Dude Soup at the P-Dog

Twenty-five years after a rollicking spring break trip to Alta, Utah, one mom returns on a girls’ trip of another sort.

There’s nothing better than being with your kids.  Except maybe not being with them.  If you’ve ever snuck away on a girl’s trip—or even if you’ve spent the evening with your gal pals over pints of beer, swapping stories of mothering gone bad and husband behaving badly, then you know what I’m talking about.

I had coerced my husband into taking the kids during a hunk of our spring break while I headed for Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah to ski the steep and slushy (and at times, bulletproof) slopes of Alta. The plan was to stay at the notoriously lowbrow P-Dog (or the “Alta Peruvian” to the uninitiated). Constructed out of old war barracks in 1948, the P-Dog is a haven for skiers of the male persuasion. The P-Dog’s hot tub is known as “Dude Soup” (or worse, “sizzling sausages”).

My pal Ev cooked up the idea to rally a bunch of skiers of the female persuasion to take over the P-Dog one weekend in spring. About 20 of us signed on, though the actual numbers dwindled as the time closed in. Too many stressful jobs, family commitments, and imminent pregnancies. (Excuses, excuses.)

It was not my first time at the Peruvian. In 1987, my college roommate “Tate” and I made our first pilgrimage to Alta. The resort is—or should be—on the bucket list of every hardcore skier out there. Ever fearful of Utah’s weird alcohol laws and 3.2 beer, we wrapped bottles of peach schnapps and vodka in our long johns and packed them in our suitcases. Fuzzy navels in the hot tub was the plan. And while the fuzzy navel plan was sheer brilliance, for the most part, we sure were stupid back then.

The Peruvian

We skied in Hawaiian shorts (dumb), got on the lifts early when the bumps were like concrete (dumber) and applied not a dollop of sunscreen (dumbest of all). We wanted goggle tans, dammit! Our college pals were all heading for Fort Lauderdale, and we didn’t want to look pasty in comparison.  After our first day baking on the chairlifts, turning our heads to the sun, we drank our Fuzzy Navels and conked out in our dorm room, which was crammed with two bunk beds and a sink. The shared bathroom was across the hall.

In the morning, Tate called up to me in a panic. “Hey, Maddog! Wake up! Can you open your eyes?” I tried. But they were swollen shut. Both of us were so sunburned our eyelids were like tiny sausages and our cheeks were bubbled with second-degree burns. We slathered zinc oxide all over our faces so that we wouldn’t miss a day of skiing.  We looked like clowns. We were clowns.

So I came back more than 25 years later (which I can’t really believe, but I’ve checked the math on it five times now) to ski with a different bunch of girls. Women now…older and wiser. Doctors, lawyers, writers. A PR maven, a graduate student, and a famous modern artist.  Some moms, some not.  Oh, and one brother who was sadomasochistic enough to join a group called “Women Take Over the P-Dog.” On his birthday, no less. His sister, with a straight face, gave him a giant salami as a present. I thought that was very funny.

Alta girls weekend

The girls at Alta, looking a little tippy.

I’m pretty sure I was checked in the same room as the college spring break, but this time there were single beds instead of bunkbeds. I did pass Bunkroom 99 on the third floor, a less than spacious room filled with bunks and dressers, where the simmering dudes from the hot tub pile in like socks in a drawer to catch their z’s. The din of snoring must be deafening.

On the first night, I dunked into the hot tub where I met two moms I assumed were part of our group. They were on momcation.  “We come every year,” they told me. Their husbands  know: “Happy wife; happy life.” I recruited them to join our group for wine and cheese and dinner. The hot tub recruits fit right in. We had great laughs over meals of steak, lamb, and curry, followed by strawberry shortcake. At the Peruvian, in old ski lodge style, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all included with the price of a room.

I realized that we lingered over the meal at least eight times longer than family meals at home. It is not unheard of for my little chiddlers to start clearing their plates before I even sit down. It was so pleasant to sit and chat over coffee and dessert. And in the morning, I laid in bed for a full half an hour after I woke up, just because I could.

Alta, High Rustler at left

We spent the first day skiing under warm blue skies. I wore copious amounts of sunscreen and reapplied often. I skied in full-length ski pants. On Alta’s backside, we found snow that was delightfully mushy. We skied chutes under Supreme, crusty sunbaked gunk in Catherine’s. Underneath Devil’s Castle the snow was creamy enough you might confuse it with powder. At the end of the day, we took the requisite drop down Alf’s High Rustler–Alta’s infamous thousand-foot, 47 degree elevator shaft that plunges to the base.

Back at the P-dog, I grabbed a beer in the lodge’s iconic bar, which is filled with wooden booths and comfy leather couches. A giant buffalo head surveys the scene from above a wood-burning fireplace as the bartender pours drafts of Peruvian Amber in big fish-bowl glasses. As I wait for my drink, an inebriated, red-faced après skier (male species) slurred a thank you to the bartender for a half dozen shot glass of tequila. The bartender handed him a plate of salt. The teetering tosspot and his man pals were snorting the salt, doing the shot, then squirting the lime in their eyes. I am not kidding.  I suspected they would be skiing in shorts the next day.

I met the rest of the gal posse in the P-dog’s cozy lobby, which is complete with wood-burning fireplace, tables with built-in chess boards, and a cookie and hot drink station. We sipped red wine hand-crafted by my roomie’s husband. It was declared very delicious and even “tasted like real wine.”  I could feel my motherhood batteries recharging.

Although the children managed to invade my precious “me” time. At one point, the artist complimented me on my hat, which is a sort of sock I tie in a knot, do-rag style. I was feeling pretty hip and unencumbered until she reached over and pulled off a crumb-covered raisin of the side of my head. I held up the raisin and said, “This raisin represents my life.” The mommy life is filled with sticky things and our children are omnipresent.

The artist, contemplating a rock-lined chute at Alta

The next day, below the Castle, we discovered a miniature couloir in the trees. The artist, though she’d spent a ski-bum year as a chambermaid at Snowbird, was apprehensive about the steep rock-lined shot. She hadn’t skied in decades, and the entrance was, admittedly, a little hairball. But there was no backing out. She skied it, and the thrill on her face at the bottom may well have been the best part of my weekend. Her enthusiasm was contagious.  After 50 days on snow, I’ve gotten to be a little picky about my conditions. She reminded me how darn lucky I am to get away and ski, especially at a mountain where every view threatens to pop the eyeballs right out of your head.

When I got home, I peeked in on my sleeping daughter.  As I pulled up the covers, she opened her eyes for just a moment and gave me the sweetest, dopiest grin that said, “Thank goodness you’re home, mom! I love you completely and missed you terribly. And by the way, have you seen my raisin?”


  1. Am reading this in a cozy ‘king suite’ at the Extended Stay America (a sad and far, far cry from the P-Dog), where my kids and I are bunked down during a house-hunting / spring break extravaganza in Northern Virginia. Oh how I wish I were you, and you were me right now. Lovely image of Anya at the end. Well done Helen!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Glad you enjoyed. So, you’re saying the P-Dog is swank compared with your “king suite”? Are those unnecessary quotes or not so much “king”?

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