Thursday, December 30, 2010

fancy, sunny, snowy, cold

While I’ve been slaving away at work and doing 3-hour commutes, H has been skiing and skiing and skiing – nine days in a row to date. You might think that would get boring after a while, but he’s been mixing it up.

On Monday, H got his swank on, going to Deer Valley to join up with a cousin and her family who were in town for Christmas. Deer Valley is consistently ranked as the #1 ski resort in the country, in large part for its incredible level of customer service: H said there must have been one DV staff member for every five skiers. No snowboarders are allowed at DV; the trails are immaculately groomed (which is important because the resorts on the Park City side of the Wasatch Front get quite a bit less snow than those on our side); and the food was quite good. H said he felt a little out of place – everyone had brand new ski outfits, unlike scruffy ol’ Alta where we fit right in with our duct-taped ski pants – but with day tickets at $94, I don’t imagine he’ll be going back anytime soon.

On Tuesday, he was back at Alta for a bluebird day, skiing mostly over at Catherine’s Area which still hadn’t seen much traffic. He emailed me photos all day which didn’t make me cranky about being at work AT ALL.

Looking towards Grizzly Gulch from the Supreme chair

Wednesday brought the latest snowstorm and it snowed all day up at Alta. “Phenomenal” was the descriptor, as H found himself waist-deep more often than not. Again, I didn’t resent that at all.

It's the abominable snow-H!

Today was wicked cold – holding below zero up at Alta for most of the day. H had to wear his facemask and, after a number of runs along the High Traverse on West Rustler and over-top to East Greeley, he hung out for a while at Wildcat. It’s more protected over there and holds lots of snow, so that kept him a little warmer.


The weekend bodes quite cold for us, but I’m ready to take some runs in the 22+ inches we’ve gotten from this last storm, and H shows no sign of slowing down, despite his busy week.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

slow going

Another storm has rolled in, snowing all day up at Alta (reports H: "Phenomenal!") and finally starting down in the valley a little before 4:00 p.m., even though it was expected around noon.  The roads got pretty bad pretty quickly - it was warm when it started and then the temperature dropped quickly, leaving a skim of ice under the new snow - but people were driving cautiously.  So cautiously, in fact, that it took me THREE HOURS to do my 15-mile commute.  Seriously.  I can run faster than that (only just).  Our average speed was in the 5-10 mph range; I topped out doing 25 mph for about a block.  Because of the slow speeds, you really couldn't tell how bad the roads were ... until we all had to stop because people couldn't make it up the icy hills. And then the streets just turned to parking lots until the stuck cars got a push. 

In my three hour sojourn, I had some time to think:
  1. Where were all the snowplows?  In three hours, I saw nary a plow or salt truck.  No wonder the streets were so bad.  It's not like they didn't know this storm was coming - they've been talking about it for four days - so why weren't the plows out keeping on top of things?
  2. If you live in northern Utah, why the heck would you drive a rear-wheel drive car, especially in the winter?  So many people stuck on the iced hills, spinning their silly wheels.  Front-wheel drive at the very least, people.  And how about some studded tires?
  3. Three hours in those horrible Subaru Forester seats was not what my back needed, although I kept the seat-heater cranked and it was almost like a heating pad.
  4. For all the complaining I do about that Forester (seats, tires, rust, etc.), that little car had NO problem getting me up those hills where everyone else was stuck.  Bravo, little Subaru, bravo.

boxing day

No, no, there's no boxing on Boxing Day - there's skiing on Boxing Day, of course!  After chili and cheese scromblets*, we headed back up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta, leaving B to pout on the couch for another day.  We assumed that today would be way busy, what with it no longer being actual Christmas but being part of Christmas vacation week, but we nabbed a great parking spot and didn't wait in lift lines hardly at all.  The parking lot was maybe two-thirds full when we left which surprised us.

Perhaps it was because it was Sunday, and local day crowds are down because all the Mormons have to go to church, or maybe it was because the clouds had rolled in.  The light was awful, really flat, making it nearly impossible to see what you were skiing over.  Not that it really mattered, since for the third day in a row I stuck to the groomers.  Man, I am so bored with groomers - my back had better be ready by next weekend!

Actually, H largely stuck to the groomers with me this time: the bumps and ungroomed snow have really started to set up, making it tough on the knees.  He would ski on the edges of the trails where it was still soft, but didn't venture too far afield.  Luckily, it began to snow after a couple of hours and having just a little bit of new snow - soft, light, fluffy - overtop of the corduroy was quite nice.  I don't think they're expecting a whole lot of new snow, but every little bit counts.  And another storm is due towards the end of the week - that would be great for New Year's skiing!

Wildlife report:  no ermines, but we got really close to a very brave grouse or patridge of some sort, a big one, who was nonchalantly standing in the middle of the trail just underneath the top of the Sugarloaf lift, ignoring all the skiers schussing by.  It flew off when H approached for a photo opportunity.

*They were supposed to be chili and cheese omelets, but the eggs ended up more on the scrambled side. Still tasty!

Monday, December 27, 2010

christmas day

We learned last year that Christmas morning is not a particularly busy ski time (yay!), so we didn't hurry too much to get up to Alta for the first chair, lingering just a bit over the ham and egg and cheese sandwiches that H made.  We were still up there 9:30ish (which is scarcely late: Collins lift doesn't open until 9:15 a.m.), luxuriating in the bright sunshine and warm breeze.

Near the top of the Supreme chair

Since I planned to baby my back all weekend, we skied Saturday much like we did Sunday: me sticking to the groomers off of the Supreme and Sugarloaf chairs; H jumping in and out of the trees and on and off the trails. It still hadn't snowed any more and the ungroomed stuff was starting to set up a little, but there's still great coverage and no ice. A very merry Christmas ski day indeed!

Good grief - blinked again!  Nice sky, tho'.

Wildlife report: we were just getting ready to load onto the Sugarloaf chair when this ermine raced past the lift house, under the lift and across the ski trail, finally diving to safety under a stand of small trees.  I don't know if anyone else but us saw him - tiny little pure white varmint charging across the snow. 

After we'd had enough for the day, we stopped by the Alta Lodge because we'd read that they've got a great ski bar, the Sitzmark, and thought it would be a good idea to stop in there for a beer. Alas, the Sitzmark - which is actually just a tiny attic room in an old, slopeside inn - did not open until 4:00 p.m., and we were there before then.  S'okay: the PBRs are cheaper at our house.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

christmas eve

Figuring the slopes might be busy on Christmas Eve, what with the Friday holiday and all, we made sure to get up to Alta to be in line for the lift opening.  We were early enough to get a decent parking spot - couple rows back and less than a quarter way down - but noted that the lot totally filled up by about 11 or so.  Not sure where all the people were: although it was the busiest its been this year, we never really had to wait in any lift lines.

This was my first ski outing since I fell on December 5th and boy, was I glad to get outside again.  The sky was blue, the sun was out and even though the snow had stopped by Thursday and everything was all tracked out already, it was still soft.  With an adhesive heat pack stuck to my back, I stuck to groomers, skiing cautiously and calmly, and felt nary a twinge. Well, one twinge on the last run out.  But still - so much better!  Alta has a couple of groomed runs off every lift, so that folks who don't like the steep and/or deep stuff have an easier option down.  But that's not really very many groomed runs and by the end of the day, I felt like I knew them all pretty well. The good thing about these groomers, however, is that even by the end of a busy day, there's still no ice.  Sure, they get bumped up a little and scraped off in spots, but it's still all soft.

My eyes are shut against the bright sun.  Yeah, that's it.

They were setting off avalanche charges all day, which was very entertaining to watch from the chairlifts: you'd watch the patrollers climbing antlike along the snowy slopes; then you'd see the flash; then you'd hear the BANG.  With six+ feet of heavy, wet snow on top of the drier, lighter stuff, avalanche danger has been pretty high and the patrollers are taking no chances.  Finally, they'd cleared enough that they dropped the rope on Devil's Castle.  H did the traverse twice, dropping down into the relatively untracked powder while I'd do two runs off the Sugarloaf lift, not wanting to risk my back so soon.  He reported that it was great: set up a little bit, but still deep and soft.

We skied until about 2:00 p.m., then had celebratory $2.50 PBRs at the Goldminer's Daughter before heading back to the valley, where an inversion blocked the sun from the sky.  No matter.  We had some cheap champagne (a Christmas Eve tradition) and some delicious chili that H had made, and then fell asleep in front of the television while watching A Christmas Story.  Not a bad way to start Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


This is what Alta's employee parking lot* looked like on Wednesday.  If there's that much snow down there on everyone's car, you can imagine how much snow is up in them thar hills.  Hint: it's a lot.  Rather an unusual lot for so early - the resorts are all thrilled because there's plenty of white stuff for Christmas week.

Where do you even start?  Springtime, I guess.

H skied both yesterday and today: yesterday in the wet and snow; and today under dry but grey skies.  You have to pick and choose where you go a bit, since they've been setting off a gajillion charges to shake the potential avalanches free, and if you end up where an avalanche slid through, all of a sudden you're skiing on concrete instead of puff.  There's plenty of puff, though: he had a run today, down in a chute under East Greeley, where even though it was practically vertical, it was difficult to get going simply because there was So Much Snow.

It's supposed to be mostly/partly sunny tomorrow (yay! it seems like forever since we've seen the sun), so we'll go up and take some runs.  I expect it may be a little crowded, what with lots of folks having Christmas Eve Friday off work for the holiday.  But my back feels better than it has since I hurt it, and I really want to go skiing.  I'll be cautious for sure - no crazy almost-vertical chutes for me!  Not right away anyway.

*  How cool is it that the Alta employees park in the front row at the resort?  At Sunday River in Maine (where we used to ski and where I worked one winter), employees have to park in satellite lots miles from the lodges and take a shuttle in to work.

Monday, December 20, 2010


With the current storm, Alta has received 26 inches in the last 24 hours, bringing our totals to 203 inches of fallen snow and 105 inches of settled snow depth.  There was so much snow that the lifts didn't even open until 1:00 p.m. today and the avalanche danger is some wicked high because the snow is very wet.  We didn't ski but we are counting the days 'til we can, because it's just going to get deeper and deeper.

Here at the house we just got a little bit today.  But it's snowing again now and it's very pretty outside, with the snow sticking to the tree branches.

I never took a picture of it snowing at night before - kinda cool

Saturday, December 18, 2010

h is tired now

Alta got another six inches in the past 24 hours, bringing the season total to 170 inches of fallen snow (that's fourteen feet) and a settled snow depth of 76 inches (that's just over six feet).  My back is definitely on the mend but it's not 100% yet, so rather than undo all the healing I've been doing, B and I ran errands/went to the gym/made cookies while H headed on up the canyon to ski.

When he returned, after five nonstop hours on the slopes (technically, in the trees and down the chutes and through the bowls), he reported that there was no-one there (they're all doing last minute Christmas shopping, I reckon), so he was able to find untracked snow all day.  Wildcat continues to be the favorite area, although he had some great runs (plus a dig into his newly-tuend skis) over at Catherine's area.  Also, he saw another ermine - so cute! - this time under the Sugarloaf lift, so they must be all over the mountains up there. 

It was snowing all day up there, making for less-than-ideal road conditions between Alta and Snowbird, but things warmed up below the 'Bird and the asphalt cleared again.  He's keeping an eye on the weather with respect to tomorrow: they're saying possible rain tonight up at Snowbird, which would be yucky, but maybe Alta can avoid that by virtue of being just a wee dite higher up.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

o tannenbaum

Yes, Virginia, we did get a Christmas tree this year.  After scouting several places - and getting stickershock as the last time I paid for a tree it was a $25/cut your own, and the last time we actually had a tree, my father procured it for me and I know he didn't pay for it - we found a 6-footer for $40.  It's up, and decorated, and not dropping needles too badly (I'm even remembering to water it daily), and there are presents underneath. 

The lights are on but the flash overwhelmed them, I'm afraid.

B is a little concerned about, you know, having a TREE in the house. She gives it suspicious stares and walks a wide berth around it to get to the sofa. Just when she's used to it, we'll have to take it down. I wonder how one gets rid of a Christmas tree here in the suburbs - we used to could just drag it out back into the woods and let nature take its course. With only .25 acres, we don't so much have an "out back into the woods" anymore.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

weekend wrap-up

The little storm on Friday that brought rain to the valley brought 11 inches of white, fluffy stuff to Alta by Saturday morning.  Because my back was still not quite right, H went up to ski alone and was gone all day - that's how great it was.  They finally opened the last two lifts, Cecret and Supreme, and he skied in waist-deep powder in Catherine's Area, off the Supreme lift.  It was rather windy (but warm) so the bowls - Devil's Castle, East Castle, the Ballroom, etc. - were closed for avalanche control.  But there was a ton of snow, untracked still, in the trees of Catherine's and off the Wildcat chair that he had a great time.  Might have had to take a short nap when he got home too.

Me, my back was better than it'd been so I ran some errands, wrapped presents, mixed cookie dough, did laundry, decorated the tree ... in short, overdid it and undid all the healing my back had done over the last week.

So when H headed back up to Alta Sunday morning, I settled onto the couch on the heating pad with several DVDs (Max Headroom recaps up at the other blog, if you're interested).  I was totally surprised to see H back early then: there was no visibility so he only did one very careful run.  The Collins lift wasn't running because they were chipping ice off of it; and you could only see four chairs ahead on the Wildcat chair.  The snow was all tracked out too, so rather than make a bunch of runs under less than ideal conditions, H just came home.  Of course, by early afternoon the skies had totally cleared to bright sun and blue skies - a far cry from the rain they'd forecasted.  That's okay - there'll be another day.  And maybe next time I can even go!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

low impact consumerism

I prefer to patronize locally-owned businesses, if at all possible - keeping the money in the community is important.  Even better, if I can swing it, I prefer to shop at second-hand stores for clothes, books, furniture and music.  We've been so busy doing active stuff that I haven't been doing much shopping (to H's relief), but here are some of the places I've found recently:

Slow Train - Located along a hip stretch of Broadway in downtown SLC (its neighbors include the Tavernacle and the funky Green Ant), Slow Train is a great indie music stores, specializing in vinyl and having a big selection of used CDs and records and a great local music section.

The Finer Consigner - A pretty big consignment furniture store (with an even larger sister store south in Pleasant Grove), I stop in whenever I have the chance to see what's new.

Thrift Town - I've had the best luck here clothing-wise in this busy Brickyard thrift store.  Great t-shirt selection (and prices).

Plato's Closet - an independently owned and operated secondhand clothing store franchise with five locations in Utah.  I went to the Draper one and found it bursting with clothes (mostly women's but the men's section had a nice selection of snap-front cowboy shirts), bags and shoppers.  Most of the customers were youthful hipster-doofuses but I was thrilled to see a couple of elderly ladies exclaiming over the handbag selection while the alt-rock Christmas songs blared from the store's speakers.

Deseret Industries - this is the LDS Church's version of Goodwill.  There's a huge store in Sandy and I'll need to go back when I'm not in such a rush, because there's lots to look through.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

some sun for sunday

Sunday brought some sunshine and mild temperatures and, even though only a scant inch or two of new snow had fallen, we went skiing - what else are you going to do?  Surprisingly, Alta was more crowded than it had been on Saturday; the sun brings people out, I think.  Still no lift lines, though.

We spent a fair amount of time skiing off the Sugarloaf lift: the slopes there had gotten more direct sunshine than the other side of the resort and the snow was pretty soft.  When the traverse to Devil's Castle was opened, H did a couple of runs up there where the snow was largely untracked except for where they'd set off some avalanche-control charges.  While he was doing that, I did some confidence-building runs a little lower down, practicing my technique on a black diamond trail under the lift.

Working our way back across the resort, we did a couple of easy runs in the Ballroom, while watching the crazy skiers who had hiked all the way up to the top of Mt. Baldy come down the steep, narrow Main Chute, which had also just been opened.  We talked to some folks on the lift who'd done it: despite the 45 minute hike up, they said it was well-worth it, getting that 800 (or so) feet of vertical in the chute.

Not for me, however, so H and I went back over to our new favorite spot, skiing off the Wildcat chair.  The snow was not quite as good as it had  been on Saturday, however, since it had frozen up a bit overnight and wasn't quite so soft.  We did a couple of runs in there until I decided to do a somersault and tweaked my back a little.  It was all good, though: we'd gotten in 3+ hours and my skiing is improving, so no complaints here.

Well, one: we'd like some more snow, please!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

better than expected

We decided to go skiing on Saturday (ooh - there's a surprise), despite it not having snowed since last Sunday.  And you know what?  It was still really pretty good.  There was next to no one there - the parking lot was two-thirds full by the time we left at 12:30, but I don't know where all those people were - we never waited in line for the chair and once we got off the groomers, we hardly ever saw other skiers on the trails.

I'm starting to get my confidence back, thank goodness.  We did a bunch of groomed runs at first, letting the ungroomed surfaces soften a little.  Then, working our way back across the mountain, from Sugarloaf back to Wildcat, we did a couple of runs through the Ballroom, a little bowl off the Collins lift.  The snow was settled and tracked out but still soft, and I had good enough runs there to want to go ski off the Wildcat lift. 

There is still a TON of soft, deep snow over there.  We did several runs on Wildcat Face, Wildcat Bowl and Westward Ho, including some really steep stuff where I wasn't nervous about the steep, I was nervous about stopping short in a heavy clump and tumbling headfirst down the hill.  I didn't, and I did have a lot of fun, and I think H was relieved to see me starting to get my ski legs under me.  We'll be back at it again tomorrow - yay!

Wildlife sighting: from the Wildcat lift, a dear little ermine racing across the ski trails, darting from tree to tree.  So cute!  And a gold star to H for spotting him in the first place - a tiny white critter scurrying across white snow is tough to see!

Friday, December 3, 2010

last night's sunset

It's been pretty cloudy for the last few days (and by "pretty cloudy" I mean "the first real inversion of the winter is settling into the valley) but each evening, just as the sun sets there's a break in the cloud cover in the west which lights up the peaks of the Wasatch Front in the east.  The mountains turn these amazing shades of pink and orange, just for a few minutes, before fading to grey and white.

H took this photo from work using his phone.  The glorious colors aren't there but you can see the light hitting just the tip-top of the mountain.  Super-cool.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the rest of the weekend

We went back to Alta on Saturday because, you know, it's there.  But they still hadn't gotten any new snow so the groomers were pretty hard (not icy, just hard) and the flat light made it tough to navigate.  Our new favorite spot to the right of the Wildcat lift still had tons of deep, soft snow but my legs were so fatigued from Thursday's run and Friday's skiing that I was all but useless, fighting the snow every turn.  I ended up going into the lodge after just over two hours - I cleverly keep a paperback in my bootbag just for these occasions - and H stayed out for another hour or so.

Sunday brought an all day snowstorm, leaving us with about eight inches all told at the house and thirteen up at Alta.  We did not ski Sunday, opting out of the windy and wet conditions.  B and I did take a nice long walk at Dimple Dell; and H wowed the neighbors with his impressive driveway-shoveling technique.

Oh!  If you're interested in what early season backcountry skiing looks like these days, click through on this link.  It's to a fun, short video shot by one of the guys I work with who got out into the Wasatch Front for his first turns yesterday.  (Pretty slick editing too - he's a Mac guy.)