Friday, January 30, 2015

lemonade from lemons, winter edition

The National Weather Service got the forecast bang on the money for Sunday: thin clouds to start and then clearing to sunny.  It was also warmer right from the first chair; I was dressed perfectly for the morning but felt overdressed for the afternoon as the temperatures crept closer to springtime.  Since it was so much warmer, my feet never got cold and as much as I want it to be winter again (please, please, get cold and snow and be winter again!), I am grateful whenever my feet don't get cold.

Pretty, pretty day

Supreme stayed busy all day and the trails off Sugarloaf were well-populated.  It never seemed all that crowded, however, and at lunchtime there were plenty of empty tables at Alf's - although lots of folks were taking advantage of the warmer temperatures and sitting outside.  In the afternoon, the snow softened and got fun to ski on, especially Upper Big Dipper off the Supreme chair.  I was on my old Volkls - just taking them out for a spin for the heck of it - and I could definitely feel the difference between them and my new Salomons.  The Volkls are very light and easy to turn and my knees didn't ache halfway through the afternoon, but I did actually miss my Salomons because they have more of an edge at this point, plus the Volkls just seemed a bit too light.  As much as we desperately want it to snow (and snow a lot), it was a stunning, gorgeous day to be out skiing.

Sunday's statistics:  21 runs; 29,753 vertical.  And in comparison, Mt. Everest is 29, 029 feet high.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

if you're just skiing groomers, you might as well count them

Another weekend, still no new snow.  We're about 26% below "normal" snowfall (and after the last three years I'm beginning to think that "normal" may need to be recalibrated) but we're still ahead of where we were last year at this time.  So there's that.  As we headed up the canyon after a leisurely breakfast of coffee, o.j. and fried egg sandwiches with bacon, I figured that the only locals up at Alta would be eastern transplants like us, people who don't mind skiing/know how to ski on hard snow, in addition to the tourists.  Native Utahns think that the conditions are "icy" right now.  It isn't icy, if you've ever skied back east, but it is firm and fast.  Real eastern icy conditions are referred to as "packed powder" anyway.

It was partly sunny in the morning and in the mid-20s, good temperatures and positively pleasant when the sun came up over the mountains.  As we did our five runs on Collins first thing, no one was going into Main Street/Race Course at all but a fair number of people were taking the traverse across the Ballroom and then bootpacking straight up (currently allowed by Ski Patrol) to just below the cliffs to nab some untracked snow.  H thought that looked like a lot of work for just five or six turns.  I agreed.

We stuck to groomers all day since the offpiste stuff was quite firm, moving from Collins to Sugarloaf to Supreme.  The Supreme lift line got really busy just before lunch but afterwards, all the people disappeared and we were skiing right onto the lift.  We ended up doing nineteen runs with 26,800 vertical feet on the day before I got too cold (even though the temperatures were fairly warm for the time of year, we weren't working very hard since we were just skiing groomers and my feet got very cold) and we called it a day.  The clouds had moved in by then anyway and the light was flat.  There was still no measurable snow on the horizon - although the cloud cover was spitting a snowflake out occasionally - but Sunday's forecast was for spring skiing-like warmth.  If you can't have snow, you might as well have sunshine, I guess.

Friday, January 23, 2015

diminishing returns

It was bound to happen: Monday was not as good as the rest of the long holiday weekend.  Although it wasn't that much colder, it clouded up entirely and the light got flat.  When we did our first runs on Collins, the clouds had settled right down around 10,100 feet, so visibility was completely nil for a while.  After two or three runs, however, the breeze picked up and moved the clouds off.  We moved to Sugarloaf and then Supreme (of course).  We tried a run in Catherine's Area but the snow had stiffened up a bit (and, truth be told, my legs were fatigued) and I was really struggling.  After that, we pretty much stuck to the groomers.  The snow was firm and fast but not icy - except Challenger looked terribly scratchy and skied off.  We relearned these things about skiing groomers: it's tough to stay warm when you're not hiking and/or working hard; and you can get a lot more runs in when you're just flying down the trails.  (Truth again: H was flying, I was just going my speed.)  We finally got tired of groomers around 2:30 p.m. and headed home.

Given the dearth of new snow, getting two out of three decent ski days was better than expected.  The forecast is looking pretty dire, though: we're stuck under a ridge of high pressure for a while.  It's time to get down and do a snow dance for sure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

a little bit more

Sunday, day #2 of the long Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, was slightly cloudier, slightly warmer, slightly windier and a whole lot crowded-er than Saturday had been.  There was even a tiny little bit more snow, with one to two new inches having come in overnight.  We did three runs on Collins to start, including our first time of the season into the Ballroom.  The traverse in was pretty sketchy with lots of whoop-de-doos; one woman ahead of us was really tentative, snowplowing down the traverse itself.  She seemed so nervous and out of her depth that we weren't even annoyed with her, instead skiing around her and continuing on.  The Ballroom itself skied okay - the snow was beaten down from all the skier traffic but still soft.

Devil's Castle in the morning

We moved over to Sugarloaf, starting off with a flyer and then a run down Chartreuse Nose which was still holding up well.  After that, we did a run into Devil's Castle which was also still good.  We then skied over to Supreme for runs in Catherine's Area.  We also got into the high gates off Rock N' Roll, the traverse of which spits you out under the cliffs approaching the Apron.  Not many people had been in there and we found some deep snow in a tree-lined chute (and I did a somersault over a fallen tree that H managed to hop right over).  It was back to Catherine's for more hiking/skiing after that.  The snow was holding up and I was finally feeling like I was skiing pretty well.

In the trees/chutes near the Apron

After lunch we did a cabin run, then hiked back into Devil's Castle.  For the run-out we went far to skier's right through trees and chutes in Boulder Basin (?) stuffed with deep but heavy snow.  Then it was back to Supreme and Catherine's Area for laps until my legs gave out.  There were WAY more people on Sunday - which we did not at all expect.  They had to extend the corral at Supreme and we had to wait a while even in the singles line.  Strangely lunch wasn't crowded at all - we guessed they were all still standing in the Supreme corral.

Waiting to drop in

Sunday, January 18, 2015

beautiful start to the long weekend

When the long three-day weekend finally rolled around, we were eager to get up to Alta to get our skis on the remains of the 26" storm.  The forecast was nice but not really January-ish: sunny, no wind and low 30s.  Perfect March weather!  After readjusting our layers to spring levels, we headed on up.  Traffic was steady but not overwhelming; we parked in the front row, waited for the corral to clear and got on the Collins lift.

H on Chartreuse Nose

Trying something new, we did a couple of warm-up runs on the Collins side, then switched it up and went into East Greeley along the main traverse.  We were pleasantly surprised to find the snow soft and skiable.  It wasn't fluffy and untracked but it was fun.  After skiing down to Sugarloaf, we did a run through Chartreuse Nose for the first time this season.  We had to pick our way around a couple of rocks but the snow was, again, soft and pretty deep and fun to ski in.  It was starting to get a little busier (although not terribly so: we would end up riding the singles line a lot but never actually stood in line) and we moved to Supreme.

In the trees at Catherine's Area

Once at Supreme, we mainly hiked into and skied Catherine's Area.  Amazingly it was quite good, given that it had been several days since it last snowed.  We did four or five runs in there throughout the day, including two down the first rope line and through the gate, in the trees between Back Forty and So Long.  No one had been in there (!!!) and the snow was terrific, deep and light.  When we hiked all the way to Last Chance, we again found deep, untracked snow. So fun!

Back in Devil's Castle again

After lunch, we did a cabin run and then hiked into Devil's Castle for the first time this season.  To continue the day's theme:  it was really good in there, still soft even though it had been skied out.  H did a second hike/run in there - I did a flyer since my legs were fading - and then we returned to Supreme where we stayed until Catherine's Area closed at 3 p.m.  We headed out then, pleased with the snow, pleased with the crowds, pleased with having our expectations on the day surpassed.  A great start to the long weekend.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

flat snow, flat light

While the rest of the country is seemingly in the deep freeze, we've been having a January thaw here in Salt Lake City.  When we left for Alta on Saturday morning, it was already 28 F at Wildcat base; by the time we left in the afternoon, it was 29 F at the summit and 40 F at the base.  There was patchy sunlight to start but after lunch the clouds really rolled in and the light got emphatically flat, making it extremely difficult to see.

We did a couple of runs on Collins to start, then moved over to Sugarloaf for a couple of runs, and then continued on to Supreme.  The snow was a little bit eastern-style - firm and fast - but it wasn't actually icy since the warmer temperatures kept it soft; the only places where it approached "icy" were where the sun had baked it earlier in the week.  It didn't seem like there were too many people and the parking lot certainly wasn't packed when we left, but the trails coming off Sugarloaf were fairly busy at times and we did end up riding the Supreme singles line a couple of times when the corral got full.

In under the Apron

We only did one run into Catherine's Area: the top was soft and lovely to ski in but the last pitch on the way out was much less fun, having melted in the sun earlier in the week and then frozen up overnight.  Luckily, we did find that a couple of the lower gates on Rock N Roll were finally open, so we were able to get into the trees below the Apron.  It was fairly soft in there but a little grabby for the turns and very tracked out.  Everything was tracked out - I don't think I've ever seen Catherine's Area as beaten down as it was.  We hadn't had any decent snow for at least 7-10 days and were starting to get desperate for it.  [This would change on Monday when a very excellent and over-producing storm brought a much-needed 26" to Alta.  Of course, we had to work and missed it.  I'm sure some people got out and enjoyed it.]

After lunch, snow started spitting down sporadically, which was the start of a weak system moving in for the overnight.  The light got even worse after lunch: it was incredibly difficult to see what we were skiing on, even on groomers.  We decided to quit while we were ahead and were back at the truck by 2 p.m.  On Sunday, we got up and checked Alta's overnight snowfall total (3") and webcams (low clouds socking in the whole resort but not actually snowing).  We played the Utah ski snob card (as in, refusing to ski in such poor visibility) and stayed home.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

taqueria 27

Another birthday rolled around for me recently and I was determined to break our trend of mediocre birthday dining selections (Citris Grill in 2010, Pat's BBQ in 2011, Cafe Trio in 2013 and Epic in 2014; our 2012 place, Aristo's, was the lone quite good dinner).  I had some trouble coming up with a new place to try - not because of lack of places but because there's an inversion settled in the valley and I wanted to keep the driving to a minimum - and finally settled on Taqueria 27 in Holladay center (there's also another one in town on Foothill Drive in SLC).

Taqueria 27 is in a newish building (that also houses Copper Kitchen, also on my list of places to try) right in the center of the Holladay village.  After circling a couple of times to find a parking spot, we strolled into the restaurant 6:30 p.m.ish - we had hoped that an early dinner might mean a shorter wait for a table since Taqueria 27 doesn't take reservations.  We ended up waiting for only 5-10 minutes, despite the full waiting room; when we were walked past the mostly empty bar to our table, we realized that we could have sat there with no waiting whatsoever.  The restaurant is quite big, with high ceilings and a wood-and-metal industrial decor.  Since it was busy, it was pretty noisy although we were able to hear each other at least.

The menu is not huge, with entrees limited to street-style tacos (all on soft tacos, either corn or flour) and some mole plates, plus salads and chips and homemade salsas and guacamoles.  There are a couple of beers on draft and several in cans/bottles, a variety of margaritas and a whole page of tequilas.  The tacos come in small orders (2) or large (4).  I got two duck confit tacos (roasted veggies, chipotle crema and crispy leeks) and two carnitas tacos (tomatillo salsa, pickled red onion, chiccarones and cilantro), H got four turkey chorizo tacos (pickled red onion, cilantro, queso and chipotle crema) and we got an order of chips with two salsas, a verde version and a hot one.  Beverage-wise, H had a Cutthroat ($3/can) and I got a T27 margarita (blanco tequila, lime, blood orange and agave nectar for $6 or $7 for an additional 1/2 ounce of tequila "long pour").  My margarita was very tasty - bright and fresh and not too sweet.

The food came out very quickly despite how busy the place was.  The chips and salsas were quite tasty: the verde salsa was creamy, which I thought was a weird way to go, but zesty and the "hot" salsa was very good.  The small tacos are served standing up on little metal W-shaped racks.  I couldn't eat all of mine so I gave a carnitas one to H.  Everything was good and fresh - I had never had soft corn tacos and they were lovely - but we both thought that it all could have had bigger flavor.

Since the food came out so soon, and since you can't really put down a taco once you pick it up, we were in and out of there pretty quickly, especially since we declined dessert and opted for only one round of drinks.   I really liked the food but I can see Taqueria 27 as being more of a come in/sit at the bar/get out quick because it's noisy place for us ... although they do have a large outdoor seating area that might be nice in the spring/fall for lingering over more than one margarita.  Best of all, we're now two for five on successful birthday dinners.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

windy weekend, no waiting

Last Saturday was a cold one, forecast to be 14-19F with flurries and light winds but in actuality, it was 14F at Collins base when we got to Alta and only warmed there to low 20s.  It never got above 12F on the peaks all day.  Also all day: snow, steadily but not heavily (but way more than flurries), with an accumulation of about an inch by 2 p.m.  It was also very windy up on the peaks, making things slightly less pleasant - I'm not a big fan of windy days - although it wasn't nearly as it was that Sunday before Christmas.

There was hardly anyone in the parking lot by Goldminer's Daughter when we got there and we encountered no lift lines all day.  The lodges were a bit more crowded for early lunch since people were trying to get in out of the weather.  Sugarloaf's trails were medium-busy but nothing was as crowded as we expected it to be.  The snow was about the same as New Year's Day although it did improve throughout the day as the snow continued to fall.

For some reason, I was skiing terribly but improved throughout the day too, doing better after lunch. We did five Catherine's Area runs, finding the conditions better the further in we went; when we went all the way in, we actually found some soft snow which was great.  That one pitch is short but the snow is always good there.  We were alternating Catherine's runs with Supreme flyers because I needed to hike back into Catherine's often to stay warm.  We ended up staying on Supreme all day because the wind was to our backs on that chairlift - much more pleasant that way.  Both of us got cold feet but we managed to stay mostly comfortable otherwise, especially with the hiking we were doing. 

Hiking into Catherine's Area on Saturday

As we headed down canyon, the falling snow petered out below Snowbird and by the time we go to the valley, there was some sunshine and blue sky poking through the inversion.  Since it was our move-iversary (five years, three months) we didn't go straight home, instead swinging by the Porcupine for a pitcher of Full Suspension and a chicken quesadilla.

East Greeley

Sunday was a little warmer, a little less windy and a little sunnier.  As usual, we skied Sugarloaf and Supreme (one of these days we should do some early runs on the front side before it gets skied off).  After being closed the day before, the EBT and the Backside were was open and I did much better on my run on through East Greeley than I had managed on New Year's Day.  I hope this means I'm finally getting my ski legs.  Rock N Roll was also open after being closed all Saturday and it had some nice snow on it, at least at first.  Alta was not at all busy: we never waited in line and even lunchtime wasn't crowded.  All the tourists have gone home, it seems, plus not many locals were out because there had been no new snow for days, other than that inch from Saturday.  Still, it was a nice day and a good weekend of skiing.  The week ahead looks dry and inversion-y, however, and it's now just a waiting game until the next storm moves in.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

our becky

We usually try to keep things on a positive note here at We Went West, but on December 29, 2014, we lost our crazy dog, Becky, to the decline of old age.  She had been a part of our lives for more than eleven years and I'd like to tell you a little about her.

Her shelter portrait (2003)

When we adopted Becky from the animal refuge league in October 2003, we had been without a dog for just three months, since H's dog, Yukon, had died that summer.  H couldn't stand being dog-less any longer so he and our friend Cindy found Becky.  He and I went to see her the next day and that afternoon I brought her home.  She had been picked up in West Virginia as a stray and had languished in a pound down there all summer before being driven to Maine by a rescue group; we took her home after only three days in the Maine shelter.  At first she was timid, very quiet and meek, and afraid to walk through doorways.

Fishing on Twitchell Pond, Maine (2007)

But she was immediately comfortable in jumping up on the couches and beds (which we did not discourage, big softies that we are) and soon came out of her shell, racing up and down the upstairs hallway and both singing and dancing for her food.  When we took her to the vet's for the first time, she was calm and quiet, lying down when not being examined and unflinching when she got shots.  We asked the vet what breed(s) she might be and he replied that she was a true Heinz 57 mutt - any and all breeds.  I always described her as looking like a big, fat fox with pretty eyeliner eyes.

Driving out to Utah (2009)

Food was a huge part of Becky's life, we assumed because she'd been scrounging on her own for however long as a stray.  She was never fussy about her dry dog food and hoovered it up quickly.  She was a shameless beggar for people food too and would eat just about anything: cheese, bananas, apples, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, green beans.  She would eat blueberries and blackberries right off the bushes, delicately wrinkling her lips back to pluck each individual berry off with her front teeth.  I once left her in the car while unloading groceries and came back out to find that she'd eaten half a cantaloupe - gnawed right through the rind and ate it.  (I didn't leave her alone in the car with groceries again after that.)

Keeping track of all the toys (2009)

Because she was so motivated by food, I thought she would be a good candidate for obedience classes; she learned quickly - cheese! - but since I didn't keep up with the practicing, she only retained "sit" and "shake."  Oh, she knew her name all right - she just didn't like to answer to it.  She was smart enough to pick up on commonly-used phrases too, like "Do you want to go outside?", "Do you want to go for a car ride?", "Who's that?" (to get her to run to the window and bark at dogs walking by) and "You're staying."

Of course our dog likes beer (2009)

By and large car rides were Becky's very favorite thing.  She didn't much like being left at home alone, although she never chewed anything, preferring to pout on the bed instead, but being left in the car for hours on end was never an issue.  In the winter she would go to work with H, curling up on the front seat of his truck for the workday: he would let her out and give her water at lunchtime and then she would curl right back up for the afternoon.  One Easter in Maine we drove up to go skiing (and she slept in the truck); then we stopped in at the brewpub for a beer (and she slept in the truck); then we drove to my uncle's house for dinner (and she slept in the truck); and then we drove home - nearly fourteen hours in the truck, punctuated by breaks.  We always figured that she thought we might not come back if we left her at the house but for some reason was confident of our return if she was in a vehicle.  When we drove out to Utah in 2009, she couldn't have been happier: three long days in the truck with both of us with her.

Golden Spike National Historic Site (2010)

Becky did have her issues, most of them stemming from her early West Virginia days, about which we had no information.  She did not like other dogs and would try to fight with them, with the lone exception of my parents' big Italian spinone, Ernie, who was a big galoot, happy to let her be in charge.  Strangers made her nervous, as did children, and she was completely terrified of thunder, gunshots and fireworks.  We think she might have been shot at one time: there was a hard, BB-sized lump in one of her back legs - that would make anyone scared of loud, sharp noises.  Becky was quirky too.  She didn't like having her picture taken at all.  She didn't like to snuggle but always wanted everyone to be in the same room.  She hated it if we were outdoors without her, but was a drama queen if it was too hot outside.  She didn't like the rain, didn't like getting her feet wet and hated swimming, but she loved fishing with H and would jump into the water to try to grab any fish that he reeled in.  The fishing thing was hilarious: she would sit on the dock for hours with H, attentively watching every cast, beside herself with excitement when there was a fish on the line.

Food! (2011)

About a year ago, Becky started to decline, many of her usual behaviors changing.  She went deaf (which was great with respect to Utah's predilection for thunderstorms and fireworks).  Starting in March, she stopped begging for people food and started getting picky.  We worked our way through numerous brands of dry and wet dog food as she first accepted and then refused each one; by this fall she was only picking at grilled chicken and canned tuna fish and she lost a lot of weight.  She had to have a couple of teeth pulled in August and never really bounced back that.  Her fur didn't grow in as thickly after her summer haircut and she actively sought out warmth: we would tie her out in the yard and she would bake herself in the hot Utah sun.  She walked more and more slowly and stiffly, staggering a little.  She could still manage to jump up on the couches and beds - and now would cuddle up with us, under the blankets if at all possible - but she teetered when she stood still, sometimes tipping over.  She would stop sometimes and just stare at the wall for a minute or so, blanking out in the middle of whatever it was she had started to do.  She would try to make a nest out of blankets and pillows and get so frustrated that she'd cry piteously until one of us went and got her.  She slept nearly all the time and took a long time waking up if she didn't do it herself. 

Uintas camping (2012)

In December, we had to talk about what we were going to do and when we were going to do it.  Becky wasn't herself and she was only continuing to deteriorate.  We didn't want to let her go but didn't want her to ever be in pain.  We made the appointment for the Monday after Christmas.  That weekend we spent entirely with her, despite the snow nuking down in the Wasatch mountains, because we didn't want her to be alone, not for a minute.  She was restless, only settling when she was right next to one of us.  I spent hours with her pulled on my lap - our old dog, who never before liked to snuggle - sleeping with her head on my chest and my arms locked around her.

Walking in Millcreek Canyon (2012)

So on that Monday we took her back to the kind vet who had helped with her dental surgery this past August.  We held her and patted her and touched her fur, and told her what a good dog she was.  And then she was gone.

Walking in City Creek Canyon (2013)

It isn't fair that doing the right thing hurts so much.  It isn't fair that dogs live such short lives.  But those of us who love dogs, and who have dogs who love us, will always take the heartbreak that comes with the joy.  When we rescued Becky, we promised to love her, to feed her, to keep her warm and safe, and to give her as many walks and car rides as we could.  We did all that.  We just couldn't keep her from getting old.  She was a good girl, a funny dog, and we miss her terribly.

In the car (2014)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

midweek skiing

We had a couple of nice storms move through in the last week, leaving about 47 new inches of snow up in the mountains.  We didn't ski on Christmas, however, what with being sick, and then various circumstances stacked up to keep us off the hill that weekend.  H finally felt like skiing on Tuesday, but it was super-windy and super-cold (windchill of -26F) and he only stayed out for a couple of hours, reporting that his skis were quite sticky since the wax on them wasn't right for the cold temperatures.  He went back out on Wednesday with better results.  It was cold, but not as cold as Tuesday, and not as windy.  It didn't get busy until after lunch and he skied Supreme for most of the day.

New Year's Day we both went skiing.  I was looking forward to it since I hadn't been since the weekend before Christmas.  It was clear and chilly, 10F at the base at the start.  I found it surprising that there were hardly any cars in the lot when we rolled in at 9 a.m., but I guess most of the hardcore locals wouldn't be jonesing for runs since it hadn't snowed since Monday.  As we rode our first chair out of Collins, we watched a big, fluffy coyote running right down the middle of Collins Face, before swerving skier's left into the lower Wildcat woods.  We see coyote tracks up at Alta all the time but have never seen an actual coyote.  So cool.  I've decided that he was a good omen for 2015.

The Backside is open!

We did a couple of runs on Sugarloaf before heading over to Supreme.  The snow was soft but well-packed (although fluffy if you could find anything untracked) and skied-out, and the grooming crew had done a pretty good job, no doubt with all the vacationing tourists in mind.  Those storms had filled in a lot of the gaps and covered lots of rocks ... although not all of them, which H discovered in a hopeful run through the trees between No. 9 Express and Upper Sleepy Hollow.  Catherine's Area was in pretty good shape (skied out) and we did several runs in there.  My legs were definitely feeling like I hadn't been skiing for a while, but it was such a gorgeous day I didn't care.

Lunch was early so as to avoid the rush and then we were back out at it, including a couple of runs through East Greeley.  For it being vacation, it never got all that crowded but there was plenty of cluelessness.  A couple of doofuses in line at Supreme were talking about another guy's "telemarketer" skis.  Large groups of people were stopped in particularly inopportune places (middle of the cat track) for photos or map reading.  A guy ran me off the edge of the cat track atop Supreme because he was making turns (on a nearly flat cat track) and had no sense of where he was in space.  Sigh.  They'll be gone soon enough.