Thursday, March 29, 2012

alta abbreviated

The weather for Sunday was supposed to be about the same as Saturday - 40s, some cloudy, maybe a little windier - so we didn't break any speed records getting up to Alta, arriving at our now-usual spring arrival time of 10 a.m.  It had apparently been a little cold up there overnight, however, and everything had set up pretty hard, even the groomers.  We did a couple of runs off the Sugarloaf chair, which often softens first, due to its orientation to the sun, then moved over to the groomers off Supreme.  The problem was that, unlike the day before, the sun was unable to break through the clouds and it just wasn't warming up.

We went in for an early lunch, hoping that the skies would clear a little and the conditions would be better after noon.  They didn't get better and we were bored with skiing groomers - H watched another skier go off the trail into some ungroomed snow, clatter around a bit and then come back onto the groomed trail, shaking his head - so we decided to cut our losses and quit early.

Back down in the valley it wasn't sunny either but it was a little warmer.  H went for a bike ride while I made B come with me for a 3.2 mile walk.  She did very well, hardly dragging her feet at all on the uphill half even though she made it clear that she thought it was a little warm for such endeavors.  I suppose I would have thought it was a little warm too had I been wearing a fur coat; as it was, I was plenty warm in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt.  The birds are singing, crocuses and daffodils are up and I heard one (probably premature) lawnmower - spring is definitely here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

last of the season at solitude

We had one day left on our Solitude 5-pack tickets and with their recent announcement that they would be closing for the season on April 8, 2012, we thought we should get up there sooner rather than later.  Not too sooner, however: without the ski guests urging us onwards, plus without any new snow since the 3+ feet last weekend, we got around to getting up there by about 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

There was no one there (not literally, but it wasn't like we waited in any lines); it was pretty warm, with 40s at the base and fitful sun trying to burn through the thin clouds; and all evidence of that last snowstorm had been skied into submission.  Once again, things had set up pretty well overnight and we had to ski the groomers for the morning until things softened up.  We stayed on the front side of the resort until lunch, periodically trying the bumps as they slowly warmed.

Saying so long to Honeycomb Canyon

After a quick midday meal at the Moonbeam lodge - Solitude's cafeterias are not quite up to Alta's quality or quantity and yet have higher prices - we took the Sunrise and Summit chairs to see what was happening out back.  Although the groomers and wide open bumps trails were soft, the gates into Honeycomb Canyon were closed.  When we ventured into the chutes we'd skied with the ski guests last week. the snow was extremely heavy and sticky, making it nearly impossible to turn.  I have a bad habit of picking up my inside ski when turning and trying to move in that heavy snow did nothing to cure me of that.  (H said he'd give me a pass, considering the conditions.)

In the trees of the Headwall Forest

When we made our way back out to the main part of the resort, the snow was getting too warm: we'd hit sticky spots that would grip our skis, almost stopping us short.  This is very difficult to ski on, as you might imagine.  We decided to do one last bumps run and took the Powderhorn lift up, then skied Vertigo (or thereabouts) down.  It wasn't too bumped up but it was really, really soft.  I hate to admit the end of the season is near, but I'm not sure how much longer little Solitude will keep their snow - I hope they make it to the 8th.

We got back to the truck and cracked open a couple of tailgate PBRs, giving a toast to Solitude.  We didn't get any epic days there this year but we got a couple of good ones and, given the terribly low snow this season, that's all you can ask for.  I really like Solitude and am looking forward to getting my skis on its slopes again next season.

Friday, March 23, 2012

ski guests day 4: alta

With over 16 inches of new snow on the ground by Sunday morning, plus a storm system that settled onto the mountains and just kept dumping all day, Sunday was everything we could have hoped for.  Except that the day seemed to be one boondoggle after another.

We knew there'd be a bit of a line to get up the canyon, so we got up and got going - no lazy 10 a.m. start this day!  W, being already up there, bought a two-resort Alta/Snowbird pass, planning on skiing on his own at Snowbird for a while before meeting up with us.  Because of the snow, however, Snowbird was interlodged (everyone is locked into their lodges and hotels and not allowed outside for anything) and he wasn't able to get a head start.  When C, A, H and I got up to Alta, there were lots of people standing around: the Collins lift wasn't working - must have had something to do with the two Rocky Mountain Power trucks that the sheriff escorted up the canyon road while we waited.  Supreme wasn't open yet, Sugarloaf wasn't open yet and Collins wasn't open at all - and wouldn't be, for the whole day - so the line for the little Wildcat double was huge, plus they were running the lift on its diesel back-up and only loading every other chair.

We stood in that long line and did a couple of runs off Wildcat.  The snow was amazing, so deep and so soft.  My powder skis surfed right on top of the snow, handling it easily; C, as a tele guy, was struggling to find his mojo somewhat; and A just threw herself into it with abandon.  After a couple of runs (averaging 45 minutes per lift line/ride/run - yeesh), the liftie said that Sugarloaf was open.  We took the rope tow over to Sunnyside, which with Collins down was the only way to get to Sugarloaf, and were horrified at the crush of humanity standing there.  The lines were horrible and it took us about 45 minutes just to get on the lift.  We were a little cranky but tried to remember that everyone was in the same boat.

We did several really good (but tracked out) runs on Sugarloaf while H texted back and forth with W, trying to communicate where we were.  When he finally found us, his Alta-Bird pass stopped working on him and the liftie kicked him out of line, sending him back down to one of the bases for a new pass.  We did another run or two until he got back, then we all did a run together and went in for a quick lunch, since word was out that Supreme was open.

Ski guest A enjoying the new pow on Wildcat

After bolting down our lunches, we got to the Supreme lift ... which was absolutely packed since now the Sugarloaf lift was down, ostensibly so they could do some avalanche control over there (but who knows, really).  We rode the singles line, which was moving marginally faster than the maze, and holy powder day, Batman, Supreme was incredible - 180 degrees from the day before.  We did some incredible runs down through the chutes at Supreme Bowl (although the lower traverse was still awful), with the snow well over our knees.  The tele guys got their groove on, H was cranking through the powder and it was all just fantastic.

Supreme stayed open until 4 p.m., giving us skiers a little longer in response to all the lift issues.  Then we rode Sugarloaf to the top and took the EBT around to the top of Collins.  Mind you, hardly anyone had been over at Collins since the lift wasn't running.  We had the single-most amazing run down through the trees on Fred's Slot: all five of us at once, in thigh-deep untracked powder, giggling like crazy people, not another skier in sight.  It was just awesome.

Unfortunately we couldn't get back up the mountain to do it again, so we went back to the Wildcat chair and did a couple more runs until that lift closed at 4:30 p.m.  What a day, and doubly appreciated because the ski guests were there to enjoy it - lift problems notwithstanding.  We piled into the truck, grabbed W's suitcase from Snowbird on the way by and joined the red snake of traffic inching its way out of the canyon.  That evening, back at the house, as we drank beer and ate homemade mac & cheese (thanks for the great recipe, Cindy!), all we could talk about was how frigging great the skiing had been.  Greatest snow on earth, baby!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

ski guests day 3: alta

Saturday was an interesting day, to say the least.  W met the rest of us up at Alta, where things had set up HARD overnight after the extremely warm day before.  We all decided that Supreme would be the place to start out because we could go in through the gates and ski in the trees where the snow might have survived better.  As we headed towards the gates, however, the snow had not so much survived: Challenger was a slick of Eastern-style ice, like you get on Quantum Leap at Sunday River.  It was the first real ice I've seen out here in Utah, and boy - have I forgotten how to ski on it.  H and the three Mainers skated down over it without blinking; I was actually snowplowing in places.  It was awful.

Once we got in through the gates towards White Squaw Area and surrounds, it wasn't quite as bad.  The bumps were very hard but loose snow had accumulated in the valleys between and it was skiable.  We did several runs there and other places off the Supreme lift, seeking out as much snow as we could find.

After lunch, it started snowing and it started snowing hard, stacking up quickly.  This made the conditions much better very quickly.  We skied off the Collins lift for the rest of the afternoon - Racecourse, Sunspot, Spruces, Fred's Spot - and the snow kept getting better with every run.  There was a little bit of excitement when we hit some thundersnow - thunder and lightning in a snowstorm - which happened while W, A and I were on the lift; C and H were lined up to load a few chairs behind us but the lifties wouldn't let anyone else on, and once we got to the top of Collins, the lift shut down for 20 minutes to make sure the thunder had moved on.

Yay! It's snowing!

They restarted the lifts and we got several more runs in before the thunder rang out again.  It was late enough at that point that we called it a day and met W's wife for a quick drink in the Goldminer's Daughter lodge.  It was still snowing like crazy, so we didn't linger too long, concerned about the roads.  We did stay long enough to convince W to change his flight home until Monday so that he could ski with us again on Sunday: the storm was forecast to keep on all night and all the next day, and we sensed epic powder just around the corner.  After the ice that morning, we figured we were due.

Monday, March 19, 2012

ski guests day 2: solitude

W had never been to Solitude, and the other four of us had had a marvelous couple of days there last year, so that was where we headed for the second ski day. W took the UTA Ski Bus from Snowbird to the park-n-ride at the entrance to Little Cottonwood Canyon ($4) and we picked him up there, heading up to Big Cottonwood Canyon. There were some high, thin clouds scattered across the sky and absolutely no traffic. Solitude was pretty much going to live up to its name.

 The conditions started out like the previous day's: frozen hard for the morning and then softening up in a hurry. We spent the first couple of hours chasing down any trail that had sunshine on it. At one point, C and H made the misbegotten decision to attempt Honeycomb Canyon via the Here Be Dragons gates; W, A and I took one look over the edge at all the rocks and decided not to join them.  When they rejoined us for lunch, claiming an "epic run" despite the mud on the tops of their skis, we were smug in our decision.

After lunch the snow got slushy fast, so we headed out to the Summit lift and did a bunch of runs there, really enjoying the narrow chutes in the trees which had somehow held onto their snow.  When that lift closed, we worked the soft bumps covering Paradise and Vertigo until our legs couldn't bump any longer.

By the time we skied back to the truck, through incredibly soft, wet and sticky snow, the clouds had rolled in.  We enjoyed quick parking lot PBRs before heading down canyon to meet W's wife at the Porcupine; she'd spent the day at the spa and pool at Snowbird and amazingly didn't mind hanging out with five scruffy, smelly, sweaty skiers.  We had beers and nachos - the Porcupine's nachos are huge and soooooo good, especially with their chile verde - then made plans to meet up with W in the morning to go back to Alta.  It does seem a little odd, I know, to keep skiing at the same resort(s) over and over again when there are so many options so close by, but with the winter we've been having you have to ski where the snow is - and the snow is at Alta.

The four of us headed home and, being stuffed from the nachos, didn't bother with any dinner.  Instead, we watched the University of Maine play BU in the Hockey East semi-finals and then went to bed early.  There really aren't any late nights with the group, not when there's skiing to be had.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

ski guests day 1: alta

Our ski guests, C and A, arrived Wednesday night along with several of H's work associates.  We had dinner at Squatters (who thankfully had Full Suspension on tap again after having been out earlier in the week) then headed home to lay out our gear for the first ski day.  Another friend of ours, W, had also come in on the same flight; he and his wife were staying up at Snowbird and the plan was to pick him up on the way to Alta.

We didn't get a terribly earlier start since it's been quite warm during the day: the soft, slushy afternoon snow sets up overnight and the first couple of hours are frozen.  We collected W and were on the hill between 10-10:30 a.m.  The sun was strong in the cloudless sky and although the trails were pretty solid to start, when they softened up, they softened up quickly.  We skied in Supreme Bowl and Catherine's Area until lunch - and went in for lunch late because the conditions were getting so good.  C, W and H are all very good skiers (C and W are tele-guys) and A and I, while not as good at the boys, can certainly hold our own, so we were able to ski together which was a lot of fun.  A and I only bailed out once whe n the boys picked a cliff-ish line under the Supreme chair down into the Piney Glade chutes.

Lunch was on the deck at Alf's - very warm in the sun - then we moved around a little more, skiing the backside/East Greeley/Yellow Trail area and also doing one hike into Devil's Castle, which is finally open after having been closed all season.  The snow was soft enough and it sure was fun to ski something that we haven't been able to get to yet.

We skied almost 'til close, then had some beers on the patio at Goldminer's Daughter until W's wife came by to coordinate dinner plans.  We scooted home, cleaned up and rejoined the non-skiing work contingent for pre-dinner drinks at Kristauf's Martini Bar and dinner at Cafe Trio.  We were home and in bed by 10 p.m., needing to rest up before day 2.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

more spring skiing

Sunday looked pretty much like Saturday, only with a very few, sparse, thin clouds and a more constant breeze, which was actually nice because it kept it from getting too hot.  Since we still had three days left on our 5-pack of tickets, we went to Solitude.  Despite the gorgeous sunshine, there was pretty much no one there.  We parked right in the front row (which would have been perfect for tailgating if I'd remembered the lawn chairs and the cooler), skied down to the Eagle lift and got right to it.  Like the day before, the snow had set up overnight so we skied groomers for a couple of runs while the strong sun softened things up.  Then we settled into a pattern: couple of bumps runs, cruise a groomer, couple of bumps runs, cruise a groomer.

How's that for ski in/ski out?

That was largely our day, the bumps/groomer mix, as we moved from lift to lift.  We did go back in to the Summit chair for a few run (NOT the Sol-Bright trail), including one run through Honeycomb Canyon which was much less strenuous than the last time since we didn't feel like we had to hike up since there weren't any freshies to poach.

New hat - thanks P and C! xo

At about 3 p.m. we stopped for a beer on the roof deck.  Then, as the winds picked up and more clouds rolled in (and I got cold), we headed back down to the valley so H could go for an afternoon ride and we could start cleaning the house.  Ski guests coming soon (which means plenty to post about but probably in a delayed fashion)!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

spring skiing is here

I don't think that our Eastern friends who are coming out in a few days to ski want to hear this, but spring skiing has arrived and is, I think, settling in for the long haul.  While we've got potential precipitation for Friday - Saturday - Sunday, the weather pattern is really looking like what we had this weekend: bright sun and warm temperatures. (The watchword is sunscreen.)

Adjacent to the Castle Apron

Spring skiing requires a slightly different mindset.  You don't need to get right up on the mountain for the first chair because it'll take at least an hour for the snow to soften up from its overnight freeze.  We got up to Alta by about 10 a.m. on Saturday; there was no traffic to speak of and we still got to park in the nearest third of the lot.  We went to the Supreme lift and did a couple of runs there on sun-hit trails - Catherine's was soft at the top but still frozen at the bottom.  We also traversed under East Castle towards the Castle Apron for the first time all season: that area never gets any direct sun so the snow remained soft and fairly fluffy, plus the Castle had been only recently opened so it wasn't all tracked out.  I of course took a big ol' tumble (a somersault and and f-bomb) but luckily my back didn't seize up, so all's well.

Seriously, could the sky be any bluer?

We went back and did runs on Sugarloaf until lunchtime, and then did more there after lunch, including traversing into East Greeley.  The wide bowl was nice and soft and there weren't many people in there; apparently it was just awful that morning and folks didn't realize that it had improved.  We didn't mind having it to ourselves.  We went back to Supreme and tried Catherine's again: it was soft all the way down now, including too soft in places, heavy and slushy.  After that H declared that he was getting too overheated to hike in there anymore (it really was so hot) so we contented ourselves with a number of bumps-runs until it was time to go.  Another thing about spring skiing - H can go for a road ride when we get home because it's both warm and light outside.  Sure we prefer full-winter powder skiing, but spring's awful nice too.

H in the sun on East Greeley

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

busiest day of the season (so far)

Sunday was absolutely, positively gorgeous.  The storm had moved out, leaving deep blue skies and bright sunshine, and all the people on the Wasatch Front moved in.  We got there at 9:15 a.m. per usual, and the line waiting to get on the lift at Collins was just massive.  We skied singles to get out of there (we skied singles all day, actually, due to the major lift lines at each and every lift) and went straight over to Supreme.  Per usual.

Catherine's was pretty well tracked out but we found a couple of pockets of fresh, plus I managed to find myself atop H's cliffs not once, but twice.  The snow held up pretty well in the morning - soft but not sticky - and as we frolicked in Catherine's Area, we were super-glad that we'd dressed down several layers.

Can you believe that sky?

After lunch was another story.  The snow was so heavy that I could not make a turn in an untracked area (H muscled through, of course).  So we switched to skiing bump runs off the Supreme lift.  The moguls were great, super-soft, although they were a little large in spots.  When my knees started to protest, we moved to the Sugarloaf lift so I could ski groomers while H jumped in and out of the trees and Cecret Saddle.  My poor little legs were just screaming at that point.

The reason I was so tired was because it was 4:00 p.m.  I never ski that long.  But we did on Sunday because there wasn't anything else we could do: the canyon road was closed from noon to almost 5:00 p.m. because of multiple avalanches, including one in-bounds at Snowbird that tagged (but didn't hurt too badly) a snowboarder.  Alta ran some of its lifts longer than usual to give folks something to do.  But by the time all their lifts closed at 4:30 p.m., the bars were as busy as I've ever seen them.

View of Baldy from Collins

Given the fact that we were all trapped, it was a pretty chill scene.  Folks sat out on the patio, drinking beer, until the sun went behind the canyon walls, then they moved inside, drinking beer.  Everyone had had such a wonderful day that no one really seemed to care that they couldn't go home just yet.  UDOT reopened the road around 5 p.m., and the traffic finally started moving in the Alta parking lot around 6:15.  We got home at 7:00 p.m. - B was rather indignant that her dinner was so late - tired and happy.  This was for sure the best weekend of the season.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

best day of the season (so far)

After the mid-week storm dropped 39 inches of new snow on Alta (finally!), we knew we'd have to get up and get going on Saturday.  People have been waiting all season for a decent snowfall - and that includes us.  We were up and in line to go up the canyon by 8:30 a.m.  There had been a small natural avalanche that slid across the road around the White Pine area earlier that morning, but the amazing UDOT crew had it cleared and traffic was moving shortly thereafter.  We got up to Alta at 9:30 a.m. - scarcely later than normal - and were completely amazed that there was no huge lift line at Collins.  Clearly the weather was keeping people away, despite all the new snow: Saturday was forecast to be in the mid-teens and cloudy, with off-and-on snow all day.

Lookin' frosty

We didn't care, tossing our Utah ski-snobbery away.  We first did a run on Wildcat since Supreme wasn't open yet; lots of snow, enormous bumps.  After that run Supreme was open so we went straight there.  We never really left, skiing almost exclusively off that lift.  Catherine's Area was open and the snow was fabulous: deep and soft and untracked.  We hiked in over and over again, seeking out fresh stashes each time.  The lower traverse was terrible - rocky and extremely sketchy in places - but the snow was not at all sticky so making the high traverse hike wasn't an issue.  Plus, the snow was so incredible that it was totally worth it, even though H managed to get stuck in a ditch, wipe out twice on various traverses, whack himself in the ribs with tree branches and nearly strand himself on top of a cliff.

Not sure you can tell, but that's H's cliff

Visibility wasn't great but the conditions were so good that we skied until 3:00 p.m. (which I almost never do), stopping only for a quick lunch break and to take a picture of what must be the most popular porcupine in the entire world.  This little guy has been hanging around near the Supreme chairlift all winter, usually ignoring all the skiers.  Folks have been feeding him (unfortunately), however, and now he is entirely unafraid of humans, begging for snacks and spending two or three hours out on the trail with dozens of skiers around him.  He's pretty cute, isn't he?

Hanging out on the ski trail

Speaking of porcupines, after going home and cleaning up, we went to the Porcupine for dinner and to celebrate our 2-year 5-month move-iversary. For those who are interested, they've made a change due to a recent readjustment to Utah's insane liquor laws: you can now get a glass of wine or a cocktail while sitting at the bar (it used to be beer only at the bar), but now everyone sitting at the bar - beer, wine or booze - has to have something to eat along with their alcoholic beverage of choice.  Here's hoping they put a $1.50 chips and salsa option on the menu soon.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

one day off is enough

In keeping with our newly acquired ski-snobdom, when we checked the conditions first thing Sunday morning and saw that it was cloudy and -1F at the peaks, we were all, no way.  So we dithered around for about an hour, drinking coffee, refreshing the snow reports, pacing, until a look out the front windows showed it clearing up the canyon.  Figuring that if we didn't go up there and at least take a couple of runs we'd regret it, and we threw on our gear and were up on Alta's Collins lift by 10 a.m.

It was colder than seasonally normal to start, no doubt: 9F at the base and about 1F up top, although it wasn't windy and the skies were totally clear, the sun getting stronger by the minute.  The 3-4" of new snow was definitely weird.  It was quite squeaky from the cold but it was also heavy and sticky - you couldn't get any sort of glide on the flats.  We headed over to the Supreme chair, per usual, and took the low traverse in to Catherine's Area.  Even though the snow was pretty soft in there, the traverse was a total slog because of how sticky it was and we only hiked in there once.  Skiing in the trees was fairly successful, though, soft and deep(-ish).

In the sunshine on East Greeley

H's hands got cold (also weird because that never happens) so when I bought a mocha to go with my Snickers bar for lunch, he took advantage of the free hot beverage refill.  After the break, things were warming up outside too, the bright sunshine bringing it to a comfortable 18-22F range that felt even warmer.  We skied off the Sugarloaf chair all afternoon: traversing around to East Greeley, where it was soft but very heavy - people were hitting clumps of snow and launching themselves out of their skis all over the place; down into Glory Gulch; into Running Dog Nose and Keyhole Gulch (or thereabouts); and my new favorite spot, Cabin Hill, which isn't that challenging but sure is pretty.

We called it a day around 3 p.m., my back starting to twinge a little from struggling against the heavy snow.  The parking lot was pretty much full and there were a fair number of cars parking along the roadside as well - people looking to get out and enjoy the beautiful day.  As we drove home, we were glad we'd decided to do that too.