santa Fe. The Santa Fe is a two-wheel drive vehicle. That will matter later in the story. We drove roughly three hours to the town of Brian Head, Utah.
The name is a bit clunky to me. According to Wikipedia, “The community was originally called ‘Monument Peak,’ but was changed to the current name after 1900 for reasons no longer known.” There are a couple of stories running around as to how it received it’s poetic name. One is that John Wesley Powell named the nearby peak after a surveyor named Bryan (yes with a ‘y’). Another suggest that residents in the nearby town of Parowan named it to honor politician William Jennings Bryan (yeah, he used a ‘y’ too). The only thing we know for sure is that no one consulted the spelling of the people they were honoring.
We were greeted by clear roads lined with lots of snow. The kids were shuttled into a group ski lesson that amounted to more babysitting than teaching. But it was a gloriously beautiful day. I staked out a table in the cafeteria overlooking the slopes. There was not cozy coffee shop to be found. No bear-skin rug. But I happily tapped away at my laptop.
Yeah, that’s a dog on the table. Having a venti latte.
On the day after Christmas, we put the kids in a private lesson and Coach Oso, the kindest, most patient ski instructor, taught our kids to ski in less than three hours. Seriously, this guy was amazing and I’d be willing to lead a campaign to name the town after him. We’d even spell it right.
Before hitting the ski slopes, the kids grabbed the sleds to see what this white stuff was all about. Monica displayed the utmost grace in procuring her gear. And (far right) Coach Oso sums up a successful day teaching a couple Florida kids how to ski the K-12 (“I want my two dollars.”)
In the midst of this holiday cheer, it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. 9 inches on Christmas Day alone. The forecast kept predicting it would let up, but it didn’t. It just kept snowing and getting colder. The high temperature came in at 8 degrees. Fahrenheit. Let’s not mention windchill, because 8 is cold enough. Literally, last time we were in Utah, it was 100 degrees warmer.
If I worried about my health in 108 degree weather, I was even more concerned in 8 degrees. There were designs on a family snowmobiling trip. Having never snowmobiled before, I wasn’t sure it was the wisest thing for a guy with dissected arteries and multiple aneurysms to go off-roading in subfreezing weather for several hours.
Without getting into the specifics, the snowmobiling trip was called off and… let’s just say forces of nature – both climate and human – and our two-wheel drive rental had us marooned at the Best Western in Brian Head (soon to be renamed Mount Oso) for a couple of days. We made the best of it. As is often the case, adversity brings on great fun. The hotel had a pool and two hot tubs – one of which was outside. Bathing suits were the only things we hadn’t packed, so we grabbed 4 suits from the town’s ski shop without trying them on first.
The only thing we could do outside our room besides eat, was use the pool/hot tub. Normally, bikini shopping is an arduous task for Monica, but after being cooped up with two kids, she would have killed a rabbit and fashioned something in order to get a change of scenery.
On day two of our unplanned exile, I asked the gentleman at the front desk about the driving conditions getting off the mountain – a mere 12 miles – but a 13% grade. He said, “Honestly, if you can get from the hotel to the main road, you can get down the mountain.”
I dug the car out of the snow and decided to take a test-run out to the main road. My first attempt to the leave the property stalled half way up a short hill, tires spinning freely in the snow. I lived in Indiana for three years, and I’ve got some experience in snow. So I backed down the hill, circled the parking lot, and hit the obstacle with greater speed. The little SUV said, “I think I can, I think I can.” until I successfully released the vehicle from the Best Western’s gravitational pull, and made my way to the main road. The conditions weren’t great, but the roads had been plowed and the traffic had broken up most of the ice.
Buoyed, I headed back to the hotel – only to realize that there was absolutely no way in hell I was making it back up the hill. It was comical. The guy at the front desk never said anything about getting back. Fortunately, Monica is always paying attention, and she noticed that the store where we bought our bathing suits also sold tire chains. (Tying that tiny bikini around the tires was our second option.)
And that’s how I ended up learning how to put chains on in 5 degree weather. It wasn’t that hard – I’m not totally sure they weren’t installed backwards – but they worked like a charm and I was able to return to the hotel, where we decided to wait one more day before tackling the drive down the mountain.
We spent the afternoon watching Titanic (nothing like freezing your butt off, and then watching people freeze in the North Atlantic.) We took another dip in the outdoor hot tub (which is probably why I’m sick as I write this) and we had another fantastic meal at the Mount Oso Best Western restaurant.
Left: A prankster after her mother’s heart. Right: Steamy Monica creates her own microclimate in 5 degree weather.
The following morning we didn’t even need the chains to leave the hotel property. We hit a few sights on our way back to Vegas and found a hotel near the airport. I tried giving the chains away, but no one wanted them.
The ghost town of Silver Reef is worth a stop along I-15. In St. George, a farmer prepping his land for commercial development found a huge collection of dinosaur tracks. Instead of putting in a Chick Fil A, he called a bunch of scientists and turned it in to a museum.
After spending a day snowed in watching Titanic, we couldn’t pass up the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor Hotel. The 5 am shuttle to the airport was a harsh reality, but sunrise over the Grand Canyon made it worth while.
I’ll be honest: a ski trip without getting to ski was a bit of a bummer. But I kept it in perspective. When I was diagnosed with VEDS, I gave up a lot of activities, but nothing that I was passionate about. To lament not getting to ski every few years is wasted grief.
We got home in time to ring in 2019 in shorts. We’re still tinkering with our travel plans for 2019 – but it’s safe to say we can put away the snow gear for the rest of the year. Monica is trying to shave some time off her marathon this year. I’d like to pay another visit to the Smokies. And we bought some plane tickets on Norwegian Air for a distant location – if they can only stay in business long enough for us to use them. Stay tuned!
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“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Check out Jon’s periodic column, “So How’s That New Book Coming?” at Creative Loafing – Tampa. His 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and connoisseur of 70s rock lyrics.