La Nada 

Winter limbo still brings snow to the Uintas

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KATHERINE PIOLI
  • Katherine Pioli

The green triceratops snow sculpture in my neighbor’s front yard melted days ago, starting with the collapse of the shield and ending with its legs fusing to the long lump of its body. Un-shoveled patches of sidewalk are turning into corrugated sheets of ice. My backyard is sinking into a murky swimming hole edged with slick brown grass. All of these signs tell me to leave the valley in search of better snow. Somewhere, higher in the mountains, there must be snow.

Utah’s finest powder has been a fickle creature this year. After touching us with her presence for days on end, she disappears, leaving an endless line of little yellow sun icons to glare at me from the weather forecast tab on my browser. It’s a fate we have maddeningly little control over since our winter weather begins somewhere in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. If it’s an El Niño year, with warm water in the Pacific, we’ll likely have a warm winter. With a La Niña, and cold Pacific waters, we’ll likely have snow.

This year, however, is neither. From far out in the Pacific came a La Nada year, which is exactly what its name implies: nothing. In this winter limbo, no prediction is possible—temperatures, precipitation and snowfall could fall anywhere on the charts or not at all.

And there was certainly a whole lot of la nada all over the ground when my Subaru dropped into the Kamas valley on a recent Sunday. Loaded up with skis and bound for the Beaver Creek Ski Trail, the distinct absence of snow was extremely worrying.

But luck smiled on me in the form of surprise doughnuts at the local Chevron.

“They’re made here,” said the gas station attendant from under her Utah-grown bouffant. She tallied up our pile of cake,  glaze and raspberry-jam-filled pre-ski treats.

As we pulled away, I realized that things were starting to look up. For starters, the hint of lemon zest in my glazed doughnut was making my eyes roll back in my head. But, just as sweet, I was beginning to notice the fresh snow piling up along the road.

After paying our $6 day-use fee at the self-service fee station, we drove in a doughnut-filled stupor, all the way to the closed gate at mile marker 14. The half-ton trucks with their snowmobile trailers indicated we had gone too far, so we back-tracked.

Beaver Creek, it turns out, is tough to find unless you already know where it is. The trail runs along the south side of the road—on the right-hand side, if you are driving up canyon. In some places, it’s set back from the asphalt a quarter mile. It’s sandwiched between a creek bottom and a minor ridgeline and tunnels occasionally through dense trees.

Only four access points connect from the road to the 5.5-mile trail. None are well marked. The first, at about mile marker 6, is near the Yellow Pine Trailhead. The rest are spaced out about two miles from each other, with limited parking space.  

When we finally found an access point, indicated by a red truck parked next to ski tracks leading out across an open field, we stepped out into a cold gray world. Aspen limbs grazed the low-hanging clouds. Snow blew sideways so that I couldn’t tell if it was falling from above or swirling up from below.
But once we reached the trail, we found it nearly pristine. Only our predecessor’s tracks cut parallel lines through the inch of fresh powder.

Just before turning back, we took a right turn onto Plantation Trail. A snowshoe trail, it climbed up and away from the groomed track, winding up onto a bench of the ridge. Here, a single wrong step sent us sinking into impossibly knee-deep snow—just the kind of snow I was looking for. 

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