This article originally appeared in the January 9, 2009 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
by Clint Thomsen
It was my favorite flashlight. A top-of-the-line, military-grade submersible Pelican. The box it came in said it was built to take a beating. Apparently Pelican’s gear testers never dropped one while barreling at 20 mph down the side of a snowy mountain.
I didn’t see its shaft snap against the trunk of a large pine tree after flying from my coat pocket. I only heard it. And I couldn’t have stopped to retrieve its cracked remains if I tried. In fact, attempting any kind of self-arrest at that point was probably the worst thing I could do. The best plan of action now was to focus on dodging trees myself and finishing the run in one piece.
I’m not sure which of my friends first came up with the idea to go garbage bag sledding down Broads Fork in Big Cottonwood Canyon. But it was a favorite pastime in our late teens and early 20s, a time when little mattered to me aside from climbing mountains and nurturing a moderate-to-severe obsession with flashlights.
No lifts, protective gear or groomed treeless slopes — just a box of Glad bags and a snowy forest. We’d hike a mile or so up the ridge, don our trash bags, then hurl ourselves onto the slope. We’d weave through the trees shouting manly and triumphant things until we slid to a stop in the paved parking lot.
That day, Matt, Chan and I had synchronized our launch. We slid together for the first 20 yards or so until a felled tree split us up. I veered uncontrollably onto a steeper and more densely forested section of the slope.
After a few close calls, I was able to correct my trajectory enough to avoid landing in Big Cottonwood Creek. Aside from a bruised ego and a scratched up leg, I made it to the bottom none worse for the wear. I was sad about losing my flashlight, but eager to hike back up the mountain and make another run.
The blizzard during this past Christmas brought that perilous run back to mind. By the time my family and I left Grandma’s house in Magna late Christmas night, the storm had deposited nearly a foot of snow and was still raging. The few cars that dared venture onto the streets were ambling along, trying desperately to avoid sliding into curbs and each other. SR-201 looked like it hadn’t seen a plow all evening.
I lamented the fact that the snow had started too late to take the kids on a Christmas sledding adventure. “Well,” my wife, Meadow, reasoned sarcastically, “Aren’t we technically sledding now?”
Yes, we technically were. But I played it cool. The family needed a confident leader to steer us safely home. I navigated the narrowing corridor, straining to see through the relentless rush of powder. Visibility at some points was zero, and if my heart wasn’t physically beating faster, it sure seemed like it was.
The thought that my sister had totaled her car on an icy freeway a few weeks ago wasn’t helping. Neither was my driver-side windshield wiper, which cleaned the top and bottom of the window nicely but left a wide streak of salt and ice right at eye level. The babies slept while the older boys played their Nintendo DS games that Santa had brought them, completely unaware of the dicey situation.
As I tried to follow a pair of fading ruts, I couldn’t help but recall those snow adventures of the old days and how my perspective has evolved since then. The fact that I now have a family and responsibilities probably accounts for the added anxiety and caution.
But there’s something else. Back then I loved the snow. I lived for it. I used to dream of a white Christmas. Nowadays I’m more of a “Mele Kalikimaka” kind of guy. Age — or something — has tempered my enthusiasm for winter weather. Outdoor activities are still a blast during the cold months — it just takes me a bit longer these days to warm up to the season.
The blizzard continued as we rounded the Oquirrhs and turned on to I-80. The freeway was clearer, but slicker too, and the Tooele exit couldn’t come soon enough. My blood pressure began to drop again once we exited and passed the truck stops.
Appropriately enough, the storm let up just as we pulled onto our street. One neighbor was still out pulling kids on a sled behind his ATV. I nodded toward the church parking lot and asked my wife if she was up for pulling a few donuts before we pulled in for the night. “I’m kidding,” I said before she could respond.
Only I wasn’t. Something about the ATV and the sledders — and possibly the relief of having survived one the worst storm I’ve ever seen on those roads — awakened a long dormant sense of snowy adventure in me.
We pulled into our driveway, breaching a field of untouched snow that stretched seamlessly over the yards of several houses on our street. When the van was parked, the boys looked up from their video games. Their eyes lit up at the sight.
“Sweet!” said Bridger, 7. “Can we eat this stuff? It looks pretty clean.”
They opened the door and dashed through the drifts in their pajamas, giving no thought to the cold. I grabbed our snow shovel to clear a path from the van to our front door and watched them pluck icicles from the rain gutter chute.
As I walked in the house, I peeked into the garage to spot our sleds. Tomorrow, hundreds of kids would crowd the Millpond gulch in Stansbury Park with their tubes and sleds. We’d be there too. No fancy lifts, high tech gear, or groomed slopes — just a snowy hill and a couple of Wal-Mart sleds.
After a lukewarm, so-so start, winter has officially taken the stage. And the boys and I are ready to take it on.