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.