Thursday, April 30, 2015

closing day, 2014/2015 version

What a weird season we've had!  Record low snowfall, super warm temperatures in February, big ski crowds for no reason in early March, a couple of fantastic snow storms and nothing for weeks and weeks.  And then, for Alta's closing day, a storm brought a foot of new snow by Sunday morning, accompanied by cold (low 20s) temperatures, flurries, flat light and thick, low clouds.  It's difficult to believe that it will be May in just a few days - and that we'll probably be hiking and MTBing next weekend - when we woke up to snow on the lawn at our house in the valley.

Because of the lingering storm, and because it was pouring rain at our house when we got up, we decided to delay our trip up to Alta for closing day.  (And if it had been any other day, we probably wouldn't have gone at all.)  While the first couple of runs were likely pretty good with seven new inches of snow on top of the five inches from Friday night, we knew there was no way it was going to be great.  We ended up leaving the house around 10:30 a.m., driving up and into the clouds gathered at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Because of our late start, we had to park at the Albion base lodge instead of Wildcat base; the Wildcat base parking lot was completely full - there haven't been that many cars at Alta all winter.

We stepped into our skis and took the rope tow across to the Collins lift.  There were enough people standing in the corral that the lifties had to call out the front row, but the line moved quickly and it wasn't really crowded, just more crowded than it has been.  The cold weather put a damper on the closing day festivities somewhat: there were hardly any costumes (certainly no bikinis or naked skiers) and the live music at Watson's Shelter was indoors, not out on the patio.  Still, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, donating plenty of adult beverages to the Collins lifties, and generally being glad to see a little more snow.

The cloud we were in: not that bright in real life

The light was flat to start, making it difficult to see the bumps and scraped-off sections, of which there were many, given our late start.  As the afternoon wore on, however, the cloud deck descended, limiting visibility considerably.  When we were on the chairlift, the furthest ahead we could see was the chair directly ahead of us.  When we were skiing, at times we couldn't see much further than ten feet ahead.  It was extremely disconcerting, not knowing where you were or what you were skiing on or even where you were situated on the trail.  I kept blinking, trying to clear my vision; I stopped next to a tree at one point, thinking that my goggles had iced over, but up close the tree was perfectly clear - it was just the clouds.

There's actually a ski mountain behind me

After a couple of hours we called it quits (which, if it hadn't been closing day, we would have done much earlier given the conditions and the complete lack of visibility).  Since we were parked at Albion, we did an "around the world" as our last run: skiing out through Sugarloaf, Supreme and Sunnyside.  Sugarloaf was pretty well tracked out but hardly anyone had schlepped over to Supreme and the snow was quite nice, smooth and dense.  Despite it not really being outdoors beer-drinking weather, we paused to toast the season as we de-booted; the clouds had dropped so far at that point that we couldn't see Alta's mountains at all.  But we knew they were there and we'll be back again to ski them in just about seven months.

Season stats:  324" of snowfall at Alta (far below the historical average of 500 inches); H: 45 ski days and 1,030,336 vertical feet skied; A: 41 ski days and 968,016 vertical feet.

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