Sunday, April 27, 2014

timing is everything

And weather - weather is everything too.  We've really been getting hosed on our late season spring skiing lately.  Last Sunday was spectacular but other than that, we've been getting beautiful sunny days M-F and drizzly, windy, cloudy, snowy (in the mountains) weather on the weekends.  We've hit our goals for ski days this season - H wanted 50 and I wanted 40; we're at 51 and 43, respectively right now - so we have decided that it's okay not to go skiing when it's drizzly/cloudy/windy/snowy now that it's late April.  Alta and Snowbird (the only two ski resorts still open) actually got hit with a big storm this weekend, garnering over a foot of new snow from Friday night through Sunday morning.  But we looked at the webcams (socked in) and the weather forecast (30s and wet) and went out to breakfast instead.

We tried a new-to-us place, Penny Ann's Cafe (1810 S. Main Street, SLC).  The restaurant is tiny but has a nice shaded patio for outdoor seating in warmer weather.  We waited ten or so minutes and got seats at the counter.  Tables were turning over quickly and it was busy, even well before 9 a.m.  The staff was very friendly and attentive, even if it looked like they were overstaffed by two or three people.  The menu is extensive although not overwhelming, with lots of omelet options, several offerings with chile verde (pork chile verde skillet, smothered burrito and breakfast nachos!) and the house-special sour cream pancakes.  H went with the Washington omelet (bacon, ham, sausage and pepper jack cheese) and while I was tempted by several possibilities - including the sausage gravy and biscuits and the fried scone (!!), I went with the corned beef hash and two eggs over medium.  It wasn't the spiciest corned beef hash I've had but it was served with a nice crispy crust from the grill; the eggs were cooked perfectly, not overdone as "over medium" is often served.

I did see a couple of customers with pie for breakfast, including one guy with a huge slice of still-warm banana cream.  Apparently Penny Ann's is known for their pies and next time we go there, that's what I'm having.  I haven't had pie for breakfast in ages and it's high time to remedy that.  I'm not sure how I'll ever be able to choose - dark chocolate mango, coconut cream, Kentucky bourbon ... - but I'm willing to try more than one slice if that's what it takes.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

closing day #1

Finally we got a weekend spring skiing day!  Of course, it didn't come about until Closing Day #1, in which Alta is no longer open every day but only F-S-S until Closing Day #2 on May 4th, but still.  When we got up there, the parking lot was still sparsely populated - there were a few souls starting the tailgating early but not many, not yet - but we knew that wouldn't last.

Top o' Sugarloaf selfie

As before, we went over to Sugarloaf, taking our first run past Supreme just for old times' sake.  Then we just skied, run after run, all over that part of the resort, including venturing one last time into Devil's Castle (which was softer and more skiable than we thought it might be).  There were a few clouds but the sky stayed mostly clear; it was pretty warm and we were glad that we'd shed a layer before starting out.  We had lunch on the deck at Alf's; even though the grill was closed (this was the last weekend for Alf's Lodge too) they were cooking burgers outside.

Dude getting ready to hit that jump

There were a number of costumed folks skiing Sugarloaf but we figured the major crazy would be on the front side, so we moved over to Collins.  As we were standing in the corral, we heard some bottle rockets going off from out in Wildcat, and once we were on the chair, we looked over and saw crowds of people clustered around the Punch Bowl.  We skied back down and rode up Wildcat and into the party.  Tons of people festooned the ridges, most wearing costumes and partaking of beverages.  They had built at least six jumps (including one with a tunnel entrance) and a wall; an announcer was MCing the action as skiers came down and launched themselves.

Same dude, inverted

It was awesome.  Everyone was in a good mood, reveling in the sunshine, hucking snowballs at people riding by on the chairlift, cheering and jeering at the competitors.  We saw all kinds of costumes (including a gorilla, a sparkly turkey, two bananas, women in bikini tops, men in bikini tops, lots of 80s gear, girls wearing Alta stickers as pasties, Batman and Robin ...), folks passing around a bong made out of a snowball, lots and lots of PBRs, at least one hibachi.  The ski jumpers looked like total reprobates but they were almost all very, very good skiers - including the two guys who did their run, complete with back flips, totally bare-naked.  They got the loudest cheer from the crowd, in case you were wondering.

Wildcat scene.  Naked skiers not pictured.

We couldn't really top that scene, so after watching for a while longer, we did a few more runs before calling it a day around 3 p.m.  We tried to get a beer on the Goldminer's Daughter deck but they had closed before we got there.  We shrugged, vowed to remember to bring our own next time, and headed down canyon.  Yay spring skiing!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

in which we get a little bit of spring

We weekend warriors have been getting the short end of the stick with respect to the spring skiing lately.  The weather has been beautiful Monday through Friday and then clouding up for the weekend.  Case in point, our not skiing two Saturdays ago because of the weather (small storm that didn't bring much snow but kept the visibility to practically nil) and also our not skiing last Sunday because of the weather (small storm that didn't bring much snow but was blustery and wet).  This past Saturday rolled around and we couldn't stand not skiing again; H checked the weather forecast carefully and determined that the day would start out sunny, with clouds moving in for the afternoon.  That settled it and we were up and at 'em without delay.

After this weekend, Alta is closing M-Th and as we pulled into the parking lot, you could see why: even though we got up there after the lifts opened, the lot was less than one-third full.  The sun was out, with a few clouds floating around, and the temperature was in the low 40s.  We hopped on Collins and rode out of the base, heading over to Sugarloaf first thing.  The Supreme lift closed last weekend and Sugarloaf will be closed after this weekend - gotta ski that terrain while we can.  First run we swung by Supreme (confirming that yes, it was closed), just to warm up the legs.  The snow was pretty soft on the groomers but a little crusty off-piste and iced-up in the shade.  With the sun out (at least for a little while), that would soften things up quickly.

While the sun was still out

We made a lot of runs since we were (a) skiing runs and not off-piste and (b) skiing right back onto the lift with no waiting.  The clouds gathered as the morning wore on, however, and by noon we couldn't see the sun anymore.  Skiing the same runs over and over again was quite a bit less fun in the flat light so we moved over to the front side for a couple of runs before calling it quits.  Half a spring skiing day is better than none (but we had our fingers crossed for more sunshine for Sunday).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

challenge[r] accepted

As happens so often in the early and late ski seasons, we were on the fence about skiing this morning.  The forecast was for warm temperatures (high 40s-low 50s), with increasing clouds and possibility of snow/rain and thunder after noon.  We hemmed and hawed for a while and then threw our gear in the truck and headed up to Alta.  It was a demo day up there, with a bunch of ski companies displaying their wares (I have a hankering for a pair of Soul Poles myself, but they're far too expensive for frickin' ski poles), but the parking lot was only about a third full when we looked back from the Collins lift.  Alta is starting to close down - this is the last weekend for the Supreme lift and next weekend will be the last for the Sugarloaf lift; after 4/20, Alta will only be open Fri-Sat-Sun until 5/4, which is closing day - and it makes sense as they can't be selling many day tickets.  If it had been bright blue skies and sunshine, there would have been more folks there, but it wasn't and there's weren't.

Before the clouds closed in

We did one run off of Sugarloaf before moving over to Supreme, which is where we would stay for the whole day.  With the sun peeking in and out of the gathering clouds, it took a while for the snow to warm up.  By 11 a.m., however, most of the groomers had softened nicely although off-piste was still a little crusty.  We did laps on Supreme's intermediate groomers (3 Bears, Rock N'Roll, Big Dipper) before settling on Challenger for numerous runs.  Challenger is usually one of my least favorite runs as it tends to get super-bumped up and skied off between the giant moguls or, alternatively, completely skied off since it's a popular trail.  Today, however, it skied really well, softening into creamy mashed potato consistency and never getting too sticky.  We did it a number of times - and I can't tell you the last time I happily did it more than once (other than when I was just using it to access gates into Supreme Bowl.

Things started to get sloppy after lunch, resulting in "red light/green light" snow (as one lifty described it) that slowed us down and grabbed our skis so that we lurched through the sticky spots.  Catherine's Area had been open all day but we waited until after lunch to go in there, waiting for the snow to soften.  We went all the way in, to the Catherine's Pass overlook, and cruised through Last Chance.  I had a very difficult time turning - the off-piste snow was heavy and grabby and my short skis struggled to turn; H did better with his stronger legs and longer, wider skis.  The last pitch out skied well but we figured we didn't have to go in there again.  If they don't open Catherine's on Sunday, that will have been our last run in there (for probably eight months) - not great but good enough.

After the clouds closed in

We took a few more runs as the snow got stickier and stickier.  At our old mountain in Maine, spring conditions tend towards corn snow which is wet but easy to ski in.  Out here, where the snow is drier (and not so much man-made), we get mashed potato-consistency which is soft but sticky and very heavy.  As the clouds gathered, wreathing the surrounding peaks with falling snow and/or rain, we figured we'd had enough for the day.  It had exceeded our expectations and we'd gotten a lot of runs in ... and then we hightailed it out of there before we got drenched.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

way, way better than expected

If you like to ski this time of year, you have to be flexible due to the vagaries of spring conditions and weather.  For instance, we were on the fence Saturday morning, hemming and hawing and checking Alta's webcams and staring out the window up the canyon; we ended up not going, instead spending the day doing laundry, working on our computers, making peanut butter cookies.  That meant we had to go skiing on Sunday: that would be ski day #40 for me and #48 for H.

A little storm had settled in over the Wasatch Front (the last for a while, as a high pressure system is due to move in for the next week), which would drop seven inches total and about four inches from Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  We got into the storm as we passed Snowbird, heading up the canyon road; although it was only supposed to bring a scant inch, it snowed steadily all day up at Alta - and sometimes quite hard.  The resort was sparsely attended, people either not interested in April skiing, at church or put off by the prospect of skiing in a snowstorm.  Indeed, it didn't feel at all like spring: we were in midwinter the whole time we were up there, except that the temperatures were 20-30 F instead of 10-20.  The visibility was less than ideal, with heavy cloud cover landing low on the mountains.  The light was very flat, whether we were skiing in the clouds or the snow squalls.

Looked like the end of the world
on Sugarloaf lift today

As we moved from Collins to Sugarloaf, H immediately declared that he was using the wrong skis.  We really didn't know what to expect snow conditions-wise and he had worn his Volkls, expecting hard pack.  The groomers were plenty soft, however, and once we moved over to Supreme and started skiing in Catherine's Area, we realized that there was quite a lot of snow stacked up in there - after our first run through Catherine's, I admitted that I - also on my Volkls - was also on the wrong skis.  The snow in Catherine's Area was fantastic, deep and not too heavy, clearly not what we thought we'd find.  We did runs in there all morning and then, after lunch, went back and did more Catherine's runs until ski patrol closed the area at 3 p.m.

Catherine's Area - woohoo!

Our legs did get fatigued: since we weren't wearing our powder skis, it took a lot more effort to turn in the deep stuff.  I had to stick to groomers for the last couple of runs we took off Supreme, although H opted for playing in the trees near 3 Bears.  The day's snow was starting to pile up and the wind picked up in the afternoon, driving the graupel painfully into our faces.  Ski patrol started closing avalanche-prone areas like Rock-n-Roll and the Backside; to ski out, we had to ski through the bunny slope and drag across the rope tow since they closed the EBT too.  We got back to the truck just before 4 p.m., amazed that we'd skied that late and amazed at how good the snow had been.  This day just got added to the list of best days of the season - a pretty exclusive list (this past Monday, two days when my brother was here and one more) this season thus far.  That it was a complete surprise only made it more fun.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

annual ski guests, 2014 edition: day 3

The storm that got such a late start on Sunday really delivered overnight, leaving an additional 11" of the goods (13" storm total), all of which fell after the lifts stopped turning.  Because of this lovely layer of new snow just waiting to be tracked out, not to mention the bluebird skies, Monday morning at Alta was quite a bit busier than it would have been otherwise.  We were there too, powder skis on and ready to shred.

The first couple of turns in Gunsight

H suggested that we try a frontside run first, before it got completely trampled, but as we cruised out on the High Traverse, he saw the sign saying that Gunsight was open and headed up there instead.  Both C and I were skeptical - Gunsight without a warm-up run first? - but the run turned out to be fantastic.  We didn't get first tracks but it was stuffed full of soft, deep snow.  C took his first fall of the day with his first turn, burying the tips of his tele skis and somersaulting over them; he wiped out another three times on that run alone (and then I stopped counting but he fell a lot, all day, just not used to skiing in such deep powder).  Not to be outdone, I buried my own tip halfway down, but I would actually ski pretty well all day and only fall one other time.  H didn't fall at all, his powder skis carrying him through everything seemingly effortlessly.

C in motion, bottom of Gunsight

After skiing out of Gunsight, we went down and caught the Sunnyside lift to get back to the Sugarloaf lift.  From there, we skied around the EBT and went into Yellow Trail and East Greely, hoping to get a good run there before the sun baked the nice snow.  East Greely in particular was great: people had been in there but it wasn't chopped up too badly.  We could hear bombs going off (and see the smoke) across the valley in the Supreme Bowl and as we rode back up the lift, we could see that patrol had opened Catherine's Area.  We made a beeline for there and then pretty much stayed there all day.

C crashed out / me in motion, bottom of Gunsight

Skier traffic was pretty high into Catherine's but most folks didn't go much further than the So Long clearing, the first one you come to on the traverse.  As we hiked in there again and again, we consistently hiked further in, finding fantastic and untracked snow in the Snowshoe Hill and Last Chance areas.  C preferred skiing the narrow chutes and trees, liking the forced, quick turns, while I reveled in the wider glades.  H just skied everything.

C and me, both upright, East Greely

After lunch we did a run down Chartreuse Nose (chopped up but still deep in spots) and then went back to Supreme.  My legs were starting to fatigue and I stuck to a groomer as the guys went into a low chute in White Squaw.  The next run was back in Catherine's where C's telemark turns were taking a toll on his legs.  The clouds rolled in and the light went flat and yet the snow was too good to quit.  We finally skied out at 3 p.m., C's and my legs so cooked that we had to stop to rest even though we were taking a groomer.  This was C's last ski day of his trip and we did all we could do to show him a good time - having the weather cooperate and bring new snow for one of the best days of the season was pretty sweet.  It was a great visit - can't wait for next year!

Me, pausing and grinning, East Greely