Thursday, January 16, 2014

storm skiing

Sunday was about as different from Saturday as you could get.  The storm moved in Saturday night, putting five inches of snow on the ground by morning.  The temperatures dropped to about 17 at the base and 8 at mid-mountain; the winds were strong, gusting well over 40 m.p.h. and keeping the wind chill in negative numbers.  It would snow all day, which was fantastic, but the visibility was bad at best and the gusting winds created sporadic whiteout conditions.  As we stood in the singles line, waiting for Collins to open, snow peppering our faces in the wind and avalanche charges going off all around us, we thought, "Why are we doing this?"  Even though lots of other skiers thought the same thing and stayed home (we never ever waited in line after that first chair lift ride), the day would prove itself to us.

There was a Fitz-sighting as we waited in line at Collins!
(Photo credit: Joe Johnson, Alta)

When we got to the top of Collins, the wind was so strong that it almost pushed me over.  We plunged back off the ridge, coasting our way back down to Wildcat base.  Amazingly, the snow on boring old Mambo was very, very good.  It was blown off in a couple places, and several drifts, invisible in the flat light, nearly sent me ass over teakettle, but for the most part it was very good.  As we moved through the Collins line again, we saw our favorite Skier Services person, Martha.  She said hello and then told us that Sugarloaf just opened.  We thanked her and headed straight there as soon as we got off the lift.

Canyon road, approaching Alta

It took a long time for people to realize that Sugarloaf was open - in large part because you couldn't see the lift from the top of Collins - and we had some fantastic runs, first tracks down Devil's Elbow and Extrovert.  The top of Extrovert was tricky and I fell twice: once after hitting a huge puff of snow that I couldn't see (and then flailing around on my back like an overturned turtle) and then a little further down after skidding over an icy bump that the winds had uncovered.  We shifted to skier's left and the snow was deep and fantastic.  Much of the mountain never opened - they never even started Supreme up - but we had a fantastic day.  Yes, it was really cold (it wouldn't have been, except for that godawful wind) and the visibility was probably the worst I've ever skied (those whiteouts are scary because you can't see if you're about to hit someone or go off the edge of the trail into a ditch).  But it never got crowded and we kept finding good snow.  We did a bunch of runs down Chartreuse Nose/Chartreuse Slot and pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Pre-lunch ice beard

After lunch, I suggested that we check out the snow around the cabins off the Supreme Access trail.  We were the first ones in there (although interlopers followed soon afterwards) and it was so fun.  It isn't particularly difficult skiing, but you're following a creek bed through the evergreens in untracked, knee-deep powder, so it's awesome.  Also awesome: H got stuck at the bottom of the creek bed and had to drag himself out.  He'd been chilled when we started the run; by the time he had clawed his way out of the gully, he'd warmed right back up.  Despite my fatiguing legs, I felt like I was skiing better as the day went on.  The fact that we couldn't see anything had a lot to do with that: I am a visual skier and like to know what's coming so I can prepare for it; since the visibility was so bad today, I just had to relax my knees and go for it, trusting that my skis could handle what was underfoot.

Heading into the cabin trees

By 2:15 p.m., my little legs had had it.  The EBT was closed for avalanche danger so we had to ski out through the bunny slopes, which was just grueling with the flat pitch and strong wind coming up the hill.  We dragged ourselves out along the tow rope and I was really cold by the time we got to the truck.  The wind was slightly less at the base area, however, and it was hardly snowing; as we descended the canyon, it got brighter and brighter and the road was clear and nearly dry.  It seemed like the end of the world up there at the top of Sugarloaf lift but down in the valley, the sun was peeking through the clouds.  We almost didn't ski today because of the forecasted wind and low temperatures - since it was one of the best days of the season, I'm awfully glad we did.

No comments:

Post a Comment