Monday, April 30, 2012

penultimate - 2012

Wow - what a difference a week makes, especially when (1) it's been super-warm and sunny Monday through Wednesday and then (2) eight inches of snow fall on Thursday and Friday.  That snowfall was lovely, like a little gift for the "ultimate final weekend" up at Alta.  It sure brought a change in the weather, though: when we woke up Saturday morning, it was 16F up at the base (and in the low 40s at our house - I turned the heat back on!).  We took our time and finally got up there around 10:30 a.m., at which time it had warmed up to 29F at the base.  The sun was out in a cloudless sky which kept things warming, but never so much that the snow got slushy.

It's bright out

It was heavy, though.  The Ballroom was full of natural slides where the heavy new snow fractured off and came roaring down.  Patrol kept West Rustler closed for the morning while they checked for avalanche danger; when they finally dropped the rope, there was a line of skiers waiting to get in there to the untracked snow.  Incredible: getting freshies on the day before the resort closes.

That's me, struggling in the soft stuff

We went in there after the initial crowd had thinned out.  The snow was soft but dense and really heavy and I struggled quite a bit with it, my skis just barely breaking through and then trying to wander off in different directions.  H, of course, had no such trouble, charging down through the bowl.  He ended up doing that run many times while I played around on the groomers and skied-out trails.  Main Street, a blue groomer that runs along the bottom of the Ballroom before heading back down to the angle station, was really very good - super-soft and carveable, not at all skied-off or scratchy.

Below the debris field of one
of the Ballroom avalanches

Alta was running the Wildcat chair again after having closed it down last weekend.  We did our last run of the day off it - H reporting that the ungroomed stuff was really heavy - before heading back down canyon so he could go for a 55-mile road ride and B and I could take our walk.  The parking lot was less than a quarter full when we left and had scarcely been more than a third full at the most all day.  Sunday, the last day of the Alta 2011-2012 ski season, will be busier, I imagine.  Hopefully temperatures will warm up enough to make the tail-gating fun.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


We like buffalo wings a lot.  Probably the best I've ever had were at Jeremiah's in Rochester, New York, where we even bought a couple of mayonnaise jars of their sauce to take home with us.  Out here in SLC, Lumpy's are really good (plus they used have all-you-can-eat on Mondays, although I don't know if they still do that - hope so!) and the Porcupine does a pretty nice job too, but I recommend ordering regular buffalo style and getting their Hellfire sauce on the side.

Friday night we went out to try a new place: the Wing Coop (3971 Wasatch Blvd.).  It had been chilly all day so B got to go with us and wait in the car.  The Wing Coop is located in a shopping plaza, between a bike shop and a pizza place.  It's tiny and not at all fancy, maybe nine tables, with old skis, kayaks and climbing gear on the walls with several flat screen televisions.  What is immediately impressive is their huge sauce variety: twenty-two different options, ranging from sweet to Cajun to habanero-lime to classic buffalo to "Eleven" ("mouth-numbing, panic-inducing, eye-watering, mind-blazing inferno") to Bacon.  H took one look at that tub of sauce and gasped, "Is that liquified bacon?"  The clerk grinned and gave us a taste - decent heat, slightly sweet and full of pulverized bits of bacon.  It was really good.

We ordered 40 "crispy" wings - the wings come "crispy," which are pretty small and you get more of them, or "juicy," which are quite a bit larger and thus cost more - and had half with the classic buffalo sauce and half with the bacon sauce.  The Wing Coop has beers on tap too so we got a pitcher of Uinta Cutthroat.  After about ten or so minutes, our order came out and we devoured them.  The wings were quite tasty (although yes, small) and I was unable to keep H from scraping the plate with a spoon to get the last little bits of the bacon sauce.

The place was full when we left with folks eating in and getting big orders to go.  It's a local place, not a chain, and they've been 2007, 2008 and 2009 National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival winners.  It's so nice to see local businesses doing well and cranking out good product.  We'll definitely go back.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

more epic spring conditions

Incredibly, Sunday was just like Saturday except warmer and with just a few more clouds.  The crowd at Alta was about the same too, only with lots more costumes:  Alta is for weirdos and on sunny spring Sundays, they all come out to play.  We saw Scooby-doo, a ruffly red ball gown, fright wigs and fake dreads, far too many Daisy Dukes (on skiers of both genders), girls in bikini tops skiing with hula hoops and guys shirtless under vintage sport coats.  Very impressive.  The Watson Shelter lodge had an outside grill going and live music - everyone was celebrating spring.

On the backside, High Greeley-ish

The snow was about the same too, sticky and slow on the flats, better on the steeps but still difficult to turn in.  At one point I decided that I wanted to cruise down through the wide open Race Course Saddle.  We started on the High Traverse from Collins ... and ended up on top of the ridge, looking down over the backside instead.  The snow was heavy and deep and no one had been in there, so we said what the hell and went for it, making huge sweeping turns down High Greeley and through Greeley Bowl.  It was so cool with no other skiers in sight.  The next time we tried it again, slightly lower but still too high, ending up on the bottom half of High Rustler which was as soft and pleasant as it had been the day before.  We figured it out on the next run, coming down Sunspot to a much lower traverse, and then down through Race Course Saddle.  The snow was wonderful on these runs, so very soft and heavy, almost creamy.

Just another bluebird day at Alta

By 2:30 p.m. my legs were beat from trying to turn in that heavy stuff and we did one more pass along the traverse to some wide chutes, Stone Crusher or maybe Lone Pine.  "Ski it like it might be your last run of the season" was the battle cry - and if it was the last run of the season*, it was a good one with nice, soft bumps at the bottom.  A PBR in the parking lot while we took off our ski stuff and then home, slightly sunburned and extremely happy with another day of Utah spring skiing.

*  Alta is open for one more weekend before they really do close for the season but the sunny weather we've been having is going to change on Friday.  It was so nice this last weekend that we'd rather end on a high note than ski in the clouds and rain.  We'll just have to see what we get for weather.

Monday, April 23, 2012

spectacular spring skiing

Saturday was absolutely gorgeous and the spring skiing was about as spring-y as you can get.  It was warm from the get-go, with bright sun and cloudless skies.  After slathering on the sunscreen (and making sure we packed the tube in our pack for re-application), we headed up the canyon.  The parking lot was about one-third full - and we were just amazed that more people weren't there - and the trails often empty.  The only lifts running now are Collins (the main lift out of the Goldminer's Daughter base) and Sunnyside (the bunny lift out of Albion base).  Oh, yes, the tow rope between Sunnyside and Collins was running too ... and we did actually avail ourselves of it on occasion.

Springtime chairlift self portrait

Although the Sugarloaf lift was closed, patrol was letting people ski down into that side of the resort, posting signs warning skiers that the conditions were classified as "backcountry" out there, i.e., no patrol. We did several runs out there, often finding ourselves the only ones within sight.  The snow softened very quickly on the flatter sections.  Unlike the spring conditions you find back east, the snow was not (for the most part) turning to "corn snow" and bumping up: it got softer and denser and heavier and stickier, such that it was nearly impossible to make our usual turns and mandating huge, sweeping turns.  I was struggling a bit, finding the heavy snow difficult to push through, and the sticky spots would grab my skis, nearly stopping me short and sending me flying.

Steep and soft

We did several runs in the Ballroom (my first ever at Alta, I was so intimidated by the Ballroom; now, it almost seems like a bunny trail) which was nice and soft, and a number of runs all over the front side, seeing how that was all that you can get to with only Collins running.  We did, however, on our last run, venture out along the High Traverse.  I'd intended us to go down through one of the wide bowls in lower West Rustler.  Instead, we ended up on top of the ridge, then following the traverse around the end of the mountain, and coming down Alf's High Rustler.  That's a really steep trail and yet the snow was so soft and slow that it was a ton of fun.

Finishing the day on High Rustler

There were a few people cranking tunes and tailgating in the parking lot.  We joined in somewhat, each had a beer while changing out of our ski clothes and loading up the truck.  Down in the valley it was nearly 70, so H took a two-hour road ride while B and I did our long loop.  That evening, as the sun went down, turning the mountains a lovely pink, we enjoyed our first gin and tonics of the season and toasted a very outstanding day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

candy land

I'm not a huge USA Today fan but I do love the Pop Candy pop culture blog written by Whitney Matheson (what a dream job!).  She's been running a feature where folks can guest-write a post about their city, "The Pop Traveler."  I submitted one for SLC but didn't get selected, unfortunately.  But a guy named Dan Nailen did and he did a great job of why Salt Lake City is secretly happening: click on through and check it out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

back down in the valley

When Sunday morning was grey and sort of rainy down at the house and overcast and in the low-ish 30s up at Alta, we decided to be fair weather skiers, figuring that the snow would have set up pretty good after the warmth the day before.  So we did valley stuff: I made banana pancakes from scratch (no Bisquick!); B and I did our 3.25 mile loop and only got sprinkled on a little bit; H did a 50 mile road ride up Emigration Canyon way and back; I went to a matinee.  When I got out of the movie, the skies had cleared and it was gorgeous (and unfortunately too late to head up to Alta), so the three of us took a walk in Dimple Dell - poor old B hasn't had that much exercise in one day in I don't know how long!  After that I did a little weeding before deeming it time for a beer.  It was a good enough Sunday although we certainly wished for another day on the slopes.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

another spring storm

Just when all hope seems to be lost, another big ol' snowstorm rolls into the Wasatch mountains: last Thursday and Friday dumped 24 inches on the mountains.  Saturday, therefore, we didn't dawdle but ate our egg sandwiches, gave B a biscuit and got up to Alta by about 9:30 a.m.  Despite all the new snow the parking lot was barely a third full at that point and they hadn't bothered to plow; by the time we left, the parking lot was still only two-thirds full (and all the snow had melted and/or evaporated).  I don't know where the people were because even with the Supreme chair closed, there were never any lift lines at the remaining chairs (Sugarloaf, Collins and Wildcat (don't know about Sunnyside) and it was so very quiet.

We rode up Collins and then skied down to the Sugarloaf lift, noticing that the snow was a little grabby, which is what you get with spring "powder," I guess.  We did three or four runs in a row in East Greeley because it was really good and we wanted to enjoy it before the in-and-out sunshine baked it too heavy.  It was really good and, since I was smart enough to wear my powder skis, I was skiing pretty well.  The shame of it was that so much terrain is unavailable, between the Supreme lift being closed, and Devil's Castle and Cecret Saddle being roped off.  Patrol wasn't even shooting up the Castle so we wondered if it would open again before the end of the season.  It was too bad, because there was so much untracked new snow just sitting there, taunting us, out of reach.

East Greeley sunshine and snow

We had lunch at the Watson Shelter (under the Collins lift) - chili cheese fries! - then did some runs on the front side: the Ballroom (which was holding up really well), Sunspot, Spring Valley, a run off Wildcat chair.  By then I had lost whatever mojo I had had in the morning, plus the clouds had moved in and the light got very flat, making it tough to see.  We did a couple more runs - with me concentrating very hard on keeping my weight balanced on both skis on the groomers, since those Rossignols tend to shudder and skid in the turns if I work them like my trusty Volkls - then called it good.

It was off-and-on raining down in the valley, which ruled out a road ride for H, so we made a quick trip to REI to buy a tent (for car camping - too heavy for backpacking) and then had homemade pizzas for dinner.  The weather for Sunday was looking iffy so even though the ski days are now numbered, we decided to see what it looked like in the morning before committing to strapping on the boards.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

farewell, supreme

Easter Sunday came in bright and sunny, a beautiful day up at Alta except for one thing: this was the last day of the season for the Supreme lift.  No more Catherine's Area, no more Supreme Bowl, no more short hike into Devil's Castle.  We're not sure why they close this lift early but they do and it gives us sad.

Due to the holiday there was hardly anyone up the canyon and with no lift lines, we got in plenty of runs, despite our relaxed 10:20 a.m. start time.  We did a warm-up run from Collins down to the Sugarloaf lift, then ran around EBT back to Collins to try East Greeley before it got too soft.  It was pretty soft.  I was struggling again (annoyingly), I think because my legs were fatigued from fighting the deep snow on Saturday.

H in Catherine's Area

After that we headed to Supreme and pretty much stayed there for the day, except for a post-lunch run in Devil's Castle where the conditions were holding up nicely even though it was so warm.  The conditions were holding up well in Catherine's too and we did a number of runs there, traversing way, way in where we pretty much had the place to ourselves AND managed to find some untracked and powdery snow.  Awesome-sauce!

On a Supreme chair - one of my favorite places

Catherine's Area closes at 3 p.m. and we were close to (if not actually) the last skiers in there.  Then we did a really fast run (not many turns) in order to get back to the chair for one last run before they closed the chair at 3:30 p.m.  That last run was not fast as we took our time, enjoying the warm spring conditions on a trail we won't get back to until next season.  After that we made our way back to the base and had a beer on the patio, toasting to Supreme and a very happy Easter.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

we got another storm

70s and sunny on Wednesday, snowing like the dickens on Friday - must be spring.  That latest snowstorm dropped a foot of powder at Alta and, since it snowed throughout the day the sun never came out and sludged it up.  There was the possibility of actual powder for Saturday's ski day!  Tracked out, sure, but still fluffy.  This of course presented me with quite a conundrum: what to wear (Saturday's forecast was for mostly clear skies but a morning low of 11) and which skis to take.

I'm happy to report that I got it wrong on all counts.  I completely overdressed and ended up having to take the liner out of my coat at lunchtime just so I wouldn't melt.  And although I brought both my powder skis and my all-mountains, a last minute/parking lot decision was for the all-mountains.  Generally speaking this was fine because 12" was not quite enough to keep us off the well-frozen crust underneath.  But when we ventured out aways, my poor little Volkls nosedived in the powder and I really struggled.

Cannot get enough of that sky!

Regardless, it was a very good day.  We skied all over the back of the resort, doing runs into Devil's Castle, East Greeley and, of course, Catherine's Area.  There was one exciting bit: when we were paused on the traverse up above the Yellow Trail area, we heard a shout of "heads up!"  Up above us a couple of patrollers were crossing the hill and instigated a very small slide.  H backed up a little bit and I stayed where I was ahead a little ways, and the little slide slid right between us, silent and speedy.  That's exactly as close as I ever want to get to an avalanche.

The season is definitely winding down (Sunday will be the last day for the Supreme lift to be open) and I don't think we'll get enough snow before Alta closes to reach their average of 500".  We're at 346" now, compared with the unusual 620" we had on this date last year.  Here's an illustration to demonstrate:

Me, on April 23, 2011:

Me, on April 7, 2012:

What a difference a year makes!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

working class dog

Spring is changeable here in Utah, with 75 degrees in the valley one day and snow on the lawn the next, but it is  definitely getting warmer and sunnier.  This pretty much makes everyone happy except for B: the warming up means that she can no longer go to work with H and sit in the truck all day, every day, as she does during the winter.  Don't ask me why she likes to do this - for some reason she is convinced that we will not come back if we leave her in the house, but she is confident of our return if she gets to wait in the vehicle.  That dog loves being in the truck, even for hours at a time, and is sooooooo sad when H tells her that she has to stay home.  Her new thing, just started in the last week or so, is this: after H takes her out for one last squirt in the morning, she dives under the truck and puts her saddest face on.  He has to drag her out from underneath and put her in the house, at which point she retreats under the bed and sulks the day away.  Poor little thing really wears her heart on her sleeve ... or would, if she wore sleeves.

Please don't leave me here!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

we capture the castle

Saturday at Alta was 180 degrees different from the previous Sunday at Alta: warm, sunny and soft, soft snow.  As always for spring season skiing, we took our time getting up there even though it didn't appear to have gotten that cold the night before.  Right off the bat (by which I mean, just after 10:00 a.m.) anything groomed and in the sun was soft; anything groomed and in the shade was quite firm; and anything not groomed - shaded or sunny - was hard.  Also, there was really nobody there, the parking lot easily half empty.  And also-also, it was quite windy.

We did a couple of runs off the Sugarloaf chair, then moved to Supreme.  After a couple of groomers, we decided to give Catherine's Area a try, despite my feeling that it was still too soon and wouldn't have softened up yet.  For the record,  I was right.  On our next chair ride, we rode up with an Alta employee (parking lot attendant/staff photographer) who said he'd just been over on the Backside where East Greeley was "skiing good."  We schlepped over there - the trip around the EBT was super-fast due to the strong wind at our backs - and gave it a try: it was awesome.  The first part was easy-skiing corn snow, up above the Yellow Trail Area; the second part was heavier but so soft.  Lots of folks were having trouble with the heavy snow but not us.  We went right back to and up the Sugarloaf lift and did that run again.  Super fun!

The view from the high traverse

After lunch, we went into Devil's Castle, taking the low traverse in.  The snow was pretty soft and not too many people were doing the hike, so I suggested we do it again, only this time taking the high traverse and going all the way up and all the way over.  About halfway up the hike I was regretting my words - that is a long-ass, steep traverse at around 11,000 feet (with skis and ski boots).  We passed a couple of other skiers who were on their third and fifth (!) time in that day, so we had a feeling it was going to be good.  Finally we stopped, having hiked into Devil's Castle further than ever we have,  and looked down at a vast expanse of nearly untracked powder.  H threw himself into it gleefully and I followed just as soon as I'd caught my breath.  It was just great.  It wasn't like that day with the ski guests, since the snow was old and had compacted somewhat.  But it as soft and untracked and we had it all to ourselves (because almost no one is willing to hike in that far), doing huge, sweeping turns. Super-duper fun!

All that, just for us

After that - and those two runs into the Castle, including the traverses, took us well over an hour - our legs were pretty tired, plus H wanted to get a road ride in.  We took our time skiing out and paused for a refreshing beverage on the Goldminer's Daughter patio, along with other happy spring skiers.  It was a really good day.

I have no comment