Saturday, December 29, 2012


The latest storm moved in after Christmas, dropped 23 inches and then moved on by Friday afternoon, leaving us partially sunny skies and no fresh tracks on Saturday.  The snow, which had been skied out by Friday afternoon, was bumped up into pretty big/ softish moguls in all the ungroomed areas, but it was still pretty good in spots - like in Catherine's Area and lower East Greeley - although you had to hunt for it amid the many, many people populating the slopes.  Actually, the trails weren't crowded: the lodges were packed at lunchtime, with Alf's running out of things and people circling the dining area like vultures, searching for available seats; the lift lines were not too bad until after 2:00 p.m. when skiers seemed to come out of the woodwork.

We skied in our usual haunts - mostly off Supreme, taking the Supreme Bowl traverse into the near portions of Catherine's Area, hitting the chutes and trees of the Bowl, doing some off No. 9 Express and Upper Sleepy Hollow.  I should say that H skied; I was a total spaz before lunch, completely unable to get my skis to do what I wanted them to do.  We did several runs in East Greeley after lunch and I was passably better, but still not where I wanted to be.  The solution was to send H off to ski the steeps and deeps while I tried to get my act together on the groomers.  It was frustrating but I was hopeful that Sunday would be better.

H's legs were cooked by 2:30 p.m. (mine weren't too bad but then I'd been skiing a lot of groomers) so we skied out.  We were in the truck by 3 p.m., home by 3:30 p.m. and I was showered and wearing my soft pants by 4:00 p.m.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

blue and white christmas

It snowed all day on Christmas Eve (more on that later) and well into the night too, the storm leaving us 18 inches of new snow to play in on Christmas Day.  They closed Little Cottonwood Canyon for a couple hours first thing in the morning but it was open again at 8:30 a.m., the skies cloudless and clear blue, and the traffic was moving well by the time we headed up to Alta.  H had an off morning, unusually for him: first dropping one of his skis on his sock-clad feet and then forgetting to put his season pass back into his regular soft-shell after he had worn his bad weather parka to ski the day before.  We didn't realize he'd left his pass at home until we were in the parking lot at Goldminer's Daughter, having just put our ski boots on; luckily, a nice parking lot attendant overheard our dismay and told us that for $10, Skier Services - after checking your ID and confirming that you do, in fact, have a season pass that you've left at home - will give you a day pass, imprinted with "Forgot SP."  We promptly dubbed this the "dumbass pass" and then happily hopped on the lift.


As you might imagine, with all that new snow the skiing was fantastic.  We skied mostly off the Supreme chair of course: breaking trail on the traverse across the top of the Supreme Bowl again, swooping through the freshies in Catherine's Area, tucking into the chutes and trees, nabbing first tracks wherever we could.  The snow was a little bit heavier than the last time we skied deep stuff but man oh man it was fun.  On one run through Catherine's, H was skiing as good as he ever has and managed to solicit two separate "woohoo!"s from other skiers.

A pretty day in Catherine's Area

After lunch we went into the backside, which hadn't been open first thing in the morning so that patrol could do avalanche control, and which had been immediately pounced upon as soon as it opened.  By the time we got there, it was largely skied out but we had some great turns in there even so, finding some really, really deep and soft stashes.

Workin' the backside

Part of the reason the skiing was so good was because there just weren't that many people out skiing.  The parking lots had filled up by the afternoon but we never waited in lift lines and rarely had to take a chair with someone other than just us.  This seems to be standard on Christmas day: families with little kids taking the morning to open presents, leaving the mountain to the diehards (like us) and the folks who've come out specifically to ski over the holiday.  As the day wore on we noticed more lessons, more fur-trimmed ski parkas, more people unfamiliar with the lifts and the trails - but the mountain was still pretty uncrowded.

Can't get enough of that sky

We lasted until just after 2 p.m., at which point our legs were cooked.  [Note: H had done several more nonstop powder runs on his own after I had had to bail out to the groomers for being tired - that's how we both ended up worn out at the same time.]   That was okay, though, as we'd had a magnificent day in the deep stuff under deep blue skies.  I call that a merry Christmas for sure.

Very merry!

Monday, December 24, 2012

dust on crust

Sunday was more of the same from Saturday, with just an inch or two of new snow on top of the wind-driven firmness.  It was a little bit colder, a little bit windier, sunshine peeking through the fast-moving clouds.  The runs off the Supreme chair had the best conditions: the groomers held up throughout the day and Catherine's Area was better than the day before, although I still found it difficult to turn in the packed drifts.  Sugarloaf's runs were fast and the Sugarbowl got skied off quickly; the trails on the front side of Collins were pretty bad (meaning I wished I had edges on my skis, but still no eastern-class ice) until you got down below the angle station.

We hung out on Supreme mostly, going into Catherine's a couple of times but mostly sticking to groomers.  H took an "action" photo of me on a Sugarloaf run and at lunch I checked it out, horrified at my rigid posture.  H tells me that's how I always ski, how he can always pick me out when he looks back up the hill because my upper body is always so tight.  So I spent the afternoon trying to be more "dynamic," and will continue to work on that because man, I look like a dork all upright and stiff like that.

The antithesis of dynamism, right there

We did notice the lift lines growing a bit in the afternoon: all the really good skiers had left by lunchtime but all the tourists started showing up, here for their Christmas week.  You could tell by the sudden abundance of furred parka collars, brand new ski outfits and utter inability to navigate the lift gates.  It's been a lovely early season of scruffy locals at Alta but the invasion has begun.  Can't be helped, I suppose, but gosh it's been nice not waiting in any lift lines.  We'll see how the rest of vacation week turns out.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

like night and day

What a difference a week makes - a week with no new snow, anyway.  Whereas last Saturday was full of deep, fluffy, puffy new snow, this Saturday was hard and fast, last weekend's powder wind-driven and packed down.  Although the temperatures were pretty nice (mid 20s/high teens), we got cold because we just weren't working hard as we cruised the groomers.  And cruising the groomers was necessary: the ungroomed snow was ridged and unyielding, although you could get an edge into it (or could if you had any edges on your skis - remind me to get my skis tuned), and I bounced off the solid ridges, which was tough on the knees.

Looking back at the Gunsight

We hung out at Supreme for a fair amount of time, even venturing into Catherine's Area via the Supreme Bowl traverse, which had been all but filled in with the week's wind.  I struggled in Catherine's, skis just breaking through the snow's surface enough to make it difficult for me to turn.

Happy to have found some soft snow

At lunch at Alf's, we noticed a very few skiers coming down through Greeley Bowl.  Since the traverse across East Greeley was closed, we figured they were taking the High Traverse on the front side and coming up over the ridge.  The snow in Greeley Bowl looked good and H declared that he wanted to give it a try.  Since the High Traverse gives me pause even in excellent conditions, I opted out and took 2.5 runs off Collins on the front side while H hiked up and over and came back around to find me.  He ended up coming over the ridge through Gunsight (which we hadn't done before) and reported that the snow and views were quite good in the Bowl.

The view from high up in Greeley Bowl

We did a couple of runs down on Sunspot/lower West Rustler, finding the snow fairly soft but the area popular: everyone else was finding that snow fairly soft too.  It wasn't really crowded, though, since there were very few people out skiing probably due to lack of new snow/last minute holiday shopping.  We called it a day a little after 2 p.m. and headed home, looking forward to the inch or so of snow the forecast was promising for Sunday.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

holiday ornament display structure

Buying Christmas trees out here was a real shock for me, coming from Maine where you either got your tree at a high school friend's family's tree farm - cut your own for $25 - or you go out back behind your house - cut your own for $0.  Here in the high desert there aren't any tree farms so the trees are trucked in from Montana: they're tinder-dry and way expensive (I think we paid $50 for last year's tree which started dropping needles the minute we got it home).

Several weeks ago, as we were riding a chair lift at Alta, I offhandedly mentioned to H that I didn't think I was going to get a Christmas tree this year.  I'd previously been angling for a fake tree as it seems that more people out here have those than annual real ones but H has been adamantly opposed to that idea.  He doesn't really get into the holiday but he knows that I kind of like it and have a bunch of decorations and ornaments, so on the next chair ride he asked, "What if I make you one?"  What he had in mind was a folk art-y wooden tree, with offset dowel branches, very Charlie Brown Christmas-y.  I was intrigued and said, yes please!

The naked tree

So he designed and built me a Christmas tree (or, more technically, a Holiday Ornament Display Structure) for about $25, painted it and made himself dizzy winding lights around it.  It's tall and thin and tree-shaped; it's super-easy to decorate since you don't have to fuss around with needles and bending branches - I hung it with ornaments in about fifteen minutes.  I just love it.  It's goofy-looking but you can see each of the ornaments, there's no needle drop and the dog is not scared of it.  And when the holiday is over and it's time to put Christmas stuff away, I can take the ornaments off, throw a sheet over it and stick it in a basement closet until next year, easy as pie.

Fifteen minutes later ... decorated!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

word of the day: faceshot

You know how I mentioned how good the skiing was at Alta on Saturday?  Well, on Sunday it was equally as good.  With another seven or so inches (seemed like lots more) on top of what we'd gotten since Friday afternoon, the snow was deep and soft and luscious.  In fact, I am running out of superlatives to describe how good it was and how much fun we had.

Instead of heading straight to Supreme as soon as they opened the chairlifts, we decided to do a couple of runs off the Wildcat chair - and boy, were we glad we did!  The snow in the Punchbowl was largely untracked and the chutes in and around Rock Gully and Bear Paw were chock full of fresh.  There may have been giddy giggling although I'm not admitting to anything.

After a couple of runs there, we went to Supreme where H had the brilliant idea of taking the traverse along the top of Supreme Bowl to get into Catherine's Area, rather than hiking up to the higher traverse.  The only flaw in this plan was that we were the first ones across that traverse, which meant H had to break trail in knee-deep snow the whole way.  But once we got in there, it was soooooo worth it.  We swooped down along the rope line - and got so much snow in our faces that we were breathing it in (which is weird - but it melts immediately so it's okay) - then went in through a gate to ski the trees to the bottom.  It was incredible - so much wonderful snow.  It was so good that we did it again and again, at least four times in a row, until we decided that we should this time hike up into Catherine's and play around there.  Like the day before, there weren't any crowds and we were able to ski right up the lift each time, ensuring plenty of runs.

I thought that H would want to go somewhere else after lunch but no, he wanted to go right back to the trees in Catherine's and the Supreme Bowl.  So that's where we stayed, all day, until my poor little legs had had enough.  It was a magnificent weekend of skiing, an early Christmas present to have so much snow.  In fact, we're now ahead of things snow-wise (129% of normal), which is really good given the dry year we had last year.  We hope that this weekend's storm is a harbinger of things to come because dang, that was good skiing.

Monday, December 17, 2012

10" + no crowds = awesome day at alta

It started snowing Friday afternoon and kept going all through the night and into the morning, leaving four inches of snow in our driveway for H to shovel - and ten inches up at Alta.  Temperatures were pretty mild (low 20s at the base, high teens at the summit) and that, coupled with all the new fresh, made me think that it was going to be crowded.  I was wrong.  There was a substantial group waiting for the chair to open at Collins, but once that dissipated, we never had to stand in line.  I guess people just don't like to ski when it's snowing.  But we do!

We headed straight to the Supreme chair and skied there for most of the day.  It was SO GOOD.  The snow was much lighter and fluffier than it had been the Sunday before, easy to turn in and soft to fall in.  I was skiing my powder skis so much better than last time:  I felt good, surfing my wide Rossignols up and through the billows of snow, and H even said that I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Over and over and over again we hiked up to the traverse into Catherine's Area (the slog has got to get easier at some point), did the work to get in there, and then delighted in the wonderful, untracked powder.  And we kept finding freshies all day, tucked into chutes and trees, deep well to our knees.  It was just awesome and so much fun.  For our last couple of runs, we moved to East Greeley.  It was largely tracked out but still so soft and deep, and the chutes that brought us back to the Sugarloaf chair were lots of fun.

We made it until about 2:30 p.m., then headed carefully down the canyon.  The traffic wasn't bad at all despite the many cars lining the canyon road at Snowbird - apparently that's where all the crowds were.  We got home safely, hung up our wet stuff to dry and toasted with some hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, looking out the window at Little Cottonwood Canyon, some wicked pleased to see the snow clouds wedged in there.  Tomorrow was shaping up to be another great day.

Friday, December 14, 2012

two in a row

As I mentioned, it snowed all day last Saturday and was still snowing when we left the canyon to go home.  It kept on snowing all through the night - hooray! - so that when we went back up Sunday morning, Alta had approximately 11 cumulative storm inches.  It was clearing in the valley, and for a moment it was clear enough that we could stand in the Collins lift line and look across the canyon to see tiny little back-country skiers making the trek up to Supreme Superior.  The clouds moved back in shortly after that and while it didn't snow too much during the day, the light was flat, making it exceedingly difficult to see.  It was quite cold too: 10 F at the base of Collins and a brisk 1 F at the summit (which would later warm right up to 3 F).

Despite the cold (and the fact that it was Sunday), the morning powder-hungry crowds were out: it was as busy as it's been this season to date.  We made our way over to Supreme, of course, which was fairly popular, especially Catherine's, although not so much that we weren't scoring untracked powder on each run.  The crush of people encouraged us to ride the singles line a couple of times, but amazingly the place cleared out by noon and we were back to skiing right onto the lift.  Apparently most people were heading down to the valley to pick up Christmas trees once their favorite runs were chopped up.  We had some great runs in Catherine's (I was wearing my powder skis and was glad of it), including an impressive Superman fall by H, who grazed a snow-covered stump and launched himself out of both skis, landing safely in a chest-deep well of powder.  I missed the actual crash but was there for the aftermath, helping him find and dig out his skis.  It was funny.

We moved over to the Sugarloaf and Collins chairs after lunch, taking some runs on the newly opened East Greeley area.  My legs were fatiguing fast - the conditions were actually better on Saturday during the storm; Sunday's snow was a little sticky and dense, harder to turn in.  I also was having trouble turning because I had my boots a little loose, which did wonders for keeping my toes from freezing in the cold but which made my skis less responsive.

Again, we made it until after 2 p.m. before going back to the truck.  Because there were so many more folks skiing this day, the trip down canyon was quite a bit slower: it took us 50 59 minutes in the "red snake" of descending vehicles, but slow and steady gets you home with no incidents.  Back at the house, we laid our gear out to dry, pleased with the first full weekend of good conditions.  The forecast alluded to more snow heading our way, so hopefully this two-in-a-row will be the first of many.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Much to our delight, we got a snowstorm last weekend!  The storm would eventually drop 24 inches up at Alta, including 11" by snowing all day and all night Saturday.  It was not at all crowded Saturday, since it was fairly cold (around 10 F at the summit), people don't really show up in the "early season" before Christmas, plus people out here really don't like to ski when it's snowing.  That was fine by us: no crowds, no lift lines, more runs on untracked powder.

Alta finally opened the Supreme lift on Friday afternoon - which meant that was where we skied the whole time on Saturday.  Even with the area having been open for a couple of hours the day before, Catherine's Area was in great shape - "Super-sweet!" said H, getting face shots in the glades - and we pretty much skied there exclusively.  At that point there seemed to be 5 new inches on top of the older, still deep and soft snow; even on my non-powder skis, it was so much fun, skiing in powder again.  Because it was so cold, the snow was soft and dry, easy to turn in.  Super-sweet for sure.


We skied until a little after 2 p.m. and it was still snowing when we headed back down the canyon.  The storm was to continue all through the night and as soon as we got home, I brought my powder skis up from the basement, getting ready for what we expected to be another great day on the hill.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


We didn't end up skiing last Sunday.  There wasn't any new snow, H had come down with a bit of a cough, and it was going to be really windy, blowing 25-35 mph.  (That afternoon Snowbird recorded a gust of over 100 mph, and they had to shut the tram down.)  So we hung out at home.  I managed to keep myself busy, though:  I made ham stock, baked peanut butter cookies, re-read The Hunger Games, started a batch of homemade limoncello and watched two great movies, Safety Not Guaranteed and How To Train Your Dragon.  None of it was quite as exciting or fun as a great day of skiing would have been but you work with what you've got.

Monday, December 3, 2012

not much new

Snow is scarce around here: by Saturday morning, we'd only had a scant new inch or two.  Not that that stopped us from going up to Alta and doing our regular ski-'til-about-1 thing.  There was hardly anyone up there, the weather and temperature were about where they've been of late and the snow was okay - dense and firm but not frozen solid.  We did ski in the trees next to the Collins lift (Fred's Slot area) where we found it a bit of a struggle to turn in the compacted snow, necessitating a slow pace and hop turns.  We did a couple of runs in the Ballroom, which was in pretty good condition, considering; I took a tumble off the traverse on our first run there, wrenching my back a little but not so badly that I couldn't keep skiing, including a second run in the Ballroom.  And for lunch we treated ourselves - okay, to be honest: H treated us - to the 2012/2013 season's first plateful of Watson Shelter chili-cheese fries - yum!  (Note: if you get these, don't go with the vegetarian chili as it's not as good as the meat-ed version.)

Wintry scene at Alta

Here's hoping we get some colder temperatures and lots more snow soon.

Friday, November 30, 2012

welcome to the neighborhood, joe

I prefer to shop at locally-owned businesses whenever I can (The King's English bookstore, Dancing Cranes Imports, Salt Lake Running Company, the Salt Lake Roasting Co., etc.), but I have to admit that I am thrilled that Trader Joe's finally opened in Salt Lake City today.  I used to love to shop at Trader Joe's when I lived in Boston (OMG that was the mid-90s ago); Portland, Maine, finally got theirs four months after we moved out here.  I'm going to wait for the hubbub to die down before I get over there - over 300 crazy consumers lined up at 6:30 a.m. today to be the first inside - but I am so looking forward to reacquainting my self with old favorites (cheese, chocolate, coffee, dried fruit, pot-stickers) and finding new ones.  Please note:  the SLC Trader Joe's sells 3.2 beer, but no wine due to Utah's liquor laws - alas, there will be no Two Buck Chuck in the Beehive State.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

getting some turns in

Even with having gone away for the Thanksgiving holiday, we managed to get some turns in up at Alta on Sunday, skiing from 9:15 a.m. (isn't it a little weird that Alta opens at 9:15?  why not just 9 a.m.?) until about 1 p.m.  Temperatures were about the same as the last weekend, minus the wind and snow.  They've opened the backside up now; we didn't go in there - we didn't see anyone go in there - but East Greeley was definitely all tracked out.

The conditions were much better than we thought they'd be, given that no new snow has fallen.  Native Utahns would have thought it was terrible but it wasn't: the ungroomed snow was packed and firm but it wasn't frozen solid and it certainly wasn't icy.  We ventured off the groomers a bit, even going into the Ballroom for the first time, and it was okay - especially since the snow has compacted enough that the rocks that were just below the surface are now visible.  I still took some dings out of my bases from little tiny pebbles floating around on the trails but I've certainly skied on worse.  That being said, we really would like some more snow, please.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

even more west

We went even more west for Thanksgiving this year, due to a very nice invitation from our friend R, who asked us to join him, his wife C, and their children out in the San Francisco area.  So last Wednesday, after I worked a half day and H skied a half day, we hopped on a plane for the coast.  Our visit was long overdue: we hadn't seen C for about six years and we'd never met any of their three kids.  After some initial shyness, oldest boy N (6-ish) and daughter T (3-ish) warmed right up to us; the youngest, M, is not quite a year yet and was not quite sure what to think about his schedule being so completely disrupted.  N and T are really nice kids (and I'm not just saying that because they read this blog with their father), funny, well-behaved and smart: they're fluent in three languages at present - Italian, which their mom speaks to them, German, which their dad speaks to them, and English, which everyone else speaks to them.  It's impressive.

The holiday weekend weather was spectacular: sunny, clear and low 60s, which enabled us to do a fair amount.  C and I went out Thanksgiving morning for a run/walk with one of her friends; R, H, N, T and I walked for a couple of miles around their neighborhood before Thanksgiving dinner; Saturday, before we left to go back home, we drove to the coast and played on a beach for a while, poking at crabs in tidal pools.  On Friday, N wanted to "climb a mountain" since that's what H and I do out here in Utah, so all six of us had a nice stroll in the rolling foothills between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific.  N and T had pinwheels attached to their backpacks which is something I may have to consider for next summer.

Ready to climb a mountain!

We had a lovely time visiting with R and his family, and we really appreciate their adding us to their already-busy lives for the holiday.  We hope that the rest of you reading this had just as a happy Thanksgiving holiday with friends and loved ones as we did.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

much better than expected

What with it snowing all day on Saturday and all through the overnight, we found a nice surprise when we got up to Alta Sunday morning: at least four inches of dense, new snow.  No, the storm wasn't a huge dumper - 11" storm total by the time it moved out Sunday evening - but what we need right now is heavy dense snow like that to make a good base.  (Note to weather gods: I think it's a good base now, so start dumping.)  Temperature and precipitation throughout the day were about the same as Saturday, maybe a little colder and not so wet, visibility slightly better.  The crowd was at about the same number, with fewer little kids and more really good skiers in their 30s who had waited for the snow.

Because the conditions were really good for mid-November!  The groomers had a layer of creamy snow laid down on top of them, covering the corduroy, which made for nice, smooth turns.  Better yet, there was enough snow that we were able to go off-piste for a few runs without fearing for our ski bases too much; we took some turns on the lower portions of West Rustler and in the bowl under the Wildcat lift - the snow was deep and soft, and completely unexpected for November 18th.  We skied 'til 1:30 p.m., at which point my legs were beat and the groomers had been skied to a high gloss.  It was a really fun early season day.

Extra added wildlife bonus:  on our last ride up the Sugarloaf chair, we noticed a critter making its way across Sugarbowl, right under the lift.  It was an ermine carrying a big, fat mouse back to its den.  The ermine was in full winter fur, all white except for the tip of its tail, and what caught our eye was the dark grey mouse in its mouth - if it hadn't been taking its lunch home, we might not have even noticed it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

my opening day

My first day back on skis was Saturday, Alta's second day open, and wouldn't you know it - I overslept!  B cuddled up with me and so I didn't get out of bed until 8:15 a.m. ... and still managed to get up to Alta before  they started loading the lift.  My secret: being smart enough to lay out all my ski gear the night before.  I was a little apprehensive about putting my new boots on for the first time.  H hadn't had a great first day with his, although they seemed to get better as the day wore on, so I was nervous that my feet would hurt too.  They didn't.  I still haven't quite gotten the buckle settings to where they should be but once I do, I think these boots will be fine.  Also, H didn't have quite as rough a time with his today, so hopefully they'll keep getting more comfortable the more he wears them.

We had variable, early season conditions for sure: temperatures in the 30s, flat light and tough visibility due to the clouds that settled down into the mountains and the all-day snowfall.  That precipitation was variable too: sleeting at Collins base, turning to graupel halfway up the chair, turning to small flakes up top.  The visibility was challenging for me on my first day back out: I'm not an intuitive skier so when I can't see what I'm skiing on, I get nervous.  Luckily the snow was pretty soft and the new stuff that was falling only made the conditions better as the day wore on.

Snow atop Collins!  Yay!

We skied until 1 p.m., at which point my legs were pointedly telling me that I've been slacking off at the gym for the last two weeks.  We changed our boots at the truck and then went back to the little coffee shop/bar on the ground floor of the Goldminer's Daughter lodge.  (One of these days we'll go up to the actual bar upstairs, but I wasn't feeling it today.)  There we each had an Alta 75th Anniversary Ale - available on tap or in bottles up at Alta - and toasted getting back on the hill.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

opening day

Alta's opening day was Friday, November 16th, the last of the four resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons to open.  I had to work but H took the day off and was there, waiting for them to start loading Collins lift.  It was well-attended but not busy by any stretch as he never had to wait in a lift line.  The lovely 48+ inches we got last weekend had not been supplemented by anything notable during the week, so the base was down to 26".  He had temperatures in the 30s, a mix of sun and clouds, flat light and strong, gusty winds around noontime.  The email I got from him mid-morning was: "Awesome to be skiing again."

Waiting to load

Monday, November 12, 2012

a good start

Posting has been light lately, I know.  It's this dang shoulder season we're in, where it's too cold and muddy for mountain-biking, not snowy enough for skiing and too snowy for hiking.  That should all be changing soon, however, and I'll at least start posting about skiing ad nauseam.  It snowed big this weekend, you see, and a lot of the ski resorts have moved their opening days up - Alta opens this coming Friday!

After several weeks of warm and lovely fall weather, it started snowing last Friday morning on the drive in to work.  Precipitation sort of spat off and on all day down in the valley; by evening it was snowing in earnest.  It snowed all night and into the morning, took a short break Saturday mid-morning at our house (but kept going up in the canyons) and then started back up again, and continued all night into Sunday, finally clearing late afternoon.  We hunkered down at home, doing lots of laundry, reading, putting the MTBs away for the winter, baking peanut butter cookies, stay-at-home stuff.  B and I ventured out during the Saturday afternoon break to go to the gym and run some errands; H shoveled the driveway and sidewalks at least three times.

By the end of it, we had well over a foot at our house, while Alta and Snowbird were claiming storm totals around 51 inches.  Hopefully it'll stay cold up there for the week - with no additional snowfall in sight, this dumping is going to have to last us for a little bit.  We'd like more, of course (we'd always like more), but it's a terrific start.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

trail time

After our tasty breakfast at the No Worries Cafe, we continued into Park City to hit the trails.  I've said it before, but the Park City trail system is just spectacular: sprawling all through the greater Park City area, well-marked (mostly), accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and people a-horse.  If we didn't have to work - and, thus have to commute to SLC daily through Parley's Canyon - we'd love to live in Park City.  But we don't (and gosh it'd be difficult to leave the Cottonwood Canyons) and so we just enjoy it over there whenever we can.

Natural snow.  More, please!

We didn't really have a plan for our hike but we did have a map, so we figured we were okay.  The trails were mostly clear of snow except on the north-facing, shady slopes; some spots in the trees were muddy but out of the woods everything was nice and dry.  The weather was pleasant - partly cloudy and warm - and we saw just a couple of MTBers finishing up their rides.  We had the place to ourselves.

Right here, that's the spot

The route we came up with netted us just over six miles:  starting at the Spiro trailhead (off Three Kings Drive), we went up Spiro to Eagle (in and out of aspen groves), to the Crescent Mine Grade which took us across numerous Park City Mountain Resort ski trails, to a PCMR access road, down Crescent Ridge Road  back to CMG, which dropped us off right under the PCMR mountain coaster.

Man-made snow

Views were decent, given the not particularly blue skies and the past-peakedness of the foliage - it'll look a lot better with some snow covering those hills.  We did come across this wonderful old mining remnant, the solid and beautiful King Con ore bin, so sturdily built that it looks like it'll last forever.  It's really fun to find all this history out in the mountains.

King Con ore bin

After our hike we decided to stop by the Wasatch Pub to see if they had any of the new Alta 75th Anniversary Ale.  They didn't but we had a couple beers anyway - it would have been rude to leave without drinking any.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

no worries

After a do-nothing Saturday (yes, every now and again we have one of those), we weren't inclined to sit around the house again on Sunday.  We checked the trail conditions in Park City and determined that while they were likely too muddy for us to want to MTB, they were probably okay for hiking.  On our way to the trails, however, we stopped off for breakfast at a new place for us, the No Worries Cafe.

Just off I-80 in Parley's Summit, the No Worries Cafe & Grill is a tiny little breakfast and lunch spot that looks like it doubles its seating in the summer with tables on its deck outside.  It was quite busy but we didn't wait for longer than fifteen minutes and there's free coffee to sip while you wait.  They had some great-sounding specials on the multiple chalkboards but H and I went with some tried-and-true dishes from the regular menu:  huevos rancheros for him and biscuits and gravy for me.  I'll cut right to the chase: breakfast was really good.  H's huevos came out unassembled, which is kind of fun: a large, folded-up flour tortilla, scrambled eggs, beans, salsa, sour cream, cheese, hash browns, two strips of gorgeous bacon and a sizable dish of sliced jalapenos.  My biscuits and gravy were terrific, quite possibly the best I've had.  Two eggs (over medium), hash browns, two biscuits and sausage gravy, plus two sausage patties - all for $8.50.  The country-style gravy was hot and very good, flavorful and well-seasoned with plenty of sausage chunks.  I would go back to the No Worries Cafe any time.

We also had a minor celebrity sighting at breakfast: Jason Kreis, the head coach of Real Salt Lake, came in with his wife and sons.  I'm not sure how many other breakfasters besides us recognized him, and we certainly didn't let on that we knew who he was, but for anyone who knows anything about soccer he's kind of a cool guy: First team all-state (Nebraska) as a freshman in high school; while playing for his first MLS team, the Dallas Burn, he scored their inaugural goal, lead the league in goals and points, was the first American-born player named MLS MVP and was a five-time all-star; he was the first player hired to play for RSL when that team was founded, scored RSL's first goal and was the first player in MLS history to score 100 goals.  He's still the fifth highest scorer in MLS history, despite having retired in 2007 to take the head coaching job at RSL.  And, by all accounts, he's a really good coach which is not usually the case with really talented players.  Anyway, we saw him, he was eating eggs with his family, and we hope that his team does well in their playoff game this coming Thursday.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

where the deer and the antelope play

Our Sunday activity was quite nearly the opposite of our Saturday one: we still went hiking, but we drove north to Antelope Island and walked for 11.2 miles on dry, sandy trails wearing t-shirts and shorts.  We even got sunburned!
Looking southeast to the island's center
from the White Rock Loop trail

Once across the causeway and on the island, we drove to White Rock Bay on the west side.  The bison round-up had just occurred and we could see the big beasties in the corrals up on the hill to the north of the beach.  There were several other vehicles in the day-use parking lot: trucks hauling horse trailers and cars with bike racks; a number of MTBers rode into the lot as we were heading out, leading us to understand that there actually are MTB-friendly trails in this state park.

Pretty cushy walking

We did the White Rock Loop, plus an out-and-back jaunt to Elephant Head, and once out there really didn't see too many other people, a few trail-runners, a few MTBers, a few folks on horseback.  The White Rock Loop trail is lovely, running level about mid-way up the rolling hills, the low grasses toasted gold from the summer's hot sun.  It is so wide open out there that you can see everything: distances look great but the miles just disappeared under our feet with the easy walking.

The Wasatch, peeking over the ridge of the island

To go out to Elephant Head, you have to climb up a little bit to the ridgeline, then walk out on that level to the bluff.  There was bison poop everywhere up there - it must be a favorite spot of theirs.  The whole west side of the island drops away from that trail.  It couldn't have been more different from what we'd been doing just the day before.

Couple of big guys who did not get rounded up

Antelope Island is a great place for wildlife viewing.  On our just-under 4 hour jaunt, we saw: bison, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, two coyotes, chukkars, hawks and a cowboy sipping on a can of Budweiser while he was a-horse.  After the hike we went up to the bison corrals.  Hundreds of them were there, the older ones lying down unconcernedly, the younger ones milling about more nervously.  The noise the herd was making was great, sort of a low, humming, grunting, collective groan.  Antelope Island State Park is such a cool place (I don't understand why more locals don't go there) - if you're ever visiting the greater SLC area, it's worth the trip.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

hiking in solitude

We had a little snow storm last week that dropped a tantalizing amount of snow in the mountains (and a couple of inches on our lawn, which didn't last long): nearly three feet north of SLC, at Powder Mountain and surrounds, and about a foot and a half in our own Cottonwood Canyons.  On Saturday we decided that we should go up and tromp around in it.  One of our very first hikes when we moved here was up at Silver Lake, trying to find Lake Solitude; we never found it that day, but since then we've skied that area enough that we figured we could locate it this time.

Just leaving Silver Lake

We started up at the Solitude Nordic Center in Brighton, by Silver Lake, taking the well-beaten lake path around to where the hiking/MTBing trails split off.  We'd brought our snowshoes but decided not to use them - this would ultimately be the right decision, although we did break trail in a couple of places where they would have been useful.  But I was wearing plastic bags between my hiking boots and my wool-socked feet and a little knee-deep snow wasn't going to be an issue.

Snow in the trees - so pretty

Just like the first time we tried to find Lake Solitude, we started following a trail ... that we eventually lost.  But we recognized Solitude Ski Resort's Sunrise chair, crossing under it and walking across the top of North Star to Zip-A-Dee, which comes out above the Summit chair.  From there we knew what to do, making our way through the trees to little Lake Solitude (not quite frozen over).  H suggested that we make this hike a loop and since a loop is always better than an out-and-back, I readily agreed.

Under the Summit chair

Our route - up Mine/Shaft and through the Headwall Forest to Sol-Bright - had been traveled before: we walked in ski-, boot-, snowshoe- and deer-tracks.  We went over the pass between Solitude and Brighton, continuing along the less-trodden Sol-Bright trail and then turning off on the well-packed trail back to Silver Lake.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and fairly warm, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves for a couple of glorious hours.

Along Sol-Bright

Saturday, October 27, 2012

new boots

Oops! A couple days got away from me without posting - sorry about that.  We've been doing stuff, I promise.

Case in point:  H and I were 3+ years overdue to buy new ski boots so we recently found our way to the Sport Loft (4678 S. Highland Drive, Holladay).  It was purely by chance that we landed there - after an internet search for "Salt Lake City ski boot fitters" or somesuch - we're very glad we did.  It was quite an experience.  Neither of us has ever had custom boot fitting before and we didn't know what to expect.

Trying not to move during 
the vacuum process

What you get at the Sport Loft, which has been in business and run by the same family for 40 years, is the undivided attention of Earl and Jeremy Middlemiss, father and son, for three hours as they ask exhaustive questions about your skiing (current equipment, days on the hill, skill level, technique), measure your feet and observe your stance.  Then they try you in three or four different brands of ski boots, each time asking careful questions about the fit at multiple places on your feet.  When a boot is decided upon, the next step is to pad your feet, depending upon your physiology's idiosyncrasies, and then heat-mold the boot liners around your feet.  We each also got custom orthotics to correct our stances and, in my case, compensate for my fallen arches.  My new boots, Fischer Trinity 110s, went one step further and I had to stand motionless in a heat/vacuum contraption for fifteen minutes as the shell was customized to my feet.  H got to take his new Lange RX-130s home with him that night.  My boots had to cool and cure on a flat surface for 24 hours, so I didn't go back until the next day to try them on and get the bindings on both pairs of skis adjusted.

New boots!  So pretty!

Custom boot-fitting at the Sport Loft is not particularly cheap but the level of service you get is seemingly unprecedented.  Earl and Jeremy paid attention only to us for the duration of our fittings and took their time answering all our questions.  When I went back for my boots, Earl walked out to the car with me and insisted on carrying not only my boots for me, but also both pairs of my skis.  He even picked out new ski socks for me!  There was a ski instructor (19 years at Alta, this year at Canyons) in the shop finishing up his fitting when H and I showed up initially, and he told us that without a doubt, Earl and Jeremy are the best fitters anywhere.  H and I were certainly impressed with the personalized service we got and now, more than ever, we're excited to get on the hill and see what our new boots can do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

rocky shores

It was still kind of overcast and chilly on Sunday so we headed back up to town to give the Hogle Zoo another go.  It was busy but not packed and we headed in.  Quite a bit has changed since we were there last: the whole center of the zoo is under construction for the new 4.5 acre "African Savanna" exhibit, which will house giraffes, zebra, ostrich, small antelope and lions, presumably not all together.  The drawing of the proposed exhibit looked nice, a much better habitat for the giraffes (speaking of the giraffes, a new baby was born just a month ago) and the lions will be a new addition to the zoo.  During this construction, a number of animals have been moved, unavailable for viewing or maybe transferred to other zoos: the bison, peccaries, camels, black bears and mountain lions.  We do hope they bring the bear and the cougar back as it's important to have native Utah animals on display.

Those fences are electrified so the 
zoo's neighbors don't worry about escapees

But on to the real reason we went to the zoo - the new Rocky Shores exhibit.  The newest completed exhibit, they've done a really nice job of creating interesting habitats for the new river otters, sea lions, harbor seals, polar bear and grizzly bears.  Rizzo, the polar bear, has a big habitat to herself, with plenty of room to swim and coming up close to the viewing area to the delight of all the people watching.  Next door, the seals and sea lions share a pool, although it's big enough that they don't have to interact if they don't want to; the two young sea lions were having a ball, wrestling with each other underwater, porpoising up out of the water, chasing each other; the older sea lion, who I think is blind, kept out of their way but was clearly at home, swimming easily through the habitat.

Bear on the move

Most impressive were the three grizzly bear cubs, two females and one male, who don't seem much like cubs anymore.  The zoo acquired them from the wild near Yellowstone after their mother killed a camper and had to be put down.  These siblings are going to be huge and their habitat is better fortified than any others in the zoo.  One of the cubs was more active than the other two and walked up to the viewing window several times to look at the people looking at him; his claws were easily over two inches long and extremely intimidating.  It's very clear that these are wild animals.

Can you see those claws?  Yeesh ...

We ended up spending a couple of hours walking around and looking at all the animals.  I think they've done a very nice job with the Rocky Shores exhibit and would expect more quality work for the African Savanna exhibit as well.  The Hogle Zoo doesn't have much space to work with so I'm glad to see them making the most of what they have for their animals.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

columbus power plant

We keep hoping that it'll warm up enough to go MTBing one more time before the season ends, but this weekend was not that weekend.  So on Saturday we did a new hike up Little Cottonwood Canyon - well, not really a hike but more like walking and exploring someplace we hadn't been before.  H had printed off Charles Keller's "Faint Trails in the Wasatch" article from the October Rambler (online magazine put out by the Wasatch Mountain Club) about the ruins of a power plant along the LCC creek which gave the town of Alta its first electric lights in 1904.

Little Cottonwood Creek

Although the walk in to the Columbus power plant is really quite short, between walking up and down the Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail and rock-hopping along the creek (a skill I'd forgotten I had; I get it from my dad who's really good at it) we managed to put in about 5 miles.  To get to the trailhead you go up the LCC road, following the mile markers to around 6.5 miles.  There's a small marking area on the south side of the highway and an old road leads down to the LCC Trail. Turn left at the trail and walk up no more than half a mile.

Nearly all that's left of Hogum Fork

As I said, though, we did quite a bit of walking first since the LCC is so pretty this time of year.  There were some other folks out walking and quite a lot of MTBers - although I would not care to try that trail since it's steady climbing with long stretches of loose rocks.  We were amazed at how many other trails were down in there too; what a lot of the MTBers seemed to be doing was biking up the LCC Trail and then descending on these other trails ... which I absolutely would never do on a bike, what with the roots and rocks and drops over stumps and banked turns.  They all looked like they were having fun tho'.

The wall along the south bank

Before we made it up to the power plant ruins, we found the old town of Hogum Fork on White's Flat.  Back in its heyday, this town of nearly 60 folk had a store, a stable, two saloons, a smithy and a boarding house.  Now there are only scattered stones, old nails and bits of rusted metal and hundreds of shards of pottery to show that anyone ever lived there.

Western wall of the Columbus power plant

The Columbus Power Plant, on the south bank of the creek, must have been a beautiful building but very little is left now.  The western wall is the most intact, with a doorway and two windows still standing, and half a circular window rising above.  They had built a massive stone wall along the south bank of the creek to shore up the plant.  One of two stone and concrete pipes, large enough for me to easily have crawled through, still runs from the creek up into the plant building; the other one has collapsed about ten feet in.  Judging from the remnants of the abutments, it looks as though there had been at least two bridges across the stream.  The water runs so high and so fast in the spring, however, that the bridges must have been difficult to maintain and, once the power plant was abandoned, probably washed away in short order.

The other end comes up inside the power plant

Anyone who is interested in the history of the area should go check out the Columbus ruins.  It's a pretty place and just a short walk for us now, and it's humbling to think how difficult it must have been for the miners and loggers and millworkers who used live up there not so long ago.  [Note:  All history in this post was learned from Charles Keller's "Faint Trails" article and his book, The Lady in the Ore Bucket.  Any errors are mine.]

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Last weekend (and also this coming weekend, so get on it) Snowbird was holding their Customer Appreciation Days where not only are the "Summer Activities" still open (alpine slide, ropes course, etc.) but if you bring a hygiene or non-perishable food item for their food drive to benefit the Utah Food Bank, you'll get a free ticket for a tram ride.  (You can also obtain a tram ticket for a $3 donation which goes to Wasatch Adaptive Sports.)  The tram tickets are usually $16.00 each, so we thought a couple of cans of soup for a ride up 2,900 vertical feet was a very good deal.

There's a little snow in them thar hills

The forecast was for clear and chilly, with wind blowing 5-10 m.p.h.  We layered up (I wore one of the more terrible outfits I've come up with in recent history - note to self to buy running tights that won't bag in the knee like my mid-weight long-johns do) and so of course it wasn't nearly as cool as predicted.  The tram drops its passengers at the top of Hidden Peak (approx. 10,980 ft.) and most people mill around, looking at the fabulous views, and then get back on for the ride down.  We were going to do that too, but first we had two more peaks to bag.

Very fabulous outfit, on Hidden Peak

Our first goal was Mount Baldy which is the dividing line between Snowbird and Alta.  The Mt. Baldy Trail is a 1.5 mile walk along an unmaintained ridge trail; you have to walk down from Hidden Peak a ways, and then back up to the Baldy summit (11,068 ft.).  H is always talking about how he wants to ski the Baldy Chutes from the summit down into the Ballroom at Alta - which is tough to time because there's either too much snow to open the chutes, or not enough snow to open the chutes - well, after standing at the top of the mountain and looking down into said Chutes, I'm pretty sure there's no way I'm ever going to ski them.  I realize that they'll be more manageable packed full of snow but still, holy hell, STEEP and NARROW with lots of ROCKS on either side.  H just stood there, peeking over the edge, and laughing nervously.

I wish you could really see how steep this is

We walked down the eastern ridge of Mount Baldy, which is where the Alta skiers boot-pack up if they're coming from the Sugarloaf side.  The trail was short but steep, rocky and loose in several spots; it's probably much better to hike with ten feet of snow on top of it.  We crossed the saddle to the Sugarloaf chairlift, then followed a faint trail up the western side of Sugarloaf Peak itself (11,051 ft.).  There was still some snow here, covering the steep, rocky switchbacks.  The views from the top were wonderful, looking across at the spiny Devil's Castle, down at Cecret Lake, out in the distance to the snow-covered Uintas.  The sun peeked from behind the fast-moving clouds long enough for us to even take a good self-portrait.

Smiles atop Sugarloaf Peak

Now all we had to do was get back up to Hidden Peak.  We descended from Sugarloaf to the saddle, then continued walking down, down, down along a dirt Snowbird access road before it finally started switchbacking up.  We forgot to take the GPS with us, unfortunately, so I can't tell you exactly how many elevation feet we went up and down over the course of our 2.5 hour hike, but it seemed like rather a lot.  By the time we got back up to the tram station, we felt we'd earned our tram ride back down to Snowbird Base.  And that was our little excursion: three* 11,000+ peaks in one afternoon.

* Rounding up Hidden Peak just a bit is allowed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

nature, history

This past Saturday was the first rainy-ish day, pretty much since July.  (I'm sure that's not actually true but we really haven't had very many precipitous days this year.)  Since hiking and MTBing didn't seem like that much fun in the mud and rain sprinkles, we checked out our city options: we haven't been to the Hogle Zoo since they installed the new Rocky Shores exhibit and we also hadn't been to the new Natural History Museum of Utah.  When we did a drive-by at the zoo, it was completely packed even with the threat of rain - so off to the Museum we went, where we got a parking space right in the front row.

The last time we went to the Natural History Museum (almost two years ago to the day), it was in its old space.  The spectacular new museum, nestled in the foothills near the U, at 301 Wakara Way, opened last November.  Built out of local Utah stone and copper, the building is both gorgeous and efficient, utilizing solar panels to feed a portion of its electricity needs, rooftop plantings, water-runoff systems to supply water for the grounds and low light pollution fixtures.  The building was designed to blend into its foothills surroundings and although we didn't see it on a sunny day, it's truly beautiful.

This would have been stunning with a blue sky

Inside, the collections have plenty of room to spread out and be explored: the utterly impressive paleontology  exhibit (I didn't recognize hardly any of the dinosaur names what with all the new discoveries), native anthropology, geology, entomology and vertebrate animals, minerals and gems and botany.  It's all quite impressive.  I did wish for something about Utah's water issues - where it comes from, how it's used, where it goes - I would think that since we're the second driest state in the country, it would be something to talk about.

There's a cafe and a museum shop that are open to the public without an entrance fee; and outside, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail runs right across the museum's walkway.  There's a lot going on up there at the Museum, plenty to learn and do in a beautiful setting - everyone should be sure to check it out, rainy Saturday or whenever.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

not bad for a hole in the ground

What else we could see was Dead Horse Point State Park and the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park.

View from DHPSP

I know it's not quite as impressive as the Big Ditch, the Grand Canyon, but dang if it's not amazing in its own right.  So many colors and you can see forever - both out to the horizon and down-down-down to the river below.

Brave little tree, determined to grow right there
(on the edge of a cliff)

We had lunch at one of DHPSP's lovely picnic tables and were entertained by the active and bold chipmunks who have clearly learned that picnicking people = food.  They were sorely disappointed when we didn't drop anything.

The Shafer Trail coming up from the White Rim
to the Canyonlands access road

I think I love this part of Utah so much because it is just so different than the New England landscape I grew up in.  Both are beautiful but I just love the openness of the sky, the quality of the light and the desert colors.


That evening, our last in Moab, we had dinner out on the porch of Pasta Jay's on Main Street (we did have to ask them to turn the heaters on - it cools off quick in the desert once the sun goes down).  It wasn't the best meal ever - the pesto cream sauce on my gnocchi was salty and far too rich; the others, who had tomato-based sauces, fared better - but recounting the stunning scenery of the day more than made up for it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

arches redux

We went back to Arches first thing (well, after breakfast and a coffee run) and headed straight out to the end of the auto road, where you can walk out to Landscape Arch, picnic at Devil's Garden, etc.

The view from the parking lot is even good

It was a gorgeous, clear day - but about 25 degrees colder than the day before.  When we got out of the car to walk down to Pine Tree Arch, the wind whistled through the stone fins and I immediately wished I'd worn (a) longer pants and (b) socks.

Brrrr in the shade!

Although a tour bus had just dismounted and its hordes were milling around at the trailhead, we got down to Pine Tree Arch alone and amazingly had it all to ourselves.

Contemplating Pine Tree Arch

H and I were really thrilled that the skies were so clear after our previous Moab trip had been so hazy with the wildfire smoke.

Looking out past Pine Tree Arch

We swung by the Delicate Arch trailhead to check out the petroglyphs and the historic Wolfe Ranch.  Amazing to think that a whole family - grandfather, parents, children - lived in that tiny one room cabin.  But it was a good place to raise stock since there was a year-round water source, so you work with what you've got.

L and P pose in front of their new Utah vacation home

The park was starting to get busy again.  It was time to move on and see what else we could see.