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Chasing Lines in the Wasatch: About the Merchant

When you ski an area long enough there are certain lines that begin appear between scattered rock faces and groves of trees. After a while your imagination begins to run wild, creating phantom turns and outrunning fantastical sluff, dodging trees and pointing it out into the open. The Seagull is one of these chutes. I have gazed trance-like at this line since my first lift ride up Brighton. It is steep, narrowed by jagged rocks, and empties into a widespread apron. From the lift it looks like the number three or, with some imagination, a sideways flying seagull.

Tracks are constantly shooting out from the funnel into the apron, boasting wide, high-speed super G turns. Typically a handful of the daring will ski The Seagull and then the narrow line will be too scarred by tracks to hold the prestige of an aggressive backcountry line.

A small storm had recently deposited a few inches of fresh snow onto the Wasatch and the old lines on the route had filled in once again, providing a blank canvas down the face of Tuscarora. It was now our turn to streak the line with tracks.

Mark Speicher, Jack Stauss, and I started out as the March sun began to shine on Big Cottonwood Canyon. After a quick bootpack we reached the summit of Mt. Millicent, descended the backside and skinned along the west ridge of Mt. Wolverine. The bowl of Mt. Wolverine is a classic face that, like its ridgeline cousins, stares like a siren song, tempting the adventure-seekers of Brighton. From the top of Wolverine we skied the open bowl until we were able to gain the ridgeline that connects Wolverine and Tuscarora. Before long we were staring down the rocky opening of The Seagull.

After years dreaming we were finally looking our oldest backcountry goal in the face. Fear took hold then as we stared down the steepest, rockiest section. The end of The Seagull is blind from the top and when we considered the technical segment in front of us, we wondered what the rest of the line held in store.

Jack dropped first, picking his way between rocks as wind-packed sluff rolled down past him. Once at the dogleg he made one final turn, hopped a rock and pointed it out of sight. I dropped next, skittering down the hardpack following Jacks line until the rest of the chute opened up below. Firm, chattering snow gave way to soft powder and wide turns as soon as I turned the corner down the chute.

Just as water rolls over rocks and down riverbeds, so slid the snow between the steep rock walls. The stream ebbed on after me and I left the world behind, speeding to meet the sun at the chutes exit. Skiing into the apron was like a lightning strike to my core. My heart raced and the mountain air blew a charge deep into my soul. I let out a voluminous laugh and a howl that bounced around the amphitheater of surrounding mountains and echoed across Brighton. Once I had stopped and the sound of rushing wind left my ears, yells from Brightons lifts floated back up over the ridge to where Jack and I waited for Mark.

Mark was close behind, surfing down, picking up speed, his arms spread like the wings of a bird diving through the sky. The crowd cheered on, matching his howl as it reverberated through the basin. Looking back up, our tracks arched like streaks of ink running down a blank page.

After years of yearning we had each left our mark on this classic Wasatch line and for that one fleeting instant, just before the next pack of explorers came or the wind washed our tracks skyward, The Seagull was finally ours.

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Archives: (November 8th, 2013) Contributing Writer / James Dillon


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