Sunday, February 16, 2014

exeunt pineapple express

After last weekend's wonderful storm moved out, we had a couple of days' break before the next system moved in.  This storm was slow but not particularly productive, leaving sixteen inches at Alta over the week.  This new snow was very wet and heavy, more like what California or the Pacific Northwest gets; the system was called an "atmospheric river" or a "pineapple express," laden with moisture from out over the Pacific ocean.  It was also warmer than normal, ending up at 45 at the base and over 30 at the summit; for the first time ever, I did not wear my boot covers in February and my toes never got cold.

This sort of weather does not bring the light, fluffy, blower powder for which Utah is famous, but it does bring a nice slab of solid snow that will be a good base for the next storm that moves in.  I agonized a bit over which skis to use - my trusty Volkls or my powder-loving Rossignols - but decided on my Volkls since they are good in everything except powder, and the snow we'd gotten over the last week was definitely not powder.  It would turn out to be the right decision.

This weekend was the start of school vacation week for a lot of schools so we figured it would be fairly busy.  We were a bit surprised, then, when we got up to Alta to find it less crowded than it had been last weekend.  After some thought it made sense, however: without fantastic overnight snow, the hardcore locals weren't coming out, and Saturdays tend to be travel days for tourists.  Sunday and Monday could be zoo-y - so we would take advantage of the short lift lines while we could.

As usual, we rode out of Collins and did some runs off Sugarloaf to start.  Although the snow was smooth and buttery, I felt very awkward, like I'd forgotten how to ski.  H plunged soon off-piste while I stayed on the groomers for a while, concerned that my short skis wouldn't do well off the trail.  He reported that he thought the conditions would be okay for me, so when he did a hike/run in the Keyhole, I jumped into the adjacent gully and followed him out through Glory Gulch.  Where the snow was untracked, it was great, dense enough that I rode on top, thick and creamy like skiing through cold buttercream frosting.  Where it was tracked up it was still okay, not as heavy as I had feared, and my little skis turned just fine.

Kind of a gray day out in Catherine's Area

We moved over to Supreme a short time later and stayed there for the rest of the day, even going back after lunch, doing run after run after run into Catherine's Area.  Because there weren't many locals skiing, and because tourists don't know how good Catherine's is (or don't want to do the work to get in there), we had great runs in there, many in untracked snow.  I was still skiing like a spaz and wasn't getting any style points but it was really fun.  H was struggling a little too.  He was favoring a stiff right leg and ended up falling three times (!), double-ejecting out of his skis twice (!!).  We blamed some of it on the flat light and heavy snow, but there was definitely some skier error in there too.  Fortunately there was nothing injured except perhaps a little pride.

When we started skiing, I figured we wouldn't last past 2:30 p.m. so I was surprised when we stuck it out until close to 4 p.m.  We drove home pleased with how unexpectedly good the skiing was ... but were apprehensive about the next day's conditions.  With the warm temperatures, the snow was really soft and would freeze solid overnight, making for tough skiing with western edges.  There was nothing left to do but wait and see.

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