If you want to beat Utah’s inversion (and ski traffic), hop on Uncle Maui’s bus
It’s so bad freeway signs warned drivers to slow down because smog causes low visibility. The air quality was orange, meaning unhealthy for sensitive groups.
The air is dense, gritty and gross outside. So what can you do to help?
Get on the ski bus up either Little or Big Cottonwood Canyon with Uncle Maui. Utah Transit Authority driver Josh Memea adopted the nickname when his niece mistook him for Dwayne Johnson’s character in “Moana.”
Disney’s Maui is a demigod, and Uncle Maui’s skills behind the wheel are no less godlike. He has been smoothly navigating winding, snow-covered canyon roads since 2019.
Friendly and enthusiastic, he just wants to make sure everyone is having a good day. He remembered one specific time when a mom boarded with her toddler, who was terrified of the bus.
“I was able to ease the tension and show him who Uncle Maui was,” he said, “by the time they got off my bus we were all laughing, and to this day they still ride my bus.”
Even with Uncle Maui’s sunny disposition, it can be jarring going back and forth between good and bad air on bus rides all day. On the ride up the mountain, one passenger, Ryan Gunn of Houston, Texas, was surprised at the bad air quality.
“I was told it’s not normally this bad,” he said.
He may have been told wrong. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Salt Lake Valley averages 18 days with unhealthy air quality per winter. Compared to the valley floor, the top of the mountain is a breath of fresh air.
The skiers rush to hit the slopes, and Uncle Maui takes a brief step outside as well. He loves it up here, even though he’s never actually been skiing. He tried snowboarding once but it didn’t go great.
“First time trying it I fell and broke my arm, and never again,” he said.
Safely on his bus, Uncle Maui loves his job. He wanted to be a bus driver when he was a little kid so he is “literally living the dream,” he said.
Descending back into the valley, it’s easy to understand why. A thick cloud of smog hung at the end of the road. All the passengers will be stuck down in the muck for the foreseeable future, but Uncle Maui will be back up the mountain in just a few hours, breathing free.