Monday, April 22, 2013

Ski House on a Slippery Slope

The Ski House of the Day is located at the world class ski resort of Snowbird, Utah.  Situated directly across the street from the mega-resort, this ski house is perched above the road majestically overlooking Snowbird's base area.  The awesome setting is striking from the tram (you can see the house at about 1 minute into this tram ride video).

I'm told by the locals that this impressive ski house is the mountain home of the owner of Snowbird, who is an accomplished skier, climber, overall mountaineer, and self-proclaimed committed environmental steward.  But he is also a wealthy Texan, oilman, business tycoon, investor, and the developer of a proposed large-scale coal mining operation in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of Alaska.

This ski house, which sits alone among the tall pine trees dotting the steep side of the canyon wall... essentially a concrete bunker, and for good reason.  The house, like the surrounding area, is directly in the line of avalanches, so the structural concrete is necessary to withstand the force and snow-load during an avalanche.  Some of the buildings at Snowbird are likewise made of concrete (and some even are equipped with heavy-duty avalanche doors that slide over the balcony sliding-glass doors) for avalanche protection. (To me, these avalanche protections seem as ominous as they are reassuring).   Previously a mining town, Alta in the 1800's was crushed by such avalanches, like the one in 1885 that buried the town under 50 ft. of snow killing many of residents.  I can't help wondering whether those miners, in their quest for wealth from the Earth, had become blinded to the risks on this very site.

Avalanches aren't the only threat to the area too is the threat posed by the gathering storm that is climate change.  Like the unstable, unseen layers of snow that build up to cause an avalanche...the unstable layers of greenhouse gasses generated by continuous burning of fossil fuels, are unseen but gathering, and quietly gaining the power to destroy us.  So while this house may be made of concrete...strong enough to withstand the full force of an avalanche...what about the newer threat...what is its protection from climate change?  And, more importantly, what is the protection for all of us from the threat of climate change?  Concrete bunkers won't do it...and I'm not sure we've learned the lessons of those Alta miners about being blinded to the risks during a quest for wealth.  It's time to remove the blinders before we (like the Alta miners) are all wiped out.

Anyway, getting back to the ski house...the entrance right along the road consists of nothing more than garage doors, and is presumably the service entrance as there are regularly commercial vehicles in the driveway:

From a short distance down the hill you can see this imposing ski house fortress in all its glory:

The house seems to rise up out of the mountain reminiscent of an enormous concrete mine shaft, a fortress from the elements, or a theme-park thrill ride.  Maybe it's a bit of all three.  But whatever it is, it's quite impressive.  Presumably the tall, narrow concrete structure is an elevator which connects the house to this entrance at the road level:

The private entrance is by way of a very long, very private driveway that winds over mountain terrain to the front door.  I checked out a satellite view of this intriguing ski house to see whether the local legend is true that the house is designed in the shape of Texas (possible but inconclusive).

But something I did see in person, was the stunning view all around this ski house.  With a sundeck off the side and enormous windows facing out over Snowbird, here's a hint of the view from this house:

Although it's agreed that Snowbird is indeed a beautiful and  spectacular place to ski, my sources inside the Alta/Snowbird "ski bum" and local skier community tell me that there is disdain for the owner's recent expansion of Snowbird into a grander resort because, they say, it diminishes its authenticity for "real" skiers.  These moves include things like the construction of the Peruvian Tunnel tunnel through the mountain, the installation of a "Disneyland-esque" magic carpet ride to facilitate greater access to the far side of the mountain, constructing an off-season mountain "roller coaster" (set to open this summer), and the new "nature" ski expeditions on a loud, heavy, fuel-guzzling snow-cat.  Fun attractions for many, but these expansions are perceived as a capitalist carnival by purist skiers.  And I think they may be onto something even more important than skiing purism.  How far do we push nature in the quest for financial gain?  Like Snowbird's capitalist-carnival expansion, the expansion of mining for fossil fuels (a capitalist carnival in its own right) similarly takes us further away from the authenticity of nature, and makes the Earth itself less authentic for all of us.  Less authentic, less ski-able, less safe, less valuable, less livable.  It's something to consider today, on Earth Day.

But purists and ski-bums aside...let's give credit where credit is due...the owner is responsible for creating this world-class resort in the first place, isn't he?  According to Snowbird's website, the original dream belonged to someone else who had acquired the old mining claim with a vision and dream of building the ski area...the current owner came along a few years later with the financial means that made it a big Texas-size way.

The biggest and newest controversy surrounding the owner however, is his current proposal to build the largest coal mine in Alaska.  This coal mine is proposed on a pristine snow-covered Alaskan site that almost could be mistaken for Snowbird itself.   It bewilders me (and many others) that someone who owns a ski resort which depends on a pristine mountain climate for its very existence, can be planning a project that promises to destroy an untouched snow-covered Alaskan ecosystem, and which further promises to encourage global climate change which is destroying the environment that we all share for skiing as well as everything else!  As put by a member of the Sierra Club, this is the ultimate irony!  

The way I see it, this imposing ski house, like Snowbird itself,  is surely on a slippery slope since the snow that is its raison d'etre is threatened by the proposed mining exploits of its owner. 

Here's a little more food for thought on Earth Day.  In addition to a worsening of climate change, another consequence of this Alaskan mining project will be the destruction of the salmon habitat in the Chuitna River, one of the main rivers of the Cook Inlet (hmmm...I wonder if that salmon on the menu in Snowbird's "Alaskan Roll" will disappear too when this coal mine starts up -- maybe I better grab it now while it's still available).  

Regardless of the controversies,  like Snowbird itself, this concrete-reinforced ski house sure is impressive.  I just hope it's strong enough to survive the consequences of climate change that are, at least in part, being hatched within.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Log Ski House in Amazing Alta Powder

The ski season is technically winding down now but the snow is still falling in the Wasatch Mountains...and on the slopes of Alta.   Alta's reputation for amazing snow and spectacular skiing is well known and well deserved.  But it also seems to have a magical combination of an unbelievable setting, a rich skiing history, and a distinct personality with a vibe all its own.   Alta has been a mecca for skiers for decades;  so, a ski house in a location like this could just be the holy grail for some lucky skier.

Situated up above the town of Alta, and directly on the slopes, the Ski House of the Day is this stunning snow-covered log home:

 Almost the highest house on the mountain, the exclusive location does not get any better than this for a skier...and it doesn't get any more ski-in / ski-out than this "Supreme" spot (not far from Alta's Supreme Lift).  The house is in an area know as Albion Alps...where the rough dirt road gets blanketed with deep powder early in the ski season, and it stays that way until the spring/summer thaw. This is "snow-machine only" terrain...inaccessible by car during ski season, with cat-tracks the only hint of a road at this time of year.  If you're fit and equipped for the trek, it may be possible to hike up from a parking lot at a lower altitude, but that red snow-cat sitting in front of the house looks like the perfect ride over the snow!  The house is on the market right now (asking price: $1.8 million...snow-cat included!).  During a typical mid-winter there's even more snow around this house than what's shown in the above photo!

And skiing back to this house from the slopes above is picture perfect - a skier's view from one of the trails leading back down to this area is gorgeous.

Quite possibly the ultimate skier's house, this charming, sturdy log home was built in 1981, so it's seen its share of deep Alta powder on the roof over the years.  Inside it has three cozy bedrooms...

...a classic log-home living room (with a stone fireplace on the other side of the room)...

 ....and a charmingly rustic-modern alpine kitchen:

I think log house is outstanding, but, being on the slopes of is the amazing powder snow just outside that is the real reason to be in this "ski-in ski-out" log house:

I guess, here, "ski-out" means that sometimes you have to go upstairs to do it.  Amazing Alta powder!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

High Altitude Altoona Ridge Lodge

Perched on the mountainside at the end of a 10 mile dirt road, on a private 70-acre property in an undeveloped, undiscovered, unexploited mountaintop at an altitude of about 8,000' is a back-country ski lodge where the sound of silence is the only sound for miles.  The Ski House of the Day is the Altoona Ridge Lodge, located in Maxville, Montana, in the heart of the Flint Creek Mountains.

The lodge is actually three separate small structures...

....connected by an elevated wooden walkway / bridge with a soaring view of this pristine mountain terrain:

The three structures are "cabins" each with their own identity and function.  The Lupine Cabin, with a cozy wood-stove in the corner, kitchen area, and lots of windows revealing the view,  is the place for cooking/dining/lounging:

...the Bear Den Cabin houses the bedrooms (the lodge can accommodate six people):

...and the Wild Rose is a bathhouse containing the toilet, two showers, and an amazing 8-person wood-fired sauna with a view:

One of the two showers is called the "Vertigo Shower" because of its floor to ceiling window that is 15 ft off the ground which then plunges into the 120 mile distant vistas below:
I'm not big on window treatments anyway, and with the closest neighbor about 6 miles away, I think this shower-with-a-view is great!

Altoona Ridge and the surrounding area look like a back-country skiers playground.  First tracks?  Nope,  here it's more like only tracks!

The owners are avid outdoors people, and operate the off-grid lodge with a philosophy of sharing nature with all of us;  so Altoona Ridge Lodge is available for rentals (self-guided and fully-guided) as well as various events including Avalanche certification courses.

Here's something else I notice about Altoona Ridge's named after the mining claim that it was built on, which was (presumably) named after the Latin word Altus for high / altitude.  This was the site of gold mines in the 1800's, and the ravages of that mining activity are apparently still visible here, at least during the summer months.  In the words of the owner, "Scars left by the miners...are a testament to how fragile the Earth is, how long a mark will last, and how slowly the environment at 8,000' recuperates from such activity."  So it seems to me that now the meaning of "altus / high" has been reinvented by the current owners to signify "higher use" (as in the return of this land to its natural state, a "higher" use, indeed).  So the name, Altoon Ridge, fits the site in more ways than one.

Getting to the Altoona Ridge Lodge is a 5-mile ski trek (or snowmobile, if you have to).  But I suspect that along that way you'll be leaving a lot more baggage behind than you'll be bringing in with you (and I'm not necessarily talking about the physical kind)...

It seems to me that along with the hiking and spectacular back-country skiing on the site, this ski house offers a glorious place for solitude, peace, nature, and rediscovery.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chalet Christine

The Ski House of the Day is Chalet Christine in the French Alps ski resort of La Tania.  The chalet sits among the pines just above the gondola which can be accessed by skiing down through the trees, or walking across the bridge that connects to the village.  La Tania, a pedestrian village, was originally created for the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games, and is now a popular alternative to the more exclusive resorts that share the mountain area.

The Chalet Christine is a traditional alpine style log cabin built out of Russian pine.  I love the warmth of the  logs, the wood beamed ceiling and the beautiful wooden floors in the living room area (good thing there's a ski room on the first floor to remove the ski boots!):

The long dining room table looks like a nice place to enjoy some French cuisine...and of course French bread.  (Something that caught my eye about this catered chalet is the unlimited table wine during dinner).

This chalet has plenty of room for a big group in its 14 bedrooms!  So cozy with all the logs:

So what does this chalet look like when it's full of skiers?  Check out this video tour, which includes a walk through the chalet, the view from the snowy third floor balcony, a ride up the gondola, and the skiers view from the slopes (...or skip to about 25 min. into the video if you just want to see some great steep couloir skiing there).

Chalet Christine looks like a really nice chalet in a really great ski resort.  Magnifique!