Salt Lake City is home to a number of famous institutions, though many aren’t famous for the same reasons. The Church of the Later Day Saints (Mormons) is headquartered at the intersection of Temple St. and State St., where it oversees a global religion of 13 million adherents. The SCO Group, famous for claiming that Linux violated its copyrights and demanding license payments from all users, is located in a non-descript building in Lindon.
But perhaps the most important institution, the bedrock of what keeps me coming back again and again (aside from my family), is the bountiful and beautiful snow capped Wasatch mountain range.
Skiing is a way of life in the winter. We normally leave the house at around 8:30, make the 20 minute drive up to Snowbird, ski until we’re tired and make it home by 4:00. We play cards at lunch, drink juice packs, eat the occasional chili cheese fries, and generally have a relaxing day on the double black diamonds. Snowbird lies at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, a steep, twisting drive up into the heart of the Wasatch Range. Most of the road is only two lanes wide with the occasional passing lane, with one side being a mountain and the other being a quick drop into a cliff or stream.
One notable day several years ago, I had what alcoholics refer to as a ‘moment of clarity’. I was in the passenger seat as we snaked up through the valley on our way to ski, and I was paying attention to the line of cars we had found ourselves intermingled with. Not everyone drives the same speed, and not everyone takes this fact pragmatically.
Several cars behind us was a big, impatient SUV. He was hugging the car in front of him, and whenever even a small stretch of road appeared he would make a move to pass. Slowly he worked his way up to our car, and started to wait for another opening in the road.
Other cars would pass us coming down the mountain at irregular intervals, but it seems that such was the need to keep moving that the SUV decided to pass on a nearly blind turn. I instinctively grabbed my armrests as the SUV roared by us, achieving a probable 3 miles-per-gallon on a push that saw it miss an oncoming sedan by no more than a three second margin. Further acts of automobile heroism saw him inch up, car by car, until he was out of sight.
Approximately five minutes later, when we pulled into the parking lot, I spotted the SUV about 8 cars to our right. The SUV that had risked death and atmospheric insurance premiums to forge ahead of us was only about 25 seconds walking closer to the lift than we were. We put on our ski clothes, grabbed our gear and started the short hike. As we passed, I saw the two passengers standing next to the SUV’s side door, finishing their coffees. By the time I had lost sight of them they still hadn’t even gotten their skis out.
Between the ages of 20 and 22, I received four speeding tickets that cost me a total of about $600, not counting increased insurance premiums. In retrospect, only one of them wasn’t strictly deserved (I swear the school zone blinker wasn’t on), and all of them were in situations where I wasn’t even in a hurry. I’ve never been in a bad car accident, but watching the SUV take the blind turn scared me in a deep, primal way.
Every time I find myself driving fast, I think back to walking by those SUV drivers, their coffee, and the 25 extra seconds of contemplation, and ask myself, “Why?”