Monday, April 24, 2017

in summation

2016/2017 goes down as the second best ski season snowfall-wise since we've been in Utah, second only to the incredible 2010/2011 season where Alta got over 724 inches and ended the season with a 206 inch base.  This season Alta received 539 inches, even with the late start and the early close, and there was still at least ten feet of snow on the ground for closing day.  We had some amazing ski days, including a couple that H believes are his best ever and may rank up there in all-time great days.  He skied 47 days, taking 727 lift rides and accumulating 1,015,057 vertical feet.  I fell a little short - with the two week delay in opening, plus days where I didn't go but H did: with only 38 ski days, 523 lift rides and a paltry 707,932 vertical feet.  I shall have to do better next year.

And now we are in shoulder season.  H is out on his road bike, but bundling up because it's been chilly - seasonable, but chilly.  There is far too much snow in the Wasatch and Uintah mountains for hiking and the MTB trails are too wet to ride.  Rather than bore you with our recent stay-at-home-and-do-chores weekend (sweeping patio and garage, mowing the lawn, weeding, cleaning up the backyard, reorganizing closets and the mudroom, epic piles of laundry), here are some representative and retrospective photos from this past ski season.  Ah, winter.

Mid-December it finally really starts snowing


Christmas Day


Early January in Devil's Castle - soft!


Devil's Castle in shadow


Gorgeous day to go into the Yellow Trail area


Brrrrrrrrrr


Partygoer on the GMD patio


Early February 


Really stacking up late February 


When your jacket matches the March sky


Late season Superior looming large


K in the house


At season's end

P.S.  I realize that there are scarcely any storm photos here, despite how many we got.  I can only say that it's because we were concentrating on skiing the storms, not documenting them.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

closing day, 2016/2017 version

And then on Sunday there we were, at the end of the Alta ski season which seemed to come awfully quickly with the late start in the fall (due to lack of snow) plus having only one closing weekend mid-April (even with a 120" base).  While it's been several seasons since we had a true spring skiing day for closing, that's what we ended up with for Sunday: there were high thin clouds first thing in the morning but the mid-mountain temperature was already 28 F at 6 a.m.  We got up to Alta in time for the first chair and were surprised that the corral was mostly empty, although folks were already starting to set up for tailgating in the Wildcat base parking lot, setting up tables and chairs, getting their hibachis warmed up, opening beers for breakfast.  As you do on closing day.

Last Cecret chair selfie ever

The snow was firm to start - although certainly not frozen hard like Saturday had been - so we again started at Sugarloaf, doing groomer laps on Devil's Elbow and Rollercoaster while we waited for the snow to soften. We moved over to Supreme around 11 a.m.  The snow was not quite as soft there because the angle of the slopes is doesn't soak up the sun quite so much, but we wanted to get as much time on Supreme as possible since Alta is replacing that lift and Cecret lift and putting in a new one over the summer.  We are a little sad about that.  Yes, the Supreme lift is old (put in around 1981, I think?) and slow, and people get freaked out about the conveyor belt loading apparatus.  A slow lift means that people stand in line and are on the lift longer, keeping the trails less crowded.  A faster lift will just get that many more people up and on the trails faster.  Also, Supreme being a triple chair has meant that it's a great lift for singles to ride: most people ski in groups of two or four so there are lots of spots for a single to fill a seat on Supreme.

Spectacular day out in Catherine's Area

As the day wore on, the crazy started to come out.  Because it was Alta's one and only closing day, the scheduled festivities included the Annual Frank World Ski Classic as well as the party on High Boy after last chair.  This means costumes!  We only wore our regular ski clothes but we appreciated seeing the following: Pope Batman, regular Batman, lots of Wonder Women, a couple of Mormon missionaries, a hotdog and a taco, a couple of buttered toasts, unicorns, dragons, tigers, snow leopards, cows, sumo wrestlers, Boba Fett, Chewbacca, many Easter Bunnies (including one drunk dude in nothing but a speedo and bunny ears), tons of tutus, ballgowns, fairy/angel wings and classic one-pieces from the '80s and '90s.

About half the Frank crowd

After lunch, we went back to Supreme for a couple runs, riding for the last time ever on that poky little Cecret lift.  We hiked in for a last-of-the-season run through Catherine's Area.  We went all the way out, to our favorite glade, where we found ourselves all alone.  The snow was pretty soft at this point, although heavy to push through, and I struggled to push through my turns although H just flew through the crud on his Blizzards.  The last pitch out of Catherine's Area was right at its sweet spot, though: super soft and nicely bumped up, but not too heavy for me to ski through.  Once out, we checked the time and went straight up Sugarloaf and down the front side to get in line at Wildcat. Frank was in full swing and this was where all the people were - the Wildcat lift line was huge but actually moved pretty quickly.

Supreme lift: closed.  Forever.😢

Frank was fabulous, as always.  The bullhorn-toting announcers estimated at least 600 outrageously dressed people perched on the hillsides, drinking beers, smoking funny things and throwing snowballs at people on the Wildcat chair lift.  The crowd was in a very good mood, as you might imagine, cheering wildly for (a) any little kids who hit the jumps and (b) the biggest air from the bigger kids.  We saw some impressive jumps - back flips and a couple of truly massive front flips - and some impressive wipe-outs.  And this year there were two naked skiers, both of whom landed big back flips to tumultuous cheering from the crowd.

The line to go up Collins, one more time

We couldn't stay at Frank for the whole thing, however, as we had to get back to Supreme to get a few more runs in before they closed it for the season good.  We did three runs there, two on Challenger which had softened to wonderful buttery corn (pretty much as good as that trail ever is), and then our very last ride up loaded at 3:27 p.m.  After saying goodbye to my favorite lift, we skied out, riding up Sugarloaf (where the lifties were counting their donated beers), poling around the EBT (where a group of flannel-wearing, beer-drinking snowboarders were waiting for Alta to close so they could poach some runs) and down the front side.  By the time we got back to Wildcat base, the Collins corral was packed with revelers wanting one more ride up to High Boy, where the crowd was gathering for the final run of the season.

Parking lot party - woohoo!

Since we usually ski all day on closing day, we have never made it to that High Boy party.  This year was no different as my legs were shot from pushing that heavy spring snow around.  We went back to the truck and got out of our boots, then strolled with our beers to the far end of the parking lot for some live music by Marinade/Talia Keys.  We finished our beers on our truck's tailgate, surrounded by actual tailgaters, watching the crowd on top of High Rustler get bigger and bigger.  The party continuing to rev when we headed home, sad that skiing was over for the season but looking forward to summer, as always.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

penultimate ski day, 2017

Even though in years past Alta has had their "closing day" and then re-opened for one more weekend after that, this season it seems that closing day is really going to be closing day.  Sigh.  It's a good thing that the weekend turned out so nice.

Saturday was mostly sunny but pretty cold to start: 18 F in the morning, warming to low 40s.  My toes got very cold - because for some reason I refused to wear my boot covers, even though it was only 18 F.  And despite the bright sunshine, with the cold temperatures the snow didn't soften until well after noon, and it was set up hard and scratchy at the start.  We went straight to Sugarloaf, hoping for slightly softer snow, and skied there for most of the morning.  H was on his alpine skis and looking to score lots of vertical feet in his 1,000,000 vertical feet/season quest; since I couldn't keep up with him, I went to Supreme after a while, putting in five runs there before heading in for lunch.

Sunny day selfie

After lunch we skied Supreme together for quite a while then did a couple on the front side, riding both Collins and Wildcat.  While Sugarloaf and Supreme had softened nicely at that point, Collins was still a little firm.  Because of the cold temperatures in the morning, however, when the snow did finally soften, it didn't get sticky - which was fantastic.

Also fantastic: there was no one there!  We never waited in any lift lines; we rode up just the two of us in the chair more often than not; and although the Wildcat base parking lot filled up at midday, by the time we [downed a couple of beers on the patio and] headed down canyon, it was already emptying out.  Seems like people have moved on from skiing - but not us.  There's still one day to go.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

april visitors: the rest of the days

We got to keep our houseguests for another three days and although I had to go back to work, the rest of them found fun things to fill their days.

Living Room

Day 3:  Tuesday was cloudy and cool.  H, K and D hiked to the Living Room, finding the trail mostly dry and practically empty: there were hardly any other hikers/walkers and once they got to the Living Room, they had it to themselves for nearly a half hour.  There were lots of animal tracks but no critter sights, other than a deer on a golf course.  After their hike, they swung by Ruth's for lunch on the patio (taking advantage of the propane heaters, of course).  They reported that Ruth's was busier than you might have thought for a Tuesday.  They kept driving up Emigration Canyon after lunch but, as suspected, the road to Big Mountain still closed for winter.

Lunch at Ruth's

Day 4: Wednesday was a gorgeous day, sunny and low 70s, and I was very envious that I had to work.  Especially since H, D and K went to breakfast at Silver Fork where all three had oatmeal with brown sugar, bananas, strawberries and walnuts (!!).  There was still lots of snow and plenty of skiers at Brighton and Solitude.  Next, the crew drove to Millcreek Canyon, where they parked at the Burch Hollow parking lot and went up the switchbacks to the Pipeline Trail to hike to Elbow Fork (and back).  Midweek, the Pipeline Trail was not heavily used, where they only shared the trail with a couple of runners and couple of dog walkers only.  The canyon road was still covered with snow; the trail was wet and muddy in a few spots but never impassable.  When I got home from work, they were out on the patio, enjoying the mild temperatures, and I gladly joined them.

Still a fair amount of snow in Millcreek Canyon

Day 5:  Thursday was D and K's last day in Utah and it was another nice one, mostly sunny and low 70s, but windier.  I slaved away at work again while H, D and K cruised on over to Park City.  They hiked at Round Valley - H reported that D and K have a very fast walking pace - and then lunch at Squatter's.  They were on our patio when I got home - but it was slightly less pleasant than prior days since it was very windy and the valley had filled with dust.  By the time we left for dinner at the Porcupine, however, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees and the dust was clearing.  By the time we left dinner and headed for the airport for D and K's flight home, the air was clear and we were all wishing we'd brought jackets.
K and H, Millcreek Canyon


We had a wonderful time with D and K.  They were great (and easy) houseguests, psyched to do anything we suggested.  It certainly helped that we had one of the best days conditions-wise for our ski day too!  Come back ANYTIME, D and K!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

april visitors: day 2 shredding the gnar

We are going to count Monday at Alta as a successful day.  The snow was fantastic, the weather was perfect and D and K were pretty much grinning ear-to-ear the whole time.  After that wonderful storm moved out Sunday afternoon, the clouds stuck around, preserving the cool temperatures and keeping the snow cold and soft.  There were a few high, thin clouds at first, with the mid-mountain temperature around 16 F, but the skies cleared as the day wore on.  It did warm up a bit, getting to 41F at the base by the afternoon,  but the snow stayed pretty good even then.

D, K and me, top of Sugarloaf

D and K were (self-professedly) excited and nervous as we drove up the canyon.  The parking lot was almost a third full and the Collins corral had a lot of people in it, certainly more than would be expected on a normal mid-April Monday.  But most of those people were just there for a Baldy Chute run or first tracks in Devil's Castle and cleared out by lunchtime - we still never waited in line once.  D and K got their lift tickets; we loaded up on Collins and were off!

D and me on Supreme

K had requested to be eased into her ski day so we went straight to the Sugarloaf side, cruising Devil's Elbow on very soft corduroy.  Neither D nor K get to ski all that much but when they do, it's back east and they were both absolutely thrilled at the conditions: NO ICE WHATSOEVER.  H led the way on his teles and I skied sweep, in case I needed to collect equipment after a yard sale (unnecessarily, as it turned out).  We soon learned that K had no fear of speed.  And D kept saying over and over again how much fun he was having.

H, K and me, Snowbird Pass

After a number of runs on Sugarloaf, we moved over to Supreme, where the conveyor belt lift loading fazed them not at all.  We skied there until lunch time, doing laps on Big Dipper and Rock N' Roll.  At lunch, H quizzed our guests on how the reality of Alta compared to what they anticipated.  They both said that they had been a little nervous about how difficult the trails might be but that they definitely felt comfortable on what we'd been skiing.  H then pointed out that we'd skipped the bunny slopes entirely and had been skiing intermediate/blue trails all morning, and K looked pretty pleased about that.

H and K, Supreme selfie

So then after lunch I had the bright idea to go on a Cabin Run.  Back east, you rarely (if ever) get the opportunity to ski off-piste and I thought it might be fun for them to do something completely different: in the trees and the deep snow.  The pitch is pretty gentle in there so we did okay, although both D and K were amazed at how different it is, skiing in deep snow as compared to on groomed trails.  People got stuck a couple of times and K had one impressive fall when her ski tip got snagged in a tree, her binding releasing her into a puff of soft snow.  But we all made it out of the woods and back onto the groomed trails.  And then I wasn't allowed to pick any more trails for the rest of the day.

D and K, apres.  Smiles for days!

We skied until after 2:30 p.m., at which point K said her legs were getting a little shaky.  We went out through Sunnyside - and K, noting the trails, said she was glad we skipped the bunny slope and went right to the main mountain - and along the tow rope.  Skiing on a Monday means that there are plenty of patio tables available, even on sunny days, and we grabbed one right in the center of the patio so we could sip beverages and recap the day.  The recap was that it had been a really, really great day.

One of K's friends, envious that she was going skiing in Utah, had told her to "shred the gnar."  After a sunny day at Alta, skiing at altitude and going into the deep stuff in the trees, she can absolutely report back that she did indeed shred the gnar.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

april visitors: day 1

H's brother D and his oldest daughter K arrived late Saturday night.  They haven't been out here since the summer of 2012 and when K - now a sophomore in college! - said she wanted to come out for spring break, we were thrilled. 

They had had a long day of traveling and with the time change, it was past 1:00 a.m. for them when we got them back to our house.  So we let them sleep in Sunday.  The weather wasn't all that great either: chilly and damp, with an amazing storm up in the mountains (Alta ended up with around 27 inches! in April!! wow!!!) but rain and hail down in the valley.  When the storm finally moved on, K said she'd be interested in seeing a little bit of SLC. 

We drove up to the city and strolled around Liberty Park to stretch our legs.  The park was fairly well-attended for a cool and damp April day, with jewelry vendors, drum circles, slackliners and hackysackers all out and about.  We checked out the view of the Salt Lake valley from above the state capitol, then headed south on the scenic route through the various neighborhoods.  (K recognized East High as the outdoor setting for High School Musical.) 

Before heading home, we stopped in at the nearest Ski N' See so D and K could rent skis; Monday looked to be a great day to go to Alta.  We were in and out pretty quickly, getting them boots, poles, skis and helmets, and even scored a great deal: since Sunday was that location's last day, D and K scored "Preferred" packages for "Premier" rates, plus were given a 15% discount for being the last rental customers of the season.  Woohoo!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

no foolin' for april 1st

April was ushered in with another gorgeous spring day, clear, warm and sunny after several days' worth of valley rain and mountain storms.  We assumed that the slopes would be packed with people, eager for bluebird skies after the eleven inches of snow.  Amazingly, Alta remained uncrowded all day, even into the afternoon.  What's more, the Supreme lift was closed all day for mechanical issues, meaning that there were only two big lifts - Collins and Sugarloaf - running (plus little Wildcat and then Sunnyside over at the bunny slope), and even so the lift lines were never long.  I guess people really are out of the skiing mindset at this point.

My jacket matches the sky!

Because Collins was sounding pretty frozen, we went straight to Sugarloaf to ski in the morning sun.  Ski patrol started shooting up Devil's Castle and the Baldy Chutes right away and when they dropped the rope into the Castle, H and I were among the first people in there, just by managing to time our lift rides correctly.  We traversed in quite a bit further than we usually do, passing a number of huffing and puffing people on the way, until we were in what I consider the leading edge of the middle.  It looks phenomenal, smooth and bright white.  It was rather awful, in actuality: although the new snow was soft underneath, there was a bit of a crust on top.  H was heavy enough to break through while I sometimes was able to skim on top; but turning was extremely difficult for both of us.  I ended up just sitting down a couple of times when the stiff snow forced my skis apart, rather than do the splits or wrench a knee.

Yes, it looks good.  April Fool!

We made big swooping turns down below Sugar Mountain and then went skier's right towards the Stadium Jump.  From here we picked our way down through Boulder Basin since the snow hadn't crusted up as much in the trees.  We weren't setting any records for style or speed but both of us really like poking around in the trees like that.  We made our way out past the Wonderland fort and back to the Sugarloaf lift.  Where we decided that once through the Castle was probably enough for that day.

Don't often get first tracks in Devil's Castle

After lunch we moved back to Collins, figuring the snow would be a little softer.  It was softer than it had been that morning but was still surprisingly scratchy in spots. We did a run on Wildcat - getting on the lift behind a group of presumed Alta employees: in their 20s, wearing short-shorts and leisure suits and long, straight skis - then had to scurry back to Alf's when we discovered that we'd lost the key to our locker.  Luckily, we found the key under the table we'd sat at for lunch and, thus relieved, managed a few more runs.

The snow was great at this point - only sticky in a few places - and I felt like I was skiing well.  Our legs tired, however, and the uncrowded patio at Goldminer's Daughter was calling to us.  April 1st was no joke in the spring skiing department, that's for sure.

Ed. note: there may be a slight delay in upcoming posts ... we have guests coming! Stay tuned!