It was 6:15 a.m., the sun was not out yet, and snow whipped violently all around us. Bodies moved in the dark, busily loading cats, side-by-sides, and snowmobiles with luggage and skis. Engines idled. Wind howled. And the occasional shout punctuated the din.
This was the fourth day of the Atomic ski trip to Monument Ranch at Powder Mountain — and it hadn’t stopped snowing since we’d arrived. This place was certainly living up to its name. “Too much snow” isn’t a typical problem on a ski trip. But there we were, mid-evacuation, pre-dawn, fleeing a freak snowstorm before it stranded us miles deep in the Wasatch Mountains.
The sense of joy we’d been filled with all week watching the snow pile up suddenly took a turn. I saw nervousness on some of the faces that had only portrayed ecstasy the last few days. A sense of seriousness overcame our guides. The stoke had turned to gravity.
When everything and everyone was finally loaded, the convoy of headlights set out into snowglobe darkness.
It had been an epic week. Atomic was launching its 2024/25 lineup of Bent Chetler, Backland, and Maverick/Maven skis.
The brand had gathered a handful of journalists and gear testers, along with the professional athletes who designed their respective skis — Chris Benchetler, Chris Rubens, and Daron Rahlves — for a week of touring, cat, and resort skiing.
It was lucky timing that as soon as we arrived, a nuclear blizzard rolled in and settled directly over us. Everything was lining up for two full days of skiing Utah coldsmoke powder — free refills and fresh lines galore.
Tuesday morning, we awoke to more snow. The crew gathered, ate breakfast, broke into groups, and started skiing.
Demoing With the Pros: Benchetler, Rubens, Rahlves Show Off Their Atomic Skis
Snow Day I
I set out with the cat first, set up on a pair of the 2024/25 Bent Chetler 120s. They were the perfect tool for the blower conditions at hand. The powder planks floated with even the slightest weight shift toward the backseat. They popped — almost launched — me out of turns. Any ski feels good in that kind of powder, but those Atomic Bent Chetlers were pure joy.
And I had a unique opportunity to see just how playful they can be on the right feet. Skiing behind Chris Benchetler, I watched the powerhouse freestyle pro jib, butter, boost, bounce, and bound through the backcountry on the newly updated 120s bearing his name and artwork.
That afternoon I tried the Backland 109s — Chris Rubens’ ski. We toured, lapping a ridge that had been battered with snow all day long. The light, uphill-oriented Atomic skis made quick work of the skin up.
At the top of that ridge, I heard a term I wasn’t familiar with.
“This is probably S-3 conditions,” our guide said as we transitioned. Seeing the look on my face, he clarified, “Three inches an hour.”
The descents were straight out of a ski film. Everyone was hollering and laughing. The Backlands, with their powder rocker and camber underfoot, handled the thigh-deep snow with ease. They were light enough to float without much effort and maneuvered well. It was a lively, confident-feeling ride.
And the snow kept falling.
Snow Day II
The next day we opted to rip Powder Mountain — the Chowder Fountain. It seemed appropriate given the conditions. I opted for the new Maverick 115s to mix things up and, again, it was the correct choice. (I don’t think there was an incorrect one.)
At one point in the day, I stood on top of a rock outcrop above a steep chute into trees. To my left, Benchetler was picking his line. To my right, Rubens was grinning ear to ear.
We dropped in one after the next. The Mavericks — called the “Maven” for women — were stable and charged surprisingly hard in such soft snow. The freeride skis were versatile (just like an all-mountain ski should be). And, they felt almost tactical in their power and stability (just like Daron Rahlves’ skiing).
We pushed it to the bitter end of both days. By Wednesday afternoon my face hurt, not from the 6-degree weather, but from smiling all day long.
And the snow just kept falling.
Evacuation From Monument Ranch: Fleeing the Pow
We were three tequila shots deep when our hosts informed us that we would be leaving early the next morning — earlier than anyone had expected.
“The cat needs to take off by 6:15,” we were told. Otherwise, there’d be trouble. We’d likely get buried and stuck back there. And no one wanted this party to go Donner.
Smiles faded at the announcement and the table quieted, as if someone had let the air out of the room. But it was only a momentary lapse in the festivities. Someone poured a fourth round not long afterward and the celebration reignited.
I don’t know whose alarm went off in the morning, but it wasn’t mine. I’d neglected to set one when I finally came crashing into bed, long after dinner, the fireworks, and the eventual bonfire.
Everyone managed to scramble awake almost simultaneously, though. We hastily packed and all spilled out into the cold and loaded into the cats — almost on schedule.
It took some talented cat-driving to get us out of there. At several points, we found ourselves sliding sideways toward the edge of what must have been the road. One of the snowmobiles turned over into the snow. One of the treaded side-by-sides got stuck and was abandoned.
But we made it to the Powder Mountain parking lot just after sunrise. And there was a UDOT snowplow waiting for us, to clear the closed road ahead of our sprinter vans. It was a full-on rescue operation.
Powder Mountain Resort was closed for the day. And when I checked the Utah Avalanche Report, I saw something I’d never seen before: every aspect, above and below treeline, was black.
“Extreme Avalanche Danger,” it warned. “Natural and human-caused avalanches certain.”
There was officially too much snow to ski. But we’d already had our fun, cashed our tickets, and taken the ride. I was perfectly content to hightail it home to Colorado hoping the storm would follow me — and wishing I could have brought all of those new Atomic skis with.