Steep Thinkers 

Gordy Peifer teaches skiers the tricks of hitting scary vertical drops.

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It’s hard for skiers to focus on a powder day in Salt Lake City, and this February day is no exception. Avalanche work has closed the road up Little Cottonwood Canyon, and I’m grateful for the ski magazine I left in the back seat of the car as everyone sits there for an hour, patiently waiting for traffic to start moving.

I’m running late to meet U.S. and Canadian Freeskiing Champion Gordy Peifer and his big mountain ski camp of pro skiers and students learning to ride the sickest terrain. It’s the kind of skiing you see in films where the athletes hit lines so steep that just getting down is considered a technical descent.

The day really can’t be better for skiing. Visibility is poor and the wind is a bit stiff, but the snow is abundant, though of a rich thick creamy consistency more like Tahoe’s than the famous Utah powder. There’s been a few feet of it, and everywhere you look there is a layer of fat, thick, fast snow that you can lean into and not touch bottom. The group is gathered at the base of Alta’s new Collins lift. We jump on and head up for a few runs while waiting for the rest of the crew.

Peifer’s company, Straightline Adventures, ( takes advantage of the accessibility of some of the finest terrain in the world here in Utah, but he says it’s not just the mountains that make this area special. Peifer explains, “When someone comes out to these camps, they get to ski with some of the best skiers in the world, and they’re all low-key, no ego. …. It’s really an incredible experience to be out here with the movie stars they have been watching, the people from the videos, and find out they’re all so nice.”

Peifer gets amped talking about the camps, and you can sense his passion for the sport. At this camp they focus on video, filming almost everything and analyzing as they go. Later, all the skiers and coaches will sit around and watch everything one more time. “When I was racing, I learned the most I ever learned from watching myself on video,” Peifer says.

Throw in half a day of avalanche and backcountry safety, and it’s a full weekend. “We’ve had some unbelievable changes in three days,” Peifer says proudly. Nothing makes him happier than the chance to help great skiers become phenomenal skiers.

Guest coaching today are star skiers Chris Collins and Rick Greener. Both have graced many a ski video; Greener actually skipped the World Cup of Freeskiing finals at Tigne, France to film with Teton Gravity Research last year. “It’s amazing, but it’s actually more important to make the films than perform in the competitions, as far as your career goes,” Greener explains. The group will split off in thirds, with coaches rotating among the groups to work with all the skiers. I take off with the Collins group and we head on up.

Brothers Ryan and Brandon Paske have come all the way from Rochester, Minn., for this year’s camp. “I’ve always been hearing about how good it is out here, how great the snow is compared to everywhere else. ... So far, it’s been true,” Brandon says. And Brandon hasn’t even seen the Utah powder per se; everyone agrees the current dumping is more like a heavier West Coast variety. “A lot like B.C. today,” says 25-year-old Indiana resident Kelly Johnson, the only woman in the group this weekend.

“Keep your skis a little further apart,” recommends Collins to a rider with some wide twin-tipped skis, while we are all standing in feet of snow in a steep little chute out on the ridge. This is news to me—trained in the old “feet together” school of skiing—but it turns out the newer shaped skis like to have a little more room to maneuver.

The wind hits as we take the high traverse out, but it disappears each time we drop into the Greeley Bowl and take many turns in untracked snow. Everywhere you look, there are lines just begging to be skied. I find it difficult to stay with the group and follow along—there are just too many distractions.

At one point, everyone cuts left and I go right, and when I arrive at the lift five minutes later, there is no one familiar to be found. A lift attendant walks over to the terrain status sign and flips the little “closed” to “open” for the Supreme Bowl, which had been kept closed the day before while 2 feet of fresh snow settled. I can’t resist the urge to play hooky from class and sneak off for a few runs—all the while reminding myself to keep my feet a little further apart in the chutes.

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About The Author

Tom Brennan

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