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.