Friday, January 19, 2018

sunny sunday

It was full-on sunny on Sunday, and warmer too, so both H and I forewent the down layers.  It seemed very wrong to be wearing spring-appropriate clothing but it also seemed wrong to complain about bluebird skies and warm(-ish) toes.  We took the same earlier bus which was a little busier than the one the day before.  It was busy up at Alta too: more-so than Christmas week but less than Saturday.

When your jacket matches the sky

We did three runs on Collins - including one in the Ballroom which had firmed up considerably in one day - and I realized that the sub-optimal tune on my skis was not conducive to the firm groomers there.  We did one run on Sugarloaf, finding Razorback soft and bumpy (with hidden rocks), then moved over to Supreme via a Cabin Run when the 'Loaf's line got long.  We stayed at Supreme for the rest of the day, doing multiple runs in Catherine's Area and multiple runs through the top gate under East Castle, making our way down through the cliffs and trees just east of the Apron.  The snow was quite good in there, deep and soft and not completely discovered and tracked out (yet).

Cool light coming from the Castle

I quit at 2 p.m., my legs still not strong enough for a full day off-piste.  H did two more runs, seeing how the front side held up.  We tried taking the 3:34 p.m. bus back to the valley, finding it less crowded but caught up in heavier down-canyon traffic.  We still are committed to taking the bus - it just takes some finessing to get it right.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

further improvement

An additional storm, late in the week, brought us a much-needed two feet of snow, just in time for the long weekend.  Anticipating crowds, H and I took the 7:30 a.m. bus up to Alta, arriving at the base an hour before opening.  Since we were there so early, we had no difficulty nabbing a seat in the Goldminer's Daughter lodge to put on our boots.  But the combination of new snow and a long holiday weekend meant that Saturday was far busier than it had been Christmas week.

On the ski bus

The new snow meant that Alta was able to get some additional, off-piste terrain open.  This was really good news, especially for me since I had gotten a terrible tune on my skis: they wouldn't hold an edge, wobbling back and forth, and one of them had a noticeable drag to the right.  I didn't trust them at all on groomed runs but they were definitely better off-piste.  The Ballroom was good; the Backside/East Greeley was good; and we did multiple runs in Catherine's Area, where it was really good way far in (Last Chance area or so).  This was my first time this season going into Catherine's Area and I quickly remembered that hiking in and skiing off-piste was much hotter and harder work than cruising groomers.  Much more fun too.

Back in Catherine's Area - finally

The increased crowds meant an awful lot of doofuses in the lift lines: people unable to count to four to load the quad chairs; people unable to get through the gates because their ski passes were in the same pocket as their phones (despite being told not to do that at the ticket window); people trying to jump the line via singles ... these are the times that try season passholders' souls.  But even with the doofuses, it was one of the better days of the season thus far - blue sky and new snow go a long way towards making a good day.

It was a busy bus ride back down to the valley and when we got there, it felt like springtime, not January 13th.  Some of our neighbors were sitting out in their front lawns, enjoying cocktails and the unseasonable sunshine.  We grabbed a couple of beers and joined them.  It felt like the right thing to do.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

that's an improvement

Saturday's storm lingered overnight and brought another four inches to Alta.  A storm total of 7" is normally not that big a deal in northern Utah but after the very dry November and December, seven brought the stoke.  But first we had to get up to it.

It was sleeting Saturday afternoon and evening, something that is never remarked upon back east but which is an uncommon occurrence out here.  The streets and roads had all been pre-treated and weren't slippery on Sunday morning.  The driveway up to the park-n-ride at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon - the park-n-ride at which the later ski buses stop - that had not been salted at all, however.  Our 7:55 a.m. bus was the first to attempt it but a passenger car had gotten stuck, wheels spinning on the ice.  Once that guy had gotten out of the way, our bus struggled mightily to make it up the incline, at one point sliding backwards down into the canyon road.  H volunteered to try to stop traffic so the bus could maneuver its way up; he was subjected to quite a lot of rude yelling by drivers unwilling to wait for even a minute.  But our bus finally made it up the incline to pick up the waiting riders and even though we had been delayed over a half hour, we still got up to Alta before they started loading first chair.

Patrol-triggered avalanche debris in the Ballroom

I must admit, after the snow drought we've been having, that 4-7" of new snow was lovely to ski on.  It got skied out really, really quickly but even then it was soft and not nearly as heavy as I thought it would have been given the warm temperatures on Saturday.  We did several runs on Collins to start and I thought the snow was pretty good.  H went into the Ballroom when they dropped the rope, reporting a decent run even with beginners freaking out and stopping on the traverse.

It was a gorgeous day, mostly sunny but with morning temperatures in the high teens, and we enjoyed being able to see after the terrible visibility/very flat light the day before.  When my toes started to get cold, we switched over to Sugarloaf which has more sun exposure this time of year.  The snow was staying soft there too and bumping up on the sides of the main groomers.  H gave Razorback a try but said it was pretty spotty with all the rocks.

So nice to see snow in the mountains again

After lunch, we did three runs off Supreme: Rock N Roll, then out through the trees at the low gate where we'd taken N and T.  It was absolutely fun in there, the low angle trees protecting the snow pretty well, although I managed to collect a noticeable gouge from hitting a rock.  All things considered, the snow stayed in pretty good shape into the afternoon, when it finally started to deteriorate, getting skied off in the high traffic areas.  Corkscrew was particularly bad (as it usually is in the afternoon, even in good snow years), which we learned when we skied out through Collins. 

When I went in to change out of my boots around 2:15-ish, the Goldminer's Daughter patio was full of people soaking up the sun; when H came in just a couple of runs later, the patio was empty as the sun had already gone down behind the mountains, leaving things much chillier.  Our bus ride home was much less eventful than our ride up (thankfully).  The forecast is starting to look a little bit snowier which is good because even though Sunday was a good day, we need an awful lot more snow to bring us up to average.  My little skis can't take the abuse for much longer!

Monday, January 8, 2018

damp around the edges

There had been no snow to speak of since that nice Christmas Eve/Christmas Day storm but we did finally get a little system move in on Saturday.  There was about an inch of new snow on the trails when we got off the bus at Alta Saturday morning.  It snowed all day although it wasn't accumulating very quickly; we ended up with about three inches during the day and then more overnight.

Downstairs at Goldminer's Daughter, getting ready to run for the bus

We skied off all three main lifts (Collins, Sugarloaf and Supreme) and while the snow was decent, there were little rocks working their way up through the base everywhere.  Temperatures were fairly warm so if it had really been coming down hard, we would have gotten quite wet.  As it was, we got just a bit damp and chilled and when noontime rolled around, and the high traffic areas were all skied off, it didn't take much to convince us to call it a day.  With so few people up at the resorts it was a quick bus ride back down the canyon and even with a stop in at the grocery store, we were back at home by 1:30 p.m.  The mountains stayed shrouded in clouds through the afternoon and evening as we kept peeking out the windows at them, fingers crossed for soft turns in the morning.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


Happy New Year to you!  We had house guests staying with us for six days and thus it has been a bit of a whirlwind for us.  Here's how we wrapped up the end of 2017.

Wednesday's conditions

H skied alone on Wednesday, savoring the last bit of new(-ish) snow from the Christmas Eve/Day storm.  Wishing for something new, he foolishly gave Challenger a try and regretted it instantly, texting me to report the same.  He stayed up there until 2:30 p.m., then caught the bus back to the valley to meet our friends, R and C, and their three kids, N (11), T (8) and M (5).  R and H have been friends since high school.  Their family now lives in North Carolina and they do family ski trips each winter: this trip to Utah had been planned since the summer and despite the incredible lack of snow, they were determined to come out and ski every day.  Thank goodness we had gotten that Christmas storm - if we hadn't, things would have been dire indeed.  As it was, the snow just barely held up enough and to be honest, skiing in relatively warm temperatures under bluebird skies is ideal for younger skiers.

Heading out the cat track, top of Supreme

R's family wisely picked up their rental gear Wednesday evening so they didn't have to mess around with that on Thursday morning.  They had a rental car, a spare key to the house and my garage door opener, so H took the bus up to Alta early and then met them around noon.  They immediately liked Alta, especially C, who is Italian and who said that the rocky mountains reminded her of the Alps.  I met them back at home after work and we all had dinner together.  Bonus: C made dinner and she is a great cook!

R and C

On Friday, H rode up to Alta with the crew instead of taking the bus.  R and C put the three kids into ski lessons and then the three adults were able to ski together all day.  When they picked N, T and M up from lessons, they were relieved to see that ski school had been a big success (there had been some trepidation at the start).  After everyone got cleaned up, we drove up to Squatter's for dinner and the kids regaled us with stories of their day.

H and R, together again

After two bluebird days, Saturday was a bit of a change.  It was very warm (in the mid 30s at Alta) with heavy cloud cover and flat light.  H opted out of skiing so I rode up with the group.  Buoyed by their success the day before, the kids went back into lessons and R, C and I skied together.  As this was their third straight day, legs were starting to get tired and the flat light made it very, very difficult to see.  But the snow was super-soft and I was even able to try out a few bumps at the side of the trail.  We met N, T and M at 3:15 p.m. after ski school, and they convinced R and me to go out for one more run - despite how badly we wanted to get out of our ski boots.  We did one run through Sunnyside and then collected C and headed down the canyon.  Since cumulative fatigue was beginning to set in, we ate in, with R and C throwing together a delicious tomato and zucchini pasta.

Under East Castle on Sunday

Things changed up a bit on New Year's Eve day.  R, who has been to Utah on several occasions, wanted his family to see Park City.  They loaded up their ski gear and a change of clothes for afterwards, spending the day skiing at Park City Mountain Resort and then walking around Main Street, with dinner at the Wasatch Brewery.  H and I, meanwhile, hopped on the ski bus and had another day at Alta, doing laps at each of Collins, Sugarloaf and Supreme.  It was a lot colder than it had been Saturday - starting out around 19 F and finally warming up to the low 30s - and gusty on top of Sugarloaf (we hoped it was a little warmer at Park City) but when we got off the groomers and played around in the trees under East Castle, we were able to keep warm.  After skiing, we stopped in at the Goldminer's Daughter Saloon for a NYE pitcher of Johnny's, then took the bus back home.  When R and his crew got home, it was late - for us - and we all just wished each other a Happy New Year before heading to bed around 10 p.m., seeing how it was already the new year on the east coast.

N and T, stoked to shred pow

By the time New Year's Day rolled around, our guests were all slow-moving, tired from four days of skiing at altitude.  But they rallied for one more day at Alta and soon enough we were all up there to ski together for the last day.  We took the Collins lift up and went directly to the Sugarloaf side, where Devil's Elbow was better suited for M's skill level.  Even though M is the youngest, he's a strong little skier, pretty much going top-to-bottom in a snowplow, constantly turning and consistently smiling.  N and T were chafing at the pace a little, asking over and over to do a Cabin Run - which is apparently called "Yellow Bear" in real life.  After lunch, H and I suggested to R and C that we take the two older kids off to do some different runs while they skied with M.  They readily agreed and for the next hour and a half, we four did laps on Supreme: dodging rocks on the cat track, cruising down Rock N' Roll and then ducking into the gate at the bottom for some off-piste playfulness.  N and T loved skiing in there and when we met back up with the rest of our crew, they convinced their dad to do one more run in there with them and H.

Motley crew

With everyone's legs a little fatigued, we called it quits a little earlier.  We skied out through Sunnyside and took the rope tow across to Wildcat base where we had parked.  For the record, the rope tow was a big hit with the younger members of our group.  From there, R's family returned their rental gear and then we spent the evening at home with yet another delicious pasta meal from C.

That was the end of our whirlwind week.  H got in ten days of skiing; we got to spend time with good friends; and I didn't have to cook at all.  I call that a happy new year indeed.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

beautiful boxing day

I was back to work on the day after Christmas.  H had planned to take the week off and, after getting some errands out of the way, was up at Alta by 8:15 a.m., having taken the early bus.  He was surprised at the relative lack of crowds, despite the fact that it was a gorgeous day - I guess a lot of people really did look at Utah's snow totals and cancel their Christmas trips.  While I feel badly for the hotels' and restaurants' lost revenue, I'm pleased that this might mean less crowded trails.

First meadow in Catherine's Area: So Long

H did laps on Sugarloaf, keeping an eye on the electronic sign for when ski patrol opened Catherine's Area for the first time after the Christmas Eve storm.  When the rope dropped, he was there and so were a lot of other people.  He got out in front of enough of them to score fresh tracks in the So Long meadow and, as you can see in the photo above, the snow was lovely.  He texted me: "Great snow, but you need to be on the lookout for rocks."  The snow in the upper section of Catherine's Area was so good, rocks notwithstanding, that he went back twice more, getting first tracks in Sunset and then in Snowshoe Hill/Last Chance.  Trying to get out of Catherine's was another story: the last pitch was full of rocks and willows and emptied out onto a narrow, bumpy track.  Three times was enough, especially since he went over rocks at least once each time.

Second meadow: Snowshoe Hill (?)

He skied off-piste nearly all day: five times through Sunspot (including once following a couple of really good chick skiers through the swooping gully below Lone Pine), twice through Ballroom (where the traverse in continues to be gnarly, in a bad way) and once down lower Extrovert.

All the way out in Catherine's Area and no-one there yet

When he texted me to let me know he was catching the bus, I asked him how the bases of his skis had fared.  At first he didn't want to look, but then he did: "Nothing too deep or too close to the edges.  So, yay."  Yay indeed - and yay for an excellent off-piste day (finally!).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

christmas 2017

In the past, skiing Christmas morning has been a way to escape the crowds.  Last year was cold with lots of snow and sparse crowds; 2015 was also cold, snowy and uncrowded; the non-hordes have been similar in prior years.  2017 was a little different:  relatively warm (low/mid-20s), a bit of new snow (9" overnight) and SO MANY PEOPLE.  As we stood in the throngs waiting for them to start loading the lifts - and we stood for 45 minutes because ski patrol was doing avalanche control nearby - we couldn't believe how many people were there.  That has never been the case since we've been out here.  But we've been so starved for snow that the people came out this year.

So many skiers meant that the nice new snow got tracked out and bumped up quickly.  I had optimistically brought my Rossignols but almost immediately wished I had my shorter, turn-ier Salomons instead.  Although the Rossignols are very light, they are wider and a lot longer than the Salomons and it is more work for me to turn them, especially in the bumps that sprung up all over the trails.  We did one run on Collins, which was a mix of nice, soft snow and awful scraped-off sections, and then moved to Sugarloaf to do laps there.  The snow was pretty good and the soft bumps were really fun, but my legs got tired fast.  Even H, who was back on his alpine skis after two days of telemark, admitted to some quad fatigue.

Now-obligatory chair selfie

By noon I just couldn't do it anymore (note to self: do more squats).  I grabbed my bag from Goldminer's Daughter, pounded a Christmas beer and caught the bus down to the valley.  I wasn't the only one leaving either - it seems as though a lot of people had just planned to ski for the morning and then rejoin their family holiday festivities for the afternoon.  H said that there were no lift lines at all for the afternoon, which was in itself a Christmas gift.