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.