Sunday, March 16, 2014

it got better

The forecast for Saturday - and I checked it twice before deciding on my layers for the ski day - was sunny, low- to mid-30s and light winds as Friday night's storm left the area after dropping two inches of snow.  Perfect: early spring conditions, so dress lightly since you'll warm up off-piste.  As we drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta, we eyed the clouds suspiciously. There are no clouds in "sunny" and yet there they were, caught on the mountaintops, rolling gray and ominous overhead.  When we got out of the truck, it was 24 F at the base, 15 F at the summit, and the wind was howling.  We were not dressed for this and worse, hadn't brought extra layers just in case.  I did the best I could with hand warmers in my spring-weight mittens, my neck-up with my spring-weight soft shell and my boot covers, but I knew I was going to be cold.

It was so windy at the top of Collins that H suggested that we just head straight to Supreme, rather than taking a run or two on Sugarloaf.  Although the Supreme chair is slow, it is more protected and the Sugarloaf chair is no fun on a windy day.  We stayed huddled on Supreme all morning, grousing about how cold we were and how flat the light was.  The snow was pretty good, considering we'd only gotten two inches on top of the beaten-down base.  The snow was definitely wind-buffed and drifted, though, so in spots your skis would skid across a scraped-off patch only to run up against a drifted pile of puff.  We searched out the snow drifts, getting lucky in the trees and further out in Catherine's Area.  Looking for shady spots was key since the strong sun earlier in the week had softened the snow considerably, which then froze up overnight; with the cloud cover, the hardened snow was just not softening very quickly.

After lunch, Ski Patrol opened the lowest gate off Rock-n-Roll into the Apron Bench/Boulder Basin trees.  The clouds were breaking up, the sun was gaining strength and we were pretty much the only ones in there for our first three runs.  I really love it in there.  It isn't difficult skiing other than having to pick your way through the trees, but it's so different from what I grew up skiing, where you had to stay on the trails.  I can see what people love back-country skiing so much, out on your own, picking your own routes, not skiing over anyone else's tracks.  This is kind of like lift-served, in-bounds back-country.

You see that sky and you don't believe
me that it was miserable all morning

Despite our morning's grumbling about how we weren't going to ski all day because the conditions were so poor, the afternoon sun and mellow tree skiing worked their magic on us and we stayed out until 3 p.m.  I guess when there's only seven more weekends left in Alta's 2013/2014 ski season, it's hard to quit early.

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