Friday, December 30, 2016

boxing day 2016

As I mentioned, the storm moved out late on Christmas Day, leaving behind blue skies and cold temperatures.  Boxing Day was even colder than Christmas, starting at 0 at the summit/3F at the base and warming to 5F summit/18F base by the afternoon.  The cold didn't seem to deter many people, however, as it was standing room only on the ski bus for both the inbound and outbound trips.  There were clearly more folks out on the trails but we did the singles lines mostly and never had to wait all that long.

H in action (PC/copyright: Peak Photo)

The biggest news of the day was that ski patrol got more terrain open, specifically the Ballroom and the Backside.  My legs were shot from the prior two days so I was back on my comfort skis, the skinny Salomons, and didn't attempt anything deep.  H went into the Ballroom and found it heavier than expected, but when he got into Yellow Trail and East Greeley, the snow was amazing.  While he did Backside laps, I skied Extrovert and Chartreuse off of the Sugarloaf lift; although it was completely tracked out, it was still soft.

Looking soft in East Greeley

We met up for an early lunch, in part to thaw our frozen toes, then headed back out, starting with a Cabin Run (amazingly not too trampled, plus H managed to stay out of the creek this time), then over to Supreme.  By then, the Supreme Bowl was pretty well pounded past its prime but Rock N' Roll was open and hadn't been groomed.  It was nice and soft (and not too busy) and we did it a couple of times. 

Bottom of No. Nine Express

At one point, I hit a compression and launched myself out of my left ski and down the hill a ways; I didn't hurt myself this time (although I would be stiff and sore for the next several days) and a nice skier brought me my ski so I didn't have to climb back up for it.  A couple runs after that, we called it a day, with enough time before our down-canyon bus to stop at Goldminer's Daughter for a couple of beers while our toes thawed.  There's not much storm action in the close-range forecasts so we'll have to be patient.  But this past holiday weekend has been a treat for sure.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

christmas 2016

Christmas 2016 was one for the books!  The storm continued overnight and into the early afternoon on Sunday, finally petering out after leaving Alta with a storm total of 20".  This was considerably less than forecasters had thought but still - twenty inches of new snow for Christmas!  No complaints here.  Nor were there any complaints about the crowds: while it was noticeably busier than Christmas mornings past, it was still pretty empty and we never stood in line after the initial wait for the lifts to open.  Part of this, I'm sure, is because it was cold, ranging from 3F to 13F while we were there.

Still, you just have to ski off-piste to warm up and with all the new fresh, that's just what we did.  Not everything was open, of course, but we had some great runs through Fred's Trees and West Rustler, where the snow was DEEP and light.  H and I split up for the late morning and he did laps on Chartreuse Nose while I headed for Supreme.  I had the sense to wear my fatter Rossignols which was the right thing to do with all the new snow.  I did a gully run first, then tied on my powder cords and did two runs into Catherine's Area.  It was empty in there - I had to break trail for the traverse past the first meadow - and I had first tracks both times.

Obligatory Christmas selfie (in flat light)

After lunch we did a Cabin Run, where we were first people in there and where H landed himself in a hole when he didn't quite avoid a creek.  Then we went back to Supreme, playing around in Catherine's, the gullies, No. Nine Express and the low gates into Vicky's and White Squaw.  There was just a ton of snow in there.  It was fantastic.  What a great way to spend Christmas Day.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

no groomers

Just in time for Christmas, another wonderful storm moved into Utah.  It started late afternoon on Friday and then just settled in for a while.  It was fairly warm on Friday into Saturday, so we just got rain down in the valley.  Temperatures up at Alta were pretty warm too: 20 F at the summit and around 30 F at the base on Christmas Eve Day.  The best part is that the storm stuck around all day on Saturday so (a) there were hardly any people because people out here don't like to ski when it's snowing and (b) the day got better as it went on, with tracks getting filled in quickly.  And I was pretty sure it was going to be a good day when there was a 150 lb. St. Bernard greeting skiers - Toby, certified therapy dog - outside the Goldminer's Daughter Lodge when we got off the bus.

We did four runs off of Collins to start.  Since Alta reported only three inches overnight (which had increased considerably by the time we got up there), I was skiing on my Salomons.  They were clearly too skinny for the actual amount of snow but I had figured that the snow would be kind of heavy/wet and would get chunked up quickly, and my Salomons are much easier to turn than my wider Rossignols.  And I was right: nothing at all had been groomed out so Corkscrew quickly became a bumped-up mess.  I abandoned it after two runs and found Collins Face to be skiing much better with less traffic.

Top of Collins Face

H then announced that he was going for Gunsight.  I wasn't feeling it so I decided to head for Supreme and we made plans to meet for lunch at Alf's.  The Gunsight run ended up being pretty good but a long slog: he was one of the first people in there and the traverse/sidestep had started low - it took him 35 minutes between the hiking up and the skiing.  The first ten meters in the chute were a little gnarly too but he said that after that, the snow was fantastic.  Over at Supreme, it was very windy.  The conditions were mixed at the top but were excellent in the trees: deep, soft and light.  With my skinny skis I didn't dare go into Catherine's but had a lot of fun on No. Nine Express, the Erosion Gullies and the ropeline/low gates into Vicky's/White Squaw.

View from Gunsight

After lunch (where we were pleased to see our favorite cashier, Carrie, back at work during her month-long winter break from UVM), we both went to Supreme.  With the free refills from the continuing snow, it was just so good - and there was hardly anyone there so our tracks were getting filled in between runs.  (The storm total by Christmas morning would be 17" for Alta.)

With several more days of skiing ahead of us. we didn't fight it when our legs started to holler, catching the 2:30 bus back down to the valley.  Soon enough we were in our soft pants, the Christmas tree lights glowing softly  Dinner was a New Mexican green chile stew and a brut pink champagne and entertainment was Elf.  Outside, the temperatures dropped and the snow started to fall in our yard as well as up in the mountains.  It would be another good day for skiing on Christmas but, frankly, it would be hard to beat what we'd just had on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

bundle up

Even though it was still wicked cold Sunday morning, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky and we knew we were going skiing.  We bundled up in all our warm stuff - down parkas, heavy longjohns and face masks (just in case) - and hopped on the ski bus, getting up to Alta about 8:40 a.m.  As we rode up, we wondered what sort of crowds we might find.  Last Sunday, the day after a decent storm, was crazy-crowded in the morning.  This Sunday, the day after an impressive storm ... was basically deserted.  I guess the morning high temperature of 0 scared people away.  We hung out in Goldminer's Daughter until 9:10 a.m., then went out and got in the short singles line.  The lifts starting turning on time at 9:15 a.m. and that was the last (only) time we had to stand in a lift line.

I mean, don't get me wrong: it was cold.  Temperatures were inverted to start: 0 at the peak and -6 at the base.  But the sun was out and it wasn't windy.  After one run on Collins I could already tell that I was getting cold, despite my down coat, and we moved to Sugarloaf which has a little more sunshine on it this time of year.  If nothing else, it was nice to not have to ski in flat light.  We did a second groomer and then our third run was down Extrovert since we needed something off-piste to warm up.  I was skiing pretty tentatively, leery of falling and injuring my shoulder again.  I was on my Rossignols, which like to turn less than I like to turn, and I was struggling a little in the chop.  I suggested to H that we split up for the morning so he could get some solid runs in without waiting for me, and we planned to meet up a little before noon at Alf's.

Yay down parka with a hood!

After lunch, temperatures were right-side-up and slightly warmer: 3F at the summit and 10F at the base.  We did a Cabin Run, which was great, soft and fluffy, and then went to Supreme for another Catherine's Area run.  After that, we were both overheating and needed to do some groomers to cool off.  Several more Supreme runs later, we realized we could make the 2:30 p.m. bus down-canyon.  And fifty minutes after that, we were back at the car.

It's going to stay cold for the week, with some small storms moving through, just enough to refresh things for Christmas.  With these last two storms, however, we're in great shape snow-wise, certainly better than we've been for the last couple of years.  Makes us hopeful that we might have a decent ski season even.  Here's hoping!

Monday, December 19, 2016

hunker down

We got a very exciting storm across Utah, starting Friday afternoon, through the overnight and moving out Saturday morning.  Amazingly, it was almost all in the mountains, dropping several inches of very wet, slushy snow in the valley before getting hung up in the higher elevations and just nuking up there.  Here are the storm totals (thanks to WSF, who has an in-depth analysis of the storm and the current snowpack):

The other thing this wonderful storm left behind was wickedly cold temperatures.  So cold, in fact, that we did not go up skiing on Saturday.  When we got up, Alta was reporting a -15 F mid mountain temperature, with brutal windchill in the forecast, and with all the new snow, they would have very limited terrain open.  We've skied in 0 degree weather before and it's tough; I have to go in to warm my fingers and toes every couple of runs, even with hand-warmers, and frostbite is a real concern.  From our vantage point, the canyon looked socked in and we made the call to stay inside instead.  I wasn't even tempted to go for a run as temperatures only got into the 20s in the valley.

The day wasn't a total loss.  We got the Christmas stuff out and worked on Christmas cards and I packaged up some homemade cookies to hand out at work.  I also dug out all my warmest layers and laid them out.  Sunday we would ski no matter what.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

wheels on the bus

As much as people around here don't like storm skiing, they do like skiing the day after a storm, so we anticipated heavy traffic and a post-storm slushy road for Sunday.  This encouraged us to try something new: the UTA's ski bus.  There is a park-n-ride five minutes from our house and with our Alta season passes, the ride is free.  It involved a little more organization than our usual morning routine (we did have to leave the house earlier and I had to commit to an outfit since I wouldn't have the truck in which to leave multiple layering options) but it was super-easy.  The bus driver was friendly, we got seats and we got a stress-free ride up the canyon to Alta (with three stops at Snowbird first to offload passengers).

When we got up there, it was PACKED with hordes of people trying to organize into the lift lines.  I don't like to say anything negative about Alta because I love it so much but whoever set the corrals Sunday morning did a terrible job: they didn't make the lanes nearly long enough, so it was just a mob of people pressing forward, and they only set up one singles line instead of two.  Poor planning.  That being said, even if they had done a better job with the corrals, there were still ridiculous amounts of people there; by 11 a.m., the corral at Collins was still full.  Supreme was still closed at that point (avalanche control) and so people only had Collins, Wildcat and Sugarloaf (and Sunnyside) to choose from.

The reason there were so many people?  Eight new inches of snow (12" storm total) and clearing skies.  The snow was really pretty good: it wasn't light and fluffy - the high water content made it dense and heavy - but it filled in a lot of spots and was soft.  I was wearing my wider Rossignols with mixed results: they floated in the deeper stuff but with the heavy snow and so many people skiing it, things got chunked up quickly and those skis are more difficult to turn.  After a couple of warm-up runs (and a high five from Martha, who was in a good mood despite the crowds), we went into Racecourse/Sunspot where the benefits of new snow were evident: it was really quite good in there.

It did a number on my legs, however, so for the next run, as H went back in, I did a groomer run down Mambo (Main Street was closed for avalanche control).  I took a digger there - must have caught an edge or something - and ended up jamming my left shoulder pretty badly.  I got up and skied down to the bottom of the lift where I figured out that while I hadn't dislocated my shoulder, I was pretty sore.  Here's where the genius of the ski bus comes in: instead of me moping around the ski lodge all day, or H having to cut his ski day short to take me home, I just got the keys from him and then took the bus back down to the valley while he got back in line.  He was worried about me but I wanted him to keep skiing - no sense both of us missing out, especially when I wasn't seriously hurt.

So while I puttered stiffly around then house, H had a pretty good day of skiing.  He stayed on the front side for the whole morning, then switched to Sugarloaf and Supreme after lunch.  By 2 p.m., the crowds had dissipated - everyone went up in the morning, tracked everything out and then left, I guess - and he was skiing onto the lifts with no waiting.  Catherine's Area even stayed in good shape: he did two runs through there, nabbing fresh tracks each time.

When H was done, he got on the ski bus, texting me to come pick him up in 45 minutes.  The bus was actually ahead of schedule and he had been waiting for a few minutes, sitting on the bus stop bench to give his tired legs a break.  At home that evening, as we were both muttering about how creaky and sore we were - my shoulder, his legs - we both agreed that the ski bus experiment was an unqualified success.  The weather looks fairly active in the near future too, so maybe we'll get back aboard soon.

Monday, December 12, 2016

storm skiing

They had been talking about this storm for days - fairly slow-moving with lots of water in it - and although it seemed to hit the Wasatch Front later than expected, it definitely delivered.  When we got up Saturday, the mountains were all socked in and we knew it was snowing up there even though it was just raining down in the valley.  The forecast said that the snow would start slow and then get heavier in the afternoon, then continue through the overnight before moving out on Sunday.  That meant storm skiing on Saturday and storm skiing is awesome for two reasons: because the conditions improve throughout the day AND because people don't like skiing when it snows.  This would mean no lift lines/skiing right onto the lifts throughout the day.

Because it was a little warm, the snow levels were up above 7,000 feet, so that the canyon road was clear until we got past Snowbird.  After that it was a little slippery but we pulled into the Wildcat Base with no issues and with the parking lot less than a third full.  Alta had gotten nearly a foot of snow since we'd been up there last and so things were beginning to fill in.  It was snowing - sharp, prickly ice bits - and the gusty wind was definitely moving things around.  But it was fairly warm (upper 20s) and as soon as we moved off the groomers, we warmed right up.  My feet hardly got cold for the entire day - amazing.

We are still suffering from poor leg fitness and did a couple of runs on Collins's groomers before heading into Racecourse and Sunspot.  The snow was quite good in there, if you didn't mind dodging a few rocks in the especially-windswept spots.  After that, I couldn't wait any longer and struck out on my own for Supreme, which had just opened on Friday, with H planning to take a couple more Collins runs and then meet me over there.  My first ride up Supreme was with a chatty ski patroller (who chastised me for not wearing my fat skis) who recommended the tops of the Gullies and Catherine's.  I took him at his word and went down the Gullies, then following lower Sleepy Hollow out.  I went wide on my next run, Big Dipper (Rock N' Roll was closed for avalanche control), and then spotted H coming up to the lift just as I was loading onto a chair.

Snowing on Devil's Elbow

I waited for H in the wind on top of Supreme and we went into Catherine's Area.  The very first little boot-pack up was a bit of a struggle since it hadn't been groomed and we were postholing in others' footsteps.  But once we got in there, the snow was absolutely terrific ... and that patroller was right - my wider Rossignols would have been a much better choice.  After lunch, the wind seemed to die just a little bit and the snow picked up.  We did some Sugarloaf runs, then back to Supreme for No. 9 Express, Challenger (and skiing the rope line to the right at the bottom of Challenger was really fun), Sleepy Hollow, etc.

Around 2 p.m., the combination of my legs getting fatigued and not wanting to drive down the canyon on a very snowy road urged us to call it an early day.  We skied out through Sunnyside (the EBT was closed for avalanche control) and along the rope tow back to Wildcat base.  We needn't have worried about the road conditions as the snow levels had stayed high and it was clear almost all the way down.  The tired legs were real, however, and with the storm set to continue through the night, we'd need to rest up for Sunday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

digging the crowds

Conditions-wise, Sunday was a repeat of Saturday with the snow holding its own.  We stuck with our rock skis because there were a few stones making their way up to the surface but since we also stuck with the groomers - stiff legs - our bases remained largely unscathed.  The weather was about the same as well, although we did have sunshine for the first three runs which was a nice reprieve from the flat light, with the clouds moving in mid-morning.  It was a few degrees warmer all day, however, and my fingers and toes appreciated that.

The crowds were down from Saturday, with the novelty of opening having worn off and no new snow to entice many more than the diehards.  We, the diehards, appreciated this: we were at the front of the line when Collins opened and then we never had to stand in line the rest of the day.  While pre-Christmas skiing can be hit-or-miss with the conditions, we absolutely love the fact that so few people are skiing then.

Before the clouds rolled back in

The most amazing part of Sunday was this: as we were coming through the gates at Collins for the second time, we got a huge hug from Martha from Skier Services, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed in the Lift Lines.  We only ever see Martha from going through the lift lines but she knows our names from the season passes.  Usually she just says hello but this time we merited a hug!

Monday, December 5, 2016

first day legs

Per our usual tradition, my first day of the ski season was the day after H's - and Alta's - first day.  We didn't feel a whole lot of urgency on Saturday morning: opening day had been busy and all that gorgeous snow was tracked out by midday on Friday, so it wasn't like we needed to hurry up there for fresh tracks.  The forecast was chilly, with cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures ranging from 10 F - 22 F at the base.  We got up there and in the singles line at the Collins lift a little after 9 a.m.  The corral filled in behind us but H said that it wasn't anywhere near as busy as it had been for opening day.

The conditions were really quite good - certainly better than other opening weekend conditions we've experienced.  Coverage was good (we both were on our rock skis - our old Volkls - in case of any errant rocks working their way up through the snow) and there was a lot more terrain open than on opening days past.  They even got the Backside open after lunch and we could hear the hooting and hollering as skiers bombed down the untracked slopes.

We stuck to the groomers, however.  H had skied pretty hard on his own on Friday and neither of us had done much preseason training, so we both had early-season legs going on.  At one point, I inadvertently found myself in an ungroomed section; after three quick turns I got out of there and back on the groomers, legs singing.  It was a good way to warm up - despite our light down jackets, we were both cool/cold from skiing groomers all day in 11 F - but I just couldn't sustain the effort.

By 2 p.m., I was done.  The snow held up surprisingly well, with only the highest traffic areas getting skied off at that point, but my legs were shot.  Good thing is, we'd be able to get after it again on Sunday.  Hooray for ski season!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

opening day 2016, at last

Two weeks delayed, Alta opened Friday, with much anticipation due to the recent, wonderful storm that brought the snowpack right up to where it was on the same date a year ago, only with all the snow coming from one storm rather than spaced out over several weeks.  H was up there, per usual, and as in prior years, I got some texts throughout the day, keeping me apprised of the goings-on:

".. found my [ski] pants. Leaving momentarily."  (8:00 a.m.)

"Alta.  Corral full."  (8:28)

"In line.  Singles.  Out past the end of the ropes.  Crazy."  (8:38)

"Sun is coming out.  All sorts of tracks on the other side of the canyon."  (8:57)

"And we're off" (9:16)

So pretty

Then I heard nothing until 1:45 p.m., when he reported that he was done skiing and was having a PBR on the Goldminer's Daughter patio to celebrate.  When I asked how it was, he replied "Very good.  For an opening day I'd say it was excellent."  Because of this latest, terrific storm, they had a lot more terrain open than they usually do on opening day: Collins, Wildcat and Sugarloaf lifts were all turning.  And that, my friends, is how you finally open the ski season.