Powder mag highlights illegal ski locale

Courtesy of Powder Magazine

The November cover of Powder magazine, shot by Jay Beyer in the "Unidentified Southern Utah Desert."

The November issue of Powder magazine hits newsstands early next week. On the cover, in a photograph shot by Jay Beyer, you'll see Noah Howell making a powder turn against a backdrop of red sandstone spires. The location is listed vaguely as "Unidentified in Southern Utah desert."

Inside the magazine, you'll find a two-page photo (by a photographer who's used a penname and an unnamed skier) and a story written by Peter Kray on skiing in Bryce Canyon National Park, a feat that's rare for two reasons: One, it rarely snows enough in southern Utah for the skiing to be any good and two, it's actually against the law to downhill ski or snowboard off the rim in Bryce Canyon National Park (cross-country skiing is allowed, however).

Skiing is permitted in many national parks in the U.S., but according to Dan Ng, the chief of interpretation for Bryce Canyon National Park, downhill skiing in Bryce isn't allowed because it's too dangerous. "Our cliffs are very steep here," Ng said. "It's not quite the equivalent of skiing off the rim of the Grand Canyon, but it's close." Ng added that violators can be ticketed for the offense.

Last winter, Bryce Canyon received 30 percent more snow than a typical winter, and their 2010 season average of 130 inches was enough for a few Salt Lake City-based skiers to venture south for uncharted powder turns in the desert. Kray's story talks about how a photographer and some skiers got approached by a ranger in Bryce Canyon. "They did get caught, but they didn't get a ticket," Powder editor Derek Taylor told ESPN. "They apparently told the ranger that they didn't see any signage indicating they couldn't ski there."

In May 2006, rock climber Dean Potter made a controversial ascent of southern Utah's Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, where climbing arches is prohibited. The storm that ensued afterward led Patagonia to drop Potter from its roster of sponsored athletes.

Granted, skiing in a prohibited area isn't quite the same as climbing in one, says Taylor. "Sure, it's similar in that they're doing something they're not supposed to do," he says when asked about similarities to the Dean Potter situation. "But the temporariness of snow makes it different -- they obviously left tracks in the snow but the snow melts and it's not like you're damaging the rock underneath."

Taylor says they chose to highlight the locale, despite its illegality, because of the rarity of last winter's snow conditions in that region. "Unless we get another major shift in weather patterns, I don't think people will be able to ski there again," Taylor said. "This was a once-in-a-50-year chance."

And although he won't publically own up to skiing in Bryce, cover athlete Noah Howell -- who says he and Beyer nabbed that shot in "southern Utah" after a two-foot storm -- will say that the skiing was otherworldly. "Skiing in southern Utah felt like skiing on the moon (I imagine) and it's almost as improbable," Howell says. "It rarely gets enough snow to ski and it melts fast with the desert heat. The contrast of red rock, white snow and blue sky is like nothing I've ever seen on this planet."

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