Tuesday, January 31, 2012

soft snow

I felt like we were getting back into the groove on Sunday.  No new snow overnight, but still up and at 'em and on to Alta.  We even remembered to bring our lunch backpack this time!  We hadn't counted on being stuck for an hour on the canyon road while the police and fire and rescue cleared an accident, so we got up there a little later than planned.  But it wasn't crowded and although there were high, thin clouds that increased during the day, it was really warm (I overdressed).

Per usual we scooted back over to Supreme and I was pleased to discover that I felt better and was skiing better (not well, but better than the day before).  We did Catherine's a couple of times, finding a newly opened gate and untracked snow in and around Sunset, So Long and the Back Forty.  No. 9 Express was also holding up pretty well as was the White Squaw Area.  We even had a brief encounter with Supreme's resident porcupine who was trundling unconcernedly up one of the groomed run-outs, completely ignoring the paparazzi skiers.

No swimming at Cecret Lake!

The best runs we had were once again off the Sugarloaf chair: down Razor Back to Cecret Lake, then down the switchbacks that you hike up to the lake in the summer, and then through the trees below Devil's Elbow.  Super-soft snow and plenty of it.  Not that we don't need more, of course.  There's a little storm system moving in early this coming week that might bring a little bit, but what we really need are some big dumpers.  This weekend was a pretty good one but there's a ton of terrain that's still closed because of all the rocks.  Come on, Mother Nature, help us out!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

back at alta

We had another little storm later in the week that brought the resorts another eight or so inches.  By Saturday it was clear and sunny, with dry roads and little chance of finding much untracked snow so I left my powder skis at home and strapped on my trusty and beloved Volkls.  Straightaway we headed over to the Supreme chair and then, seeing that Catherine's Area was open, charged right in.  Catherine's has been open occasionally this season (although the chutes of the Supreme Bowl have not) but never when I've been up there - I was looking forward to getting back in there.

In the trees by No. 9 Express

Of course since I've been basically skiing groomers all year and not hiking and traversing, I was ridiculously out of shape for the short boot pack up to the traverse into Catherine's, and then the uphill traverse way in.  By the time H got us to where we were going, I was puffed and blowing and sweating and my poor legs were shaking.  For the record, I'd also like to blame some of this on the head cold I've been battling, but in all honesty a lot is due to just not having done any hiking in my skis so far this year.  Regardless, Catherine's was pretty darn good, soft snow, deep in spots, and not entirely tracked out.  I skied it like a total spaz - floundering on my short skis and gasping for air all the way down.  Needless to say, I only made one hike into Catherine's on Saturday.

In the sun in the Yellow Trail Area

The rest of the day was quite nice.  They've opened the White Squaw Area off the Supreme chair and we found some deep stuff by the Elephant's Butt; No. 9 Express and the Erosion Gullies were pretty good too, although everything was getting bumped up big time.  We ate a quickie lunch at Alf's - H had actually packed our lunches but then we forgot the backpack on the kitchen counter - so I had a mocha and a Snickers bar (best lunch ever!) and H had an Italian sausage and some fries.  We also spent a fair amount of time on the Sugarloaf lift.  I went around EBT and into the Backside to the Yellow Trail/East Greeley area with H once - really nice conditions - and then he did it several more times while I bumped along in the moguls on Extrovert.

By about 2:00 p.m. my legs were shot so we moved over to the front side.  H did a couple of runs off the Wildcat chair (reporting good snow in the trees there) while I sat in the sun on the deck and watched all the people.  H joined me there for a PBR (still $3 at Goldminer's Daughter) and then we went home and bottled his latest homebrew, a Sam Adams clone.  A pretty darn good Saturday, all told.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

a day for the powder skis

As promised, it kept snowing up in the canyons overnight, dropping a storm total of 25" up at Alta.  That much new snow on top of the nasty old snow brought some serious issues, however, like an avalanche slide right across Little Cottonwood Canyon Road.  At about 7:30 a.m., H checked the canyon alerts and learned that the LCC road wasn't going to be open until 10:30 a.m. at the earliest and that cars were prohibited from attempting to stage on the road (we're guessing that "staging" means idling in the lane while waiting for the canyon to open).  We weren't about to miss out on the new powder, however, so we quickly swapped out our Alta season passes for the Solitude $45/day 5-Paks we'd bought (at my genius suggestion, btw) this fall with the intention of using on days when LCC was closed.  Today was the perfect day to break them in, seeing how Solitude was reporting 27" from the storm.  Away we went, up Big Cottonwood Canyon!

Honeycomb Canyon (not open),
from the top of the Summit lift

We were not the only people with that idea: I have never, ever seen Solitude so crowded.  At 9:20 a.m., when we got up there, there was a long line at the ticket window, which we noted as we smugly skied up to the lift with our passes; and there were huge lift lines at all the lifts nearly all day.  Despite the lines - which were really only because the lifties didn't bother to set up any corrals so it was a free-for-all trying to get through the gates - we truly didn't stand in line for much more than five minutes ever.  It's just such a change from Solitude's usual ... solitude.

At 1:00 p.m., H got another canyon alert email:

Big Cottonwood Status: Open
Little Cottonwood Status: Closed Jan22:  Solitude and Brighton parking lots are full. Please use UTA.    Est. open for  Snowbird only is 11:30am.  -CanyonAlerts.org

At 1:30 p.m., he got yet another one:

Big Cottonwood Status: Open
Little Cottonwood Status: Restricted Jan22:  Little Cottonwood Canyon Rd. is now open to Snowbird only. Alta's Est. open time is 12:30 pm.  -CanyonAlerts.org

Meanwhile, we were having an absolute blast skiing in deep powder for the first time all season.  We skied all over the mountain, starting at the Eagle lift, moving to Sunrise, heading back to Powderhorn and then, finally, sprinting for the Summit lift when ski patrol finally opened it around 12:30 p.m.  By then the rest of the resort was pretty bumped up and tracked out, but over off the little Summit double chair we found plenty of deep, untracked powder in the trees and chutes.  It was most excellent, easily outdoing Saturday's ski-in-a-storm for best day of the year (so far).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

conditions improving

It snowed! It finally snowed! We're so happy ... and now, greedily, want more-more-more!  But still, it snowed!

It was snowing on Saturday when H went up to Alta, unable to stand not skiing for a moment longer.  (I did not go, feeling slightly under the weather; B and I ran some errands instead and then cuddled up on the couch watching season 5 of Dexter on DVD.)  The drive up and down Little Cottonwood Canyon was - he reported - pretty sketchy.  It was raining down in the valley and then abruptly turned to snow about a quarter of the way up.  It took him about an hour to get up there, driving very carefully and noting the four down-canyon cars that had slid off the pavement.  But once he got up there, where it was snowing like crazy, he had a great day.  There weren't very many people up there to start, between the slow road and the whole people-don't-like-to-ski-in-snowstorms thing, but there was 9+ new inches of snow.  Heavy and wet, but still snow and still coming down.  It snowed all day and H was soaked when he got home - and very happy, proclaiming it the best ski day of the year. [Note: that superlative wouldn't last long.]

The most awesome part? The ice beard that attached itself to H's face.  People in the lift-lines were very impressed and one guy even asked if he could take a picture.  Apparently some little kids stared at him in the lodge when he chipped it off at lunchtime:

Self-portrait on the lift

It was supposed to keep snowing all night up there - and did down in the valley too, off and on - so after H's snow report I decided that I was skiing on Sunday.  After 2.5 weekends of not skiing, I'm overdue!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

around the state

What's going on in Utah these days?  (Yes, this is a filler post since we haven't gone skiing nor done much interesting lately.)

The Sundance Film Festival started today, in Park City and its surrounds.  H and I didn't bother trying to get any tickets to anything because we don't like crowds and H can't generally stay awake in movie theaters anyway.  I do keep an eye on the Trib's Sundance blog, however, and make lists of films that I want to see if/when they get released wider.

Miss Utah may not have won the Miss America title, but there's a Utahn on the latest season of Survivor: One World, if anyone cares.

And yes, we finally got some snow: Alta is reporting 15" in the last twenty-four hours, and there are supposed to be several more storms hitting the mountains over the next several days.  It's not enough, but it's a start.  Maybe we'll ski this weekend!

Monday, January 16, 2012

no skiing today

After last winter, we're really not used to having to come up with things to do on the weekends.  This year, with the dearth of snow (thus far), we've had to be more creative than "get up, eat breakfast, ski at Alta in crazy-deep snow 'til your legs fall off, come home, eat something and fall asleep on the couch by 9 p.m."  Saturday was one of those need-to-be-creative days since we were not going skiing: there hasn't been any new snow since a week ago, and the skiing wasn't that good then anyway.

On the plus side, it was a spectacular day - unseasonably warm (low to mid 40s), not a cloud in the sky and little to no wind.  B and I took a late-morning, hour-long walk while H bundled up and did a 13-mile road ride; we saw lots and lots of walkers, cyclists and runners, all taking advantage of the sunshine and pleasant temperatures.

After lunch, H and I drove up to downtown SLC and walked up to the Living Room (trailhead on Colorow Drive in the University's Research Park, just down the hill from Red Butte Garden and the new Natural History Museum).  There were tons of people and their dogs - Weimaraners, border collies, dachshunds, beagles, setters, mutts and labs galore - out and about on the trails in the foothills.  It took us 35 minutes to hike up on the well-worn and mostly dry trail; after about a half an hour sitting on the stone couches and admiring the view (and throwing sticks for a very persistent border collie named Boomer), it took us 20 minutes to descend.  We've clearly fallen out of our summer hiking conditioning too: even though this hike is not at all difficult, we were out of breath in the few steep bits.

And what do you suppose we did after our little hike?  We went to Squatters, of course.  Because it is apparently impossible for us to go to downtown SLC without stopping in there.  The beers were excellent, as always:  I had a Full Suspension and H had one of the seasonal beers, a lovely Extra Special Bitter (on nitro).

Ain't that a pretty sight?

Friday, January 13, 2012

snow dance

We're all trying everything we possibly can to encourage the snow gods to let 'er rip.  Check this out: starring local Wasatch Front residents shredding in the Wasatch and Pioneer Mountains (click here if the video won't embed below):

 I work with one of the guys in this video. Damn, I wish I could ski like the guys in this video.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


My birthday fell on a Sunday this year, but since we like to hunker down and be homebodies on Sunday nights, I wanted to go out for birthday dinner Saturday instead.  I had been in the mood for Greek food for some reason and asked around at work as to what the best Greek restaurant in town was.  Salt Lake City has a pretty big Greek population - folks who came to work in the mines - and there are a bunch of fast-food, souvlaki-type joints, but I wanted something a little nicer.  The consensus was Aristo's Restaurant, located up by the U at 224 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City, in a little neighborhood that had a Brookline, Massachusetts, sort of feel to it.

The restaurant wasn't packed but there were a good number of full tables.  A cute little hostess seated us at our reserved table and the attentive but not intrusive waiter came by at once.  Aristo's isn't huge and the cheerful 6-top next to us made things a little loud, but not so loud that we couldn't talk to each other and also hear the faint Greek pop music playing over the sound system.  (Apparently they have live Greek music Thursday nights.)

The menu has something for everyone (except maybe vegans).  We shared a saganaki appetizer, fried Kefalograviera cheese, flambeed with Metaxa (a Greek liqueur) and fresh lemon juice, and the roka salad (a big bowl of arugula dressed with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.  For entrees, H had angel hair pasta with burned butter, roasted tomatoes and myzithra cheese, while I ordered my favorite Greek dish, pastitisio.  The rich pastitisio - tubular pasta with ground lamb and beef, topped with bechamel - came in its own ceramic dish and was a huge serving, allowing me to take half of it home for breakfast the next day.  Aristo's serves wine (all  bottles $28; glasses of white $6.50 and glasses of red $7.50) and we got a 4 Bears cabernet sauvignon, the empty bottle of which we took home with us for re-purposing when we do another batch of homemade.

It was a good meal, tasty and filling, and we'd gladly go back to Aristo's again.  The restaurant does have some outside seating which would be pleasant in the non-winter seasons.  The very best part, however, was breaking   the chain of mediocre birthday meals - yahoo!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

drop in the bucket

A little storm moved through the Wasatch Front Friday night and most of the day Saturday, clearing out the slight inversion and dropping a bit of snow in the mountains: Alta claimed nine new inches.  H skied in the storm on Saturday and reported back that those nine inches didn't really amount to much.  It wasn't enough to open up much new terrain, everything was all tracked out after two hours and it was all skied off back down to the rock-solid ice after three hours.  He told me that I didn't miss much.

Why did I miss the skiing?  Only for the most pathetic reason ever.  On Friday night, I stopped by the grocery store on my way home from work.  As I left the store, pushing my grocery cart, the cart's front wheels got stuck in a divot in the asphalt.  The cart stopped short, almost tipping over; I did not stop short and walked right into it, shins first.  By the time I got back to the house five minutes later, bruises had bloomed on both shins, you could see the bumps and I actually had gashed my right shin through my jeans, to the point of drawing blood, right where my ski boot buckles.  Pa. Thetic.  But also pretty sore, which is why I didn't ski on Saturday.

Friday, January 6, 2012

there was more snow in july

No snow on the south-facing slopes

We just couldn't face "skiing" on the "greatest snow on Earth"* on Monday's holiday and went hiking instead.  We went back to Big Cottonwood Canyon and the short Dog Lake hike (see 12/27/09 post).  The first bit of the trail was an absolute mess - sodden with thick, sticky mud - but once we got in a ways we were able to walk on well-packed snow.

There's about 1.5 feet of coverage in
here, along the creek

It was an absolutely stunning day, with bluebird skies and warm sunshine.  We saw a fair number of other folks up there - hiking, snowshoeing, back-country skiing, traipsing along the ridge to Reynolds Peak - but largely seemed to have the place to ourselves.  We would rather have been skiing in normal January conditions, of course, but it was still a gorgeous day and a nice walk and I do find it tough to complain about that.

Good place for a drink if you're a critter

*  The first snowfall snowfall since 12/21/11 is expected tonight/tomorrow, possibly bringing a trace to 2".  That's not going to do anything.  It's dire.  Seriously, there was more snow in these canyons back in July (granted, up at a higher elevation than this but still).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

new year's day 2012

Happy New Year, y'all!  Since the conditions weren't all that fabulous on NYE, and we didn't get any new snow overnight, we didn't find it necessary to get up at the crack of early and hit the slopes.  Instead, H made us a tasty breakfast of (leftover) steak and scrambled eggs and we took our time getting up to Alta, arriving well before 10 a.m. but well after the 9:15 first chair.  We were pleased that it was oodles warmer than the day before, with little to no wind, temperatures in the mid-20s and no clouds.  No crowds either - there were lots fewer people out, whether due to church, too late partying the night before or the fact that the conditions were going from pretty bad to worse.

I sound like a broken record but Alta needs snow so badly.  I may bust on the skiing back east but if there's one thing Maine resorts know how to do, it's to make poor conditions as good as possible.  We used to ski at Sunday River in Bethel, Maine, and the snowmakers and the cat-drivers would work absolute magic on the trails, grooming deep and giving the skiers at least three hours of skiable trails before the snow would get scraped off.  Not so much at Alta, probably because in normal winters, with hundreds of inches of snow by now, it isn't needed.  But Alta is no longer making snow for some reason (possibly scarcity of water?) and they just don't groom very well.  We did a couple of runs off the Supreme chair (which kept breaking down so that was annoying) and they had only bothered to regroom one of the two trails that they've been grooming up 'til now, leaving Rock-n-Roll a rutted mess.  It's not like the snow-cats are busy grooming other trails - they should have gone over that one.  The groomed trails under Sugarloaf were holding up better, except for Sugarbowl which everyone skis slides down once they get off the lift; Collins wasn't the nightmare that it had been on Saturday but it was still rock-hard and terrible.  We called it quits before lunchtime: despite the nice temperatures it just wasn't that fun, plus we don't want to risk getting injured by out-of-control skiers who don't know how to ski on that stuff.

There's no snow in the days to come either: that dang bowl of high pressure is just stuck out there over the Pacific Ocean.  I of course want to go skiing and I love Alta - I really, really do - but if we're not going to get any natural anytime soon, they are going to have to work the trails more to make what they've got skiable.  I don't know, maybe I'll go for a hike on the Monday holiday instead: there's certainly no snow on the south-facing hillsides.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

new year's eve 2011

Well, the one thing New Year's Eve 2011 had in common with New Year's Eve 2010 is that it was the as-yet coldest day of the season - although not nearly so cold this year as last year.  It was 4F at the top and about 14F at the base and rather windy, but it really didn't seem all that cold (i.e., we didn't have to wear our face masks).  It was chilly enough to go in for an early lunch/warm-up and we definitely took advantage of the free hot beverage refills.  After lunch the winds died and the clouds broke up, so that was good.

What else is there to say?  We saw the Supreme chair's resident porcupine trundling along among the trees; those soft bumps on 3 Bears had hardened horribly; and several trails - including Sugarbowl and the whole top half under the Collins lift - were completely wind-scoured of all their snow, leaving rock-hard ice for people to try to ski down.  Still, despite the cold and the wind and the icy patches, it still wouldn't be the worst day of the season.  That would come on 1/1/2012.

PS - what did we do to ring in the new year?  Steaks on the grill, pink "champagne" (Bouvet brut rosé sparkling wine, from the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc grapes) and some episodes from SyFy's Twilight Zone marathon. And asleep well before midnight, once the neighbors stopped launching fireworks from out front of our house (B was not happy that Utah has now decided to let the hoi polloi shoot off fireworks on New Year's in addition to throughout most of the summer).