Trust me, powder panic is real and it’s relative

powder panic shutterstock

Earlier this season on a 70 centimetre powder day I ventured out for first chair at Deer Valley ski resort in Utah. 

Park City locals already know that when the powder falls in bucket loads, as it has this season, you take your chance at Silver Star chair then race the line at the Eagle Chair at Park City Mountain to get fresh tracks down to King Con then Motherlode until Jupiter opens, or you just meander over to Deer Valley (or as I call it, Disneyland for adults).

Powder is a commodity for any ski resort and of course the high end slopes of Deer Valley are no exception but the average clientele at DV like to take their time in the morning and love the thrill of fresh perfect corduroy. Think I’m being ageist or skill discriminatory? Think again, this is an actual conversation I heard on the chairlift on that powder day.

“A friend of mine was on first tracks this morning and said there was too much powder on the top of the groomed run so he came in.” 

But I digress. I arrived with a good half an hour before the chairlifts would open. There was no one in line, they were all inside the day lodge grabbing a coffee and discussing their powder plan for the morning. All twenty of them. 

When I asked them where would be best for me to go this morning to grab those same powder lines they were seeking they made some suggestions and showed me on the map. No friends on a powder day clearly doesn’t apply here or I had overslept and woke in an alternative universe, where powder was shared and plentiful for all and no wall was being built for those pesky Ikon pass holders.

I followed the crowd, more an immediate Mormon family size than a full Woodstock commune, to the lift line which was now five people deep. Five. People. Deep. I mean, if you were in a supermarket you’d be glad you chose this checkout line with or without your fifteen or less items. Even when you times it by five people wide you’re still winning. 

Then the panic happened. The chairlift opened and people were trampled in the rush to get first chair. Literally, Bogners and Monclers flying and falling over in panic. You’d think it was the rope drop at Currie Bowl at Fernie or the start of the Boxing Day sale at Harvey Nichols the way these Jekylls became Hyde with the push of a chairlift button.

Powder panic is relative. Whether two people or two hundred people the idea of missing fresh powder takes over. Like a shopaholic on Black Friday or Cyber Monday or a kid at Halloween, tunnel vision ensures a micro focus on the one thing to feed the addiction, no matter what. 

Powder panic can hijack the brain in the quest for dopamine that powder skiers know powder provides. But once your brain adapts you need more and more of your addicted activity or substance to get that high.

That’s when compulsion takes over, otherwise known as powder panic at the idea you won’t get any, even when you know there will be fresh tracks till lunch time and the lift line is miniscule. It makes no sense and every sense.

It’s why that same person always goes first in a heli ski or cat ski group, terrified he/she will miss out even though there is literally a blank canvas below on which a mere ten people will play.

So I just took my time (and still got fifth chair) on that Deer Valley powder day, then I followed those lovely powder folk to where they had not suggested I go.

Because, no matter how nice they are, beware the local addicts who offer you free powder advice.

Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.