Wednesday, February 26, 2014

jumping for joy

Sunday was much better than Saturday!  The sky was a clear, deep blue, the wind subsided and the temperatures were warmer, ending up in the mid-20s at the summit and mid-30s at the base.  I ended up being overdressed but that was really my only complaint since I was skiing much better.  Alta was still extremely busy: the lift lines were fairly long but the trails never really seemed crowded, fortunately.  We did do a couple of warm-up runs on Sugarloaf and watched as Ski Patrol started going through Devil's Castle, setting charge after charge to shake loose any avalanches in anticipation of an opening later in the morning.  Folks eager for first tracks - Devil's Castle has been closed for more than a week - started lining up at the gate before 10 a.m.  We weren't about to do that so we headed to Supreme and Catherine's Area.

H in Catherine's Area

Those paltry couple of inches from the day before didn't hold up and everything was pretty well tracked out.  It had been cold enough that the snow stayed soft, though, so we went in there over and over again, dodging tourists and looking for what deep pockets we could find.  On one Catherine's run, we went what we call "all the way in," to the ridge overlooking Brighton.  When we got there, we saw a guy sidestepping on an outcrop leading to a big kicker that led to - a long, long way down.  I called out to him, "Are you going off that?"  And he said yes.

That's a big jump

H and I were impressed so we parked ourselves along the ridge and pulled out our phones.  The guy asked if we would send him any pictures since he doesn't get to do this very often, so we took down his phone number and aimed our phones.  He dropped in, went over the jump and plummeted to the steep landing, where he hit with a huge puff of snow and immediately popped up, arms raised in celebration.  It was super-impressive and I'm so glad we were there to see it (and also to be there in case something went wrong, because it looked like he was there by himself).

Up, up and away (and then down-down-down)

After lunch we took a run through Devil's Castle.  There was quite a lot of snow in there and I struggled a little on my short skis.  H flew right through it, however, so he did another run after that before we went back to Supreme.  The lift lines stayed long all day but everyone was pretty mellow and happy in the sunshine.  After a day of traversing and skiing off-piste, my legs called it quits around 3:15 p.m.  I felt pretty good about our day, attaining a little redemption after the less than stellar day before.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Let's just come right out and admit it: Saturday was not my best day ever at Alta.  It was a struggle for me right from the get-go.  But no one got hurt and we were out skiing, so it's still better than what could have been.  Weather-wise, it was cold (14 at the summit and warming up to 24 at the base) and extremely windy (gusts into the 50 m.p.h. range) and snowing (in the morning).  The light was flat and visibility was tough.  There were a couple of fluffy new inches on top of the wind-buffed snow underneath, so that was nice, except what little wax is remaining on my skis did not like the cold new snow and I had a tough time getting any glide. I'm slow anyway and when my skis are also slow ... H was very patient.

Despite the day, that's a smile and not a grimace
(in Catherine's Area)

It was also quite busy so we hightailed it to Supreme as soon as we could, not bothering with the hordes skiing Sugarloaf.  As we had done on Monday, we kept to Catherine's Area as much as possible to escape the crowds and to poach what freshies we could find.  I was skiing terribly for some reason, so I alternated runs on groomers with runs in Catherine's while H stuck mostly to Catherine's.

The high point (or low point, depending on how you look at it) of my day came when I managed to tangle my skis together and fall over in the lift line.  Luckily, I didn't knock into anyone else and I was able to get back on my feet without too much flailing; the only thing hurt was my pride and I don't bother much with that anyway.  By 2:30ish I couldn't take any more and we skied out.  The snow had stopped and the light had brightened a little, and I got back to the truck without further mishap.  The forecast for the next day was for sunny skies - hopefully my day would be sunnier too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

know where to go

We opted out of skiing for Sunday given the less-than-ideal weather forecast, instead opting for a bike ride on the rollers in the basement (H), a run outdoors (me) and plenty of Olympics viewing.  When we got up to Alta on Monday, we overheard some folks talking about Sunday's sleet, wind, graupel and chairlift stoppage for lightning, which confirmed that we'd made the right decision. 

Presidents' Day itself was supposed to be sunny but it was decidedly cloudy and the light got flat in the afternoon.  Alta was quite crowded with tourists and vacationers, so many that we fled immediately to the relative safety of the Supreme lift after witnessing the hordes swarming Sugarloaf.  We ended up skiing in Catherine's Area all day because fewer people were willing to put the work in for the runs.  Sure, there were plenty of hapless folks snowplowing on the traverse, stopping on the traverse, walking up to the traverse and then changing their minds ... but once we got in a little ways, the crowd thinned out and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The snow was much better than we expected.  It was relatively heavy and wind-loaded but still soft, smooth and skiable, and we ended up getting lots of first tracks as we methodically moved further and further into Catherine's.  Towards the end of our day, we tried a different tack: going into the first clearing of Catherine's and skiing down along the rope to the second gate, then going in there to the trees.  As we started down along the rope, I noticed a young (mid 30s) guy in orange pants coming down behind us but didn't think anything of it.  H and I went in the gate and found fantastic snow in among the trees there, over my knees and soft.  H charged on ahead and I followed.  When I paused for breath on a knoll, Orange-pants Guy pulled up beside me.  I asked him if he was following us and he grinned and said, "Yes!  You guys looked like you knew where you were going.  The snow is great in here!"  I laughed and told him not to tell anyone else, then headed down through the trees to find H.

Despite our recent longer days, I had about had it with the flat light and the clueless crowds by about 2:30 p.m.  We skied out, going around the EBT and down over Collins, the latter being tough due to the poor visibility although the snow wasn't too bad.  We're still hovering around 23% below normal snowfall-wise but the last few days on the hill have still been pretty good.  The forecast doesn't have much new snow in the immediate future but systems should be moving in around the middle of next week.  Sounds good to me - bring it on!

Note:  I'll update this post with photos when our home internet issues are resolved.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

technical difficulties

Please pardon the delay in posting but we are currently experiencing some technical difficulties (i.e., intermittant internet access).  We'll get back to our regularly scheduled posts once the issues are resolved.  Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

exeunt pineapple express

After last weekend's wonderful storm moved out, we had a couple of days' break before the next system moved in.  This storm was slow but not particularly productive, leaving sixteen inches at Alta over the week.  This new snow was very wet and heavy, more like what California or the Pacific Northwest gets; the system was called an "atmospheric river" or a "pineapple express," laden with moisture from out over the Pacific ocean.  It was also warmer than normal, ending up at 45 at the base and over 30 at the summit; for the first time ever, I did not wear my boot covers in February and my toes never got cold.

This sort of weather does not bring the light, fluffy, blower powder for which Utah is famous, but it does bring a nice slab of solid snow that will be a good base for the next storm that moves in.  I agonized a bit over which skis to use - my trusty Volkls or my powder-loving Rossignols - but decided on my Volkls since they are good in everything except powder, and the snow we'd gotten over the last week was definitely not powder.  It would turn out to be the right decision.

This weekend was the start of school vacation week for a lot of schools so we figured it would be fairly busy.  We were a bit surprised, then, when we got up to Alta to find it less crowded than it had been last weekend.  After some thought it made sense, however: without fantastic overnight snow, the hardcore locals weren't coming out, and Saturdays tend to be travel days for tourists.  Sunday and Monday could be zoo-y - so we would take advantage of the short lift lines while we could.

As usual, we rode out of Collins and did some runs off Sugarloaf to start.  Although the snow was smooth and buttery, I felt very awkward, like I'd forgotten how to ski.  H plunged soon off-piste while I stayed on the groomers for a while, concerned that my short skis wouldn't do well off the trail.  He reported that he thought the conditions would be okay for me, so when he did a hike/run in the Keyhole, I jumped into the adjacent gully and followed him out through Glory Gulch.  Where the snow was untracked, it was great, dense enough that I rode on top, thick and creamy like skiing through cold buttercream frosting.  Where it was tracked up it was still okay, not as heavy as I had feared, and my little skis turned just fine.

Kind of a gray day out in Catherine's Area

We moved over to Supreme a short time later and stayed there for the rest of the day, even going back after lunch, doing run after run after run into Catherine's Area.  Because there weren't many locals skiing, and because tourists don't know how good Catherine's is (or don't want to do the work to get in there), we had great runs in there, many in untracked snow.  I was still skiing like a spaz and wasn't getting any style points but it was really fun.  H was struggling a little too.  He was favoring a stiff right leg and ended up falling three times (!), double-ejecting out of his skis twice (!!).  We blamed some of it on the flat light and heavy snow, but there was definitely some skier error in there too.  Fortunately there was nothing injured except perhaps a little pride.

When we started skiing, I figured we wouldn't last past 2:30 p.m. so I was surprised when we stuck it out until close to 4 p.m.  We drove home pleased with how unexpectedly good the skiing was ... but were apprehensive about the next day's conditions.  With the warm temperatures, the snow was really soft and would freeze solid overnight, making for tough skiing with western edges.  There was nothing left to do but wait and see.

Friday, February 14, 2014

or possibly this was the best day of the season (so far)

There was a little bit of stress Sunday morning: the canyon road had been closed at 10 p.m. Saturday night for avalanche control and was not scheduled to reopen until 8:45 a.m.  The avalanche danger was obviously quite serious, then, as the road usually gets open at 6 a.m. when it closes the night before.  We had to decide: do we leave early and sit in line to go up Little Cottonwood Canyon or do we head to Solitude instead?  It was no decision, really, and we were in the line of waiting cars at 8 a.m.  The canyon opened at 9 and we made slow but steady progress upwards, pulling into the parking lot at 9:45.  It was pretty warm and snowing hard; the waterproofing on our clothes would be challenged today.

Then there was another issue: only Collins and Wildcat were open.  We hopped into the singles line and did our first run: the boys heading into the trees by Fred's Slot and me attempting a still smooth groomer.  When we met back up at the lift base, my brother remarked, "My legs aren't supposed to hurt this much after the first run" and I wholeheartedly agreed.  We did a few more runs off Collins - the boys taking the High Traverse for some buttery, untracked, front side turns - before Sugarloaf opened.

I was grateful to escape the Collins crowds and we moved over to Chartreuse/Extrovert.  The intermediate level trails got bumped up and choppy very quickly and since the snow was much heavier, I got thrown around whenever I attempted them.  The steep off-piste stuff was super-deep (this storm would end up dropping 30+ inches from Thursday through Monday) and heavy and people were falling all over the place.  The best conditions were in anything untracked, where our skis just glided through without getting caught in the heavy stuff.

Definitely the best ice beards of the season

When they opened Supreme, we moved over there, following the snow.  Supreme Bowl was still roped off at first and we entertained ourselves on No. 9 Express, the Erosion Gullies, Sleepy Hollow and the trees by Three Bears.  Several runs later, we saw Ski Patrol drop the ropes into the Bowl (Catherine's would stay closed all day again, sadly) and headed there directly.  While the boys went high, looking for narrow chutes, I found fresh tracks in a low chute of my own.  The snow was spectacular.  We did run after run in there, until we finally took a lunch break at 2 p.m.

After a quick lunch, we went back out, one run at Sugarloaf and then back to Supreme.  At that point, my legs were completely shot and I had to ski out.  The boys continued to hit the chutes in Supreme Bowl until the lift closed at 3:30.  My brother cried uncle at that point - we had gotten a ton of runs in that day as the lift lines were amazingly short - and they met me at the base.

The snow, which had been falling hard all day, thinned as we drove down canyon, stopping entirely not far below Snowbird.  The storm was on its way out but its timing had been perfect.  We skied hard, all three days, in fantastic conditions, and never closed out a day wishing for one more run.  And that is exactly how you should do a long ski weekend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

best day of the season (so far)

We were all business Saturday morning: get up, get dressed, get breakfast, get in the truck.  With the new snow, we knew it would be busy up on the hill; we got up there just before they started loading Collins and the corral was packed.  The snow had started falling just below Snowbird and we had graupel at Collins base.  It was very windy but warmer than it had been the day before, and it kept snowing - hard - higher up the mountain, filling in tracks all day.

Sugarloaf smiles

Because of the new snow, everything that had been closed Friday was still closed, plus they had Catherine's Area roped off too.  We started at Sugarloaf, doing many fantastic laps around Chartreuse Slot, Chartreuse Nose and the Extrovert area, where the snow was consistently over my knees and very soft, although slightly heavier than before.  Visibility was pretty poor with the storm but we didn't care.  I felt like I was skiing pretty well (not fighting the snow, for a change) and the boys were patient about waiting for me.

Shredding gnar pow in Supreme Bowl

We switched to Supreme and were skiing there when Ski Patrol opened the gate into the Lower Supreme Bowl.  The snow was amazing in there, super soft and well over my knees.  H managed to score first tracks down our favorite ridge and my brother was gleefully throwing himself into every chute he could fine.  I stuck with them, finding the steep chutes actually easier to ski than the intermediate trails, which were getting cut up and choppy.

Made it back into Catherine's

After lunch, we went back to Sugarloaf again for more Chartreuse/Extrovert runs, then returned to Supreme for a number of runs in the lower bowl.  We followed a traverse around the bowl and made our way into lower Catherine's, skiing the trees.  It was fantastic in there and we were finding lots of untracked snow even after 3 p.m.  At this point, we were skiing right back onto the lift without waiting in line: the canyon road closed from 2:30 - 3:30 and the crowds cleared out around 2, hoping to beat the road closure.  Not us: there was too much snow to be found.

Supreme Bowl siblings

We closed Supreme lift at 3:30, then did another run off Sugarloaf - and our legs were on fire at this point.  We closed Sugarloaf, doing a cruiser run through the cabins before skiing out and getting back to the car around 4 p.m.  The road was reopened and was perfectly clear below Snowbird, so we had no trouble driving out.  Too tired to go back out, we cleaned up, put comfy pants on and settled in for an evening of lasagne, beer and the Olympics.  We had one more day ahead of us and it was going to snow all night.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

return of the snow

My brother decided to come out to see us for a ski weekend and, having bought a non-refundable ticket, spent the winter texting me about how bad our snow was - until about ten days ago, when the forecast models got decidedly snowy for the weekend.  Predicted snow totals were all over the place - 12"-36", 40"-50" - but one thing was clear: the snow was going to start on Thursday night and keep dumping until Monday.  At this point, we were just hoping for enough to make it soft; anything further would be gravy.

We got up to Alta right around first chair time Friday morning.  It was much busier than we expected, but we shouldn't have been surprised since folks have been snow-starved this season.  It was chilly, with highs in the low 20s, overcast and with gusty winds.  It was supposed to snow all day and it did, a little, but it certainly didn't stack up much.  The mountain only reported only a few underwhelming inches overnight but once we got our skis on the snow, there weren't many complaints.

We went straight to Sugarloaf from Collins, doing laps down Chartreuse Nose and Extrovert.  Not all the rocks were covered, but it was getting closer.  It was evident from Run #1 that I was going to be chasing the boys all day: both H and my brother are good skiers and my brother seemed determined to make the most of his few Utah ski days.  At 10:20 a.m., we met up with a couple of my brother's friends who were in town on a ski vacation themselves.  We moved over to Catherine's Area and did lots of runs in there because it was quite good.  It was also quite busy because much of Alta was closed due to the snow/winds: with the Ballroom, Devil's Castle and East Greeley all roped off, Catherine's was the best option for off-piste skiing.  Still, even with the higher-than-normal traffic, we managed to find good snow and fresh tracks.

Waiting in the corral for our first chair ride

After lunch, we thought we'd give the front side a try.  We went back to Collins and headed out on the High T[raverse].  Sean and Lindsey took off like they didn't care about their skis but the rest of us did, picking our way across the very rocky bits.  The group quickly outdistanced me (H and my brother ended up wrapping around the end of the ridge and coming down through Eagles Nest/North Rustler) and I finally got off the terrible traverse and made my way down Santa Claus Alley or Jitterbug.  When we met back up at the lift, we all decided to go back to Supreme and Catherine's.

We finished out the afternoon there, skiing out once the Supreme lift closed at 3:30 p.m.  We said goodbye to my brother's friends and made our way home, pleased with the day's skiing and hopeful for much more snow for the rest of the weekend.  We managed to rally enough to go out for garlic burgers at the Cottonbottom before collapsing in front of the t.v. to watch some Olympics.  We stayed awake until 10 p.m.  It remains to be seen if we can duplicate that after more ski days.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

shiver me timbers

Saturday's little snow storm moved out overnight, leaving Sunday bright, sunny and very, very cold: 9 F at the base and 2 F at the summit when we got to Alta.  Also, although the winds were supposed to be "light," they turned out to be pretty strong which just made everything colder.  I wore my trusty Volkls, figuring we'd be playing in the chop to stay warm.

As usual, we rode Sugarloaf for a bit first.  The wind came at the chair head on, making for uncomfortable lift rides but then when skiing downhill with the wind at our backs, it felt almost balmy on our faces.  For our second run, we headed to Chartreuse Nose/Chartreuse Slot.  The wind was blowing all the snow into there and while the bumps were big, I could see them this time and skied it much better.  The bottom part, where it wraps around to join Extrovert was particularly good.  On our next ride up, we saw some folks coming down Keyhole, which looked awfully good, so H did the climb up and skied it.  Not wanting to deal with the traverse into Keyhole, I did a little chute to skier's right instead, which was full of snow.  I rejoined H at the bottom and we skied through Glory Gulch, exiting to the left and coming down Glitch and/or Glatch to finish the run.  Hooray for finally doing some new terrain!

When we moved over to Supreme, we found that Catherine's Area was holding up very well.  We did a few runs off this lift until my toes got very cold.  H did another run in Catherine's while I beelined to Alf's to secure a table for lunch.  With the new snow, Alta was pretty busy this whole weekend, making for cutthroat competition for tables; if we'd been able to hold out until 2 p.m., though, everyone would have left for their Super Bowl parties and we would have had our pick.

We did some great runs after lunch - into East Greeley (which was deep and soft and not pounded with avalanche debris like it was the last time we went in there) and Devil's Castle (which was deep and soft and just opened before lunch).  We finished with a couple of front side runs, including one in the Ballroom which was really quite good, considering all the traffic it gets.  By 2:40 p.m. my poor legs called it quits and we went home to make buffalo wings and watch Puppy Bowl X.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

the return of winter

After most of January with scarcely any snowstorms (most of this winter, really; I can count on one hand how many really good snow days we've had), the weather pattern turned and a decent, if too quickly moving, storm rolled in last Thursday.  We were hoping for 18-24" but the storm didn't get held up over the mountains and only dropped 9-12" instead.  Still, at this point we'll take whatever we can get.  And as we drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon road on Saturday morning, it was nice to see snow on the road and traffic carefully making its way up to the resorts.  The clouds had filled back in, however, making the light flat, and it was quite cold: when we got on our first chair, it was 12 F at the base and 2 F at the summit, and it would only end up warming up to 9 F at the summit by the time our day was done.

It's cold up here at the top

Because the storm had come in on Thursday, everything was all tracked out and bumped up.  The snow seemed to be in pretty good shape though.  We did several runs on the Sugarloaf chair before moving over to Supreme.  I was wearing my Rossignols because of the new snow: my legs had felt pretty strong over the last few weeks but that was because we were cruising groomers; once we got off-piste into the chunky powder, my skis kicked my butt.  Catherine's Area was super-fun, soft and deep.  We paused to talk to a group of folks out for a snowshoe with the Wasatch Mountain Club - they were hoping to have a picnic on Catherine's Ridge but it started snowing around noon, so they may not have lingered over their sandwiches.

Ice beard in a snow globe

After lunch, we did a run down Chartreuse Nose/Chartreuse Slot where the bumps were huge and pretty much invisible with the poor visibility.  Needless to say, I did a lot of flailing around and H had to wait for me a lot.  We did a run through the cabins to give my legs a break and then ventured into Cecret Saddle for the first time all season.  Again, I struggled with the visibility - this was turning out to not be my best day ever.  And yet, new snow!

We finished with several runs off the front side and then my legs had had enough.  It was still snowing as we drove down canyon - we would end up with another couple of inches - which always bodes well for the next day's skiing.