Each year, as my first day back on the hill approaches, I realize how much I've forgotten over the sum - mer. Things like: where did I put my stash of hand-warmers? And: how long does it take me to get ready in the morning? And: which socks do I wear? And: what do I wear in general for the conditions? And (afterwards): Do my boots always hurt this much on the first day? Each year, without fail. This year, this past Saturday was my first day skiing for the 2014/2015 season and I grilled H unmercifully about the weather forecast and current conditions, determined to get my layering right the first time. We knew the storm was coming - everyone had been getting very excited about it for several days now - but it wasn't due to arrive in the mountains until the afternoon. Based on H's experience on Opening Day, we didn't think we were likely to be skiing into the afternoon so I dressed accordingly: lightly insulated jacket, no neck gaiter.
Not dressed for a snowstorm
When we got up to Alta, the lot was less than a quarter full. We waited in the corral for the lift to open at 9:15 a.m., watching the overcast skies and chatting with the skier services folks. When we got on the lift, the first snowflakes were falling. And they kept falling the whole time we were there: the storm had arrived early! It wasn't cold (mid- to low 30s F) but it was a little windy and I had to go back to the truck to get my neck gaiter to keep the swirling snow from going down my jacket. At first the conditions were as H had experienced them the day before: firm corduroy, getting skied off in high traffic areas (and since there were really only one or two trails open off of the Collins lift, everything was a high traffic area even though there weren't all that many people there). But the snow kept falling - big fluffy flakes, tiny particles, graupel - and laid down a nice surface on top of the groomed runs.
We skied mostly on the front side of Collins - Mambo to the newly-resdesigned Corkscrew - but did take a couple of runs down through the Sugarloaf side - Waldron's Way to Devil's Elbow and down through Sunnyside to the rope tow. Hardly anyone was going over there so the snow stacked up nicely and it was skiing pretty well. We even scared up a partridge in among the trees along Waldron's Way. By 1 p.m. it was evident that my legs were giving out (running is not good pre-ski training and I need to start doing lunges and squats post-haste) and we skied out. It was still snowing. The canyon road was messy until we got to Snowbird and then it was wet but not slippery all the way home.
When we got up Sunday morning, it was still snowing in the mountains and was even snowing in the valley. The canyon roads were restricted to four-wheel drive or chains and - horror of horrors! - Alta had announced that all the new snow required a lot of preparation and avalanche control, so they were not opening for the morning and might open at 1 p.m. They had received eleven inches overnight, on top of the four they got during the day Saturday, and the early season conditions meant unstable snowpack, even in-bounds. We were disappointed but spent the morning doing chores and cleaning the house in anticipation of Thanksgiving, checking our FB and Twitter feeds obsessively for updates. Around noon Alta announced that they had been unable to finish the control work - because it was still snowing and snowing - and they would not open at all until Monday. Again, we were disappointed, but the tweets H got from the Utah Avalanche Center throughout the about the numerous slides in the Cottonwood Canyons convinced us that Alta had made the right call. As of 4:45 p.m., the storm had dropped 25 inches at Alta with more to come. Like I said, it's a start.