Riding Park City Mountain Resort's Jupiter chairlift in the middle of a January snowstorm has a certain celestial feeling. Several thousand feet below at the Resort Center, snow might be falling at a mild pace, laying down a white blanket over the red bricks surrounding the ice skating rink.
But as the Jupiter chairlift climbs to its final apex of 10,000 feet, the black double chairs disappear into the dense clouds that are spitting out inches of fluffy snow per hour.
Gore-Tex suits, goggles, wool hats and thick gloves protect skiers and boarders from the wind-propelled grains of snow that accumulate on the laps of skiersa symbol of a good day in a powder hound's paradise.
Jupiter is a distant goal of up-and-coming skiers and snowboarders and holds the secret stashes that hard-core, powder-driven locals know as the place to find powdery chutes and wide-open bowls. Expert skier haunts within the Jupiter area include Scott's Bowl, Fortune Teller, West Face, Indicator and Six Bells. But one of the best-kept Park City secrets is being let out of the bag this year. Accessed from Jupiter and once reserved for spring corn skiing, the Pinecone ridge is a powder-skiing and snowboarding haven.
For the last 15 years, Park City regulars have anxiously awaited the rite of spring when the ski patrol pulls back the orange ropes and lets die-hards make the 20-minute hike to one of the most remote areas within Park City Mountain Resort's 3,306 acres of skiable terrain. Beginning at the start of the 1998/99 season, not only the famous Pinecone run, but the entire ridge bearing the same name will be open throughout the season.
Skiers and snowboarders willing to traverse Scott's Bowl, then hike up the Pinecone ridge west of the Jupiter lift will be rewarded with backcountry isolation only afforded to those driven by fresh tracks. Yet this year, making the hike will offer opportunities once only available to ski patrol and line cutters. Down the ridge from Pinecone, and open for the first time, are runs Limber Pine, Constellation, Half Moon, Quarter Moon, New Moon, Sam's Knob and Homelite. After skiing or riding the newest Pinecone steep and deep, skiers and boarders will find themselves in Thaynes Canyon, where they can board the King Con high-speed quad en route to another lap in Jupiter's expert terrain.
To control the new terrain, the resort hired four additional full-time patrollers bringing PCMR's total to 58. Just as with the rest of the mountain, patrollers will be assigned to the Pinecone area and be based out of a Pinecone patrol shack built this summer.
Pinecone will be the place that those in the know head to on Day 2 of a typical multi-day storm cycle, the kind that results in hundreds of inches in annual snowfall. The more trafficked Jupiter area will have patrol and opening priority during big dumps, according to PCMR Communication Manager Melissa O'Brien. Then the patrol will begin working on the new McConkey's lift-served runs, once considered a powder stash like Pinecone but now home to three intermediate groomed runs serviced by a six-pack high-speed lift named after the father of extreme skiing, Jim McConkey.
With Jupiter and McConkey's cleared by the snow safety director, the red and black-clad mountain patrol will turn its avalanche eye on the Pinecone ridge. O'Brien said, depending on the inches or feet laid down by a storm, it might take a day before the Pinecone area receives the approval to ski. Then it's time for skiers and riders to shred tracks through the deep powder.
Former PCMR ski patroller Gretchen Wilson, 27, said the new terrain in the formerly unopened Pinecone area will be especially popular this season. Until now, only select members of the mountain patrol have experienced those virgin slopes. Wilson herself spent the last four years working on the mountain's patrol and not once was she chosen for the prestigious assignment of performing avalanche control work. "Everyone always wanted to do control work up there because it was never open to the public," said Wilson, whose parents worked at the resort in the '60s and '70s. "It was considered a privilege to be able to work in that area. No one had ever skied there. It was untouched snow."
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication