Friday, January 20, 2017

more bluebird skies

Day #3 of the long weekend and we were back up at Alta, H on his teles and me on my Salomons because the bluebird skies stuck around (up in the mountains anyway - it was yucky and inversion-y down in the valley) with no new snow.  Although the Supreme lift line seemed pretty long late morning, the trails were never too busy and the place thinned out for the afternoon; both the up- and down-canyon bus rides were sparsely populated as well.

It was a little bit colder, starting out at 13F, which spurred me to leave shady Collins for the sunnier Sugarloaf side after just one run.  H stuck around on the front side around, preferring to get some longer runs in before working his way east across Alta.  To warm up, I headed for the bumps, doing a couple of runs each on Razorback and Chartreuse Nose.  I didn't have to share the runs with anyone, which was fantastic, but only skied them medium-well, which was less fantastic.  The snow was holding up okay: the bumps were getting big but they were staying fairly soft, the snow chalky and not too firm.

Nobody in So Long but me

I did have to go into Alf's for ten minutes to try to warm up my toes.  After that, I scooted over to Supreme for a couple of Catherine's Area runs.  My legs are definitely getting stronger as I was able to pass several people on the hike in and once I got out a bit on the traverse, I had the place to myself.  Except for that porcupine.  He was still in the same tree and was doing a number on it - good eats, I guess.

After lunch, H and I stuck to Supreme, even getting to ride a couple chairs together as the crowd dispersed.  East Castle was open and I was tempted but ultimately decided to take a pass this time: on the third of three days, my legs had some fatigue in them and I know from experience that the side-step up East Castle is murder.  We skied until 3 p.m., then booked it down Supreme, out through Sunnyside and across the rope tow, with enough time for a PBR before catching the 3:30 bus.  It was a very good weekend with very good ski conditions ... and now we'd like some fresh snow in the mountains again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

can't figure it out

We have come to the realization that we just cannot figure out the ski crowds.  We assumed that Saturday would be slammed since it was Saturday, and gorgeous weather, and there was all that fresh, untracked snow to play in.  Yes, there were some lift lines but it never seemed that crowded.  And then on Sunday, which was Sunday and no new snow, the lift lines were way bigger - but our bus ride down canyon didn't even fill all the seats.  It is pretty much impossible anymore to guess what the day will bring, people-wise.

We got the conditions bang on the money, however.  Weather-wise, it was a carbon-copy of Saturday: blue skies and good temperatures (starting at 18F and finishing up in the low 30s).  The snow was holding up well too and even though it was all tracked out, off-piste was still pretty soft.  H decided to get back on his telemark skis and I brought my turny little Salomons so I could play on the bumps.  After a couple of Collins runs in the shade - pausing now and again to watch ski patrol bomb the heck out of upper Baldy so they could open the Baldy Chutes at midday - we both moved over to Sugarloaf to ski in the sun.  While H did his tele turns on Devil's Elbow and Extrovert, dodging other skiers, I moved off the groomers to try to get warmed up, doing a few runs down Chartreuse Nose.  The lift lines were stacking up but I don't know where all these people were skiing as I largely had those runs to myself.  It was all bumped up, making me grateful for my little Salomons, but the bumps were chalky and soft and fun to ski.

The porcupines out here are golden-colored

Just for fun, I did a Cabin Run (getting pretty skied out but quick and fun) and then booked it over to Supreme so I could hike into Catherine's Area to try to get warmer.  Again, the lift lines were huge (but only took 5-6 minutes if you were riding singles) but the trails were pretty open.  I hiked in to Snowshoe Hill and lost all the other people who were on the traverse.  The snow was chunked up but still soft, deep enough that my wider skis would have done better on certain pitches.  I found the resident porcupine on the last pitch out of Catherine's: he was perched way up in an Engelman spruce, munching his way through the pinecons, and when I called "hey, buddy!" he slowly turned his head and regarded me with utter disdain.

After lunch, I did a run through Devil's Castle (had it to myself, didn't ski it very well, wrecked my legs) and then hooked up with H who was doing laps on Supreme.  We saw a bunch of people making the trek up East Castle; it looked appealing but I didn't have the legs for it and H didn't want to take his tele skis up there.  My legs called it quits around 2:30, the bumps runs and hikes having taken their toll.  We booked it down to Goldminer's Daughter, pounded PBRs and caught the 3 p.m. bus down-canyon, back into the inversion murk.  It was forecasted to be another bluebird day for Monday's holiday - we're expecting big crowds but at this point, who can really say?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

doing our part

It has been an excellent start to 2017, snowfall-wise:  Alta has had 79 inches of snow to-date in January, including 40 inches out of the last storm that snuggled up to northern Utah this past week.  That storm edged out of here on Friday, leaving us with bluebird skies forecasted for the long weekend.  We knew the front side would be all tracked out but Ballroom, Backside and Devil's Castle had been closed for avalanche control all week so we were hopeful that they would open for us Saturday.  We weren't the only hopeful people: it was pretty busy up there, although not as crowded as we've seen it.

On the ridge, getting ready to drop in

Ski patrol dropped the rope on Ballroom on our first chair ride up Collins and there was a line of people waiting to get in.  H dove in right away while I warmed up with half of a groomer run, meeting up with him on Main Street under Ballroom.  He skied a fairly straight line and reported very nice snow, so on our next run, I dove in there with him.  For our third run, ski patrol had opened the Backside via the High Traverse.  We couldn't pass that up and hopped into the line of skiers sidestepping and herringboning up the High T to the ridge separating the front side from the Backside.  This traverse - and the first bit of the pitch of Yellow Trail from the ridge - were both new to me.  The snow was terrific - deep and light - and I skied it pretty well, not fighting my skis for once.  We wrapped around Yellow Trail Corner and skied down through East Greely, then finished our run via Glitch and/or Glatch.  It was all full of great snow.

Yellow Trail getting tracked out ASAP

Amazingly, the Sugarloaf lift line wasn't packed and we rode back up, noting that the gate into Glory Hole above Angina Chute was open.  H hiked up and skied that, then chased me down as I skied through Keyhole and Glory Gulch.  Things were getting chopped up at this point but it was still very soft and a lot of fun.  On the next run, H opted to ski around the EBT to hit Gunsight and Eagle's Nest.  I too skied around the EBT and went back into East Greely via the low gate.  The snow was holding up, I thought: still deep and soft even while being skied to pieces.

H and I scored a table at lunch without too much trouble and I was able to keep an eye on Devil's Castle.  Ski patrol had been doing routes in there all morning, setting charges to shake the avalanches loose, and I had a feeling that they would get it open around lunchtime.  After lunch, as we rode up Sugarloaf, we could see the long line of skiers traversing in.  The line was moving very slowly because the traverse had been set higher than normal and some whoopdedoos and rocks were giving people trouble.  We hopped into that long line but bailed before the climbing really started, taking the lower angle skiers' left down to just above Cecret Lake.  The snow was really good, deep, light and easy to ski.  We skied out skier's left through Boulder Basin, heading to Supreme.  Normally we would have done another Devil's Castle run but that line was just too slow.

View from Gunsight

We tried a Catherine's Area run, going way out to Snowshoe Hill, but I was a little disappointed in the snow there.  It was deep enough, and untracked enough, but it felt stiff.  To console ourselves, we went into the gate below East Castle, playing around in the trees below Devil's Apron.  It's not epic skiing in there but it sure is fun to be able to ski wherever you like in untracked snow.

Eagle's Nest selfie

It was a late day for us as we skied until 3 p.m., then hustled to catch the 3:38 bus down-canyon.  We didn't get a ton of vertical feet because many of our runs took a long time to complete with the hiking/traversing we were doing.  But the quality of the snow more than made up for the quantity of the runs.  Alta gets tracked out quickly these days and luckily we were able to do our part, getting as much good snow as we could.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

some of the best of the season (so far)

Snow-conditions-wise, Sunday ended up being one of the best days of the season to date, along with January 2nd.  There was a sloppy storm moving in, with temperatures forecast to rise enough that the snow levels would be over 9,000 feet.  In the morning report, Alta claimed only a couple of new inches overnight and temperatures already in the mid-20s.  The storm was supposed to pick up as the day went on, with increasing winds and rain the valley - looked to be a wet and wild one.

The ski bus was fairly busy for the up-canyon ride but the vast majority got off at Snowbird and the parking lot at Alta was less than a third full.  It was definitely warm as we started, with thick clouds and spitting snow.  The overnight snow - which, again, seemed to be more than two inches - was a nice creamy layer on top of the base.  The warm temperatures meant dense snow with a lot of water content, good to fill in the gaps.  It also meant that it was heavy and would get chopped up quickly.  For some reason my legs were fatigued (too many trips through Catherine's the day before, I suspect) and I knew H wanted to get some good runs in, so I suggested we split up for the morning and meet at Alf's for lunch.  While he ripped it up in Fred's Trees, West Rustler, Chartreuse, Razorback and Cabin Run, I did a couple of runs off of Sugarloaf - getting bounced around by the heavy clumps - then moved over to Supreme.  My legs could handle the former groomers with their skim coat of snow but anything that was too bumped up was exhausting.

At lunch, there were a couple of surprises.  Sunday was my birthday and so H bought me a slice of birthday cake, a very good (if a bit overpriced) carrot cake.  And Carrie, our favorite Alf's cashier who is actually back in school at UVM but who just came out to work over her winter break, gave us a big jar of Vermont Grade A medium amber maple syrup.  So nice!

I had my cake and ate it too!

Rejuvenated by my carrot cake, I actually skied better after lunch, which is not usually the case.  The winds had been steadily picking up and after one ride up Sugarloaf, H and I decided that was probably enough of that.  We scooted over to Supreme (the only lift on the mountain with a lift line) and did some laps there.  I didn't have the legs for Catherine's but the Erosion Gullies were skiing really, really well, wind-buffed and filling in nicely.  The trees below Sleepy Hollow and 3 Bears were pretty good too and H reported that the White Squaw/Vicky's trees were in good shape as well.  The wind was smoothing all the chop out and since it was snowing, tracks were getting filled in.  Coverage was very good and the skiing was really quite excellent.

Bates College represent at Alta

The wind was getting worse, however, and Supreme was running slowly and even stopping at times when the gusts were super-strong.  We got into the lift line at 1:57 p.m., booked it down the mountain and out through Sunnyside and the rope tow, and managed to score seats on the 2:37 p.m. down-canyon bus.  By 4 p.m. I was in my soft pants with a beer and a couple of phone calls from family back east.  Pretty good birthday, if you ask me.

Monday, January 9, 2017

in which i find the best snow

That last, glorious, ring-in-the-new-year storm brought very nice snow to Utah - Alta got 38" out of it; Solitude and Brighton got the lion's share, with over 50" to date in January alone - and then some frigid temperatures on top of it.  Not so fun for skiing but excellent for retaining snow quality.  By the time we got back up to Alta Saturday (1/7) morning, temperatures were starting to rise ahead of the next storm.  It was around 12 F when the lifts opened, and cloudy, and the winds would pick up throughout the day although the wind itself was out of the south/southwest and thus not that cold.

Most of Alta was pretty well-trampled.  H and I did a couple of warm-up groomers which, ironically, made me cold since I wasn't working hard.  H decided he wanted to venture into West Rustler; after one lift ride where the Collins chair stopped three times, I decided to give Extrovert and/or Chartreuse a shot.  But when I got to Sugarloaf, I ended up dodging more skiers than I liked so I went to Supreme instead, heading straight into Catherine's Area to try to warm up.  That turned out to be an excellent idea since (1) there weren't that many people hiking in there, (2) I got plenty warm on the hike (even my toes thawed slightly) and (3) the snow was fantastic - still deep and soft the further in I went.  I managed to get five runs off Supreme before lunch: three in Catherine's, each time going out past Snowshoe Hill, and two on Challenger in between to rest my legs.

Out in Catherine's with the best snow

I found that H's morning had not been quite so successful when I met him for lunch.  He had been unable to find good snow and, to add insult to injury, one of the buckles on his boot broke.  So after lunch we went back to Supreme and out into Catherine's.  He enjoyed the snow there - although the broken boot was affecting his skiing a little - and that cheered him up some.  It about did my legs in, however.  Our next run was a groomer and WOW had the light gotten flat.  It was terrible: we were skiing down a pitch and had no idea what we were skiing on.

When we got back on the lift, H suggested that since the light was so bad (and my legs too beat for much more than groomers), perhaps we might hustle back down to the Goldminer's Daughter lodge and grab the 2:30 bus.  So we did that, and were grateful that it didn't take us three hours this time.  It was spitting snow down in the valley and it looked like the storm was picking up speed in the mountains; by 5 p.m., both canyon roads were restricted (4WD or chains required).  The forecast is for wet and wild - guess we'll see what Sunday will bring.

Friday, January 6, 2017

in the white room

Oh my word - Monday (New Year's Day observed) was an incredible day of skiing!  Alta said they got four inches overnight and predicted a cold day, but it was so much better than that.  Temperatures were 7-19 F all day but seemed warmer until the winds picked up in the afternoon (I must have gotten my layers right for a change, or maybe it was the newer handwarmers).  And the new snow was over my knees with refills all day; it snowed nonstop and an additional nine inches accumulated throughout the day.  As a bonus, we never really stood in any lift lines: I guess the tourists had headed home.

After three runs on Collins - where Fred's Trees were deep and even the "groomers" had a nice fluffy overcoat on them - H and I split up.  He did laps around Collins and Sugarloaf: West Rustler and Chartreuse Nose and a funky Razorback/Cabin Run loop that gave him freshies each time.  I naturally went to Supreme.  My first run down the Erosion Gullies/ropeline/Vicky's wasn't fabulous - the new snow was not quite deep enough to keep from scraping the harder bumps underneath - but my next two runs into Catherine's were.  The first time I just went into the first meadow (So Long?) and then ducked into a gate into the Back Forty trees.  I was the only one in there and the snow was wonderful.  For my next run, I hiked in a bit further, to the second meadow (Sunset?), finding great untracked lines in there.  What was so great about Monday's snow was how light and fluffy it was.  Even though I was wearing my slalom-style Salomons, I wasn't having any trouble making my way through the deep stuff, plus the shorter skis were key for later in the day when the snow got chopped up.

There's a big grin there under that iced-over neck-up

It was busy at lunch - we had to circle several times before pouncing on a table as someone else stood up to go - and we didn't linger, getting back out into the storm fairly quickly.  There were no lift lines whatsoever after lunch and both H and I took advantage, getting face shots in Catherine's, running the gullies, floating through the trees near 3 Bears.  Lots and lots of fun with the snow just piling up all day.

Although it didn't seem that crowded out on the trails, the traffic leaving the canyon was nightmarish.  My legs gave out around 2:30 and we planned to take the 3 p.m. bus down-canyon.  Because the roads were slick above Snowbird, and because of all the traffic merging onto the canyon road out of Snowbird, our 3 p.m. bus didn't pick us up until 4 p.m., and then it took another 2.5 hours to get home.  Once we got below the lowest Snowbird entry, the road was fairly clear and traffic moved steadily - it was just bottlenecked between Alta and the 'Bird.  Still, that hellacious ride dims in comparison to just how awesome the skiing was.  The early season at Alta has been just epic.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

new year's day

We really didn't know what to expect for New Year's Day, being a Sunday with no new snow.  It was chilly too, windy, with the sun quickly disappearing behind the gathering clouds.  We started out with a few runs at Collins and Sugarloaf, H on his telemark skis, before I took off for Supreme to try to warm up with a hike into and run through Catherine's Area.  It was skiing okay for being all beaten down and I certainly didn't have to hike in too far to get the place to myself.

By lunchtime, H had gotten pretty chilled and my feet were quite cold.  We did a few more runs after lunch but H's legs got fatigued early, this being his sixth day in a row on teles.  I briefly considered skiing a little bit longer - we had taken the bus up so H could just pick me up at the bus stop later - but decided that I was tired of being cold and called it a day as well.  The down-canyon bus wasn't crowded and by the time we got back to the valley, we were thrilled to see that the winds had cleared out the inversion.  Those winds were the forefront of a storm that came in overnight - we were excited to see what the next day might bring.