Wednesday, May 7, 2014

closing day

Alta's first closing day was April 20th was a gorgeous madhouse of a day.  Alta's second closing day, the real last day of the ski season, was Sunday, May 4th, and it was a little cooler, with more clouds than sun (unfortunately), and didn't have the rowdy ski jump competition party to rev up the crowds.  Still, the parking lot was nearly two-thirds full with several groups already tailgating when we drove in at 10:30 a.m.  There was live music at both the Collins base and Watson Shelter, kids were doing double back somersaults off a jump under the lift, there were plenty of costumes, and everyone was in a mellow mood.  There were even three more naked skiers!

This is why I love Alta so much: everyone there is so weird and mellow that no one even cares about naked skiers.  They got cheers from the chairlift, sure, but it was no big deal.  Everyone is weird at Alta.

Over by Supreme with Devil's Castle in the background

Our first several runs were pretty good.  There is still 100" of snow up there - melting and evaporating quickly - and the slightly cooler temperatures, cloud cover and constant breeze kept things from getting too sticky too quickly.  We did our regular lap across Sugarloaf, over to Supreme and down Sunnyside to catch the rope tow back to Collins; it went much better than Saturday since we could still get some glide out of our skis at that point.  Once it warms up enough and gets sticky, however, there's no going back.  My theory is that eastern resorts get corn snow in the spring because they do a lot of man-made snowmaking, which is much more granular.  I love skiing in corn snow: it's heavy but it slides and it doesn't get too sticky.  Out west, and especially at Alta where only 2% of their terrain is covered with man-made snow, the snow's crystals are much smaller.  This means light, fluffy powder when it falls ... and horribly sticky mashed potatoes when it warms up.  Many times today I almost went over the handlebars as my skis seized up in a sticky spot, halting all forward momentum.  This spring snow is very dense and heavy too - it's soft but it's difficult to turn in and despite having decent strength in my legs from skiing all winter, my quads were screaming by mid-afternoon.

View from Shoulder Traverse

With only Collins lift running (they did open the Wildcat lift for a couple of hours to take the pressure off Collins and we did one ride/run through there), we mostly played on the front side like we did on Saturday.  We did take a run out off of the Shoulder Traverse, under the Baldy chutes, where it was incredibly soft but actually turn-able.  The crowds thinned out as the afternoon wore on, as people got tired of skiing the mush and turned to tailgating instead; we figured there'd be a big rush after 4 p.m., though, as folks would be trying to get up and across the High Traverse for the traditional, final group run down High Rustler.

No blue skies for the last 2013/2014 Alta selfie

My legs couldn't last that long and our very last run was back through Sugarloaf again, cruising through the deep slush on Cecret Saddle and out Devil's Elbow, getting back to base at about 3 p.m.  We had a couple of farewell beers while we sat on the truck's tailgate, watching the partying going on around us.  It wasn't the best season - the lifties had a sign up apologizing for the "unpowder" this year - but we still had some pretty good days: our climb up and run down East Castle; the February weekend with my brother; the spring storm days in early April and March.  H ended up with 53 days and I had 45 (last year: 52 and 44, respectively) and we tried a couple of new ski resorts (Park City and Deer Valley).  It's always sad when the season ends but we figure that if we got to ski ALL the time, it wouldn't be so much fun.  Now we have summer (MTBing and hiking and camping) to look forward to ... and before we know it, it will be November and we'll be strapping on the boards again.

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