Friday, February 27, 2015

winter's return

We had to be content with the thirteen inches we got by the end of Saturday: there was no new snow for the clear and windy Sunday morning.  There were much colder temperatures, however, with it never getting above 24 F at the resort base and hovering in the high single digits/low teens up at the summits. The cold didn't keep people away though: Alta was busier than it had been the day before since folks out here don't like to ski during a storm.

We skied singles right from start, sticking with Collins for the first few runs since there was a big cloud hanging low over Sugarloaf.  I could feel the fatigue in my legs right away, even on the groomers; when I ventured off piste into the little trees under Main Street, I knew I was in trouble.  We did two runs on the Backside: Yellow Trail was crisscrossed with traverses but around the corner East Greeley was good, skied out but still soft.  I had to pick my way down through Glitch (or Glatch, whichever) but H powered through the big bumps seemingly effortlessly.  Shortly after we moved over to Supreme, I got cold and went in to forage a table at Alf's.  H joined me one run later and in all that time I just managed to find two seats on the end of a long lunch table - apparently I wasn't the only one whose toes were a little frosty.

Perched near Yellow Trail

After lunch, we rode up Sugarloaf and skied back to Supreme, where we stayed there for the afternoon.  I managed a couple of hikes into/runs through Catherine's Area but my legs were just too tired for much fun.  H, whose legs were not thrashed from Saturday's deep snow skiing, alternated Catherine's runs with flyers down groomers and we just met up with each other at the lift after each lap.  I of course got cold skiing the groomers but every time I ventured off-piste to warm up, it came at a price my poor, pathetic legs just couldn't pay.  Finally, I couldn't do it any more and we skied out, about a half hour earlier than the day.  It was time anyway, as clouds moved in, the light went flat and it got even colder.  I was disappointed in my conditioning - at the end of February, I shouldn't be completely flattened by one day of good snow skiing - but it was still a pretty good day, the snow holding up well in the cold temperatures.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

oh, so that's what skiing on snow is like

Considering we really hadn't had any snow since early January, can you blame me for forgetting how to ski in deep stuff?  For over a month I'd been falling back into my eastern-style habits.  But then, finally, a snowstorm arrived in northern Utah.  The Cottonwood canyons got the best of it: three inches on Friday, another six inches overnight and then perhaps another four inches during the day Saturday.  Alta said Saturday started out with nine inches but dang, in places it was a BIG nine inches, well over my knees in spots and plenty of face shots for everyone.  Temperatures were good too: mid 20s at the base and 14-17 F at the summits.

Knee deep!

It was snowing on and off (probably mostly on) all day, especially over at Supreme, and I finally got to wear almost all my new stuff at once: new-to-me Flylow jacket, new Free the Powder mittens (really like those), new-ish ski pants, new skis.  I ended up being overdressed for whenever we hiked into Catherine's Area - after over a month of cruising groomer I'd also forgotten how warm you get when you ski off-piste - but it got cool on the lifts and groomers, even with my down vest.  The canyon road was clear all the way up but the Wildcat/Collins base parking lot nearly halfway full when we got up there at 9:15 a.m.  Clearly people were psyched for the new snow!

Awkward action shot!

We did one warm-up run at Collins but then went straight to Supreme, hoping the ropes would be down at Catherine's.  Ski patrol actually had quite a lot of terrain open right away, even with all that new snow sitting on top of the hard, old snowpack.  Catherine's Area was open, as was the Backside and the High Traverse, typical trouble spots; Devil's Castle was the only major area that remained closed.  Catherine's was quite popular but it truly stayed awesome all day: deep, over my knees in most places.  I had to keep reminding myself that since I was wearing goggles, I didn't have to close my eyes for face shots.  We did runs in Sunset first, ducking into the trees to skier's left after swooping through the meadow; later, we kept going further and further in, searching out less trafficked spots.

Note the snow stuck under my goggles

Although the snow on top was lovely, we were able to ski down to the scratchy hard pack underneath.  It was better to ski steeper stuff too because the flats stopped me dead in my tracks; I was on my Salomons, which were wrong for the deep, untracked stuff we were getting out in Catherine's Area, but which served me well once things got clumped up.   Because I wasn't skiing my Rossignols, my legs got fatigued from trying to turn the narrower Salomons in the deep snow.  Still, we managed to closed the Supreme lift and then skied out, finishing up around 4 p.m., my poor legs hollering at the giant bumps on Corkscrew.

Saturday's summary:  I was overdressed and under-skied but it was a great day anyway.  Hooray for new snow!

Friday, February 20, 2015

edging slightly back to normal

Perhaps Furnace February/Februjune is on its way out ...?  Dare we hope?  Sunday was approximately 20 degrees colder than Saturday which is a step in the right direction - although the suddenly colder temperatures meant that Saturday afternoon's soft spring-like conditions hardened right up overnight. 

Despite it being day #2 of the holiday weekend, it still did not seem to be as busy as last weekend: there were no lines at all until 11 a.m., and after that we skied singles but still didn't wait for much more than 3-4 minutes; the corrals seemed to be moving well too (except for Sugarloaf). There was, however, a whole lot of flakiness in the lift lines and rampant obliviousness on the slopes: both H and I got pushed into the side of the Supreme cat track by people who didn't have a clue.  With the colder temperatures, the snow was firm and fast on the groomers, and really not so good off-piste; we could hear adventurers clattering over the rock-hard bumps on the Catherine's Area runout as we rode up the chair.  By the end of the day, the only spot that really softened was the bottom half of Challenger, which I skied twice.  And I hate Challenger!  We stuck to the groomers all day, skiing all three of the big lifts (Collins, Sugarloaf and Supreme, but mostly Supreme), and racking up 21 runs (only 20 for me) and 29,989 feet of vertical.

Boston has gotten more than seven feet of snow in the last three weeks while we are just days away from hitting an all-time historical low; the eastern half of the country is in the deep freeze while the western half has had springtime months too early.  We are trying to be patient and hopeful that the weather pattern will change, but 2014/2015 is turning into the winter that wasn't and it's starting to make us concerned about the water for the summer.  On the plus side, the skiing in the Cottonwoods is holding up way better than it seems it should be and we're still better off than California and the Pacific Northwest.  The local weather sites are getting cautiously optimistic about a pattern change at the start of March ... fingers crossed and stay tuned.

Monday, February 16, 2015

all open for business

Once again, we took our time getting up to Alta on Saturday.  It was already feeling warm up at 9:30 a.m.; we are 36% below normal/average on snowfall and temperatures for the last month have been way above normal.  On the plus side, Alta's conditions continue to hold their own amazingly well.  On the negative side, ski resorts in California and the Pacific Northwest are already closing and if we don't get some snow soon, I imagine the Park City resorts may not make it through the end of March.  Local forecasters are beginning to get hopeful about a pattern change but still ... we're all pretty envious of the snow the east coast has been getting.

Nearing the top of East Castle

Strangely enough for a holiday weekend, it did not seem as crowded at Alta as it was last Saturday.  Everything is now open, including East Castle and Main Chute on Baldy, which helps spread people out across the resort.  We did four groomer runs on Collins, then moved to Sugarloaf.  We only did one lift ride there before getting twitchy with all the newbies on the trails, so we moved over further to Supreme.  When we got to the top of Supreme, I suggested we do East Castle which had opened a couple of days earlier.  We had done it last March for the first time, shouldering our skis for a thirty-five minute boot-pack up to the very top.  This time they had set the climb as a side-step (reportedly the longest side-step in Utah - and possibly in North America): both brutal and exhausting.  It took us fifty minutes to shuffle up that climb, getting passed only by skiers with AT bindings and skins, left legs burning.  As we had started out, I muttered to H that there was no way I was going to be able to side-step all the way but apparently I'm stubborn and as long as he was moving up, so was I.  By the time we got to the top of 2nd Chute, we were both soaked with sweat.  After resting for a few moments, we skied down with 2nd Chute all to ourselves.  The snow was softer on skier's right but the whole thing was pretty well chunked up with avalanche bombing debris.  My legs were completely wrecked from the side-stepping and once again, just like last year, I skied it terribly, having to stop to rest every few turns.

Just a few more side-steps to go

We went straight to Alf's for lunch once we got out of East Castle to Rock N Roll and my legs were shaking so much that I wasn't sure I'd make it.  After lunch we did a run at Sugarloaf then went back to Supreme for the rest of the afternoon.  Groomers were all my poor legs could take but luckily #9 Express and Sleepy Hollow were skiing really, really well with soft, spring-like conditions.  When Supreme closed at 3:30 p.m., we did one last run on Sugarloaf and then skied out, pointing the truck down canyon at 4 p.m.  I was exhausted when we got home (even with that big hike we managed seventeen runs on the day) and it was unavoidably an early bedtime.

Art shot at the top of 2nd Chute

Friday, February 13, 2015

wherefore all the people?

Sunday was so busy.  H and I were shocked by it, actually, and figuring it was one of the busiest weekends of the year.  People apparently like spring skiing conditions, even in February, even with very little snow! (Alta got about an inch of new overnight).  The conditions didn't start out very spring-ish, however: Sunday started out colder than Saturday but it was not windy and there were clear blue skies all day.  It warmed up throughout the day but I planned for that this time, going without either boot warmers or hand warmers, plus dressing way down with spring-weight ski pants and a shell.  I was, of course, chilly for a while in the morning.

Coming out of the bumps below Cecret Lake

As per our new usual, we did four runs at Collins, watching as ski patrol worked to open the Ballroom, Baldy Shoulder and the Main Chute.  We then moved to Sugarloaf which was absolutely packed with people - the singles line was moving slower than the main corral.  They had just opened Devil's Castle so we headed in there with lots of other people, many of whom were completely clueless about how a traverse works; I had to shout out, at one point, "Don't stop on the traverse, please!" and skied around several other people.  The snow was quite good in there since the Castle never gets any sun this time of year; wind-buffed but good skiing.  We couldn't face the crowds at Sugarloaf again so soon so we skied down the bumps under Cecret Lake and headed to Supreme.  It was pretty busy there too but at least the singles line moved quickly.  We did a couple of groomers since everything still pretty firm then headed into Catherine's Area.  The top was fantastic with our favorite spot still deep and seemingly untouched other than by us; the bottom run-out was predictably terrible, not yet softened in the morning sun, with frozen chunks that made our skis skitter.

Skiing the Castle

After lunch, we climbed back into Devil's Castle and I didn't have to yell at anyone on the traverse this time.  We skied out through the trees below the Apron this time, pushing further to skier's right than the last time we were in there, and ended up finding some really excellent tiny stashes of actual deep, soft, untracked snow.  There were just four or five turns' worth at any given stretch, but it was still fun to ski.  We finished out the warm afternoon at Supreme, doing three more runs into Catherine's Area (where I once again had to scold someone stopped on the traverse) and skied out at 3:30 p.m.  We love spring skiing - love the sunshine, the soft conditions, the bright blue skies - but we do not love spring skiing in February.  We're ready for some winter, please.

Snow!  Soft and deep!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

so brave

On Saturday, at the top of Collins before our very first run, H looked me up and down and said, "You're not wearing your boot warmers.  You're so brave."  I was feeling a little brave (or foolhardy, perhaps) with neither boot warmers nor hand warmers, but it was already 33F at the base at 9:30 a.m. and I felt like I could handle it.  In fact I was way overdressed for the middle of the day: I had read the weather reports and dressed for partly sunny and March conditions when in fact I should have gone with full sun and mid-April conditions - because that's what we got.

We did four runs off Collins and then moved to Sugarloaf, whereupon I immediately suggested that we give East Greeley a try (this despite the fact that we had just been standing at the gate into East Greeley and now would have to go all the way around the EBT to get back there).  When we got out there, the first bit was very crusty and I regretted my suggestion.  Once we got around the corner, however, it was really quite good, wind-buffed and compacted but soft and easily skiable.  It was even good enough that we went right back to the Sugarloaf chair and then right back around the EBT to do it again. 

Overdressed in East Greeley

After a couple of flyers, we then went in for lunch, finding Alf's pretty busy but almost all tourists, with lots of people pulling tables together for big groups.  When we went to Supreme for the afternoon, the crowds were hit or miss: sometimes we rode together, sometimes we rode singles.  One singles ride I had was with a ski instructor ("40 years of teaching skiing full-time") who, once he found out that I was originally from Maine, told "Bert and I" stories for the remainder of the lift ride. We did two hikes into Catherine's Area which were good: wind-buffed on top and soft, mashed potatoes bumps on the run-out.

We stayed at Supreme until 3 p.m., then skied out.  For some reason, H decided to ski behind me, mimicking my line, all the way out.  When we got back to Collins base, he exclaimed, "You turn a LOT.  That was exhausting!"  I do turn a lot - I would think that my legs would be a lot stronger than they are because of it - but I like turning: it keeps my speed down so I don't have to be too brave.

Friday, February 6, 2015

not quite super, but pretty good, sunday

Ah, Superbowl Sunday - where the skiing is crowded in the morning and clears out in the afternoon, quite the reverse of Christmas Day.  It was definitely colder than Saturday (no new snow) but temperatures warmed up as the day went on; clouds moved in afternoon (no new snow) and once the light got flat, we left around.  We started with several runs on Collins, then did several on Sugarloaf, then moved over to Supreme.

After lunch, we were back to Sugarloaf and Supreme for afternoon.  The low snow conditions made for very entertaining lift rides, as we watched all sorts of people hiking through Angina Chute and Aorta, desperate for fresh snow and trying to get to Triple By Pass.  They were getting stuck on cliffs and rocks, side-slipping halfway down the bowl, losing skis.  I had some friendly lift rides whilst in Sugarloaf singles line too.  There was an older couple from Bellingham, Washington, and the wife's brother from Sweden - I'd ridden with their other Swedish brother on Saturday.  And then there were the three guys in their mid-30s who intrigued by Triple By Pass; when I mentioned that they might want their rock skis in case they got fetched up on a cliff in there, they insisted that I explain what I meant by "rock skis*" and "fetched up**."

We did do a couple of runs into Catherine's Area in the afternoon.  Our favorite glade had stiffened up overnight, but on our second run in we didn't go quite so far and while it was beaten down, it was still soft.  I actually skied that bit well enough that H commented on it!  We did get tired of skiing the same thing over and over again, however, and left around 3:30 p.m., noting that the parking lot was emptying rapidly as people left to get to their Superbowl parties.  We didn't really watch the game ourselves but had homemade buffalo wings and checked in on the Puppy Bowl instead.  It was a good weekend - but we are really anxious to get some winter weather going here.

* Old beater skis you wear when you think you'll hit a lot of rocks and don't care about the bases.

** Caught or stuck on top of something.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


We knew we were definitely going skiing on Saturday but the dearth of new snow meant that we weren't chomping at the bit to get up there.  We lingered, therefore, over a lovely breakfast of French toast (made with a splash of rum, as recommended in Joy of Cooking), coffee and bacon.  When we got to Alta just before 10 a.m., the lift mechanics were announcing that the Collins chair would be closed from 10-10:30 a.m. for some maintenance work.  So we jumped on the rope tow to the Albion base area and rode up the mountain on the Sunnyside chair, noticing lots and lots of porcupine tracks in the roped-off gullies below.

Still soft way in at Catherine's Area

From the top of Sunnyside, we skied to the Sugarloaf chair and did a couple of runs there.  The snow was much better than we expected it to be: the Wasatch mountains had gotten a couple of inches midweek and Alta was claiming another couple of inches overnight Friday into Saturday.  Just that little bit of fresh snow on top made a difference, as the conditions were much softer than last weekend.  We moved over to Supreme where things were busy.  The corral stayed pretty full all day and people seemed to be having quite a difficult time in the lift lines: singles riders not understanding when to come out, people dropping their poles and coming out of their skis while on the conveyor belt, people not being able to count to three (the Supreme chair is a TRIPLE - says so right there on the sign), people not listening to the Alta employees running the lift line.  It's a lift line, folks.  It's not that difficult.  We've all stood in them before.

Stunning view from the entrance to Catherine's Area

After lunch - where we observed an amazing ski school instructor (Luke) handling a rambunctious young class with finesse, patience and humor - we gave Catherine's Area a try.  it was amazingly good in there : that +/- four inch refresher did wonders.  We hiked all the way in to our favorite little glade, pausing on the ridge to watch back-country folks scoring freshies and launching themselves off jumps.  We stayed at Supreme for the rest of the afternoon, including another run in Catherine's Area, as low-lying clouds filled the valley and then dissipated as quickly as they had moved in.  We skied until 3:30 p.m.-ish to make up for the late start, and then headed home for delicious and filling homemade potato-cheese soup.