Sunday, January 19, 2014

more open terrain

After last weekend's treat of a storm, we're settling into another dry spell, with the inversion building up in the valley and the mountains warming up in the bright sunshine.  We took our time getting up to Alta Saturday morning, hoping to give the snow - which would have frozen up hard overnight - some time to soften.  Temperatures were due to be in the high 30s-low 40s through the day but it was 22 when we got on the Collins chair.  I was wearing my soft shell with a light fleece and base layer and my mid-weight long johns in anticipation of the warmer temperatures; as a result, I got pretty cold on that first chair ride.

If you can't have a snow storm, you might as well have a nice day

We did a couple of runs off the Sugarloaf chair to get our legs moving.  The groomers were in decent shape, fast but not too hard.  It got busy quickly, however, and we then moved over to the Supreme chair.  The crowds were hit-or-miss there: we took the singles line several times but also got to ride together quite a bit when the corral was sparsely populated.  After a couple of groomers there, we hiked into Catherine's Area, heading to our favorite spot way, way in there - it's a long hike in but the trees protect it from the sun.  We paused for a bit on the ridge, looking down towards the Brighton side, observing a number of backcountry skiers skinning their way up and gliding down the untracked snow.  We dropped into our favorite spot and it was great: deep, soft and chunky.  We skied out and did it again.  It was great again the second time.

On Catherine's Ridge, Brighton side in the background

During lunch we overheard someone saying that Devil's Castle was open for the first time all season.  Since we've been basically skiing the same trails over and over all season, we thought we should give it a try, riding up the Sugarloaf lift and side-stepping up to the Devil's Castle traverse.  Ski Patrol had only opened the first third or so, due to potential avalanche danger and exposed rocks further in.  The traverse went quickly - the snow was sugary which was good for gliding - and we dropped in above Cecret Lake (Sugar Mountain area).  Although it had been tracked out, the snow was fantastic: deep, soft and chunky.  Devil's Castle never gets any sun (which is why you can usually find a teensy patch of snow holding on for dear life on the Apron in August) and so never ices up.  We skied out across the outflow of the lake, cut across to Devil's Elbow and went back to the lift to do it again and then again.  It was that good, plus it was great fun to ski something we haven't had access to yet.

Finally back in the Castle

We also scooted around the EBT and did a run in East Greely.  There had been a couple of slides leaving big debris fields so we skied down between the slides, taking Glitch or Glatch back around to the lift.  The snow was not quite as good here, a little more beaten down, but it was still surprisingly good.  We next switched to the front side for a couple of runs - the Ballroom is well-skied but holding its own, although the traverse is a little exciting - and then my legs called it quits.

Obligatory selfie

We were quite pleased with our ski day.  The conditions were so much better than we expected and it was less crowded than we thought it would be, given the long weekend.  And the day was simply gorgeous: even though we desperately want it to snow (and snow and snow and snow and snow), it's hard to complain about spectacular bluebird skies.

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