Monday, January 13, 2014

managing expectations

Because of the very welcome storms that rolled into greater Salt Lake this week, Alta was reporting 24" of new snow by Saturday morning.  We figured that the resort would be way crowded with folks jonesing for the new snow, so we were on the road by 8:15 a.m. in the event there was a big line of cars snaking its way up Little Cottonwood Canyon.  We may have overestimated our fellow skiers' get-up-and-go-ness, however, as there was some steady traffic - but nothing like we expected and we pulled into an excellent parking place with 45 minutes until the lifts opened.  We went into the Goldminer's Daughter lodge to put on our stuff and wait until closer to opening.  There was a lull in the weather: partly sunny skies and mid 20s at the base at 8:45 a.m. and the parking lot did fill up, just not as early as we thought it would.

After some confusion getting through the gates at Collins, we rode the singles line up the mountain.  The sign on the ridge said that Supreme lift was closed, which wasn't surprising because Patrol would need to clear it for avalanches given the recent new snow.  Sugarloaf lift was turning so we skied down the backside of the ridge, cruising down to the base of Sugarloaf.  Unfortunately, even though the lift was turning it was not open - rime ice on the cables or some other mechanical issue.  This meant we had to ski all the way down the bunny slope and drag ourselves back across to Collins via the rope tow.  Ugh.

We did a run at Collins, H venturing into the off-piste stuff.  He came back out quickly, reporting, with some surprise, that it was kind of crusty on top.  We surmised that it was because of the gusty winds on Friday and hoped that wouldn't be the case across the mountain.  At the next Collins ride, we saw that the Supreme lift was open and we hightailed it over there.  Unfortunately, because the Sugarloaf lift was still closed, everyone who wasn't skiing Alta's front side was over there too; the singles line was possibly the longest we've seen, although still moving faster than the packed corral.  We stayed on Supreme, trying to find some soft snow.  A huge group of skiers clustered around the gate to Catherine's Area, waiting for Patrol to open it.  We decided not to wait with them, thinking that the stampede once the gate dropped would be awful.

After several runs (No. 9 Express, the Erosion Gullies, the trees by 3 Bears), the Catherine's gate was opened and the initial crush of skiers passed through.  We then ventured in.  Usually, when you go into Catherine's Area, you take your skis off for the first little steep hike.  Most people were sidestepping up that hill, which is exhausting.  We took our skis off ... and immediately learned why people were sidestepping with their skis on as we postholed up past our knees.  I walked in someone else's foot-holes and finally made it up to the traverse where we could put our skis back on, already panting and exhausted.  We followed the traverse across Snowshoe Hill to the Last Chance area and dropped into some untracked snow.  It was ... not great.  It was crusty on top - and on the really wind-packed areas I was able to stay on top of the crust - but when you broke through, it was very, very difficult to turn in.  We made our way across to one of our favorite areas and I picked my way down in someone else's tracks.  By the time we skied out and back to the lift, my legs were shaking.  H went back into Catherine's Area but I declined, doing a slow bumps run and yelling at my legs.

In Catherine's Area

They got the Sugarloaf lift running again around noon, taking the pressure off of Supreme.   After lunch we kept skiing at Supreme, then did a couple of runs off Sugarloaf, then moved to Collins for a couple runs there.  Here's the thing: our expectations for the day were way out of whack.  We thought we were going to find over two feet of fluffy powder.  What we got was wind-driven, wind-buffed snow, enough to cover lots of rocks and skied-off patches.  It wasn't bad, really, but it wasn't what we expected (and hoped for).  No big deal: another storm was moving in.

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