Tuesday, December 31, 2013

hard and fast and crowded

Still no new snow (we're trying not to get discouraged since this is very similar to what we went through last year around this time, but still ...) but that wasn't keeping us - or the vacation week crowds - away over the weekend.  We skied both days under blue skies and we rode the singles lines a lot too.

Riding the Supreme chair on Saturday

Saturday brought decent temperatures (in the low to mid 20s) and lots of clueless newbie skiers struggling to get on and off the lifts, skiing erratically and stopping in the middle of the trails.  No one crashed into us but I got cut off twice and forced onto the shoulder of the trail once.  As usual, we stayed at Supreme for the most part but we kept to the groomers or the ungroomed bumps at the edge of the groomers.  H tried a bumps run and reported back that the moguls were pretty hard on the knees.  The plus side to skiing groomers on my old Volkl skis is that I was skiing really well - H even said I was going fast (fast for me, anyway).

Hooray for down!

Sunday was much, much colder, starting at 11 F and not warming up much above 20 F all day, with wind chill around 0.  I wore my down vest under my shell and H tried out his new down coat; because we were sticking to the groomers and not working that hard, we were grateful for the extra warmth.  As we rode the Supreme chair, we could hear skiers trying to get out of Catherine's Area: the last pitch was scraped off and noisy.  It sounded terrible.

View from the Ballroom 

H went back up to Alta again on Monday, bringing his season-to-date ski days total to eighteen (I only have ten).  He got a good half day out of it, quitting before 2 p.m. when the Collins lift started to act up.  We really need snow.  The groomed trails have okay coverage but we're tired of skiing the groomed trails.  Hopefully we'll get hit with something big soon.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

well, somebody had to go to work

And that somebody was me: fortunately, the day after Christmas and the day after that were very quiet so it wasn't that great a hardship.  (Except for the fact that I was at work rather than on the hill.)  Since he was skiing by himself, H took his telemark skis out both days, and ended up feeling pretty good about it.

Boxing Day selfie

There was no new snow but the hordes of vacationers finally came out ("They're all vacationers," muttered an off-duty lifty, "but we'll get our mountain back soon."), bringing the first real lift lines of the season.  The influx of newbies meant that H (a) helped three different yard sales pick up their gear, (b) got his skis run over by a clueless and out of control whippersnapper and (c) got to ride the chairlifts with lots of people from away.  There were folks from Washington D.C., Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Sweden.  The Brooklynite needed how avalanche control explained (the explosions shake loose the snow that might otherwise slide); the Swedes wondered if it was always so busy (nope, mostly just around Christmas).

Now, that's pretty

Even with the dearth of new snow, everyone seemed okay about it, given the stunning bluebird skies.  My philosophy is if you can't have snowstorms, you might as well have blue skies, and it seems Alta's skiers feel the same way.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

wrong poles (christmas day 2013)

Yay, Christmas!  Skiing!  Not working!  Still full from last night's dinner, H and I picked at breakfast, threw on our ski gear and then headed up to Alta for what has become our Christmas Day tradition: skiing.  There had been no new snow so the canyon road was dry and with no uphill traffic to speak of, we got up there quickly.  The parking lot was less than a third full as everyone else was home opening presents.  We hopped on the Collins lift with a chorus of avalanche control explosions echoing around us, saying "Merry Christmas!" to the faithful, smiling lifties.

I had had some trepidation about which skis to use.  There hadn't been much new snow since last Saturday but there had been some, plus Catherine's Area had been closed since Sunday and we were hopeful that they would drop the rope.  I decided to wear my powder skis (but hedged my bet and took my old Volkls too, just in case) but I wasn't sure I'd made the right decision as we first took a couple of groomer runs on Sugarloaf.

Christmas Day portrait atop Supreme

When we moved over to the Supreme chair, Catherine's Area was still closed.  We paused at the top of the lift to take the obligatory Christmas self-portrait; when a friendly tourist offered to take the photo for us, we then had to return the favor.  As we were buckling our boots post-photo session, however, we saw Ski Patrol drop the rope into Catherine's Area.  We lunged for the gate and were in, sixth or seventh in line.  Now that's a Christmas present!

H's cliff

The snow in Catherine's, untouched since last weekend, was fantastic.  We had first tracks and the sugary snow was soft and [relatively] deep.  On that first run, we ended up in a tree-lined chute that we don't normally ski.  H was ahead of me, as usual.  As I entered the chute, I heard a shout: "Cliff!  Cliff!"  I called back, "Are you okay?" but didn't hear any answer, so I worked my way to the left and down.  I stopped where I thought I might be able to see him - I couldn't - and yelled to him again.  Not getting an answer, I assumed he'd skied out - he hadn't - so I did too, pausing a couple of times in our regular stopping spots before heading to the lift to wait for him.  H finally joined me there, after having waited for me in our regular stopping spots before heading to the lift.  He was fine and on our next run, we went wide and then came out under the cliff he'd gone over.  It's a big cliff, at least fifteen feet from launch to landing.  I suggested that perhaps he try to avoid the cliffs for the rest of the day.

Hooray for Catherine's!

He did and the rest of the day was great.  We stayed in Catherine's Area for most of it, going further and further in as more and more people invaded it.  The snow in there was so good.  Sure, with only 130 inches fallen and compacted to 55 inches, there are still rocks and stumps that you have to watch out for.  But this was definitely the best day of the season so far - so much fun.  And I absolutely was wearing the right skis for the conditions, for once.  It was only my poles that were wrong: I have old, vintage 1980s poles with wide baskets that would have been much more appropriate for the deep snow.

My little legs could only take it until 2:30 p.m., overcome by all the hiking and deep snow.  Amazingly, the slopes never seemed crowded, despite the fact that the parking lot had filled up by the time we left.  We never waited in lift lines at either Supreme or Sugarloaf and we slid through on the singles line at Collins in the afternoon, easy as pie.  I suspect that will change for the rest of vacation week - next weekend could be a zoo.  Still, it was another successful Christmas Day ski day ... although if you ask us, any Christmas Day ski day is going to be a good one.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

christmas eve 2013

Having Christmas fall on a Wednesday is silly: I prefer Friday or Monday Christmases so I can get a long weekend out of it.  Because the holiday fell when it did this year, and because we haven't gotten that much snow, I opted to not take any time off around Christmas.

All that pristine snow, just waiting for tracks

H did and took himself skiing Christmas Eve.  It was snowing/raining down at our house - the driveway was a sheet of ice - but the road up Little Cottonwood Canyon was okay taken slowly. When he got up to the Wildcat base area, there was cloud cover but it broke up by midday.  The crowds were light and the conditions were good, given the couple of inches Alta had gotten.  They were shooting off avalanche control like crazy all day (there had been an in-bounds slide earlier in the week that had caught, but not injured, several skiers) and there was a delay for Supreme to open because of it.  Once Supreme opened, however, there was good skiing to be had - as long as you didn't want to ski in Supreme Bowl or Catherine's Area, which were still closed.  H  reported that Challenger was even in good shape; having first tracks down a run tends to improve its standing.  The lunch crowd was light and the lift lines nonexistent.  He skied until 2:20 p.m. and then headed home.

Christmas Eve selfie

My office closed at 3 p.m. so I was able to run a couple of errands before going back to the house.  When I arrived, H was making chili and doing laundry.  He cracked open a beer for me and we settled in for the evening.  After pre-dinner appetizers of cheese, salami and caviar (note to self: get better caviar for next year), we made dinner together: chicken breasts stuffed with fennel and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes and broccoli, and opened a bottle of dry sparkling rose - I like drinking bubbles and I especially like drinking pink bubbles.  After dinner, we curled up on the couch for the traditional A Christmas Story viewing.  Some of us may not have stayed awake to the end.


Monday, December 23, 2013

slight snowfall

We got a nice little storm midweek that left a foot of snow in the mountains and several inches in the valley, and then another smaller system moved in and gave us a few more inches over the weekend.  It's not ideal, and it's not enough, but it definitely improved our Saturday skiing over what we had last weekend as far as conditions underfoot went.

We scraped the storage wax off our powder skis - although Saturday wasn't a "powder day" by any stretch of the imagination, there was enough new snow that the wider boards would be better than our East Coast carvers - and headed up to Alta.  The parking lot was pretty empty upon our arrival but would fill up during the day even though there were never any lift lines.

We rode up Collins and slipped over the ridge to the Sugarloaf side, noticing that skiing was silent on top of the soft new snow.  The Sugarloaf chair wasn't running for some reason so we went over to Supreme immediately.  It was precipitating strangely for the first couple of runs and our goggles actually iced over.  Luckily, the precipitation changed to regular snow (although not much of it) and the icing-up stopped.  We did a couple of runs in Catherine's Area, which were much better than last weekend, even finding a couple of stashes of untracked snow way in there.  Coverage is still not great and we had to watch for rocks lurking under the surface.

All bundled up against the weather

The clouds kept descending as the day wore on and the light was very flat.  Sugarloaf chair got up and running and we did some runs there too when they closed the Supreme chair for avalanche control.  The EBT was closed too so we had to take the rope tow back across to Collins when we wanted to do some runs on the front side.  The snow had not held up quite so well there, being a little more skied off in spots.

My legs, which fight against those wider, longer Rossignols, trying to force them to do tiny turns until my brain realizes that no, these skis are not made for tiny turns, called it quits around 2:15 p.m.  People were still rolling in as we left.  We figured that holiday week visitors would be arriving on Saturday to ski in earnest starting Sunday.  It's always busy over Christmas week - it sure would be nice if we could get some more snow for those folks.  (And us.  We like new snow too.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

just barely back in the bumps

Then came Sunday, just like Saturday (except without it being International Women's Ski Day): sunny, clear skies, no lines, no new snow.  It was a wee bit warmer, starting in the low 20s and finishing in the low 30s, but still cold enough that what snow we do have was holding its own.  We stuck to the same routine too, doing a number of runs in the sun at Sugarloaf before moving over to Supreme.
Sunny day at the top of Collins chair

Just before lunch, H did a run in Catherine's Area.  I didn't, instead testing my early-season legs on a short bumps section on Upper Big Dipper.  I found a couple of rocks but it still felt pretty good; later, H and I did that section another couple of times and we learned that if we stayed way skier's left, it was actually kind of soft.  Kind of.  Three of those mini bumps runs were all I was able to do - it is still way too early in the season for me in there.

We moved to the front side for a few runs towards the end of our day.  I wasn't crazy about it there, since it was very skied off.  We called it quits about 2:30 p.m. and were shocked to see the parking lot nearly full when we drove off - it certainly hadn't seemed crowded to us.  It's about to get crowded, though, with some snow in the forecast and Christmas vacation week bearing down upon us.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

back at it

Last weekend, the weekend of the garage party, some arctic air moved into the region, making things really, really cold.  We didn't ski either day that weekend since Alta's temperatures were in the -10 to -4 range; and the cold stuck around, with greater Salt Lake staying in the teens to low 20s for the whole week.  Brrr! and made worse by the fact that it didn't snow at all.  The weather did shift a little bit by this past weekend, however: no snow but slightly warmer temperatures.  On Saturday we were happy to drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta to ski, getting out of the inversion and enjoying the sunshine.  It was 10 F at the base when we got there but ended up in the low 20s by the afternoon (and the valley got up above freezing for the first time in a week).

Back at my favorite lift - yay!

We definitely need snow.  The conditions were firm and fast, very eastern.  Coverage is decent, though, and since there weren't many people there, the runs were fine.  Supreme chair had opened last weekend and we spent a lot of time over there.  There were rocks poking through some of the runs (Challenger, I'm talking about you) and we weren't that anxious to go into the trees, given the thin cover.  We did venture into Catherine's Area for the first time: one of the lifties told us that it was "old snow, chunky and grabby, thin in spots and the run-out is no good."  He was absolutely right.  It was beautiful in there and we had the place to ourselves but the grabby snow made turning a battle.  Still, I was glad to get back in there.

Back in Catherine's Area - yay!

Saturday was also International Women's Ski Day.  We rode a chair with the chipper, chirpy regional coordinator for SheJumps, an international organization devoted to getting women involved in the outdoors.  SheJumps had groups skiing (and then getting together for apres ski) at Alta, Snowbird and Solitude - Solitude had 100 women sign up! - and they also organize mountain biking, hiking, ski mountaineering, avalanche education and fly fishing events (and are hoping to start up some Nordic skiing and snowshoeing).  There seem to be chapters all across the country (except for the midwest) but their founders live in SLC and Jackson Hole.  I didn't know anything about this organization but I'm going to check it out and see what activities they've got going on in the area.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

in which we host a party

Saturday morning we were up and at 'em early as we were hosting a party in the garage for our neighbors.  Every December, our neighborhood does a food drive for the Utah Food Bank in lieu of giving "neighbor gifts," and each family takes turns hosting the thing from 8-10 a.m.  The last couple of years we've simply dropped off our cases of soup to the hosts before heading up to Alta to ski.  This year, we'd been asked to host - and since we'd never actually attended any of the parties, we were sort of winging it as to what to do.  Our across-the-street neighbor, who is the unofficial neighborhood captain, told us that all we needed was to serve light refreshments and then take the collected food drive booty to the Utah Food Bank.  Even though we're not party-people, we figured we could pull that off.

So festive!

Decor:  we swept the garage, hung some twinkly lights and put some Christmas music.  Food:  hot water in the crockpot for hot chocolates and hot cider, coffee, orange juice and water; muffins, mini croissants and three kinds of cookies (two from Trader Joe's and one batch of homemade Grandma Bee's spice cookies).  Dog:  in the front seat of the truck where she could keep an eye on things and bark at the neighbors as they came up our driveway.  Weather:  snowing and cold, in the low 20s.

Quite the spread for an 8 a.m. garage party

Approximately seventeen people showed up off and on throughout the two hour window; at one point, we probably had ten folks standing around, chatting and clutching hot chocolates (coffee is not a popular beverage in this neighborhood, although I drank a bunch of it, trying to stay warm).  The most-consumed edibles were those homemade spice cookies - I had to refill the plate twice - and several people asked me for the recipe.

It all wrapped up right on time at 10 a.m.  We collected a decent amount of food and a bunch of checks for the food bank, and had everything broken down and cleaned up in less than an hour.  I have to say, if you have to have a party, having it in the garage is the way to go since you don't have to clean the house and nobody lingers too long since it's cold and there's no place to sit.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

desert star

'Tis the season for holiday shindigs and Friday night we joined the folks from H's office for an evening of dinner theater at the Desert Star Playhouse (4861 S. State St., Murray).  The Desert Star has been putting on locally written and produced original musical comedies since 1989, spoofs of popular movies, television shows and Broadway musicals.  The theater has a gorgeous, Wild West/old-timey neon marquee and the building itself is pretty cool inside, the lobby decorated with wide pine boards, photographs from throughout the years and taxidermied animal heads, festooned with twinkly Christmas lights for the holiday season.

We got there around 6 p.m. and were directed to the balcony seats where our group would be.  The main floor is lined with counter-like tables and chairs; upstairs where we were, two-tiered two-tops ensured that all diners could see the stage.  As a live pianist played, we talked with some folks from H's office and ate our salads.  A young waitress circled the tables, taking people's entree orders: your choice of pork (the waitress was careful to assure diners that the wine in the marsala sauce was all cooked off), beef or chicken.  We both went with chicken and were brought our dinners a short time later - very well-done chicken breast with feta cheese and sundried tomatoes, served with mashed potatoes and mixed veggies.  A little dish of chocolate pudding and a big glass of sparkling fruit punch rounded out the meal.

The fruit punch matches the curtains!

The show itself was "Miracle on 42nd Street," a spoof of Miracle on 34th Street, obviously.  Plot synopsis: a producer is putting on a stage show starring Joan "Quivers" and "Santa Claws" but a rival theater owner is trying to shut the show down.  The stage manager Billy, the producer's assistant Sarah, Sarah's daughter Natalie and Joan Quivers team up to save the show and end up revealing the true Santa Claus (playwright Kris Kringle) to the world.  Before the show, the audience was taught musical cues so we would know when to boo the villain and cheer the heroes.

H and I are not the Desert Star's target audience.  We thought the food was mediocre and the show was amateurish, but an internet search will pull up rave review after rave review.  The theater was full and many people appeared to be repeat attendees, which I think is great.  There were some technical difficulties and dropped lines but the audience enthusiastically laughed, applauded and booed the villain right on cue.  Although most of the jokes were (to us) old, tired and simply unfunny (lots of references to Joan "Quivers's" plastic surgeries, for example), the family-friendly show's writers had packed it full of local events, locations and cultural references which the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy.  While we won't go back to the Desert Star again, it is clear that there are plenty of people around who love this little theater.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

long weekend

Friday and Saturday were more of the same: no new snow, blue skies and sunshine, hard pack and short lift lines.  We didn't rush up to the mountain but still got several hours in each day, doing laps first on the Sugarloaf chair and then over on Collins.  The Wildcat chair was turning but we didn't see any point in going over there; there's some pretty rough terrain off that chair if there isn't much snow.  We stuck to groomers for the most part although H did find a gully with some decent snow in it.  I followed him in there and quickly realized that my early season legs are in no shape for any size of moguls.  I need to do more squats, lunges and leg presses!

New soft shell (which won't be warm
enough to wear all winter, unfortunately)

The clouds moved in for Sunday, making the light very flat.  We didn't get any new snow that day - although we did get a storm that brought arctic temperatures and about 18" of powder to the mountains by the end of Tuesday - so we opted out of skiing.  Laundry, cleaning the house, baking cookies and watching Arrested Development reruns finished off our long Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

h on the hill

H's work quieted down enough that he was able to take the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off.  After doing the last minute grocery shopping (he reported that the store was not crowded at 7 a.m. and all the staff were very friendly and helpful), he took his telemark skis up to Alta.  The sparsely-populated trails were about the same as it had been on Sunday (due to no new snow) but the visibility was much, much better (due to no fog).

Even the EBT was pretty on Wednesday

He and his tele skis went back up again on Thanksgiving as I begged off after having run my little turkey trot.  Again: no new snow, scarcely any skiers and bright, gorgeous blue skies.  His legs were pretty tired by Thursday night after two consecutive days on those teles and he announced that he would be back on alpine skis for whatever skiing we did over the long weekend.  Fair enough.

Thanksgiving self-portrait

Friday, November 29, 2013

thanksgiving 2013

Despite very generous invitations to Maine, New York and California, we decided to stay in Utah for Thanksgiving this year, meaning it was just H, me and B for the holiday and our own, peculiar holiday traditions.

I had signed up again for the Cold Turkey 6K Run; for the last six weeks I've been practicing running uphill at the gym.  Thanksgiving morning came bright and sunny (although a little bit inversion-y due to the high pressure system that's been locked in place over the valley for the last week), with temperatures in the high 30s - perfect for a road race.  We got up to the capitol at about 8:45 a.m. and worked our way through the crowd to the start line.  This really is such a fun race.  Everyone is mellow and happy and looking forward to the extra slices of pie that running nearly four miles will afford us.

Chilly in the shade

The course was familiar: run from the capitol to City Creek Canyon, uphill along the canyon for 1 mile to the turnaround, back down the canyon and then continue the descent through Memory Grove to the finish.  It took my legs a little while to warm up - and my hands too as I wore my gloves until the turnaround - but once we started up the canyon, I felt pretty good.  I kept my eye on a girl in a green tanktop, planning to keep up with her.  I actually passed her right before the turnaround but then she stretched out her legs for the descent.  I managed to keep her in sight but didn't stay with her.  The uphill portion felt better than the downhill, surprising; the downhill seemed long.  But I managed to put a little bit of speed on for the finish and felt great with how I ran.  I don't have the results yet but H said that I came in about six minutes before he expected to see me (hence no photo of the finish).  I'd like to think that this was my best time. [Updated: It wasn't, by about 3 seconds.]

Much warmer after the race

The winners of the race (one guy and one girl, each of whom finished well under 30 minutes) each got a smoked turkey and a $100 gift certificate to Log Haven.  I got a couple of cups of hot cider and a sense of satisfaction - everyone was happy.

H had once again called a bunch of bars, hoping to find some open for a post-race beer.  Most of the places he called were closed for the day, several weren't opening until 11 a.m. or later, and he even found two - the Barbary Coast (4242 S. State St., Murray) and Uncle Bart's (837 S, Main St., SLC) - that claimed to be open at 10 a.m.  We drove by those two places, however, and they were pretty sketchy so we decided to just head home.  I love dive bars.  I don't so much like scary bars.

The rest of the day continued to be as mellow and pleasant as the start.  H went up to Alta for a couple of hours and when we got back, we made a carb-heavy Thanksgiving dinner together: chicken pot pie, mashed potatoes, green beans, my grandma's stuffing and pumpkin pie.  The chicken pot pie was good and I finally got the stuffing right this time after several years of too much sage/too dry/etc.  H makes really good smashed potatoes too - I had seconds.  Add some beer, some wine, some football and some Arrested Development reruns and you've got a nice evening.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Race results (and history)
2013:  35:44.40, 7 out of 24 in age group, 243/682 overall
2012:  n/a (Thanksgiving in California)
2011:  35:41.33, 249th out of 656 overall
2010:  37:22.76 (course changed due to ice/uphill finish), top half of finishers
2009:  35:53.32, top half of finishers

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

like pea soup

When we woke up on Sunday, we immediately checked Alta's webcams, noting with ski-snob-dom that it was all socked in with clouds up there.  So we puttered around for the morning, lingering over breakfast and periodically checked the webcams.  At 10:45 a.m., the clouds broke to reveal blue skies and sunshine.  We threw on our ski stuff, jumped in the truck and headed up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta ... where the clouds had moved back in and were seemingly getting lower by the minute.


We were already up there, though, so we thought we might as well take some runs, flat light be damned.  The snow - old snow, nothing new yet - was softer than it had been the day before, and that was nice, almost spring skiing conditions.  We went up Collins and over the ridge to Sugarloaf where it was really tough visibility.  On the chairlift, we could see the chair in front of us but no further; down on the runs, it was extremely disconcerting to be skiing without really seeing.  I was grateful that it wasn't crowded so that we didn't have to dodge other skiers.

Floating in a sea of white

We shifted to ski off the Collins chair after a while, and after stopping in for a snack at Watson's Shelter.  The snow was holding up amazingly well, given how little there is.  There were a few small stones floating around on some of the runs but we didn't ding our skis too badly.  Towards the end of the day, we even ventured off-piste a bit when H found a snow-filled gully.  It was bumped up just slightly - and I quickly realized that it was WAY too early in the season for my poor legs to be doing ANY bumps, soft or not.  That's okay.  I'll get there.

Monday, November 25, 2013

back on the boards

There was no overnight snow to greet us Saturday morning for the first day of my ski season, just partly sunny skies, cool temperatures (mid 20s) and very strong winds.  We got up in time to stand in line for the opening of the Collins chairlift, listening to Ski Patrol shooting off avalanche control blasts in the distance (although what they were shooting we couldn't imagine - wind drifts, maybe). 

When we got to the top of the chair, we paused on the ridge between the front side (back to Collins) and the back side (down to Sugarloaf) and the wind gusts were so strong coming up from the Sugarloaf side that I nearly got knocked over.  It wasn't as bad on the other side of the ridge - even the Sugarloaf chair was okay - and we skied on that side for a while.  It was cold enough that they had the snow guns going in places and the snow was very firm and pretty fast.  

You could see for miles 
from the top of Sugarloaf

We stayed on Sugarloaf for quite a while.  There's really just one run open (Devil's Elbow), although there are a couple of options off the top of the chair and a couple of options down towards the bottom.  There's off-piste stuff open too but coverage is thin and it's not worth risking your skis or your knees this early in the season.  After a number of runs there, we took the EBT back to the top of Collins chair and skied there for a bit.  Again, the ungroomed stuff is bony and you have to pick your way down.  While I stuck to Mambo/Meadow/Corkscrew, H ventured off and made his way through lower West Rustler/Race Course Saddle, which beat his legs up pretty well.

The clouds started to fill in around 12:30 p.m., rendering the light flat.  That, plus the fact that we were hungry and had not planned to eat up at the mountain, made it an easy decision to call it a day.  My first-day legs were tired, my toes were cold and I was happy as could be.  Despite the less than hoped-for conditions, it felt great to be skiing again.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

2013-2014 opening day at alta

Seven months.  That's how long H has been waiting to get back on skis again.  Over the last month or so we've been edging ever closer, picking up new goggles, getting boots adjusted and skis tuned, getting pictures taken for new season passes, running around the house trying to remember where we'd stashed all the gear when the season ended last spring.  Finally, finally, Alta's opening day arrived: Friday, November 22, 2013, two days after Snowbird and over a week after Brighton and Solitude.

I went to work on Friday.  The mountains have gotten over 75" to date, which has settled to around 30".  That's a good start - but not good enough for me to use a precious vacation day.  H, of course, took the day off.  At 8:30 a.m. I got a text from him: "First in the singles line" with the following photo:

Just minutes before opening

I was a little astounded that he'd be standing in line 45 minutes before the lifts opened; he pointed out that he'd been waiting seven months (as previously noted) and what's another 45 minutes compared to that?  I couldn't argue with him.  It was totally the right move on his part too because not only was he first in the singles line, he ended up on the very first chair to be loaded when they started turning the lift.

View from the first chair on opening day

Scoring the first chair is a big coup for crazy skiers and people get to the mountain extra early just to be first in line.  But Alta is Alta and they're just a little funkier than most places:  the people who had lined up extra early to get the first chair ceded those rights without a fuss when the Alta lifties wanted to put Naomi, a 92 year old woman who has been skiing at Alta since 1965, on the first chair.  Because she was skiing alone, the lifties put the first three singles on the chair with her - which is how H ended up on the first chair on opening day.  He also ended up on Alta's Instagram account/Facebook page, waving at the camera (the second picture is of the folks who would have been first chair except for giving it up to the 92 year old).

The 92 year old has the white helmet 
and pink skis.  92!!

He skied until 12:30 p.m., mostly on Collins and a little on Sugarloaf, until the wind picked up, bringing in clouds and making the light flat.  The skiing was "fair," and about what he expected for the snow we've gotten thus far.  It's cold enough for them to run the snow-guns too, for what it's worth, but a bunch of big ol' natural storms is what we really need.  Because after seven months, we're really ready to ski.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

still grand

Much to H's and my delight, a decently-sized snowstorm moved through the Wasatch Front this weekend.  It started Friday afternoon and continued through Saturday night, leaving about sixteen inches up at the ski resorts.  It also left us with glorious blue skies and bright sunshine for Sunday - and after the last couple of weekends of not doing much, I was determined to get outside and enjoy it.  H decided not to hike, preferring to get another road ride in before winter completely takes over, but that fazed me not at all and I headed up to Millcreek Canyon to have a go at Grandeur Peak.

Looks like winter

Grandeur Peak (6.0 miles RT) was one of the early hikes that we did upon moving here (it's also the one that we intended to do a few weeks ago).  When we did it before, it was early summer, hot and sunny.  This time, mid-November, it was still sunny but it was mid-30s in the shade and low 40s in the sunshine.  There were 4-6 inches of snow on the ground, from top to bottom, and since I was not the first person up the trail that day, there was a nicely packed path for me to follow.  Packed snow is one of my favorite hiking surfaces: gentle on the legs, even underfoot and fast for descending.

Pretty day for a hike

The first mile is well-shaded by trees and follows a stream that was flowing pretty well due to the recent precipitation.  After that, you come out of the trees and follow long switchbacks up the exposed hillside.  The climb is steady but fairly gradual here, and although I got hot in the bright sunshine, I made good time climbing, passing three different hiking groups (totaling seven hikers and four dogs).

The summit is thataway

The switchbacks ended at a saddle with a nice view, but that wasn't the top so I kept going.  After passing those hikers, the trail was much less packed down, so my feet were wet at this point.  The trail got steeper here, and the footing a little more treacherous.  The views from the top were well worth it, however.  It was clear enough to see out past the Stansbury Mountains to the west as well as the Uintas in the east - it was great to see snow on all the hills again.

All natural tree-flocking

I was a bit chilled for the first part of the descent, so I moved as quickly as I could, glissading a little in the steep sections.  Once I got back to the switchbacks below the saddle, it was a different story.  Although I hadn't been up there that long, that nice packed snow trail had melted in the direct sun, leaving a slippery, muddy slush.  My feet got completely soaked and I slipped to one knee a couple of times.  It was pretty terrible to walk in - not that it bothered any of the very happy dogs I met.   It was still pretty slick down in the trees for the very last section of the trail but it wasn't as wet and for that I was grateful.

Looking east towards the Uintas

Back at the car I changed clothes and shoes quickly - if I could have wrung out my boots I would have - glad that I'd thought to bring dry pants and socks.  The canyon road was busy with people coming and going and while I was sitting there, drinking my post-hike beer, at least three cars pulled in with people and dogs headed towards the trail I was just on.  Seems I wasn't the only one happy to get out on a sunny Sunday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the easy way to 11,000 feet

Looking at Baldy from Hidden Peak

It was absolutely gorgeous in the valley on Sunday.  After a leisurely morning (and early afternoon) of bacon and eggs and house chores, we decided to head up to Snowbird for their last Customer Appreciation Days.  As before, we brought some non-perishable food items which we exchanged for two free tram tickets and rode to the top of Hidden Peak.  Since it was a Sunday, it wasn't quite as busy as when we did this the last time, and although it was chilly, the sun was out and the wind was negligible.

View towards American Fork

We brought some beers with us and found a spot to sit on some cribworks, looking to the east out over Mineral Basin.  We weren't the only ones who'd had that idea: a small group was having wine and cheese on the picnic table by the tram landing; and another couple was perched on the same cribworks, enjoying wine in their stainless steel and plastic wine goblets.

Sugarloaf and the backside of Devil's Castle

The views were pretty spectacular and we were able to watch folks hiking along the snowcat track below us, as well as people up on the summits of Baldy and Sugarloaf, just across the way at Alta.  We drank the last of our Wyoming-strength beers, tipping out a few drops to the snow gods, asking them to bring a lot of the white stuff to our Wasatch mountains.  As much as we were enjoying the late fall sunshine, it's nearing winter and it's time for some snow.

The last can of Pako's

Sunday, November 10, 2013


We're inching toward ski season - although not very quickly, since there are no snowstorms in the five day forecast right now -and both Brighton and Solitude have opened already.  It looks okay but I'm still not willing to pay $39 to battle for territory on four bunny slopes.  I'll wait, thanks.

While we're waiting, we're not doing that much, given that the hiking trails are all snowed over and it's pretty cold for mountain biking (because I'm a wuss).  Instead, this weekend we did a bunch of errands, including picking up H's boots which had been in the shop for a fit adjustment, buying skis and ski socks and boot covers and trying to find a beer fridge.  I went for a run to practice my hills (I will walk up hills and ski down hills all day but I really don't like running them), ending up overdressed for the uphill portion but comfortable for the downhills.

Monkey bread - right before we tore into it

I also did some baking because I love to bake, although I'm not particularly accomplished at it, and it's now cool enough that turning the oven on doesn't make the house uncomfortably hot.  At H's request, I made monkey bread - which is so yummy but also the very definition of "empty calories" and then tried my hand at challah, a braided egg bread.  I think the challah was my first attempt at an active yeast bread and I think it came out okay: it baked maybe a little too long, although it wasn't burned, and I clearly need practice at braiding.  Still, it's kind of fun to have home-baked bread with your dinner.

A moist, dense crumb, if a little dark on the crust

Sunday, November 3, 2013

shoulder season

Posting has been light around here lately because outdoors activities have been a little light - I didn't go MTBing the entire month of October! that's terrible! - due to the vagaries of Utah's autumnal weather.  You can have clear and warm, or clear and cold, or raining and cold, or snowing and cold, or just overcast and cold ... and the trick is to sync up your preferred activities with the weather.

This last weekend was a perfect example.  Saturday was mostly glorious with clear skies, abundant sunshine and mild temperatures.  But since the weather was due to change, we couldn't really get out and enjoy it because this was possibly the last chance we had to put the yard away for the winter.  We raked, mowed, edged, cleaned out the gutters, pulled weeds and cleaned out tomato pots.  After the chores were done, we swung by the Wasatch Powder House to pick up our Alta season passes (new photos, thank goodness) and then headed up Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Snowbird was having "Customer Appreciation Days" and, like last year, if you brought cans of non-perishable food, to be donated to the Utah Food Bank, you got a free tram ride.  And who doesn't like a free tram ride?

Looking east from the top of Hidden Peak

It was pretty busy up at the top of Hidden Peak, with lots of families and couples milling about in various degrees of appropriate clothing.  There was a decent amount of snow up top - over my hiking boots in spots - and the wind was picking up, bringing in the low pressure system from the west.  An ambitious young couple had brought lunch to eat at one of the picnic tables; but since they didn't think to bring warm jackets as well, their picnic was a non-starter.  From the tram, we saw quite a few tracks in the snow: not just deer and coyotes but also skiers and snowboarders, folks eager enough to get out there that they were willing to hike and skin up above the snow line.  Good for them!  But I'll wait until Alta's chairs start turning, thank you.

Snow starting to accumulate under Little Cloud chair

It was clouded up by the time we started heading back down the canyon and the wind really picked up into the evening, bringing the last of the leaves down from our tree and ruining the neatly-raked lawn we'd been so proud of.  Sunday morning: snow down in the valley.  It didn't last but the clouds settled into the Wasatch mountains - and that means that ski season is just around the corner.

Monday, October 28, 2013

weekend happenings

This past weekend I went down to Phoenix to see my two best girl friends, leaving H and B to fend for themselves.  They did pretty well on their own, I think.  While I was sitting under palm trees, drinking wine, H managed to, among other things, get his ski boots adjusted and his hair cut, take two road rides and one MTB ride, go out for breakfast, try a new restaurant, take B for a walk in City Creek Canyon and watch the sun set from the Living Room.  Here are a few photos from the weekend's adventures:

Chipotle steak wrap at Gracie's

Enjoying the walk up City Creek Canyon

Enjoying a drink after the walk up City Creek Canyon

BYO G&Ts to the Living Room

View of the sunset from the Living Room

Friday, October 25, 2013


After our hike up to the top of Sundance Resort, we were pretty hungry.  I'd packed a little bit of cheese and crackers in the cooler with our beers but from the rumblings of our tummies, it was clear that wasn't going to be enough.  H made the suggestion of getting BLTs from the resort's deli and I thought that was a brilliant idea.  There are a couple of sit-down restaurants at the resort, as well as the Owl Bar, but there's also a little general store/deli where you can get soups, sandwiches and wraps.

The BLT is really the way to go - unless you don't like bacon.  Served on thick, toasted white bread and spread with a garlic aioli, this sandwich has a couple of slices of tomato, a couple of pieces of mesclun mix and more bacon than you can possibly imagine on a BLT, all for just $7.  It is, to my mind, the finest BLT I have ever had.

That's a half sandwich right there. 
OMG that's good.

We took these excellent sandwiches outside to a park bench and devoured them in the afternoon sunshine.  (I think everyone who walked by gave those sandwiches double-takes.)  I count that as a pretty fantastic autumn day: good hiking, terrific scenery, cold beer and spectacular sandwiches.  Can't ask for much more than that.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Picking hikes in October is a little tricky because of the deer hunt.  This last Saturday we decided it'd probably be safe to go down to Sundance Resort and hike up to the very top of the ski mountain, Arrowhead Summit (8,250 ft.).  It's in-between season at Sundance right now and all the signs for the hiking/MTBing trails had been taken down; we'd hoped to go out to Stewart Falls first and then ease on up to the summit, but we had trouble finding the trail head.  We knew where we wanted to go, however, and figured the access road would connect us with other trails that would get us there.

Big white wall, big blue sky

It was a stunningly beautiful day as we started up, the white-clad backside of Timpanogos looming overhead in the bright blue sky.  Although the temperatures were cool (high 40s), it was warm enough in the sun, especially since we wasted no time gaining elevation.  We took the access road up to connect with the Black Forest trail, which clung to the steep hillside through a broad swath of slide debris, then switchbacked up some aspen-ringed meadows.  At the saddle, we got back on an access road for the long, steep slog to the top, pausing for breath and the views at the top of the Flat Head lift.  The last push to the top of Arrowhead was very steep and it was a little dismaying to see a couple of hunters up there, cozy in their pickup truck, checking out the opposite hillside with scopes - we'd worked a lot harder to get up there than they had.

Pausing in a scenic flat spot

There is a wicked cute little log cabin ski lodge up on top of Arrowhead Summit, complete with a deck, beer on tap and wooden furniture (it wasn't open but we peeked in the windows).  The wind was brisk and we layered up to enjoy the great 360-degree views, including through Provo Canyon to the Utah Valley on one side, and out over Deer Creek Reservoir on the other.  The terrain looked pretty good for skiing too: Bishop's Bowl looked like it would be lots of fun.

Deer Creek Reservoir down below

We got down a lot faster than we'd gotten up (deciding against the Stewart Falls loop since that was the general area those hunters had been scouting) and our knees were complaining about the steep bits by the time we got back to the base.  A couple of beers in the parking lot seemed in order as we changed.  We were hungry too - but that deserves its very own post.

Scary Halloween decorations!

Hike stats:  total distance: 6.89 miles; hiking time: 2 hrs. 28 min.; not-moving time: 38 min.; average speed: 2.8 m.p.h.; elevation climbed: 2,349 ft.; wild turkeys spotted: approx. 22.