Saturday, December 27, 2014

a quiet christmas

This was a quieter Christmas than usual for us.  H had taken the week off to go skiing, as he's done in the past, but was sidelined by a monster head cold starting Sunday night.  I managed to pick up a little piece of that cold and by the time Christmas rolled around - complete with a lovely snowstorm - neither of us was in the mood to go skiing.  And you know we must be feeling poorly if we don't go skiing with new snow!  Instead, as the snow fell in the mountains and in the valley, we curled up on the couch with the increasingly frail B, watching The Christmas Story, eating fancy cheeses and opening the presents sent to us from our families back east.  (Thank you for the books and socks and snacks and gift certificates, everyone!)

The Christmas storm turned out to be a pretty good one, all things considered.  Alta reported a 19" storm total; Solitude got 13"; and Brian Head, down south a ways, scored the jackpot with 34"!!!  That storm has moved out now and left some cold air in its wake, ahead of the next system due to move in this weekend.  The Friday mid-morning mid-mountain temperature at Alta was 5 F, with the high not expected to go over 16 F; the weekend is forecast to be about the same, with wind chills well into the negative numbers, and with the possibility of up to a foot of new snow by Monday.

At this point, I'm not making any predictions about the skiing for the weekend.  We'd obviously like to get out there but we're going to take it as it comes, factoring health (or lack thereof) and cold temperatures - and the reality that the resorts are going to be crazy-crowded with holiday-goers - into it.  Regardless, we hope you all had very happy and healthy holidays yourselves!

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.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

the calm before the storm

It hasn't been entirely calm here, what with Christmas parties and cookie-baking and limoncello-making and mailing gifts and cards and putting up the "Christmas tree."  All that is what we've been doing while it hasn't been snowing very much.  All that was about to change, with a big, wet storm heading our way for Saturday afternoon through Monday, and then another, colder storm for Christmas Eve.  But when we headed up to Alta Saturday morning, there had only been about five new inches during the week - I was hoping that was enough to keep the bases of my skis safe.

It was lightly snowing when we got up there, about 30 F at the base and in the 20s at the summit, with very flat light.  On the plus side, it wasn't at all crowded and would remain that way all day.  The groomers were in great shape with those five additional inches, smooth and flowy.  The ungroomed trails were less enjoyable: a few inches of fluff on top of rock-hard bumps.  We fared better off piste in Catherine's Area: we took good two runs down around So Long where the snow was soft and the rocks pretty well covered.

That's the most sun we saw on Saturday

It was a fairly social day for us as well, as we chatted with some of our favorite Skier Services folks, Martha and Stef, and met Ben, a liftie from Vermont with whom we commiserated about the mosquitoes back east.  We also rode Supreme with this hilarious local seventeen year old who was super outgoing and who apparently spends more time on the slopes than in school.

We skied until about 2:30 p.m., at which point my quads were hollering pretty loudly.  The snow had held up pretty well all day and we were hoping that it would even be better for Sunday.  With this latest storm system, it looks like we may be finally getting some winter weather this winter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

the little storm that could

We were not entirely psyched up about the storm that was due to hit Friday night; despite dropping big snow on California, the folks in the know were only predicting 3-6 inches here in the Wasatch.  So when H ended up having to get on a conference call for work Saturday morning at 8 a.m., we were disappointed but not distraught, knowing that we weren't missing out on anything deep.  While H was on the phone, B and I took care of holiday-type stuff - running errands, packing boxes for mailing back east, stopping by the neighborhood holiday food drive/get-together (last year here).  By the time H got off his call around noon, we decided to write off the day and get after it on Sunday.  It rained and snained (snow-rain) off and on in the valley all through the rest of the afternoon, and it remained socked in up the canyon - which is always a good sign.

Sunday morning we got up to go skiing.  The storm had stuck around all night, dropping about seven inches (already more than had been forecasted) and it was pretty chilly up there, mandating some thought on my part about (1) layers and (2) skis.  I ended up taking a risk on some new gear: my new (2014) Salomon Pure White skis and my new (to me) Flylow shell.  I figured the new snow was enough to cover some rocks but not so deep that I would need my powder skis; I wore my heavy long john bottoms, an UnderArmor base layer, plus a light fleece, plus a down vest, plus the Flylow.  Both would end up being the right calls.

I like the snowflakes caught mid-air in front of my jacket

Supreme lift had opened on Friday so I headed straight there, riding up Collins, through Sugarloaf and over to Supreme.  It was pretty quiet over there - avalanche control bombs in Supreme Bowl notwithstanding - and I did some laps while H finished up some work stuff.  The groomers were in great shape.  The ungroomed runs, like Challenger and Upper Sleepy Hollow, were puff on crust: the new snow was lovely but hid rock-hard moguls underneath.  I skied both groomers and bumpy runs, trying out my new Salomons.  I liked them a lot: they were very turn-y and the wide tips didn't submarine in the deeper stuff.  Success!

When H caught up to me, they had just opened Catherine's Area and of course we went in - with lots of other people.  The beginning of the traverse was pretty rough and I managed to ding up my brand new skis several times both on the traverse and on just-covered rocks deeper in.  But the snow was light and in pretty good shape, and we ended up going in three times.  I still have the bad habit of picking up my inside ski when I turn in deeper snow - something else to work on.

After a late lunch break, we moved over to Sugarloaf.  There was only one run open, however, and there were snow guns running the whole way down.  We did a couple runs and then moved over to the front side to see how Collins was holding up.  The snow was okay but the visibility was terrible: low clouds and very flat light.  The wind was picking up and the temperature seemed to be dropping ... we decided that enough was enough and called it a day.  By late Sunday afternoon, Alta was reporting 14 inches thus far (with the storm not calling it quits yet) - that's the best 3-6" I ever saw.

PS - Hopefully soon we'll be skiing enough to get back into the habit of two posts a week.  We just need the weather/snow to cooperate.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The thing with the start of each ski season is this: it takes me a while to remember how to do everything, like look at the weather report and figure out the correct layers to wear.  Case in point: last weekend.

Saturday was mostly overcast and so I played the ski snob card (no new snow and no blue skies = no skiing) and remained down in the valley, doing laundry and running errands while H went up to Alta.  He skied for about half a day, returning to report better conditions than my first time out and no lift lines.

Saturday's Supreme lift - not yet open

Sunday was a beautiful day, however.  I looked out the window and saw no clouds; I took a quick look at Alta's website and saw that the forecast was for 30s and not windy.  So that's what I dressed for ... instead to looking at the actual temperature which was low 20s.  Low 20s means a heavier base layer and my boot covers - not what I wore.  I was a little chilly (and my feet got cold) and ended up having to go into Watson Shelter lodge to warm up for a bit.  Lesson learned: look at ALL the weather information when planning one's ski outfit.

Looks good but not quite warm enough

Even with my outfit deficiencies, it was a pretty nice early-season ski day.  Sugarloaf lift was running and we split the (half-)day between that lift and Collins.  Ski patrol was still doing avalanche control and setting rope lines in East Greeley and the available runs were limited, but the snow was pretty good, albeit firm.  We even did an off-piste cruise over to Supreme lift, which was turning but closed to skiers.  Soon!  

In addition to the snow having improved slightly, I took advantage of having to ski mostly on groomers to try to improve my technique: H suggested that I try bending my knees more for a less static posture.  So I practiced that, and keeping my hands forward, and pole-planting, and there's really a lot to remember after a whole spring/summer/fall off the slopes.  If I keep it up, and we get lots more snow, my skiing - and the skiing in general - will just get better.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

what's going on here?

Well, not that much, as you can tell from the dearth of posting of late.  We had a very nice visit with H's folks over Thanksgiving.  The weather was meh - not too cold, but overcast and just not that nice - so we didn't get out and do much.  Breakfast at the Silver Fork one day, dinner out at Fratelli one night, but mostly just hanging out and spending time with each other, watching football, doing card tricks and reading.
Just before sitting down to eat

We also haven't gotten much new snow.  H went skiing the morning his parents arrived and reported that it was much better than my first day out.  Since then, however, we've only gotten six inches or so and the current weather pattern has settled into a bit of a ridge that won't bring any storms to the Wasatch Front any time soon.  It's still early season, we keep saying, but it would still be nice to get some snow.  I have new skis I want to try!

Skiing = smiling, no matter what the conditions

And that's really it since Thanksgiving around here.

More of this, please!