Thursday, December 31, 2015

throughout the week

H took the week off between Christmas and New Year's Day, allowing him to rack up the ski days while I toiled away at work.

On Monday, he dusted off his telemark gear and reminded himself how to ski on them.  Amazingly it wasn't that crowded up at Alta - so strange, during Christmas vacation - and he even managed three lift rides all by himself.  The light was very flat and the temperature cold but reasonable (10 F at peak, 20 F at base).  Ski patrol opened the Back Side in the afternoon (Yellow Trail, East Greeley, etc.), which they had been bombing the hell out of on Sunday, but he didn't venture in, his legs already fatigued from a whole day on teles.

Tuesday was cloudy and colder, damp, and just barely snowing off and on all day.  Again, it didn't seem crowded - which is strange.  H skied on his teles all day and although he thrashed his legs - telemark skiing is a lot more work than regular alpine skiing - he said he felt like he was starting to figure it out.  Bonus: just as H was leaving for the day, he met Toby, a huge, sweet, slobbery St. Bernard who is a Town of Alta resident (i.e. licensed and allowed in the canyon), who was just strolling through the parking lot with his human.

H hemmed and hawed over Wednesday until around 9:30 a.m., trying to decide if he wanted to ski with more of the same conditions-wise.  He did end up going up - because really, why wouldn't you? - but reported that it felt colder than earlier in the week (starting temperature at the base of 10 F) and all but one of his runs was taken in very flat light.  Again, the trails and lift lines did not seem too crowded but Alf's at lunchtime was a complete zoo.

At 7 a.m. on Thursday, it was -5 at Wildcat base and so, as I trundled off to work, H took his time getting ready for skiing.  It had gotten to not-quite 2 F when he got in line for the first chair of the day and warmed up all the way to 8 F by the time he called it quits.  The sun was out, however, and it's always easier to face the cold when it's under bluebird skies.  H reported that it wasn't as busy as he expected it to be - not doubt due to the frigid temperatures.

And now we're hunkered down at the house for New Year's Eve, a big pot of potato soup warming on the stove, sparkling brut rosé in our glasses and a Twilight Zone marathon on t.v.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

ah yes, here are the hordes

In hindsight, it must have been the cold temperatures keeping the crowds away on Saturday, although H has an alternate theory that people spent Christmas at home, then traveled Saturday, then showed up to ski on Sunday.  Either way, the hordes we expected were at Alta in force on Sunday and all the requisite tourist crowd shenanigans were present throughout the day:  erratic skiing, inability to get on/off lifts, lots of falling, confusion in the lift lines.  It started off cold again (around 3 F at the base of Collins, but with an inversion that had it at 14 F at the top) but warmed up to the mid-20s under the sunshine.

We started off at Collins, with me doing a couple of groomers while H immediately pounced on his Sunspot run.  I needed to warm up after that so we gave the Ballroom a try.  Patrol had opened it late in the afternoon on Saturday and there had been a huge line of folks waiting to get in there; by Sunday morning, it was all tracked out but the wind-buff kept it soft.  The traverse was a little gnarly in a couple of places but it was good enough that we went back and did it again right afterwards.  We also saw our favorite Alf's cashier out there, ripping it up on her tele skis.

This is really too far away to tell, but
there are SO MANY people there

We got over to Supreme as soon as it opened and as we had hoped/feared, patrol had dropped the rope into Catherine's Area.  The snow was fantastic, of course, since this was the first it had been open all season, but there were so many people in there.  So many people.  I don't think I've ever seen so many people on the traverse, not even after a big snow.  Most people dropped off the traverse in the So Long section; we went a little further out to Sunset - contemplated going further but decided against it, mostly because we were overheating from hiking and sidestepping whilst wearing down.  I did two runs in there before needing to cool off on a groomer.  H did one more than I did and then decided to ski back to Collins to put his down jacket in the truck.  I did another couple of Supreme runs - the rest of the hill was practically empty because everyone was out in Catherine's Area, tracking things up - and then met him at Alf's a little after 1 p.m.  This was an excellent plan because despite there being so many people, the later lunch meant we had no trouble scoring a table.

After lunch we did a Cabin Run, having to avoid a ski school group that was stuck in the deep snow, and then moved back to Supreme so H could have one more go at Catherine's.  I opted out because my legs were tired after three straight days on my Rossignols - I haven't done three days in a row on those skis since my brother came to visit.  We skied out a little before 3 p.m..  We hadn't gotten as many runs in as we have on prior days because (a) it takes longer to do Catherine's Area and (b) the lift lines were much longer.  But it still felt like a successful day despite the hordes, clear and cold and at least a couple of good, deep snow runs.

Monday, December 28, 2015

boxing day

I'll admit that we were both ambivalent about skiing on the day after Christmas.  We knew it was going to be quite cold and we figured that it would be very crowded, with tourists in town for the holiday and with local families on Christmas break.  We both mentally prepared ourselves for dealing with erratic skiers, people who didn't know how to work a lift line and cutthroat lunchtime table-snatching at Alf's.  We even left home a whole half hour earlier than normal, despite the clear roads, just in case the traffic was backed up.

Skied out but still soft

We got it half right.  It was quite cold, in fact: when they started loading the chairs, it was 5 F at Collins base and -3 F at the peak - and that's just the ambient temperature, without factoring in any wind chill factor which was forecast to be around -13 F.  We both dressed for it with our down parkas and I am pleased to report that I seem to have figured out my cold weather outfit.  I stayed pretty warm, all things considered; my feet got cold enough that I had to go in for lunch early but the rest of me was fine, even my fingers for the most part.  I did keep my face tucked into my gaiter/neck-up as much as I could, which is gross because of breathing and freezing and all of that, but which hopefully keeps those two small frostburn patches on my face from reappearing.

Supreme: my happy place

What we got wrong, amazingly, was the hordes of holiday-goers.  There just weren't that many people there.  Sure, it was as busy as it's been but we only rode the singles line once, at Collins for first chair, and for most of the day we didn't have to share chairs with other people.  Alf's filled up right at noon but there weren't dozens of people circling the room, lurking to snatch up tables.  The only time people were really an issue was when ski patrol dropped the rope on Extrovert.  H and I managed to time it well enough that we got a great run out of it: we had to dodge other skiers but managed top to bottom untracked snow (H: "Best run of the year so far.").  By the time we got back on the Sugarloaf lift, Extrovert was swarming with people - and there had to be at least twenty of them in various stages of falling, flailing around in deep snow they didn't know how to ski.  Ten minutes later, the trail was completely tracked out.

Pausing under a dark blue sky

We had some other good runs too, including a softly-bumped Razorback, a more successful Cabin Run now that some tracks had been put in, Challenger (big, soft bumps) and fresh tracks on Rock N' Roll.  It was a very good day, made all the better because we'd called it so wrong on the crowds.  Surely though, we thought, it can't last.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

christmas 2015

The last bit of storm rolled through Christmas Eve, giving Sundance an amazing 19" (!!!) but only giving Alta around four or five.  Still, it was going to snow off and on throughout the day, and four or five inches are just enough to freshen things up, keep them soft.  We did, however, get four or five inches in our driveway as well, so H had to shovel before we left.  We still got up there in good time, only missing first chair by five minutes.  Skiing Christmas has never been crowded and this Christmas was no different.  We enjoyed every moment of that too, because the coming weekend, as the start of Christmas vacation week, is going to be a nightmare of people.

Christmas Day chair selfie

We both dressed pretty warmly (temperatures ranged from 6 F to 18 F throughout the day) and for the stormy weather; it never bucketed down but it did snow all day.  I got my layers exactly right - down parka under my Flylow shell - and never got cold, except for my toes.  The wind started to pick up in the afternoon but not nearly as strongly as we had thought it might.  We did a couple of runs on Collins to warm up and then switched to Sugarloaf.  The snow was actually pretty good and when we jumped off the trails into the trees, it was deep.  Ski patrol has been working their tails off to get more terrain open.  With so few people there on Christmas, we got some good runs in.

In-progress ice beard

Supreme was open (apparently they opened it late Thursday, after H had left) and we had some very good runs there, even though Rock N Roll, Supreme Bowl and Catherine's Area were all still roped off.  No. 9 Express, the Erosion Gullies, the trees off of 3 Bears, even Challenger was good - and Challenger is hardly ever good.  After lunch (NOT crowded), we did a couple runs off Sugarloaf again, including a Cabin Run where we totally got stuck in the deep snow (waist-deep on me in places), before returning to Supreme.  We stayed there until 3 p.m., before skiing out and heading home.  We were reluctant to go because the snow was good and the lifts weren't crowded ... and that's not going to be our experience in the coming week.  A very nice Christmas Day indeed.

Friday, December 25, 2015

christmas eve

Big difference between skiing Christmas Eve Eve and Christmas Eve.  Once up at Alta, H (I was at work) found sunny skies, cold temperatures and so, so, so many people.  Luckily, ski patrol was able to open more terrain and although the lift lines remained big, he was able to get out of the crowds for skiing.

View of Little Cottonwood Canyon from Sunspot

He went out along the High Traverse several times (still rocky in spots), taking runs in the West Rustler area, and going out all the way and getting into the back side, where High Greeley and Greeley Hill were quite good.

Heading out on the High T

Alf's was a zoo at lunchtime, presaging an equally zoo-y weekend and Christmas week ahead.  But this last storm will move out by the weekend and hopefully ski patrol can keep opening more and more terrain, spreading the skiers out over more acreage.

Greeley Bowl starting to fill up

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

yesssssssss (qualified)

Finally, finally we've gotten some great snow!  Since Sunday night/Monday morning (12/21), it has been the snowstorm that just won't quit, with Alta getting 40 inches, Sundance getting over 50 inches and Solitude claiming the big total (to date) of 58+ inches.  For the first time in years, the Wasatch mountains are right around their "normal" snowfall for the date.  Fantastic!

H has some vacation days coming to him and so he went up to Alta on Wednesday.  Here are some of the texts I received while I slaved away at my office job:

8:49 a.m. - In line, with the traffic stopped west of Wasatch Boulevard.  Road to open at 9 and Town of Alta interlodged.

9:40 a.m. - Road now open.

9:12 a.m. - Starting to crawl.

9:18 a.m. - Made it to the sheep farm.  3 snow covered sheep walking around.  The rest are standing under the trees with vacant looks on their faces.

9:32 a.m. - Can see the traffic light at Wasatch Blvd.

9:54 a.m. - Just crossed Wasatch Blvd.

10:12 a.m. - On LCC Road.

10:31 a.m. - Wildcat Base.  Parking lot pretty full.  Not loading Collins.

10:52 a.m. - He's working to get it open:

Fitz, on the job (and the 
lift opened shortly thereafter)

10:55 a.m. - Just opened.  But only loading 2 at a time.

Then his phone shut down from the cold and I didn't hear from him again until he was at the car wash back down in the valley.  The report is that while the snow was quite good, the rest of the conditions really weren't.  It was extremely windy and thus cold (around 14 F at the base and 4 F at the top, not counting wind chill).  Visibility was terrible, between the low clouds and the winds blowing the snow around.  Although the snow was fairly light, it was difficult to ski because of the visibility: he'd be skiing along and then hit a pocket whiteout and have to stop because visibility dropped to about four feet.  It was tough skiing for sure: there was one poor tourist family, apparently here with their kids for Christmas, and they were so over their heads that a patroller had to guide them down from the top of Collins to Watson shelter, and then they downloaded on the chairlift from the angle station to base.  H did do eight runs, including a pretty good one in Fred's Trees, but most of the resort was still closed while patrol worked - Wildcat and Collins were the only lifts open all day.

Tough visibility, yes, but look at the snow!

Not the best day by any means ... but there's plenty of ski days ahead.

Monday, December 21, 2015

a bit on the breezy side

The Sunday-Tuesday storm we were hoping for came through for us, delivering around 40" of snow to Alta by the time it was all over.  This packed down by about half by the time we got up to ski it on Saturday but still: 20" inches goes a ways towards covering up the rocks.  We anticipated a busy day, between the recent storm and more lifts (Supreme and Cecret) being open, so we left the house at 8:30 a.m.  The road up the canyon was a little bit busier than it has been, but it was clear and the vehicles kept moving.  When we pulled into the lot at Wildcat base, however, we wondered where all those cars had gone - they sure didn't seem to be there.

Atop Supreme - at last!

We did a couple of warm-up runs on Collins, noting that while the last storm did a good job of covering up the scratchy spots, there were still plenty of rocks poking through off-piste.  It was a bit on the breezy side too and so we moved over to Sugarloaf, hoping that the backside of the mountain would be more protected.  It wasn't and, in fact, as per usual with the Sugarloaf lift, the winds were even worse.  We tried to escape to the now-open Supreme but ski patrol was still doing avalanche control and they wouldn't be loading the chairs until after noon.  We took an early lunch then, to warm up and kill time, and then returned to Supreme for the rest of our afternoon.  H gleefully jumped onto the ungroomed No. 9 Express, so happy to get off the groomers.  I found the ungroomed and bumpy stuff to be a little stiff and crusty, and difficult to turn in,  Still, it was fun to work a few bumps, even as my legs complained that they weren't quite ready for that yet.

Woohoo/not a groomer

Really the only issue was that I did an appallingly bad job picking my layers this time.  The temperature at the base was 24 F, with a high temperature forecasted for 34-26F under partly sunny skies.  What I neglected to take into account were those fairly high winds, blowing in advance of the next storm.  I just wore my shell over a thin fleece, which neither broke the wind well enough nor was insulated enough.  When we were out of the wind, it was quite pleasant and my layering was fine; in the wind, however, I was cold.  Just more data for the journal, I guess.

The next, small storm moved in overnight, leaving just an inch of new snow on the hill by the time we got up on Sunday.  We stared out the windows at the socked-in mountains and stared at the heavy, low clouds filling up the webcam feeds, ultimately deciding to give it a pass.  If it had been nuking, we would have gone up for some storm skiing; if it had dropped more snow overnight, we would have gone up as well.  But terrible visibility, super-flat light and an inch?  It just wasn't that attractive and we decided that we could be indoor kitties for a day.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

warm before the storm

No 10:30 start for us on Sunday!  We got back to our usual routine and arrived at Alta's Wildcat base in time to wait in line for Collins to open, scoring a much better parking spot than we had with our late arrival the day before.  It was a lot warmer - warmer than I expected, and I even ended up taking off my shell by mid-morning - still cloudy and with light winds, but with temperatures ranging from the mid-20s to the mid-30s.  A big storm was expected to come in late Sunday night/early Monday morning and this was indeed the "warm before the storm."  I didn't mind: my toes didn't get cold at all!

Superior behind me, H reflected in my goggles

A paltry inch of new snow had come in overnight but the conditions seemed pretty good.  The groomers had covered over some of the rougher patches (like the first pitch of Devil's Way, coming off Collins towards Sugarloaf) and everything seemed to hold up pretty well, despite it seeming busy again.  I think part of why it is busier is that the regular lesson groups are starting to show up: instructors are getting to know/reuniting with the 5-8 kids they'll ski with for the season and there's always a bit of chaos before things settle into routine.  We watched one instructor, Zachary, at lunch time: we remembered him from last year and he is wonderful with his group (five girls, two boys, ages 9-12?).  Whatever he's getting paid?  It's not enough.

Here's Fitz in action from 12/6/15
(PC:  John Shafer, Alta)

Sunday was a day for Alta's staff.  We had a lift ride with Heinz, a new skier service's guy, who was very pleasant, friendly and mellow and stoked about the new season.  We rode up Collins with a young patroller who asked if we'd be able to ski the storm.  When we said no, he shrugged, admitting that most of the mountain would still be closed while they did avalanche control work anyway.  He was hoping that they'd get enough snow to get more terrain open: "I can't stand skiing this place until High Traverse is open."  And we had not one, but two Fitz sightings!  We saw him in the morning, hopping on a chair with his handler for a ride up Collins; and then later, we saw him slung over his handler's shoulders, skiing down under the Sugarloaf chair.  Fitz has a good job.

Monday, December 14, 2015

10:30 people

Over these first few weeks of the ski season we have noticed a consistent phenomenon:  from Alta's opening at 9:15 a.m., the ski slopes are pretty much empty, until 10:30 a.m. when the late risers arrive.  It's uncanny - almost exactly at 10:30 a.m., every weekend day.  We prefer to get up there and ski from first chair because the snow is better and you don't have to wait in line (Note: this will all change once we get to Christmas ... or once we get some decent snow), but an awful lot of people are down for a 10:30 a.m. start.  This Saturday, we too were 10:30 people.

We had good reason.  Every year around this time our neighborhood organizes a food drive for the Utah Food Bank.  Instead of baking cookies for the neighbors, we donate non-perishables or money and get together for a little while at breakfast for the collection.  (You may remember our garage party of two years ago when we were the "hosts.")  This year the collection/get-together was Saturday morning and we visited with the neighbors for a bit before heading up the canyon.  We hardly ever see our neighbors since we try to get out on the weekends year-round; it's good to spend a little time with them - once or twice a year.

Action shot! Cruising past the angle station
(that's not the angle station in the photo, btw)

It's not like we were missing a whole lot up at the mountain.  There had been maybe four or five new inches from a tiny Thursday night storm, so everything was as it has been: hard and fast and rocky.  It was mostly cloudy, light winds, with temperatures ranging from 12-20 F.  My toes got cold (of course) but luckily Alf's is now fully open and we were able to munch on french fries while I warmed back up.  It seemed busier than it has been too - it sure would be nice to get some snow.  Opening up more terrain will help spread the people out.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

thin cover

I mentioned that we need snow, right?  We really, really do and it was quite evident on Sunday when we went up to Alta.  There was no new snow overnight so we didn't rush up there, pulling into the Wildcat base parking lot just before they started loading the chairs at 9:15 a.m.  There was hardly anyone there at that point, although it did get busier as the day went on; I suspect people looked out the window and said, "We'll wait."  Which would have been a good idea weather-wise* because when we started skiing, it was cloudy with very flat light and super-windy.  The only good thing was that it was fairly warm (too warm, really, for the time of year): already in the 30s at the base.

As far as the snow went, the conditions were certainly skiable, especially if you have Eastern experience.  It wasn't bulletproof - the warm temperatures saw to that - but the strong winds blew the top layer of snow off all the trails and when the weather changed, the clouds lifting, and the people started showing up, it got skied off very quickly.

We switched from Collins to Sugarloaf and back again in the morning, trying to find the side with the least wind.  By 11:30, the winds had dropped and the clouds were breaking up.  We went in for a quick lunch at Alf's and then went back out, appreciating the better visibility, if not the trail conditions and the increased skier traffic.  Surprisingly, the trail that held up the best was Sugarbowl, off the top of the Sugarloaf lift.  This section often gets scraped off quickly, due to how high traffic it is.  But on Sunday, the winds were taking all the snow from up higher on the mountain and dropping it into the Sugarbowl area.  I think people thought it was going to be icy but it really wasn't, not even right down the middle.

The rest of the trails were not faring so well, however, and I got bored with skiing the same two trails while dodging people.  We headed down-canyon around 2 p.m., glad as always that we'd gotten out on the boards, but ready for some snow.  Come on, Mother Nature, hook us up!

*  But not snow-wise because it got skied/blown off

Monday, December 7, 2015

what a difference a week makes

We need snow, that much is perfectly clear.  We are (once again) at a historic low and approximately a foot below last year - and last year was pretty terrible.  There's a storm system looming in our fairly-near future, however, and we're keeping our fingers crossed about that.

In the meantime, there's still some Eastern-style skiing to be done while we wait for snow.  Saturday's weather was so different from what we'd skied in last weekend: sunny, mostly clear, calm and much warmer, with temperatures of 12F at the peak/20F at base when we started, and near 30F at the base and 20F at the peak when we finished.  It was quite nice, actually; I love skiing when temperatures are in the 20s and - amazingly - I seemed to have gotten my outfit right for once.

Sunshine on the Sugarloaf chair

Alta was hosting a Demo Days with mostly local ski companies, including Ramp, Voile and Black Diamond.  It was not at all crowded to start.  We skied four or five runs off Collins, then moved to Sugarloaf and there was hardly anyone there.  Despite the better temperatures, I got cold around 11:30 a.m. (which is what happens when you're just cruising groomers over and over again) and went in, with H joining me after a couple more runs.  There were lots of Alf's workers having lunch together, enjoying the quiet during early season before all hell breaks loose around Christmas.  We enjoyed the quiet too, especially not having to fight anyone for a table in the cafeteria.  After lunch, we did two more runs at Sugarloaf before switching back to Collins.  It was busier there on the front side with everyone demoing skis and we had to take the singles line a couple of times.  The conditions were deteriorating quickly though, with high traffic areas getting pretty skied off, and we called it quits early, leaving a little before 2 p.m.

Early season has its own challenges, with low snow, not much open terrain and too many people on too few trails.  But I like it because you can begin to retrain the muscle memory in your legs, it is not nearly as crowded as it will become, skiing hard pack doesn't bother me because I know how to ski it.  Plus, skiing early season gets us up in the mountains which is the most important part.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

more of the same

As much as I love skiing, by the time Sunday rolled around, bringing with it just an inch or two of new snow, cloudy skies and cold temperatures, I had had enough.  I can suck it up for a couple of days of quite cold (read: not getting above 15 F) skiing, but I just couldn't face it again.  I had found a couple of frostburned patches (never froze/got white but blistered a little later) on my cheeks, just below my goggles and my toes were still sensitive from having gotten so cold on Saturday.  I told H he was on his own for skiing.

I really like this shot, looking up the Collins liftline

While I puttered around the house, doing laundry and DVD yoga and generally tidying up, H put on his down parka and headed up to Alta.  He reported that it was more of the same of what we'd been skiing: very cold (6F at Wildcat base area), flat light, light flurries, snow firm and fast but improved slightly with the overnight inch, not particularly busy.  When he got home, he said that I definitely would have been cold if I'd gone with him.  I hate to miss out on a ski day but in all honesty it doesn't seem like I missed all that much.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

seems like winter may have arrived

Saturday arrived, bringing a couple of inches of snow in the valley and cold temperatures.  H and I both opted to learn from our outfitting mistakes from the day before, this time donning down jackets with hoods and heavier base layers.  As we drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon, we wondered what the crowds would be like, guessing that it might be quite busy and with lots of kids (because Saturday) but then again it might not (because of the weather).

When we pulled into the parking lot at Wildcat base, there was hardly anyone there, and we didn't get a surge of skiers at 10:30 a.m., like we've seen other days so far this year.  As we stood in the lift line, waiting for Collins to open, we both pulled our hoods over our helmets: it was cold (11F at the base and 5F at the top) and lightly snowing.  Hardly any wind, however, and that was a big plus.  We rode Collins for the first part of the morning, taking Mambo and Main Street down again and again under the snow guns, which was a little treacherous in the flat light.  The inch of snow Alta had gotten overnight really worked wonders as we skied on the best conditions (read: least scratchy) of the year so far.

Trying to stay warm (and succeeding 
somewhat better than the day before)

At 10:30 a.m., they opened the Sugarloaf lift.  Skiers surged over there and we did too, eager to mix things up a little bit.  The snow guns were running there too, near the chairlift in a couple of places which made for a cold ride.  The snow was holding up well there too and we did laps on Devil's Elbow for the rest of the day, taking a break for lunch (and to thaw our frozen feet) at Alf's.  Alf's is not fully open yet - just beverages, soups/chili, salads and snacks - but we were glad to get back there to say hello to the familiar faces behind the line, back again for another season.

That's H and me, on Alta's website as one of
their Pictures of the Day!  Photo credit: John Shafer

I couldn't stand the frozen fingers and toes any longer than 2:00 p.m. and we skied out, taking the EBT from the top of Sugarloaf lift around to the top of Collins lift for the first time this season.  Although these little snowstorms bring an inch here, three inches there, it sure would be nice to get a bunch of storms that just dump a bunch of snow: even with the expanded terrain that the Sugarloaf lift being open has brought, we're getting sick of skiing groomers in order to preserve our ski bases.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

total outfit fail

Some people, the lucky ones, have a quiver of skis, enabling them to pick and choose what they want to ride depending on the conditions.  I seem to be acquiring a quiver of ski outerwear.  In theory, this should enable me to put together just the right layering ensemble for any weather.  The problem is that I can only work with the information I've got.  On the Friday after Thanksgiving, for example, I checked Alta's current conditions/mountain report, which told me that the 5:00 a.m. mid-mountain temperature was 18F, that the day's forecasted highs would be in the low 20s, that it would be a little breezy and be partly cloudy.  Given that information, I put on a lightweight base layer, a thin fleece and a part-down jacket, plus mid-weight long johns and my winter-weight ski pants.

When we got up to Alta, it was completely socked in, snowing lightly, 14F at the base and 4F and windy at the summit.  I was way under-dressed and ended up being cold all day - I don't think I got that cold once last year.  Even by early afternoon, it had only warmed up to 20F at the base and 9F (and still windy) at the summit, and although the snow flurries died down, the sun never broke through, at least before we left at 2:30 p.m.  At the very least I should have had my heavy long johns and UnderArmor base layer.  H has suggested that since I stress about what to wear so much I should keep a ski outfit journal, tracking the day's conditions, what I wore and if it was the right gear.  I'm going to do that this year and then maybe NEXT year, I can refer back to it and determine the correct layering for any kind of weather.

Looks good.  Just not nearly warm enough.

Despite my outfit woes (and for the record, H was cold too and said he should have worn an insulating layer), it was a pretty good day for early season.  I thought the snow had been vastly improved since last weekend - six inches goes a long way, apparently - although for some reason a whole bunch of little rocks started appearing at the top of Collins, making it hazardous to our ski bases.  It didn't get crowded until 10:30 a.m., and even so the parking lot never completely filled so the high traffic areas didn't start to get skied off until after 2 p.m.

There's not really any snow in the forecast for the next couple of days.  I guess we'll see how the conditions hold up.  And if I can manage to correctly dress for whatever the weather.

Friday, November 27, 2015

thanksgiving 2015

A storm rolled into Utah on Thanksgiving Eve, one that the forecasters were having difficulty getting ahold of, with possible mountain totals ranging from 6-18", plus the potential for snow/rain in the valleys.  This, of course, got me fretting about what to wear for my Thanksgiving morning City Creek Cold Turkey 6k, because I always fret about what I'm going to wear.  (Only for outdoors endeavors - I couldn't care less about work outfits: it's always black pants and some top.)  (And if you don't believe that I always fret about what to wear, just wait until the next post.)  I needn't have worried, however, since we got "half-skunked" on the storm, which dropped a neat six inches in Little Cottonwood Canyon during a 3-4 hour stretch in the afternoon/evening before moving out and leaving us with nothing for the overnight.

Pre-race purple fleece (which 
is about 20 years old - I will never get rid of it)

This meant that the weather for the race was nearly perfect: around 30F and dry, with high, thin clouds and negligible wind.  I much prefer to run when it's cold because I tend to heat up really quickly and even if I start cold, I'll be plenty warm by the race's end.  This time it was cool enough that I opted for a knit hat and I kept my gloves on for the whole race, although I did unzip my collar for the uphill portion.  The dry overnight meant that the racecourse was the standard one: start at the Capitol and run up City Creek Canyon, then turn around at the 3k mark and run back down through Memory Grove.  My uphill portion felt pretty good but as we approached the finish, I felt like I had no kick whatsoever.  Still, I continued my streak of consistent finishes:

Smiling at the finish

Race results (and history)
2015:  35:17.18, 6 out of 19 in age group, 186/593 overall
2014:  34:14:58 (fastest time by far, for some reason), 10 out of 26 in age group, 174/656 over
2013:  35:44.40, 7 out of 24 in age group, 243/682 overall
2012:  n/a (Thanksgiving in California)
2011: 35:41.33, 249/656 overall
2010:  37:22.76 (course changed due to ice/uphill finish), top half of finishers
2009:  35:53.32, top half of finishers

After the race, H dropped me at home.  I puttered around the house, making pies and cranberry sauce, while he went up to Alta.  When he got up there at 11 a.m., it was packed: the Collins corral was full, including the singles line, and he had to park in the very last row of the Wildcat base lot.  People were excited about the new snow, despite how little we ended up getting.  He noticed that the crowd thinned out a lot around 12:00 p.m., however, and figured that people had to get back to the valley for their Thanksgivings, just being able to get away for the morning.

You can see how full the parking lot 
and the corral are, even from up here

We had a quiet evening together afterwards, calling our families back east and exercising restraint in not having seconds on pie.  With a long weekend ahead, there would be plenty of time for runs on Collins and then pie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

the rest of opening weekend

What comes after Opening Day?  Opening Weekend, when those of us who had to work get to get back on our skis.  This year it felt like I fell back into the ski season routine more readily than I had in the past, finding all the clothing and gear I needed (including hand warmers and socks), figuring out my layers, getting up in time to make bacon for breakfast.  The only flutter of indecision came with respect to my skis: Alta has had 45" inches of snow thus far, settling into a 20" base, and although my Salomons were newly waxed and tuned, I feared for their bases and ended up skiing on my old beater Volkls instead, just in case of rocks.

Saturday, with Sugarloaf behind me

This year could not have been more different from last year, weather-wise.  There was no unsettled weather, with clear and bright blue skies the whole weekend.  Saturday was chilly, starting out around 18 F at the start, but there was no wind so it was really only my toes that got cold in the morning.  There were not very many people there first thing in the morning - which was nice because there is not that much open yet, forcing everyone to ski the same trails over and over and over and over again - but we had to switch to the singles line around 10:30 a.m. to combat the lines.  Sunday was largely a carbon copy of the day before, perhaps a little warmer and with just a tiny little bit of wind.  Again, we were able to have chairlift rides to ourselves until 10:30 a.m., and then the people showed up.

Carbon copy (near the Collins angle station)

The conditions were actually pretty good, dearth of snow considering.  H said that it was much better than Opening Day had been; no new snow meant they were able to groom things into submission and while high traffic areas (like Corkscrew - ugh) got skied off, the trails did not get bumped up.  When we switched over to the "Sugar side," which we did for the last run of each day, going "around the world" through Sugarloaf and out through Sunnyside, the snow was really pretty good there and with a fraction of the people that were skiing the Collins side.

By Sunday evening, our knees were a little sore and our legs were a little stiff.  That's just what happening on Opening Weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

opening day 2015

At long last, the day H has been waiting for since the end of April: Friday, November 20th, was Alta's opening day for the 2015/2016 season. I opted to work but H went skiing (of course).  Alta had gotten one or two inches of new snow which ended up being just enough to get bumped up over the course of the day, so there was a lot of scrape and clump going on.  The weather was variable - cloudy, cold, windy, snowing, clearing to blue skies - but that didn't keep the opening day crowds away in the least.

Waiting for the lifts to open

I got some texts throughout the day, keeping me up to speed:

"~30 cars.  More arriving.  Lift line already forming."  [this was at 7:51 a.m.; the lifts open at 9:15 a.m.]

"3rd in the singles line"

"Surprised the vents in my pants were zipped.  Then I recalled that horrible weather on closing day."

"Was sunny when I got here.  Now it is pea soup."

"See lots of familiar skiers.  Nobody cooking breakfast but one group just popped a bottle of champagne."

"Very eastern"  [meaning hard and fast]

"And rocky"

After the clouds dissipated

All in all, a pretty typical opening day.  Let the season begin!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

more than we thought

Shoulder season strikes again!  We only managed to get out into the mountains on Sunday this past weekend, but only one day is better than none.  After tossing around a few ideas about what to do (drag the MTBs out again?  drive to Antelope Island for a snow-free hike?), we settled on this: we needed to pick up our season passes at Alta and then, since we would be already all the way up there, we would hike up Grizzly Gulch or up to Catherine's Pass, depending on how much snow was up there.  Alta was saying that they had gotten just over a foot in last week's storm; given the warmer temperatures of the last couple of days, I figured that would have settled out to be easily walkable.  I planned to wear bread bags on my feet between my socks and my no longer waterproof hiking boots but I didn't bother with gaiters.

In the scrub near Patsy Marley

When we pulled into the Wildcat base area parking lot, we were astounded to see well over one hundred cars in the parking lot.  As we walked up to Skier Services for our passes, we could see scores of people hiking up and skiing down Corkscrew; up above on High Rustler, we could see a ton of tracks where intrepid skiers had come down, ostensibly on their early season rock skis.  After getting our passes, we parked in the upper lot above Albion base and that too was full, with people heading out to hike, cross-country ski and skin up the slopes.  Alta fans are clearly itching for the season to start.

Superior looks good in white

We headed up the Summer Road, taking some mileage off by cutting up Patsy Marley, and then got on the trail to Catherine's Pass.  The trail had been well-packed so we didn't have to worry about post-holing.  In the bright sun it got quite warm quite quickly, but stepping into any shade dropped the temperature right back down again.  The wind would pick up sporadically too which encouraged us to keep moving so as not to get chilled.  From Catherine's Pass we continued upwards toward Supreme and at the Sunset Peak trail junction, we lost our packed path.  Some skiers had been in there (including a couple of them just taking the skins off their skis in the Sunset section of Catherine's Area) but we were breaking trail and post-holing for the most part, the snow well over my knees in many places.  (And as the snow came into my boots from over the top, my bread bags failed.)

Someone got first tracks in Catherine's Area

By the time we were at the top of Upper Big Dipper, we had had enough of flailing around on the access road.  We dropped in over the edge, continuing down Upper Sleepy Hollow to Sleepy Hollow.  The snow, while still quite deep, was drier and lighter here and we were able to descend quickly.  We found ourselves having to veer to skier's right to avoid a cliff area and ended up in the White Squaw Area chutes near the Elephant's Butt.  This was trickier going since it was steep and we had to be careful not to get caught on any rocks or downed trees hidden under the snow.  If we'd had our skis, we would have been out of there in no time.

Picking our way down Upper Big Dipper

We finally got out of the woods and returned to the car via Patsy Marley and the Summer Road.  Our feet were soaked but our spirits were high as we toasted with a couple of IPAs from a newer Utah brewery, Park City Brewing.  Winter is coming and Alta is getting ready for it.  Let it snow.

Updated with our route map:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

the last time the season, for reals

Although we thought that this was the last time we would go MTBing for the year, it turns out that we actually had one more time in us.  The little storm that brought snow to the higher elevations really didn't touch Park City's lower trails and with the weekend being so beautiful, we just had to get our tires in the dirt one more time.  We checked the trail conditions and, upon finding them classified as "mostly dry," headed up Parley's Canyon.

We had delayed our departure a bit, letting the temperatures warm up to around 45 F.  It was windy, however, as windy as it's been for any MTB ride I've been on, and we planned our kits accordingly with long sleeves, tights/knee warmers and heavier socks (plus long fingered gloves for me).  As we headed down the paved bike path towards the Round Valley trails, we had a full-on headwind (which OF COURSE did not stick around to be a tailwind for the return trip) and it was chilly.  Some hill-climbing would be all we would need to warm up.

Managing to not ride off the side of the bridge

It turned out to be a quite nice day for riding.  Once we were on the dirt in the foothills, the wind wasn't much of a factor and the temperatures warmed into the low 50s, which was very pleasant.  Mud was not an issue as the trails were completely dry.  I managed to stay wheels-down for the entire ride and felt like I climbed the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks pretty well.  We started coming across quite a few people in that middle section - both sides of Rambler are popular - but we were all polite and well-versed in trail etiquette. It also turned out to be a good critter-viewing day: in addition to the boring old cows and horses, we saw a donkey, bison and zebra (residents of a ranch on the outskirts of Park City) and we got close to a winter-coated ermine twice on the paved bike path, on both the outbound and inbound portions.

When we got home, H decided to wash our MTBs one last time before putting them away for the winter.  And it was a good thing he did: starting Monday afternoon, a lovely little storm moved into Utah, bringing 12-17" of snow to the higher elevations.  The ski resorts have started to get excited - we skiers have started to get excited - and I think this time,  this time, that was our last MTB for the season.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Looking down the Sunrise chair

We have inadvertently established a bit of a tradition, going for a hike at Solitude and Brighton after the first snow of the year, in 2012, in 2014 and again this year.  A little midweek storm had brought about six inches to the mountains at altitude but the weekend was forecasted to be clear and nice, perhaps the last nice weekend of the year (which would be awesome as we want snow-snow-snow!).  We let it warm up a little bit first and got up to the parking lot at Silver Lake between Solitude and Brighton around 11 a.m.  The sun was up enough to bring the temperature to around 40 F; it was cold enough that Brighton was still blowing snow when we started.

Pausing for breath halfway up the Corner Chute

We started around Silver Lake counterclockwise, breaking off from that path to follow the packed snow trail towards Solitude.  We encountered a few other hikers until we got past Lake Solitude. There, a sign had been put up saying that the access road to the top of Solitude was closed due to construction.  Deer Valley bought Solitude last year and the biggest change they've made has been to take out the beloved, old two-seater Summit lift and put in a new high speed quad.  H and I are not thrilled with that decision: the Summit lift serviced expert terrain only, including Headwall Forest and Honeycomb Canyon.  Most non-expert skiers would take one look at the old double chair and decide to ski elsewhere but this new quad will encourage folks into the area, making it more crowded and probably bringing in people whose skill level is not quite equal to the terrain.  But they didn't ask our opinion and put in the new chairlift this summer.

Anybody lose a ski? Like, twenty years ago?

Since we couldn't slog up the access road, we considered our other options.  The best one looked like going up Corner Chute, between Headwall Forest and the Evergreen cliffs/glades.  Although this is a great little chute to ski, it's quite steep to hike up - steep enough that we probably wouldn't have considered it if it hadn't been covered in snow.  It was pretty well covered in snow, actually: it must have blown in there because it was up to our knees in places.  We clawed our way about halfway up the chute, then veered right, out of the chute and into the trees.  We found a bit of a flat part, found a vintage 1990s ski, and then found the access road.  We scampered up it just a little way to where the Sol-Bright trail came in.  Above us, we could see the construction equipment working on the new lift.  Wolverine Cirque loomed above us as well, sparkling in the sun with its light coating of snow.

Wolverine Cirque

We headed back down the Sol-Bright trail, which eventually reconnected with the loop around Silver Lake.  Just for fun, we finished the lake loop, our wet boots and hiking poles in sharp contrast to the people in their city coats and leather shoes who were sitting on the benches, enjoying the views.  That's what's so cool about Salt Lake City - the mountains are so close that anyone can enjoy them, no matter what they want to get out and do.

View of Silver Lake from the Sol-Bright trail
Edit:  To add the route map:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Nothing much going on around here right now.  We had a lovely visit from H's parents last weekend, with weather ranging from cold and rainy (I made H turn the heat on!) to sunny and nearly balmy.  But now the weather seems to be taking a turn, hopefully towards winter since in theory ski season starts in just a few weeks.  We're enjoying the edges of a small storm now that is giving us rain in the valley and just a little snow up in at altitude; this same storm dropped 22" at Jackson Hole and an awesome three feet at Mammoth, who is planning on opening tomorrow, just because they can.  We haven't gotten close to that here but it's cold enough right now that a number of resorts have fired up their snow guns.

Friday, October 30, 2015

winding up, we hope

I went back east to see family for a week after our southern Utah sojourn.  I got back Saturday evening and when Sunday morning rolled around, we thought a MTB ride would be good to shake the cross-country travel cobwebs out.  We waited a while for it to warm up a bit in Park City; while the sun never broke through the high clouds, it ended up being a comfortable temperature to ride.  I wore my arm warmers and my long-fingered gloves while H took his arm warmers with him but never put them on.  We warmed up nicely on the climbs and only got slightly chilled when we paused  in the wind at the top of hills.

It's definitely fall here now, despite the slightly warmer than usual temperatures, with most of the leaves off the trees and the wind being stronger than it's been all summer.  It's also definitely fall in that there are very few people out on the trails, either on foot or on two wheels.  Personally, I like riding this time of year: it's cooler and with fewer leaves on the scrub oaks, it's easier to see if anyone is coming at you on the trails.  Trail work has also stepped up a bit, including a re-routing of our regular ride.  The climb that we called "My Nemesis" has been closed for re-vegetation and a new trail has been installed in its place.  It still takes you to the top of the same hill that My Nemesis did but instead of a straight slog up, there are several switchbacks, making the climbing easier but longer.

At the bottom of what used
to be My Nemesis

I was not riding my best for some reason, feeling very wobbly on the rockier spots and whenever I was going very slowly.  I even tipped over into a sagebrush bush on an uphill switchback to the right on the Nouvelle Loop, one that I've ridden dozens of times, simply because I was going just too slowly.  At other times I did pretty well, however, climbing the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks just less than two minutes slower than H, and climbing the Staircase as well as I ever have.  My legs were well-rested, at least, and my lungs weren't suffering from a week at sea level.

Updated Round Valley route map

We are actually hopeful that this will have been the last MTB of the season: it's practically November and in theory the weather will turn too cold and wet and snowy for any more rides.  It's been a good MTB season.  Now it's time to turn to something else.  Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

all good things

With slightly heavy hearts, we packed up our things on our last morning in Moab, saying farewell to the quirky Kokopelli (until the next time).  We had hoped for a return engagement at Wake & Bake for breakfast but it was inexplicably closed, so we ended up at the Moab Diner again.

A still moment down by the Colorado River

A drive out the Potash Road to the boat launch on the Colorado River seemed to be in order; the river was calm and quiet and much, much lower than it had been in May.  Temperatures were just about perfect (low 70s) and the skies were perfectly clear - possibly the very best weather we've ever had in all our trips to Moab.

Always happy on these trails

We stopped again at the MOAB Brand Trails on our way out of town to do two more circuits of Rusty Spur and the Bar M loop.  I wasn't riding quite as well as I had been a few days earlier; cumulative fatigue had definitely set into my legs and I had to muscle my MTB up a couple of spots that I had ridden with ease before.

One last dead tree art shot before we go

Our last stop before heading home was Ray's Tavern in Green River for their wonderful burgers and hand-cut fries.  We always like going to Ray's but it's always a little bittersweet because it means vacation is over.  Luckily, the drive north flew by (for me, anyway) as I read aloud the trail descriptions of over forty Moab area day hikes from our newly purchased hiking books.  We've already got some in mind for the next time we head to southern Utah.

Monday, October 26, 2015

new trails in arches

We didn't have to get up at the crack of early on Sunday since our Fiery Furnace guided hike didn't start until 10 a.m., instead sleeping in a bit, then having breakfast at Wake & Bake before swinging by the store for sandwich/beer/ice supplies.  We drove into the Fiery Furnace parking lot at Arches National Park with plenty of time to spare, despite having to wait in line at the park entrance.  Arches is an incredibly popular park and the stunning weather was encouraging folks to get out and about early.

Within the Fiery Furnace

We had about twenty-five people in our group, with an age range of mid 20s to early 70s and an experience range of us (feeling cocky with Gooseberry under our belts) to "practically never having stepped off a sidewalk."  The ranger who led the hike, Alison Van Lonkhuyzen (sp?), did an amazing job of keeping the group together, safe, informed and engaged during our 2 mile, 2.5 hour tour of the Fiery Furnace.  She was great at reading our group, in addition to engaging with the other permitted groups exploring the area.  She conveyed a ton of information about Arches in general, and the Fiery Furnace specifically, as well as her affection for the greater Moab area.

Skull Arch (the skull is upside down)

We were in the guided hike in the first place because the Fiery Furnace is a delicate and restricted area.  You are only allowed in with a guide or, if unguided, with a permit (and they vet you carefully before handing out those limited permits).  There are no actual trails within this area and the ecosystem is quite fragile, including one plant, the Canyonlands biscuitroot, which is only found there and one other place on the planet. 

Me, bringing up the end of the group

It's a pretty spot, although we have seen places equally as scenic in our own explorations, and people want to get in there - but it is important to protect it and I think the Park Service is doing the right thing in limiting the foot traffic.  Going on a guided hike isn't really our kind of thing but we were glad to have finally been able to do it.

Surprise arch, somewhere in there

Afterwards, we got off the main park road, driving 7+ miles on the dirt Salt Valley Road to the Tower Arch trailhead.  The Salt Valley Road is listed on the park map but there isn't any sign for the turnoff on the road.  This is presumably to keep the hoi polloi off it since it is impassable in inclement weather:  the road is actually on a soft sand wash for some distance and when it is wet, vehicles would get stuck.  We had to drive very slowly to keep from washboarding but were entertained by the dozens of tiny white-tailed rodents dashing across the road into their burrows.

Old sign en route to Tower Arch

We parked in the small lot at the Tower Arch trailhead and walked into the arch, recognizing two other couples who had been in our Fiery Furnace group.  Despite being several cars at the trailhead, however, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves. 

Just below Tower Arch

The trail wasn't difficult, crossing slickrock for the most part, except for an extended hilly section where we were crossing sand dunes.  Although our legs were experiencing some cumulative fatigue at this point, it was still a nice and easy walk after Gooseberry.

Tower Arch (with all the people hidden)

It was, as so many of these desert trails are, quite scenic.  And when we came around the corner of a sandstone fin and saw the massive Tower Arch looming overhead, we were impressed.  The rock comprising the span of the arch is easily as thick as the opening beneath it - we hadn't known what to expect but we hadn't expected something so huge.  We stayed for a while, gazing at the arch, until the somewhat noisy and annoying group who were there ahead of us drove us away.  (We wish people would use their inside voices when they are outside in spectacular locations like that.)

Heading back on Salt Valley Road

Then it was back to town to clean up for dinner at Miguel's Baja Grill: margaritas, a giant burrito for H and goat enchiladas with green chile and mole for me.  After dinner we swung by Back of Beyond Books (recently given very good press in Neil Peart's Ghost Rider), which is an excellent independent bookstore right in the middle of Main Street, Moab.  They've got everything you could want in a bookstore: tons of local guidebooks, maps and history books, cookbooks, best-sellers and a large collection of old and rare books and maps.  We spent quite a while there, poring over a late 1800s map of Utah before purchasing two quirky books of Moab area day hikes and two maps.  If you're ever in Moab, you should definitely stop by and buy something from Back of Beyond.

Tower Arch trail map (2.8 miles)