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Skiing with Ghosts: Old Blue Mountain, Utah

We’re skinning through a boneyard. Only a few steps into a tour of Utah’s Old Blue Mountain ski area, and I’m already unnerved. Remnants of a Poma lift, shack and small parking lot are a weathered reminder of a bygone time. I look up at snow-covered firs on a foreign horizon line and am reminded of why we made the trek to ski an abandoned resort. We have the entire place to ourselves.

Old Blue Mountain sits on the north side of the Abajo Mountains, a small range about 50 miles south of Moab. This collection of desert peaks are often overlooked by Wasatch Front skiers who rarely make the drive beyond the more glamorous La Sal Mountains. The tiny ski area once catered to Canyon Country locals from Monticello, Blanding and Bluff, but was abandoned in the ’80s due to lack of consistent snowfall and declining skier numbers. Snowmobilers and the occasional wanderer in search of elusive desert snow are now the only visitors of Old Blue’s abandoned and intact infrastructure. As I break trail, the hiss of surface hoar beneath my skis cut’s through the ghost resort’s eerie silence.

Adam Synod breaks the silence at Old Blue Mountain. [Photo] Jared Hargrave

Adam Symonds breaks the silence at Old Blue Mountain. [Photo] Jared Hargrave

I poke my head inside the bottom lift shack where it squats beside tall evergreens intertwined with ratty aspens. Sun-bleached wood and rusty nails barely hold it together, and snowdrifts fill the interior where lifties once waved at families skiing second-hand gear. I imagine kids grabbing hold of the Poma’s metal bars with mitten hands, laughing after they fell off just a few yards up the line.

The ski area’s main run is overgrown with pucker brush, and the powder is tracked out by last weekend’s snowmobile orgy. Continuing uphill, I trace the lift cable that still cuts up the mountainside. Sections sag so low between pitted lift towers that it’s buried in places by snow. The old cable line is a narrow swath through an overgrown forest, but it holds the only untouched powder around. Maybe I hear a specter whisper in the trees, or maybe it’s just the wind, but a chill down my spine tells me Old Blue wants to be skied again. I am happy to oblige.

The La Sal Mountains, near Moab, poke through the fog to the north. [Photo] Jared Hargrave

The La Sal Mountains, near Moab, poke through the fog to the north. [Photo] Jared Hargrave

The five-hour drive from Salt Lake City resulted in late start, so Adam Symonds, Jon Strickland and I race against the sun on frozen sled tracks. Halfway up the derelict slope, new growth holds protected powder and hides a vacant snowcat track leading to the top of the resort.

I pause below the upper lift shack. Shattered windows framed by naked tree limbs stare into space. The La Sal Mountains to the north and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to the east peek through a lowland inversion mist like battleships at sea.

Everything is still. I rip skins off my skis and the sound is like trespassing. As the sun’s fading light casts a cold hue on the snow, we drop in under the Poma cable. I sink my tips into the first turn and duck beneath the thick, metal wire. The next turn, I have to duck even lower. The run is like a tight couloir, with the added bonus of an undulating, low-hanging cable split down the middle. Despite my evasive maneuvers, my skis eventually come down mid-turn on a buried section of cable that I slide like a park rat on a greased rail.

Adam Symonds shoots the Poma line. [Photo] Jared Hargrave

Adam Symonds shoots the Poma line. [Photo] Jared Hargrave

Halfway down, the run widens and I slice surfy turns around lift towers that shed flakes of pale, red paint. A wind-loaded section covers the cable so deeply that we can track the entire width between forest walls, then jump over it as the snow-snake cable rears back up toward tower wheels that have been stationary for decades.

At the bottom, we gather at the solitary lift shack. Dusk is receding to night and the haunted sound of branches against eroded metal in the cold evening wind gives me the willies. Yet I am cheered by our unusual powder run in a mysterious setting. Trying to stay warm, I push off across the abandoned, snowbound access road. And, like locals did decades before, I leave Old Blue Mountain behind.

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  1. Love the mystery of this place. I have always wanted to make my way down there and ski the abandoned runs since hearing about the area a few years back. A few years ago we were able to ski what is now Eagle paint ski area after it was shut down. There is just something about skiing old abandoned runs that have been forgotten.

  2. Jamie Cowen says:

    Jared hargrave is your best reporter. what ever you pay him it isn’t enough. The writing is engaging and so visual. his willingness to explore and report on places I’ve never heard of is exciting and FASCINATING. he is a pretty good photographer too.

  3. Since when is solitude and silence eerie. “Unnerving”, Really? The entire tone of Jared’s article is one of fear and dark mystery. This old ski slope is awash with life. Owl, ravens, small ground mammals, deer, cougar, red-tailed hawk and the elusive northern goshawk share the country of this old slope. On a sunny afternoon families bring their dogs to ski the slope and play in the parking lot at the base of the slope. Snow-shoers such as myself start along the cable but continue shoeing high beyond the lift towards the mountain peak and then, when the day is young enough shoe back down through the thick fir trees enjoying the warm silence and looking at the different animal tracks weaving under the fir where snow is not so deep and travel easier.

    Writers such as Jared are almost funny to those of us who prefer solitude and animal life to human life. The good side to his visit is that, because Jared was unable to hear the life and energy teeming around the old lift he will not be back. And that is just right for those of us who live at the base of Old Blue and who live to share Old Blue with our four-legged brethren.

  4. Eric jacobson says:

    Skied there ages ago. Saw it today. Still beautiful.

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