Tuesday, December 23, 2014

wet and wild

Just in time for the solstice, winter arrived in the mountains of the Wasatch with a decent storm, lots of heavy, wet snow and big winds to boot.  Temperatures started in the mid-20s but got warmer, ensuring that the falling snow remained heavy and dense.  It wasn't the lovely, fluffy Utah powder that everyone loves, but it was a solid cement base to build upon.  Up in the mountains it snowed like crazy all day, with the gusty, blustery winds getting stronger as the day went on.  Alta ended up closing all of its lifts except Sunnyside and Cecret by 2:30 p.m. due to the winds - while wind holds are common back east (Sugarloaf, I'm looking at you), it is a rare occurrence in the Cottonwood Canyons.  Alta was claiming five inches overnight Saturday into Sunday; they would end up claiming eight more inches during the day Sunday.

We got up there at 9 a.m., noted the full corral at Collins and decided to wait, warm and dry, in the truck until they started loading the chair.  Once out there, it was immediately apparent how heavy and wet snow was, good for laying down a base but tough to ski in - there were people falling all over the place after running into the heavy clumps.  It was a lot busier than Saturday as tourists had come in for the holiday week, plus the locals were not about to miss out on the new snow, heavy or not, and it seemed a little crowded since lots of terrain was closed due to wind-loaded avalanche danger.

On our first run down Collins, the groomed* snow felt good but the strong wind gusts made for poor visibility - often around zero.  We moved over to Sugarloaf, looking for protection from the wind, and again, the snow was quite good but heavy.  The trails clumped up fast, sending people flying.  We then moved to Supreme where there were fewer skiers.  Challenger was in much better shape than it had been the day before with some more coverage over the giant hard swells and rocks.  There were no "groomed" trails per se off of Supreme, however, and the heavy clumps quickly took a toll on my legs.  Despite the avalanche work we could hear going on around us, a lot of terrain never opened: Catherine's Area, Supreme Bowl, Rock n Roll, the EBT, the Backside, etc., so we entertained ourselves with ventures into the woods where we could.


In an attempt to avoid the crowds, we went in for lunch early, finding a table with no problem.  Also a good thing:  as H stood in the very long line at the grill at Alf's, one of the line cooks noticed him, asked if he just wanted the usual medium fries (yes) and then let him jump the line to pick up said fries, hot out of the frier.  Hooray for being regulars!  When we went back out after lunch, the winds had picked up even more.  We did a run down Sugarloaf - where skier's right of the Sugarbowl was all wind-buffed and skied great for a change - then tried it back at Supreme to see if the wind was any less there.  It wasn't, and they were running the lift slowly because of the gusts.  The visibility was terrible and the wind was very unpleasant, grabbing at our skis and rocking the chairs, so we decided to call it a day.

We skied out of Supreme via Big Dipper - which was also wind-buffed and consequently skied better than it had all morning when it was all clumped up.  We had to go out through the Sunnyside bunny slopes since the EBT back to the top of Collins was closed: the wind was coming right up the trails and one big gust stopped us cold - and also blew a little kid backwards into H.  We finally got down to the rope tow and dragged ourselves back to Collins base that way.  The drive down canyon was a little sketchy as we wound our way through the Alta bypass (part of the main canyon road between Alta and Snowbird being closed for wind-loaded avalanche danger), but the snow level stopped around the White Pine trail parking lot and the road to home was clear from there.

Monday morning reported the following: 21" storm total at Alta (thus far), but they didn't open Monday until 11 a.m. and then only opened Collins, Wildcat and Sunnyside lifts.  That was better than some as Solitude didn't opened at all, the 'Bird only ran the Chickadee lift and PCMR was rumored to have had no power at the resort base.  Wild weather for sure - but it brought much needed snow.  And there's another smaller, colder storm heading our way for Christmas!

*  Since Alta tends to run its groomers as soon as the lifts stop turning for the day, all the groomed trails were covered over with the overnight snow, which makes it difficult for newbie skiers.

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