Addiction in Alta: An epic winter through the eyes (and mind) of an East-turned-West Alta Employee

Words by Nick Underwood 

And so I do, in a cold sweat, sheets tangled around my clammy limbs like a junkie. Dreaming about the white room again.

“Whaaa?” I manage to groan. Assaulted with a barrage of overexcited babble, my drowsy brain manages to pick out three important pieces. Sixteen. Blower. Country Club.

Reality snaps in with the crystal clarity of a boot stomped cleanly into its binding. It’s 7:36 A.M. and I have approximately 20 minutes to get dressed and scarf breakfast before rushing outside to get in line at Collins Lift and wait. And wait, while the sound of ski patrol bombs fill the air and my toes slowly lose all sensation. And wait, while the guy with the beard asks the bro with the mustache what he’s gonna ski first run, and the bro with the mustache says, “High Boy,” and asks the guy with beard what he’s gonna ski first run, and the guy with the beard says, “Me too, High Boy.” When the lift spins at 9:15 A.M. I’m going to beat both of those goons to High Boy and get the face shots I need. But. First. I. Better. Get. Out. Of. This. Bed.

Preparation is a powder-panic blur of half-toasted bagels and mismatched socks shoved into boots. The thought of those poor, lost souls idling their cars at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon brings a smirk to my face. By the time the DoT permits the white snake of headlights to begin slithering its way up treacherous, avalanche-prone UT-210, I’ll be experiencing snow burps. Country Club, baby.

This place has changed me. I wasn’t always a ruthless, snow-crazed fiend who feels no remorse for pushing Jerries off the High-T to hurtle to their deaths. Once upon a time I was just another East Coast boy, uncorrupted by the frothy magnificence of Intermountain Pow. My youth was spent skating up hills in Nordic ignorance, naively chasing endorphins and believing three inches of cement on blue ice was a powder day. I didn’t know I was starving until I was welcomed to the 2017 all-you-can-eat Wasatch buffet with free refills of dreamy 5% blower.

November was a string of unheeded premonitions of doom. My first day at Alta, I saw happy skiers enjoying the bounty of Nature’s generosity, not ravenous snow goblins recklessly marauding in the ecstasy of indulgence. Now, when I read the words scratched into my bunk, “IT’S NOOKIN POW,” I see the shaky, slanted hand of a canyon denizen deep in the grip of powder addiction. Before, I thought it merely a charming and eccentric journal entry.

I should’ve seen it coming. One needs look no further than the detritus of disposable coffee cups and decimated Sour Patch Watermelon bags strewn in my wake to realize the depths of my addictive personality. I should have known things would get out of hand, should have realized I couldn’t handle a 200-inch January, but I was clueless. Riding the chair with a grizzled veteran one early November morning, I exclaimed aloud my excitement to ski the half-foot of fresh overnight snow and the dude promptly turned into a gremlin. Remember the scene from Lord of the Rings when friendly, grandfatherly Bilbo sees the Ring around Frodo’s neck and comes at him like an insane honey badger? Such was the intensity of the man’s pow-addiction-induced bitterness as he snarled at me that the snow was too heavy and the mountain overrun. “In a few years they’ll be letting damn snowboarders up here,” he hissed.

I wrote him off as a grumpy old loner. Only now as I hurry my way to my next fix, I suspect he was the manifestation of my future lunacy.

Finally it’s 9:15 and the mob of frenzied skiers shuffles onto the lift. First run, Highboy. Quads burn, head in a cloud, can’t see or catch my breath, no stopping. Bliss. And more of the same all morning- this is why we live here. The skiing is all-time, but it’s never enough—by midday the pristine fields of sparkling powder have been devastated by neon hordes of fanatics. I spend the whole day wavering between second-guessing my run choices and then believing my run choices are better than everyone else’s. By mid-afternoon my legs are jello and my dehydrated head aches. I’m anything but sated.

Life in Alta is an endless storm-cycle of intense indulgence and painful high-pressure system withdrawal. It’s only a matter of time before the government learns that Colombian cocaína has been trumped by Wasatch powder as the most addictive white granulated substance on earth. When the FDA classifies it as an illegal Schedule I drug with high risk of abuse and dependency, expect an Escobar-esque showdown of epic proportions to ensue along the Wasatch front.