Sunday, February 19, 2017

slow motion

After a mild week, a storm moved in Friday night, bringing rain to the Salt Lake valley and snow to the mountains.  It wasn't supposed to bring all that much although it was as least to continue into Sunday, and we were in need of a refresher.  By Saturday morning, Alta was reporting around four inches, just enough to get people excited about new snow.  Not that we needed any more excitement around here: being the start of vacation week, there would be plenty of stoke.  Actually, it isn't the stoke so much as the shenanigans.  As the ski resorts get inundated with enthusiastic tourists, it does get a little challenging.  It isn't even the long lift lines, the questions about everything or even the dearth of lift line etiquette, but more the uptick in beginners skiing erratically.  Add to that about four inches of heavy snow that gets clumped up quickly and sends newbies flying - and you have ski runs that are more obstacle courses than anything else.

Temperatures were mild, 23-36F, and it was steadily snowing, which meant that it was wet, dense snow: heavy clumps but creamy where untracked.  H has fully embraced the telemark thing and has improved vastly this season alone, determined now to up his game off-piste and in deeper snow.  I stuck with him (despite our taking the singles lines) and we cruised Collins face and then Sugarloaf all morning.  While H was powering through the soft snow, I was having a less successful day.  Three things were stacked against me: poor visibility, clumpy snow and boots that are too old/packed out/loose.  I can handle two of the three but all three together were throwing me for a loop and I was really struggling.  I had decided to go with my Salomons since I knew the snow would bump up and I'd need to be able to turn quickly between that and the tourists, but I was very slow all day.

Beer at Goldminer's Daughter

Lunch was a zoo and it took a long time to find a table, even though we went in on the early side.  We moved over to Supreme after lunch and H was actively seeking out soft bumps.  He even went into the trees near 3 Bears, which he hasn't really done much on his teles until now; it was a lot of work in the deeper snow but he seemed pleased about it.  My legs cried uncle around 2:30 p.m. and we bailed out then, with just enough time to pound a PBR before catching the 3 p.m. bus down-canyon.  It was still snowing as we left Alta and we crossed our fingers that the storm would stick around a little longer.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


The clouds moved out Saturday evening, bringing bluebird skies and skied-out snow to Alta for Sunday.  We figured it would be pretty busy with the gorgeous weather but while the lift lines were fairly long, the bus was just not that crowded.  It was a little chilly to start out, with the sun not yet over the mountains.  All it took was an off-piste run to start to warm up, however, and by late morning, people had started to peel off layers.

In the Ballroom, below Main Chute

We started out with three runs on Collins: two groomers to get our legs under us again and then one through the Ballroom where the wind-buffed snow was still a little soft and easy to turn in, even for me on my short Salomons.  We segued to Sugarloaf at that point, going into the Backside via the low traverse.  Once across Yellow Trail and around the corner, East Greely was chunked up but still pretty soft as the sun hadn't yet started to bake it.  We found a couple of scratchy spots on the Glitch/Glatch gullies where the newer snow had sloughed away but generally speaking the conditions were holding up.  Our next run was down Chartreuse which was well-bumped and mostly soft, with just a couple scraped-off bits.

Old friends, together again

The big news of the day was that at 11 a.m. we met up with one of H's old friends, Ted, whom we hadn't seen since our wedding 15+ years ago.  He is based in California and recently bought a Park City condo, and was gracious enough to drive over to ski with us.  Alta wasn't new to him but since he hadn't skied there for about a decade, he was happy to let us tour-guide him around.  Ted is a good skier so we took him down Chatreuse and Devil's Castle (once they got it open) and Catherine's Area and the Supreme Bowl and the trees below Devil's Apron ... even though hiking wasn't his favorite thing, he bore it all with good humor and a couple of water bottles.  It was wonderful to reconnect with him and very nice to see that it was as if no time had passed at all since we'd last seen him.

After Ted headed back to Park City, we did a couple more runs, venturing into West Rustler.  It was my favorite conditions - low-profile, soft bumps - but my legs were fatigued from the earlier part of the day spent hiking and skiing moguls, so I had to call it a day after that run.  We hopped on the bus (the bus driver, seeing how short I am, actually settled the bus down so I didn't have to step up so high, and was all "Come on, you can do it!) and scored seats for the ride down.  With the sunshine, warmth and mellow vibes, it had felt like a day of spring skiing, right in the middle of February; hopefully we'll get some more winter before this season is over.  And hopefully it won't take us another fifteen years to reconnect again with friends!

Monday, February 13, 2017

ripping it on teles

We'd sort of been in a lull for the last week or so snowfall-wise, very warm in the valleys and not much snow in the mountains, a stark difference from the bounty of January.  California and the far north had been doing okay - little Beaver Mountain had a 23" inch day last week - but of the storms that hit greater Salt Lake, the Cottonwoods were getting skunked.  Until Friday night, when Alta got a nice 13" overnight.  Saturday morning the mountains were still all socked in with clouds, the canyon road was closed to traffic until 8 a.m. ... and I just wasn't having any of it again.  I'm not sure whether I just didn't want to deal with the crowds or I thought the snow might be too heavy with the recent warm temperatures, but I sent H off by himself.  So while I did laundry, cleaned the bathrooms, worked on decluttering, made soup and scratch brownies and, yes, binge-watched the second half-season of Santa Clarita Diet, he headed up to Alta to rip it up on his tele skis.

H took an earlier bus, leaving the park and ride at 7:25 a.m., and it was still standing room only.  It took them almost an hour and half to get up there because of traffic from the road closure and when he got off the bus at Wildcat base, the Collins corral was already full.  The crowds held up all day but the snow was deep and soft, although a little bit heavy.  Even though he was on his telemark skis, H has really turned a corner in his tele skis and was actively seeking out untracked snow and bumps runs.

Baldy looking snowy

And it got bumped up quickly.  The snow tapered off - the clouds stuck around for most of the day, with the sun just barely peeking through a couple of times - and ski patrol was able to open most of the terrain, spreading people out across the mountain.  By the time H dragged his tired legs aboard the 3 p.m. bus, everything except Devil's Castle, East Castle and the Baldy Chutes had been opened for skiing, which means that everything will be tracked out for Sunday.  That's okay.  I'll be out there.  One day off is enough (plus I don't have any more bathrooms to clean).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

another day in paradise

Superbowl Sunday is often a good day to go skiing.  It tends to be busy in the morning but then people leave early to get into their spots for the game, whether down out of the canyon or in front of a resort bar's television.  This year, Alta seemed crowded to start but but the lift lines weren't completely horrific.  Once ski patrol opened Devil's Castle (around lunch), that took a lot of pressure off of the Supreme lift; the football devotees cleared out in the early afternoon. 

Clouds over Brighton, blue skies over the Uintas

It was another mild day on the hill: sunny in the morning and then clouding up as the day went on.  While Alta had groomed out their usual groomers, there were still good bumps to be had, although many were too big for [my] comfort.  With H's increased facility off-piste, we were able to ski together for most of the day.  I did take off for some solo Supreme runs before lunch, venturing out into Catherine's Area.  It was still pretty good there, especially way out where the only people I saw were backcountry skiers on the Brighton side and a lone snowshoer heading up to Catherine's Pass.  The snow was still soft and deep in the trees but was getting crusty in sun-bake spots and tending towards stiff/heavy in untracked areas.

For some reason there was a whole lot of lift line shenanigans going on: people cutting the singles line, people falling over whilst loading and unloading the chairs, people dropping the bar on my head.  I did have a few nice chairlift conversations, including one with some middle-aged guys from Florida, there with a big group for their regular Alta vacation; and one with a couple from Montreal who had never been to Utah before, who had skied thus far at Snowbasin and Deer Valley (I suggested Solitude next) and who were having the best time ever.  The snow was good, the temperature pleasant and they were at Alta - how could they not?

Monday, February 6, 2017


We give up.  We are hopeless about guessing how crowded it is going to be for an Alta weekend ski day.  Saturday morning arrived with mild temperatures (low 20s), snow flurries and under five inches of new snow and yet the bus was S.R.O. and there were people in the corral, waiting for Collins to open, when we got to Wildcat base with a half hour before opening.  Inside Goldminer's Daughter, we snagged a spot on a couch, pulled out our books and waited, not even heading outside until the lifts had been open for five minutes and the lift lines had started to move.

With such a small amount of new snow, H opted to go out on his telemark skis and I brought my turny little Salomons.  Alta sends their groomers out almost immediately after the lifts stop turning so the new snow was on top of the groomed trails ... meaning that there really weren't any groomed trails to be found.  And with the hordes of skiers, things got bumped up quickly.  At the beginning, the light was terribly flat which made it especially challenging since we couldn't see the bumps and clumps.  But before long the clouds thinned and moved off, letting the sun shine through.

Sunshine, bumps and H

And then it got fun.  I'm terrible at skiing the bumps but - strangely - I really, really like it and want to get better.  Once the light stopped being so flat, I started to seek out some moguls to play on.  With the new snow, everything was pretty soft too.  More importantly, H was tearing it up off-piste, spending nearly the whole morning on Rollercoaster which was totally bumped up (and, thus, largely clear of most other skiers who don't like bumps).  He is really getting good at tele-skiing and getting into the deeper, softer snow is the next step: bumps are irregular and you have to turn more quickly, so this is a big step up from just cruising the groomers.  After lunch we were on Supreme and did a gully run: H skied that gully, on his teles, at least as well as I skied it on my regular skis.  I am about to relinquish any advantage I had and go back to chasing him down the mountain, no matter what he's on.

Friday, February 3, 2017

january thaw

If anything has been consistent about this season, it is that H and I are terrible at predicting the size of the crowds at Alta.  For Sunday, we figured it would be less crowded since it was a Sunday and there was no new snow.  We were wrong about that: Sunday was warmer, sunnier, less windy and quite a bit busier than Saturday.  But we just rolled with it because at least we were skiing.

Snow-wise, the conditions were the same as they had been the day before.  H was on his teles; he is much faster than he was at the start of the season.  I was on my little Salomons again and was hoping to do some bumps but it was evident very quickly that I was way too overdressed for bumps and hiking and so had to limit my off-piste skiing so as not to entirely melt.  I had anticipated high 20s but it got to above 30F up on the mountain and 45 F at the base - my partial down jacket was overkill.


Ski patrol was taking advantage of the break in the weather.  They got Baldy open early and there was a long line of people clambering up the ridge to ski the chutes.  Patrol was doing avalanche abatement routes in Devil's Castle as well - upon seeing this, people started standing in line around 10 a.m., waiting for the rope to drop.  But some of the explosive charges ski patrol was using turned out to be duds and it took them a while to relocate the unexploded charges and set them off safely, so some people waited for THREE HOURS to get first tracks in the Castle.  Now, I think fresh snow is wonderful too but there is no way I'm standing in line that long for it.  (After patrol let people in, it took less than an hour for Devil's Castle to get all tracked out.)

Although the lift lines were huge for the morning, it started to clear out after lunch and H and I even got to ride together a few times instead of just taking the singles line.  By 3 p.m., however, the only people on the hill seemed to be beginners and after a run or two of dodging erratic skiers, we thought we'd call it a day.  Traffic was a little heavy as we headed back down to the valley but we got seats on the bus and had our books, so it didn't seem long at all.  In short order we were home, cleaned up and eating homemade soup, another weekend well-spent but much too short.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

reaping the rewards

This last storm - wow!  The storm cycle lasted from January 20-27 and by the end of it, Alta had gotten 89", moving up the Wasatch Snow Forecast's storm totals chart and just edging out Brighton for the top spot.  With those numbers in mind, and with the forecast for 20s and sunny, we figured Saturday would be slammed.  The bus up the canyon was full, as was the corral as we waited for the lifts to open, but after that the lines didn't seem too long.

Everything was all skied out from Friday, except for Devil's Castle (which wasn't yet open and would stay closed through the day), but we did our best to find good snow.  Off-piste was strangely stiff in places.  I was struggling with my boots, now so packed out that I have difficulty getting them to fasten snugly enough, and that was affecting my skiing but even H noticed the heaviness to the snow in the Backside, even though he was on his Blizzard Cochises, which normally cruise through fluff and chop.  The coverage was great, however, and VERY deep in the trees and through the Cabin Run.

H at Cecret Lake, winter version

Catherine's Area was the best of the available terrain and was very good both all the way out near Catherine's Pass and also in those deep trees we like along the ropeline in the first meadow.  Since the crowd seemed to consist of tourists and families, there really weren't that many people in Catherine's and we were able to keep finding nice, untracked snow in places.  On our way out of our last Catherine's run, we stayed way skier's right, wrapping around a ridge/skiing out of bounds and descending to Alf's via the meadow above the Sunnyside lift.  I flailed around awkwardly in my too-loose boots but H floated right along through the soft stuff.

We skied until 3 and then decided to head out, choosing to go around the EBT instead of taking the rope tow from Sunnyside.  The EBT was miserable as the winds had been picking up throughout the afternoon; the cat track was swollen with wind-drift ridges, making it impossible to glide.  A couple of little kids even got blown over in some of the stronger gusts and the right side of my face felt raw by the time I made it around to the front side of Collins.  Other than that last windy bit, it had been a good day with sunshine and comfortable temperatures - just wish I'd skied it a little better than I had.