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