Monday, February 27, 2012

Skiing Cedar Breaks

I’ve accomplished my winter 2012 weekend ski assault on the mountain and have returned home unscathed. 

On second thought, perhaps “assault” is a bit of a stretch.


I never did learn to ski when I was young, and now that I am older I apparently still have not learned. This fact does not stop me, however, from making my yearly pilgrimages to the winter wonderland of Cedar Breaks National Monument in the mountains of southwest Utah. 

IMG_0997Cedar BreaksNational Monument
Amphitheater that is Cedar Breaks National Monument

My first and only downhill ski lesson was back in 1991 at Brian Head ski area in the 10,000–foot high mountains east of Cedar City. Slipping and sliding klutzily down the bunny slope at the lightning speed of maybe three miles per hour max, I quickly realized I was not cut out for this sort of speed sport. Careening down highway 9 coming off the Hurricane Fault on a bicycle at 38 miles per hour poses no problem whatsoever. But strap my feet onto those narrow strips of high–tech plastic while moving at glacial speeds and for some mysterious reason I become unglued. 

It’s snow, for crying out loud. What is my problem? 

Not wanting to waste any opportunity to be outdoors in winter I decided I would learn to cross–country ski. If you can walk, you can cross–country ski, everyone said. So around ten years ago, with a little help from my friends, I bought some nice skis, poles, and boots. I got all geared up to go out and glissade myself silly. COC & JC (of Burgess Shale adventure fame) were willing to share their years of skiing experience and show me how it’s done. True friends that they are, little did they realize what they were getting themselves in to.


Unfortunately in those early days there were few groomed cross–country ski trails within a hundred miles of Cedar Mountain. We would invariably end up breaking our own trail across vast meadows and through thick evergreen forests, sinking into thigh–deep drifts with every attempted kick and glide. It was great to be outdoors, I would tell myself, exercising our spirits and our bodies in the crisp high mountain sunshine. 

I hated every minute of it. 

Appreciation of any winter wonderland of snow rapidly disappeared when I went ass over teakettle into the drifts of that shimmering whiteness. When the inevitable occurred and I lost my balance I would sink sideways into a deep blanket of soft whiteness. By the time I managed to become vertical again I would be a nervous, whimpering wreck. It became my worst nightmare of a malignant mother nature. 

Over the years, though, a track has occasionally been laid across the Cedar Breaks amphitheater rim road, which isn’t plowed in winter. Skiers, snowshoe folks, and snowmobilers often use this scenic route to access a warm, cozy yurt that is staffed on weekends by volunteers. Groomed tracks are much more suitable to my temperament and limited abilities and with them I found my comfort level. 

IMG_7136Skiing Cedar Breaks
Patient COC waits for pokey me

It's weird, though.  Some years I nail it, my technique is nearly flawless, and it seems like I was born to ski. Other years I could not stop my forward momentum without plowing into a snow bank if my life depended on it. My knees tremble, my vision goes blurry, and it’s all I can do to stay upright as I inch my wobbly, hesitating way down another bunny hill at that blistering speed of three miles an hour.

IMG_1002Cedar Mountain
 View west from the monument road

Am I technically skiing? That question is certainly up for debate.  But Cedar Breaks National Monument is so stunningly scenic on a sunny winter day that it is not easy to stay away. So with knees wobbling like a jello popsicle and a teakettle that insists on tumbling sideways I’ll do my best to stay vertical on those skinny plastic sticks and enjoy another snowy glide. 

IMG_1001Brian HeadPeak
Brian Head peak - elevation 11,307' above sea level


  1. I love to xc ski, but here in the flatlands it's pretty tame. And this winter it has been non-skiing due to non-snow. Blah. The pics of Cedar Breaks are beautiful.

    1. Marianne - I wish I were better at it. But I keep on keeping on anyway, every winter, just to get out there in the beauty of Cedar Breaks.

  2. That's got to be an excellent way to see Cedar Breaks during winter. I learned to downhill ski in Illinois, if you can believe it, on a snow covered garbage hill. Later I outgrew the "go fast" skiing and enjoyed xcountry in Washington. Now, I'd rather look at snow from inside somewhere warm.

    I'm thinking a trip to Death Valley next month. Want to go?

    1. A trip to Death Valley sounds very interesting. Next month? Hmmmmmm.....

  3. Looks like great fun! Love your picture of the breaks.

    1. Silver Fox -
      It is fun even though I feel like a total klutz on skis.
      The Breaks are gorgeous in any season but particularly in winter with the contrast between blue sky, white snow, green forest, and red rock.