Sunday, February 27, 2011

worth the wait

Snow, snow, snow!  It started snowing Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning, we even had over six inches at our house.  This meant about 32 inches* of powder, high avalanche danger and road closure in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  We left the house at 8:30 a.m., fretted and fumed at the selfish drivers in line ahead of us, and made it to Alta's parking lot around 10:15 a.m.  (We were clever enough to bring books with us this time for the stretches of sitting.)   They were still patrolling Supreme and delayed the opening of the lift for a while so we took a couple of runs off Sugarloaf until we couldn't stand it anymore.

We joined the corral at Supreme, waiting for them to open the chair while more snow fell around us.  People were pretty patient for the most part.  I took advantage of the wait to break out my powder cords (neon orange strings that you attach to your skis, and then stuff the trailing edge up into your ski pants - then, when you lose a ski in the deep snow, the string unfurls and you can follow it to your buried ski).  We stood in the corral for about twenty minutes and then, hallelujah!, they opened the lift.  We were on the twelfth chair and rode up with a tele skier who was all but drooling at the fresh snow.  As we neared the top of the lift, we could hear whoops and hollers of pure joy as the skiers headed off into the crazy powder, well over my knees.  After our first Supreme run, we skied right back onto the lift; after our second, the corral was jam-packed.  No worries, we just rode the singles line. 

After our lunch break, we decided to head to Collins base and ski the Wildcat chair for a while.  Since the EBT traverse trail was closed for avalanche control, we had to ski down to the tow rope for it to drag us back to Collins.  As we started down the bunny slope to Albion, we had to pause to let that huge porcupine cross the trail.  He's enormous and entirely unconcerned with the people taking pictures of him, walking steadily in a straight line across the ski trail to a stand of trees.  H got a photo this time:

Cecret Lift's resident porcupine, out for a stroll

We did a couple of runs at Wildcat - ridiculous amounts of snow in there - before my poor legs said they'd had enough.  It was 3:30 p.m. by then, though, and even although we'd had a late start, we felt we'd had plenty of fun in the powder.  Pluswhich, there's always tomorrow!

*  It snowed all day on Saturday, tapering off in the evening, and adding a few more inches so that the storm total for Alta was 37".  Not too shabby.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


We weren't going to ski on Monday, we really weren't.  We looked out the window up the canyon and it was cloudy and gray, and it was supposed to be busy ... and then fifteen minutes later it was blue sky and sunshine and we threw our gear on and ourselves in the truck and off we went.  This time it only took us an hour to get up there: no road closures for avalanche control, just lots and lots of cars due to the holiday long weekend.  It was so busy, in fact, that both Little Cottonwood Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon closed their roads to uphill traffic around 11:00 a.m., only allowing ski buses and resort shuttles up since the parking at all four resorts (which is limited) was maxed out.

It was as busy as we've seen it all season with longer than average lift lines and full lodges.  But we rode the singles line and got in plenty of runs in the oodles of still deep, still soft snow.  Well, to be honest, H got in plenty of runs.  I got in a few but my poor little legs were sore and still fatigued from Sunday's skiing, so I begged off the really deep (and fun) stuff.  I did manage to find one run whose moguls weren't ridiculously big, and I did several runs there because, as I learned last spring, for some reason I now like skiing the bumps.

H having another good day in Catherine's Area

We stayed out 'til 3 or so (I called it quits a couple of runs before H did) and then headed home, where by 7:30 p.m. my legs were SO stiff that I could hardly move.  Pathetic - I should be in better shape than that!  There's nothing to do but keep practicing, I guess, and luckily we've got another good-sized storm heading to the mountains just in time for the coming weekend.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Sunday found us smack-dab in the middle of the latest big snowstorm: by late afternoon, Alta's stats were: 11 inches in the last 12 hours, 23 inches in the last 24 hours and 32 inches from the storm, bringing us to 391 inches on the season and a good 151-inch base. 

Ski it today, drink it tomorrow

Of course, all this new snow brings other things, especially on a holiday weekend: lots of cars standing in line, waiting to get up the canyon which was closed until 8:30 a.m. due to plowing and avalanche control issues. Here are some other numbers for you, then: 2.5 hours to get from our house to Alta.  It usually takes us 20 minutes.  We did our best to be patient while sitting in the parking lot known as Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, though, since we're certainly not resentful of UDOT or the police - we'd like to get up there, but we want to do it safely.

And we did get up there safely, to ridiculous amounts of snow.  It was blowing pretty good at the Collins base area but when we got over to Supreme, the wind totally died and the sun tried (and failed as it continued to snow all day) to come out.  The new snow was well over my knees everywhere, soft as anything, and in Supreme's chutes came up to my waist.  It was so much fun and you HAD to find the steepest stuff because otherwise you'd just stop, stuck in all that powder.  We both fell a lot and man, it was tough to dig yourself back out sometimes.  I even managed to go skis over teakettle right under the chairlift - but did not tweak my back at all.  The only bad part was that I'm a total spaz when it comes to really deep snow: I just tense up and fight the snow, which is exhausting.

Steep and deep - and smiling!

H kept an eye on the notice boards and his phone because of the potential for road closures: we'd hate to get interlodged (when they close the road and skiers have to stay in the lodge overnight) because then poor B would miss her dinner.  We were at Collins base at 2:15, thinking about heading back up to Watson Shelter for a snack and a quick break when he noted that they were planning on closing the road at 2:30 for about an hour for avalanche control.  We booked it to the truck, threw our gear in the back, scraped off the windshield ... and missed getting out before they closed the road by four cars.  Still, we only sat there for about an hour, making our total descending time still half what our ascent had taken.  And again, as we cruised down the clear, not-slippery asphalt, we were grateful to the plow- and avi-guys for taking such good care of this canyon we've grown (already) to love.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Ah - long weekend!  And yet when we looked out the window Saturday morning and saw rain, lots of rain, at least down in the valley, we just couldn't motivate ourselves to go skiing.  So B and I went to the gym (technically I went to the gym and B sat in the car in the parking lot outside the gym) instead.  When we got back home, we immediately grabbed H and the GPS and made our way across the Salt Lake Valley to Kearns, where the second day of a 2011 World Cup long track speed skating event was underway at the Utah Olympic Oval (5662 S. Cougar Lane, Kearns).

the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah

The joint was jumpin': stands filled (with lots of young families, no doubt drawn - as were we - by the free admission); a local high school rock band set up on the infield for between-event entertainment, along with a Mighty Mite hockey game and peewee short track exhibition.  Athletes from around the world were there to compete in the day's races, men's 10,000 meters and women's 1500 meters; we saw skaters, including some Olympians, from the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan.

Just like with the Tour of Utah, it was cool (and humbling) to be so close to these world-class athletes.  We had great seats right next to the 10,000 meter start/finish, and just off to the side skaters were warming up, stretching and riding trainers to cool down after their races.  The 10,000 meter is a brutal race, these guys going around and around, at about 34 (+/-) seconds a lap, for about thirteen minutes - they're just exhausted when it's done.  The crowd was fully supportive, applauding each pair as they came around and cheering enthusiastically for each new leader, nationality notwithstanding. 

Men's 10,000 meter start - Japan and Australia

We also were pleased to check another Olympic venue off our list: at this point, we've gotten to almost of them, except for Park City and the secondary ice hockey arena in Provo: Olympic Park in Park City, the Oval, Snowbasin, the E-Center, Deer Valley (only H went there but we're counting it), Soldier Hollow and Rice-Eccles Stadium.  I love the fact that all these venues still in use by Olympic athletes for their training and are also open to the public.  H and I love watching the Olympics and it's way fun to go to these sites in person.  Who knows - maybe we even saw some future Olympic medalists skate on Saturday!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ski with a ranger

On Sunday morning, my legs were still a little sore/fatigued from the explore-the-mountain workout H put me through on Saturday, so I was secretly grateful when he said that he was going back to his telemark skis and thus wouldn't be quite so adventurous (but did look way cooler, what with the free-heeling).  We took our time getting up there but even so, the snow was pretty solid: with Saturday having been so warm, the snow really froze up overnight and anything ungroomed was pretty rugged until after noontime.
    Yay for bluebird days! 
When it got close to 1:30 p.m., we decided to swing by the base of the Cecret lift to "Ski with a Ranger," a program offered at Alta on weekends and holidays. The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation offers up volunteers who give a little presentation on Alta's human and natural history and the canyons' watershed. Calling it "skiing" might be a bit of a stretch: we basically slid down a bunny trail from Alf's Lodge to the Albion Lodge. But our U.S. Forest Service ranger was great, knowledgeable, personable and entertaining. It took about 45 minutes and this is some of what we learned:  
  • All the trees at Alta are planted: the mining operations had deforested the canyon, leading to devastating avalanches.  When the Forest Service got involved, they asked Alf Engen where would be a good place for a ski resort, Alf said Alta, but they needed to plant trees.  So they planted thousands of them (and still are).  That means what's cool about Alta's trails is that instead of cutting down trees to make ski trails, they put trees in to add definition.
  • There are three types of evergreen trees up at Alta: sub-alpine fir, Englemann spruce and limber pines.  Deciduous trees include willows and aspens.  A grove of aspen is actually one plant as all the aspens in a grove are connected to each other underground.
  • Main Street of the town of Alta used to be right where the tow rope is today.  At the mining boom, there were easily 5,000 people living in Alta in the summer, with another 3,000 further up the canyon in Grizzly Gulch.  Avalanches and fires destroyed the town of Alta multiple times, scouring it clean of the saloons and brothels that kept popping up.
  • Albion Basin is considered a frozen reservoir and the water coming out of LCC is used as it comes out of the canyon and is not held for later use.
  • Our snow contains only 10% water (on average) which is why it's the Greatest Snow on Earth - light and dry.
  • There are only thirty residential dog permits for folks living in the town of Alta and there's quite a waiting list for them, as you might imagine.
  • The Forest Service got the land in the first place because some guy named Watson, who'd bought up the whole upper canyon from discouraged miners, was way behind on his taxes.  He handed over the land instead.
We packed it in after that, pausing for a quick beer on the sunny patio.  And then, once more, home to simply count the days until we ski again.

Mellow patio scene at Gold Miner's Daughter

Monday, February 14, 2011

sweet deal

Since I'm constantly trying to figure out different clothing combinations to keep myself warm whilst skiing, H decided he wanted to get me a down vest for my birthday.  Winter gear is going on sale at REI right about now so we stopped into the store on 3300 South last Friday night to see what they had.  There were quite a few vests still in stock - both down and Primaloft; REI brand, Marmot, Patagonia - but of course the one that (1) fit the best and (2) was in a decent color was the $150 not-on-sale Patagonia one. 

There was no way I could stomach paying (or asking H to pay) $150 for a vest, so I said we'd just check the REI online clearance to see what was there ... but swung through the kids' department on the way out of the store.  So glad we did because I found a pink REI brand XL girls' down vest, regularly $60, marked down to $20.  (I can't always fit into XL kids' sizes but if they run a little large I can.  And do.)  Total score!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

february thaw

It was warm today: low 40s in the sun both in the valley and at the base of Alta, and a hot 28 up on the mountain.  The sun was out and the snow, which has held up remarkably well considering the last new snow was the 16 inches we got Monday night, was soft. 

View of West Rustler from the patio

H decided to go with his alpine gear today - and then, as soon as we'd gotten on the very first Collins chair to carry us out of the base area, said that he missed his tele skis - and thus ended my days of (1) being faster than him and (2) not challenging myself particularly. We went all over the eastern part of the resort: hiking up under lower East Castle and Devil's Castle and playing in the deep snow and trees there; hiking up into Catherine's Area and playing in the glades; hiking up to the high traverse out towards Devil's Castle and playing in the bowl; traversing over the Cecret Saddle, skirting the lake and playing in the trees; playing in the steep, narrow chutes under the Supreme chair and in the Supreme Bowl.

It was great. We were working hard and having to unzip jackets and base layers almost immediately - and this may be the very first time I have ever skied in February without handwarmers tucked into my mittens. Tomorrow is supposed to be even better - no high, thin clouds to diminish any of the sun's warmth - and we're already rethinking our layering. Afterwards, we paused for a couple of PBRs on the patio of the Goldminer's Daughter lodge. We weren't alone: all sorts of folks were enjoying the late afternoon sun and mellow vibe. Good times for sure.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

definitely more than one

Sunday was a whole 'nother day up on the hill: calm, dry, high clouds with occasional breaks for sunshine.  There was a new four-ish inches of snow over everything and although it seemed kind of busy at the start, all the lifts were running, which spread the crowd out considerably, plus people cleared out on the early side to go watch some big football game or something.  (We left on the early side too but it was because we're old and tired.)

H reported that his tele skis were running much better with a new coat of wax and we headed straight to the Supreme lift to run the blues and blacks.  Apparently telemark turns are a little easier on steeper slopes because the momentum helps carry you through.  We even ventured into Catherine's Area - which was tracked out, of course, but still stuffed with snow - and I thought H was doing really well.  He was less sure of that, however, and noted that his form was suffering since he was trying to keep up with me.

Hold on.  Let me repeat that:  H was trying to keep up with me.  In all the years that we've been skiing together, that phrase has NEVER been uttered.  (Nor will again once he puts his alpine skis back on.)

After a noontime break, he suggested that we split up for an hour or so: him to the Sugarloaf chair to practice technique on the blue groomers and me back to Supreme.  As it turns out, I only ended up taking one run, really: I was taking the Cecret lift up to where I could ski over to the Supreme lift and saw a bunch of folks clustered around a gigantic porcupine who was chewing on a small tree, right beside the trail.  When I got off the lift, I went right down that bunny trail to see the porcupine close up, but he had already trundled off into the woods.  I was then stuck and had to ride Cecret again to get back to Supreme. 

My one run off Supreme was pretty good as I went into the trees in the White Squaw area, finally finding my way down beneath these big cliffs that I'd been trying to get to.  It's scraped off a bit in the narrow bits but still lots of snow to be found.  As I skied out, heading to meet H at the Sugarloaf chair, I saw a bunch of folks clustered around that gigantic porcupine who was chewing on another small tree right beside the trail.  This time I got a good look at him (huge! and completely unafraid ... altho' if I'm a gigantic porcupine I'm probably not much afraid of people either).

H was waiting for me in the lift lines and we headed out, back to Collins base where we park.  H's legs were tired from all the tele turns and mine were a little fatigued too.  My back felt pretty good, however, and I think I'm back to where I would have been confidence/skill-wise a month ago if I hadn't gotten hurt.  Now it's just killing time 'til the weekend when we can go skiing again!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

one and done

The internet lied to us.  We checked the current conditions at Alta before heading up there and it was supposed to be mid- to high 20s, light snow and light winds.  It was 24 when we pulled into the parking lot; the snow was coming down steadily in graupel form; and the wind was screaming, so much so that half of Alta's lifts were on delayed opening and Snowbird was refusing to open the tram at all.  Still, we'd come up and H wanted to practice his tele turns, so we thought to give it a try.

We grabbed onto the tow rope which dragged us from the Collins base area to the Albion base area because the Collins lift wasn't yet open and while the Wildcat lift was, you can't get to anywhere but Wildcat from that lift.  We then waited in a long line to ride the Sunnyside lift, as the winds picked up, then scooted over to the Cecret lift which would get us high enough to ski to the Supreme lift.  The snow was coming down pretty hard now, making for lovely soft conditions underfoot, even on the groomed trails. 

When we got to Supreme, there was hardly anybody there.  As we rode up on the lift, we figured out why: the wind really picked up once we cleared the trees and the visibility was pretty much nil.  About halfway down that first run, our faces being snowblasted by the graupel, H turned to me and said, "I think I'm okay if this is all we do today.  It really isn't any fun."  Luckily, we were about as far from the car as we could be so it was a long, slow slog out - the wind was coming up the mountain and pretty much stopped us in our tracks on any flat sections.

We made it back to Sunnyside, took the rope tow back to Collins, left H's telemark skis in the shop for an overnight tune and headed home - where it was calm and 40 with peeks of sunshine. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

good neighbors

It's been a little bit of an adjustment for us, being here in a neighborhood.  In Maine we lived on a half-mile long dead-end road with about 15-20 houses on 2+-acre wooded parcels, but even after seven years there, we didn't know any of the neighbors' names.  Sure, we knew them by sight and knew their dogs' names, but it wasn't a really sociable setting.   Where we are now, with the houses so close by that I have to remember to keep the blinds closed at certain times (our last house didn't even have blinds or curtains), the neighbors are a constant presence.

Luckily, we have really nice and friendly neighbors who take in our trash barrel if they get home before we do, and bring us fresh-baked loaves still warm from the breadmaker.  They're also very organized and into being prepared for whatever comes - whether this is a particularly Mormon and/or Utahn thing I don't know, but it makes sense what with the fault line running along the Wasatch Front. 

Just last week we were invited to a neighborhood preparedness meeting at our across-the-street neighbors' home.  Most of the folks from either side of the street came, which was great as we finally got to meet people and put names to faces.  They handed out a contact sheet to be updated with names, phone numbers and email addresses; they gave us preprinted cards to place in the front window in case of a local disaster: green for all's-well and red for help-needed; we talked about who has generators, who has CPR training, who has medical conditions; we discussed the best way to get rid of the magpies plaguing the vicinity (inconclusive).

Afterwards there were desserts, made in Dutch ovens in keeping with the disaster preparedness theme of the evening: pineapple upside down cake, apple cobbler and some decadent chocolate-cherry concoction.  We learned that we are not the only non-Mormons on the street, that one other house loves xeriscaping (and so there'll be at least a couple people who keep talking to us once we pull up all the grass in the yard) and one of the neighbors works for an outfitter who does trips to Antarctica.  Everyone was super-friendly and very welcoming.  I can't remember any of their names now - we're going to sketch out a neighborhood map when the updated contact list comes out - yet it was kind of nice to feel like we were part of the community.  Not a big part - we like to do our own thing more often than not - but a welcomed part nonetheless.