Saturday, December 30, 2017

beautiful boxing day

I was back to work on the day after Christmas.  H had planned to take the week off and, after getting some errands out of the way, was up at Alta by 8:15 a.m., having taken the early bus.  He was surprised at the relative lack of crowds, despite the fact that it was a gorgeous day - I guess a lot of people really did look at Utah's snow totals and cancel their Christmas trips.  While I feel badly for the hotels' and restaurants' lost revenue, I'm pleased that this might mean less crowded trails.

First meadow in Catherine's Area: So Long

H did laps on Sugarloaf, keeping an eye on the electronic sign for when ski patrol opened Catherine's Area for the first time after the Christmas Eve storm.  When the rope dropped, he was there and so were a lot of other people.  He got out in front of enough of them to score fresh tracks in the So Long meadow and, as you can see in the photo above, the snow was lovely.  He texted me: "Great snow, but you need to be on the lookout for rocks."  The snow in the upper section of Catherine's Area was so good, rocks notwithstanding, that he went back twice more, getting first tracks in Sunset and then in Snowshoe Hill/Last Chance.  Trying to get out of Catherine's was another story: the last pitch was full of rocks and willows and emptied out onto a narrow, bumpy track.  Three times was enough, especially since he went over rocks at least once each time.

Second meadow: Snowshoe Hill (?)

He skied off-piste nearly all day: five times through Sunspot (including once following a couple of really good chick skiers through the swooping gully below Lone Pine), twice through Ballroom (where the traverse in continues to be gnarly, in a bad way) and once down lower Extrovert.

All the way out in Catherine's Area and no-one there yet

When he texted me to let me know he was catching the bus, I asked him how the bases of his skis had fared.  At first he didn't want to look, but then he did: "Nothing too deep or too close to the edges.  So, yay."  Yay indeed - and yay for an excellent off-piste day (finally!).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

christmas 2017

In the past, skiing Christmas morning has been a way to escape the crowds.  Last year was cold with lots of snow and sparse crowds; 2015 was also cold, snowy and uncrowded; the non-hordes have been similar in prior years.  2017 was a little different:  relatively warm (low/mid-20s), a bit of new snow (9" overnight) and SO MANY PEOPLE.  As we stood in the throngs waiting for them to start loading the lifts - and we stood for 45 minutes because ski patrol was doing avalanche control nearby - we couldn't believe how many people were there.  That has never been the case since we've been out here.  But we've been so starved for snow that the people came out this year.

So many skiers meant that the nice new snow got tracked out and bumped up quickly.  I had optimistically brought my Rossignols but almost immediately wished I had my shorter, turn-ier Salomons instead.  Although the Rossignols are very light, they are wider and a lot longer than the Salomons and it is more work for me to turn them, especially in the bumps that sprung up all over the trails.  We did one run on Collins, which was a mix of nice, soft snow and awful scraped-off sections, and then moved to Sugarloaf to do laps there.  The snow was pretty good and the soft bumps were really fun, but my legs got tired fast.  Even H, who was back on his alpine skis after two days of telemark, admitted to some quad fatigue.

Now-obligatory chair selfie

By noon I just couldn't do it anymore (note to self: do more squats).  I grabbed my bag from Goldminer's Daughter, pounded a Christmas beer and caught the bus down to the valley.  I wasn't the only one leaving either - it seems as though a lot of people had just planned to ski for the morning and then rejoin their family holiday festivities for the afternoon.  H said that there were no lift lines at all for the afternoon, which was in itself a Christmas gift.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

christmas eve 2017

That lovely little storm moved out, leaving a total of thirteen inches of new snow behind (which sounds like a lot but when you're Alta, you need way more than that to cover the rocks).  It also left cold temperatures for Christmas Eve, starting out at 5 F and warming up just barely into the 20s.  We think that those temperatures (and the flat light from overcast skies) kept a lot of skiers away as after the initial crush when the lifts opened, we were skiing right onto the lifts for the rest of the day.


We both had stiff legs - H from getting back onto his telemark skis and me from being generally out of ski-shape - but the snow was pretty good, at least until it got skied off in the afternoon.  We were on Sugarloaf for most of the morning, where they had gotten another couple of trails open, helping to spread the traffic out a bit.  We could hear ski patrol setting off charges all over the place and that would hopefully open things up as well.

I had to go in for lunch early because my toes were so cold; H annoyingly claimed that his feet warmed up as the day went on.  After lunch we did a couple of runs off Supreme.  They had opened Rock N' Roll and the snow was good in there, soft and bumpy.  H's tele day #2 legs started to protest at that point so we went back up Sugarloaf and then did laps on Collins into the afternoon.

Monday, December 25, 2017

snow day

It was snowing on Christmas Eve Eve and for the first time all season, the snow was good!  Temperatures were reasonable (18-28 F) and the snow went on all day, with increasing winds and decreasing visibility as the day went on.  We weren't the only ones jonesing for some new snow, a brand new five inches to start the day with; the ski bus was crowded and people seemed stoked.  With only five inches at that point, there wasn't much new terrain open but this was the grand opening of the new Supreme lift, so the crowds seemed to migrate there.

It was great to ski in some soft snow again without hearing everyone's skis scratching across the hard stuff.  Some people - kids and non-skiers - struggled a bit because there hadn't been any grooming, but the snow wasn't heavy and even where it clumped up it was skiable.  We stayed at Collins at first, and were very pleased with the snow.  H was back on his telemark skis for the first time this season and I thought he looked good.

We finally went to check out New Supreme around 10:30 a.m. and found ourselves unimpressed with the new lift.  I will only say this once, because H says I need to stop complaining about it, but I think it's too bad they replaced the old triple.   The new lift is a quad, which means it is less favorable to single skiers, and is much faster, which means more people crowding the trails.  The base of the lift is right outside Alf's lodge, which means that you get a lot of beginners, and the run-out back to the lift is very long and flat.  I am comparing New Supreme to New Coke: we didn't need the change and it wasn't changed for the better.  Rant over.

Lunch was a little before noon at Alf's and we were happy to see our favorite cashier Carrie back again for her college break.  After lunch, the wind started to pick up and the cloud ceiling dropped; visibility got really difficult and it was as much from the clouds as it was from the still-falling snow.  Sugarloaf, which was skiing really well, was quite busy so we went back to Collins and did laps there until about 2 p.m.  Our legs were shot at this point, unused to skiing in actual snow (and H on his first day on teles to boot).

We found the saloon!

To mix things up a bit, we decided to check out the saloon on the second floor of the Goldminer's Daughter lodge - we had ridden a chair with one of the bartenders earlier.  The saloon was big, with huge windows looking out at Collins face, and casual, with people still in their ski boots tromping around.  We split a pitcher of Cutthroat and then went to catch our bus, which was 45 minutes late, because snowstorms always mess up the bus schedules.  Still, when it finally showed up we scored seats and simply appreciated the fact that we didn't have to drive down the canyon in the snow.  It had been such a fun day of skiing that we weren't about to get grumpy about a late bus.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


H took Friday off to go skiing.  Usually he gets plenty of skiing in when he takes the week off between Christmas and New Year's but this year there may be mitigating circumstances - like house guests, unexpected work schedule and the general dearth of snow - so he thought he should get a day in when he could. 

Snow guns and sunshine

It was sunny to start, eventually clouding up as a new little snowstorm moved in.  The few open trails were crowded but there were no lift lines and he was able to ski right onto the lift each time.  He was on his preferred alpine skis - Blizzard Cochise - and just flew top to bottom, nonstop, all day from first to last chair, racking up twenty-eight (!) runs and 46,000 feet of elevation (!!).  When I finally texted him at 4:30, a little surprised that I hadn't heard from him, he said that he'd just finished and that although the skiing was only so-so, he "just couldn't ski [himself] tired," despite his best efforts.  With an overnight storm moving in, however, perhaps he'd get the chance on Saturday.

Friday, December 22, 2017

dude, where's my snow?

The storm that moved into the Wasatch Saturday afternoon - getting all our hopes up - left about two inches up at Alta ... about the same amount that it left in our yard down in the valley.  What's more, it ushered in some much colder air, so much so that it was a brisk 7 F when we got up Sunday morning.  It took me approximately three minutes to do this math: very little new snow + cold + no new terrain + loading every other chair = not skiing today.  It seems that I have become very picky about my ski conditions this season.

Certainly gorgeous up there

H decided to go, however, which was fine by me.  So while I vacuumed, baked a batch of gingerbread biscotti, called my folks, did laundry and decorated the Christmas tree, he skied the few open groomers over and over again and got chilled standing in line to load the chairlift.

That's a cool cloud

Although the skiing was nothing to write home about, it was simply beautiful up at Alta.  While it remained cloudy in the valley until nearly 1 p.m., it was bluebird skies all day there, except for when this bizarre cloud wound its way up the canyon, covering the valley floor.  That photo just above is of the Collins lift so when they were in line to load the chair, it was completely socked in, and they rode the chair out of the clouds just before the angle station.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

under the guns

When you ski the east, you get used to skiing under the snow guns: eastern resorts make a lot of snow in the early season, putting down a solid base for the natural snow to come.  It helps that they have more water out there from which to draw too.  Our old ski mountain, Sunday River, has over 2,000 snow guns and pumps 8,100 gallons a minutes from the nearby river (and then, when the snow melts, it all goes back down into that river).  They can cover 90% of the skiable terrain with manmade snow.  That's in sharp contrast to the western resorts.  Historically, western resorts have gotten so much natural snow - even in the early season - that they've barely needed any snow-making.  Alta has just a handful of snow guns (probably around twenty but certainly no more than thirty, and not much coverage for 2,200 skiable acres), mostly located on the high traffic trails like Corkscrew, Mambo, Devil's Elbow and Sugar Bowl.  And on Saturday, they were all running, bombarding skiers and chairlift riders with the stinging pellets.

The bus ride up was actually pretty crowded - more Snowbird employees than skiers, though.  It was partly sunny, high teens to the low 20s, with increasing clouds throughout the day and snow starting just after noon.  Although it wasn't terribly crowded, it seemed like it was because until we get more snow, Alta has instituted a new load-every-other-chair rule, trying to keep the few skiable trails from getting too congested.  After the first-chair crush, the crowd thinned out at Collins so H and I were able to ride together.  Over at Sugarloaf, however, where the snow was better, the crowd stayed constant and we rode singles.

Before the little storm rolled in

Ski Patrol got the backside opened for a little while although we only saw one or two brave souls venturing in there; then, in the afternoon as the puny little storm moved in, Patrol closed it so as not to lose any tourists in the fog.  The highlight of our day actually involved Ski Patrol: we saw two patrollers working with Banjo the avalanche dog, trying to get him comfortable riding on his handler's shoulders while skiing.  Banjo clearly preferred to be on the snow on his own four feet, however.  The level of those dogs' training is impressive: even as he exuberantly bounced ahead, Banjo was constantly checking back with his handler, making sure he was doing what he was supposed to.

The snow picked up around 1 and that was when we called it quits.  I was getting a little chilled and my toes were very cold at that point.  We had a half hour until our bus so we were able to have a couple of beers in the Goldminer's Daughter lodge while we swapped out our boots; once on board the bus, it wasn't crowded at all - too early for the Snowbird employees to be heading home, I guess.

Friday, December 15, 2017

pretty much eastern skiing

With H already three days ahead of me in the ski-day count, I knew I had to get out there for Sunday.  After much waffling about my layering options (bright sun and 30s but groomer skiing and low sun angle), worry about my stiff new boot liners (I got new liners put in my old boots in an attempt to put off buying new boots for at least a year) and triple-checking that I had my mittens AND my ski pass, we boarded the ski bus and went up to Alta.

It was another gorgeous day up in Little Cottonwood Canyon, even as the inversion built up in the valley below.  It was pretty warm, however, keeping mountain operations from making any snow.  And boy do they need snow!  For those of us who grew up skiing in New England, the conditions seemed decent: firm, fast hardpack.  The problem is, even though there weren't that many people skiing, we were all confined to just a couple of trails, so it got skied off fast.

Collins pass with Supreme behind me

The snow was better off of the Sugarloaf lift but they were only loading every other chair, trying to keep the one skiable trail from overcrowding.  It was less frustrating on the Collins side, where you had three(-ish) trails to choose from - and didn't have to wait in line since they filled every chair. 

I called it for us at 1 p.m.  I was skidding out a lot on the skied-off bits (my edges were not sharpened quite as much as I had hoped when I took my skis in for pre-season tuning) and my shins were a little sore from the stiff new boot liners.  It hadn't been the best day of skiing but it was a day of skiing and there's never anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

gorgeous day / no new snow

After a nice storm early in the week which dropped about 18" up at Alta, northern Utah has become mired in a truly terrible weather pattern: a massive high pressure ridge keeping the storms out of the area and growing inversions in the valleys.  Knowing that it didn't take any time for that new snow to get skied off, I again opted out of skiing on Saturday, wanting to take care of some things around the house.

Love that color blue (although would prefer to see it dark and stormy)

So while I did laundry, baked two batches of cookies, worked on boxes to mail back east for Christmas, dusted and put out some Christmas decorations, H took the ski bus up to Alta to get his runs in.  He ended up skiing until 2 p.m., at which point it was Miller time (or more correctly, PBR time).  He reported that the conditions were definitely better than last time - but also it was such a nice day up there that he didn't want to quit.

Nice day indeed

Notable mentions on the day:  (1) H got carded (!!!), buying his PBR at Goldminer's Daughter; and (2) he made a new friend on the bus ride down: a ten year old Snowbird race team member who had had a great day on the hill and who was totally bummed that he had to go to a birthday party in Idaho Falls on Sunday instead of more skiing.  At this point, all my chores in good order, I was willing to hit the slopes on his behalf.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

in which i can't be convinced to go skiing

When we woke up Sunday morning, there was quite a lot of waffling.  I didn't really think I wanted to ski - H certainly hadn't sold me on it based on his description of opening day.  H was unsure too: conditions hadn't changed overnight and based on the cloud cover, it looked to be flat light.  He fretted about it for a while and then, in a burst of activity, threw his gear on, snarfed down some breakfast and headed for the bus stop, rightly figuring that if he didn't go, he would drive himself nuts with the second-guessing.  This way, he could get it out of his system.

So while I changed batteries in smoke detectors, took a walk and made both brownies and gingerbread cookies, I got these texts:

On the bus (8:13 a.m.)

And when I asked if he got a seat: Only two of us, so yes

Goldminer's Daughter (8:40 a.m.)

And when I asked if he got a seat: Lots to choose from

Done.  Crazy-windy (12:18 p.m.)

Made the 12:34 bus [with a seat]

There were fewer people on Sunday than there had been for opening day but it was still precarious: when H was on the narrow, single-file ribbon of snow comprising the EBT, returning to Collins from Sugarloaf, the guy in front of him fell hard, losing a ski and sprawling across the ski way.  With dirt and rocks on either side, H had to bunnyhop the guy's skis to keep from hitting him.  Sorry I missed it.

Have I mentioned 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

opening day, 2017

Last year, Alta's opening day was delayed until Friday, December 2, because there was no snow at Thanksgiving (historically, they open the day before Thanksgiving).  Then there was an amazing snowstorm that just dropped a ton of snow and, in H's words, "[f]or an opening day, I'd say it was excellent.  This year, Alta's opening day was delayed until Saturday, December 2, because there was no snow.  The difference for 2017, however, is that there STILL isn't any snow: no natural and it's been so warm that the resorts can barely produce any man-made.  Not good.

Sparsely populated corral (note no snow 
on south-facing slopes)

Waiting and second in the singles line

I was on the fence as to whether I'd ski.  Typically, opening day is very busy, even when it's on a weekday.  This year, with it being on a Saturday, I thought it might be especially crowded with first-day folks, especially with the limited terrain.  Plus, I was pretty sure that it wasn't going to be any good [see above re no snow].  H was determined to go, however, because he has been waiting - impatiently - to be able to get on skis again.  I sent him off with the promise that he would take photos and text me anything I needed to know.

It doesn't look that bad - if you're an eastern skier

So while I did laundry, took a walk, changed the guest bed, cleaned bathrooms, made cookies and started up a batch of homemade limoncello, H drove up to Alta to get his opening day on.  At 8:30 a.m. he texted me: "Not crowded.  No snow."  It's a good thing that there weren't as many people there as on a more normal opening day because of the severely limited conditions: Alta is running two lifts - Collins and Sugarloaf - and there is one trail available for each.  There is so little natural snow that you can't even get to Alf's (which isn't open anyway) from the bottom of the Sugarloaf lift; and when you're done skiing the one trail on that side and want to get back to your car, you have to take the EBT around, doing your best to dodge all the rocks working their way through the frozen man-made snow.

Hardpack underfoot (and no snow on the south-facing slopes)

H was only able to do a marginal job of rock-dodging, bringing his skis home with quite a few dings and scrapes although luckily no core shots.  He lasted until 1:15 p.m., which was longer than I expected him to put up with the conditions, but which was long enough for him to note that lots of spring, summer and fall bicycling does not really put one's legs in skiing condition.  More skiing will put one's legs in skiing condition ... but we're going to need some snow for that.

But at least he's back on a chairlift

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

pleasant but unseasonable

We are stuck in a terrible (if you like winter, which we do, and if you like building up the watershed, which everyone should) weather pattern: dry and much warmer than we should be for the end of November.  There are about twelve ski runs in all of Utah to ski on right now.  The last storm of note was weeks ago and it hasn't even been cold enough for the resorts to blow snow.  Not good at all.  But after a couple of days of moping and going out for road rides/runs/beers on the patio, we decided that we needed to take a little hike at least.  H didn't want to go into the Cottonwood canyons for fear of seeing how little snow was up there so that left us with Millcreek Canyon (since none of us was up for the drive to Antelope Island).

On the Pipeline trail (no snow anywhere)

Despite our late start (we had to hunt up all the hiking gear that we had stowed away for the winter), the notoriously busy Millcreek was not that crowded, certainly not to summer levels.  We drove up to the Terraces parking areas, then walked back down the road to the Burch Hollow entrance to the Pipeline Trail.  We usually do this loop the other way - up via Terraces, along the ridge and down to Elbow Fork, then down-canyon via the Pipeline Trail - but decided to reverse it.  I always forget how much elevation the Pipeline Trail gains but those switchbacks reminded us in a hurry.  The trail was mostly dry (unfortunately) and when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, it got pretty warm.

Looking down toward the Salt Lake Valley (no snow anywhere)

It was an on-leash day in Millcreek Canyon (dogs allowed off-leash on odd-numbered days; dogs on-leash/MTBs on trails on even-numbered days) but we didn't see any MTBs on the trails, and not that many dogs either.  We crossed the canyon road at the end of the Pipeline Trail - there were a fair number of MTBers and road cyclists on the road, taking advantage of the closed gates and no automobile traffic - and headed up the Elbow Fork trail, climbing up and then following the ridge west towards the Terraces end.  It was quite peaceful with few other hikers and no road noise from below.  It's pretty easy walking too, even with the few steep parts and the side-hill sections, and H quickly got ahead of me.

H on Elbow Fork bridge (there's a little snow)

H had to wait for me even more right at the end when I stopped to pat a chunky and very friendly puggle - who had also gotten some pats from H on his way through.  We walked out together through the Terraces picnic areas, then paused for a post-hike beer, as one does.  It wasn't the nicest day for a hike, and we'd certainly rather be skiing, but getting outside is always a good way to shake out the cobwebs.

Seasonal tidbit:  We got more snow in September than we have in both October and November together.  Yeesh.

Friday, November 24, 2017

going cold turkey

Unlike last year, we still haven't had a good storm come in and on Thanksgiving morning, the day of the Cold Turkey City Creek 6k, the temperatures were as balmy as they've ever been.  Although slightly overcast, it was about 45 F at 9 a.m. as we gathered up behind the Capitol; there were lots of people there - seemingly way more than past years when it's been in the low 30s or colder - lots of people wearing shorts, lots of stroller-runners, lots of runners with dogs.  For me, I was wearing thin layers and cotton socks and didn't even bother with gloves.

Squinting at the start

Totally awkward "action" shot

Eyes completely shut at the finish (so photogenic)

Right away I felt slow.  Lots of people passed me on the flat, which didn't surprise me, but even once we started climbing, I was getting passed a lot.  That hasn't happened so much in past years.  I make sure to do uphill training so usually I can hold my own.  Once we hit the turnaround (in its correct place this time), I was able to pick up the pace a little bit.  But then a side stitch started making its presence known and I had to fight that.  Once the finish line was in sight, I pushed as hard as I could - side stitch be damned - and passed the one guy I had been following the whole way down.  When I found H in the crowd, I admitted that it didn't seem to be my best, not by a long shot.  But at least I burned enough calories for extra pie!

Race results (and history)
2017: 35:59.78, 7 out of 20 in age group, 225/654 overall
2016:  53:23.51, 4 out of 14 in age group, 159/544 overall, +/-10k 8.4k* distance
2015:  35:17.18, 6 out of 19 in age group, 186/593 overall
2014:  34:14:58, 10 out of 26 in age group, 174/656 overall
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

The numbers prove it.  I was slow - my slowest time out of all the year of the regular course.  My historical average has been 35:22 so this year I was 1.8% slower than average (thanks to H for doing all the math).  Guess that gives me a goal for 2018: go faster.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

holding pattern

We are absolutely in a holding pattern in greater Salt Lake: winter has not yet arrived and it is almost Thanksgiving.  That is not good: the ski resorts are pushing back their openings because there is scarcely any natural snow, plus it has been so warm that they haven't been able to make much snow either.  Last year at this time, it had been a bare early November but had starting snowing in earnest right around now; right now, the forecast looks pretty bleak for the near future.

We did get over to Park City (again) last Saturday to have lunch with our friend Ted, with whom we skied once last year.  He has a condo in Park City and was in town to set the place up for winter so we met him at Squatter's to catch up.  And then on Sunday, we drove up to Alta and picked up our season passes ... so if winter does actually show up, we're ready to hit the slopes.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

once more 'round the valley

We have a complicated relationship with Utah.  For example, we enjoy the heck out of the cool mountains of the Wasatch and yet we are never happier than when we are in the desert rockscapes near Moab.  And while we are impatiently awaiting the arrival of cold, wet weather so that we can go skiing, we were pleased when it was mild and dry enough for us to go MTBing one more time at Round Valley on Sunday.  The skies weren't perfectly clear and blue and it was slightly breezy (which picked up to gusty by the time we'd finished) but it was certainly pleasant. We weren't the only ones who thought so either: the Quinn's Trailhead parking lot was fairly busy when we got there noon-ish.  We saw a number of people out on the trails as well - not summertime crowds (and everyone out there was experienced enough to practice good trail etiquette) but there were definitely folks looking to get more trail time in.

Given H's research last weekend, we didn't exactly do our usual route (either backwards or forwards), but changed up some pieces here and there.  We started out the same but when we had finished the [former] My Nemesis* climb, instead of staying straight at the four-way intersection to head to the bottom of Hammerhead*, we turned left to make our way out along Cammy's Trail to Rademan Ridge.  We went down what H had gone up last weekend, landing at the bottom of the Sagebrush Switchbacks* of the backside of Rambler, then climbed up Rambler.  At that point, we went down Rusty Shovel, which has some tight turns but also some beautifully banked corners - so if you aren't a chicken descender like I am, Rusty Shovel would be super-fun to ride down.

Lean in

At this point we found our way back to Rambler (see, everything leads to Rambler) and went up as far as turn #8 of the Sweet Sixteen* switchbacks.  I passed two other riders going up in this section AND managed to ride turn #6 for the first time ever since we've been riding this loop.  Riding that turn had been my goal for the summer and I was psyched - now there's only one turn (#8) that I haven't been able to ride.  New goal for next summer, I guess.  At turn #8, we left Rambler for Highside and then Kari's, which brought us back to the top of the Practice Loop.  While H did some extra climbing, I started riding out, now retracing the first bit of our ride.  Despite riding further than I did, H made it back to the truck first ... because I had to stop to pat a couple of golden retrievers.  (I always stop for golden retrievers.)

If that was truly our last MTB of the season - and we really, really hope it is because it needs to start snowing - then that was an excellent way to close things out.  And I'm still psyched about riding turn #6!

*  Apologies for using all these pet names for pieces of the trails.  Since so much of our loop seems to be on the Rambler trail, we've taken to re-naming sections for our own identification.  You certainly won't find "My Nemesis," "Hammerhead" or "Sweet Sixteen" on any Round Valley trail map.

Monday, November 13, 2017


We have, the past few years, done a hike at Solitude/Brighton after the first snow of the year, to say goodbye to summer and welcome winter.  The original route was from Silver Lake to Lake Solitude, up and over the back of Solitude, past the Twin Lakes dam and along the Sol-Bright trail back to Silver Lake.  Last year, since the snow situation was looking dire in the early season, we did that loop backwards and lo, last winter we had the best snow we've had in years.  H, who is not superstitious about anything, announced on Friday that we would be doing the Sol-Bright hike on Saturday and, since it worked so well last time, we would again be doing it in reverse.  So much for not being superstitious.

Silver Lake, early winter style

It was pretty chilly in the morning so we busied ourselves with some chores: house-cleaning, laundry, making oatmeal-dried cranberry cookies.  We got up to the Solitude Nordic Center at Silver Lake around 12:30 and were surprised to find plenty of parking places; the Big Cottonwood Canyon road had been pretty busy on the way up and the various hiking trailheads had been quite full, so we assumed Silver Lake would be jam-packed too.  Happy to be wrong!

View of Brighton

We went clockwise around the lake on the boardwalk, teetering on the ice, then turned off onto the Twin Lakes trail.  Although the snow wasn't super-deep, we were walking on snow for the most part, unlike last year when there wasn't any at all.  It was mostly sunny, with a light breeze, and temperatures were in the low 30s but noticeably colder in the shade.  We warmed right up climbing up to the Twin Lakes dam, then kept the grind going on up to the top of Solitude's Summit lift.

Top of Summit lift

Once past the dam, there was more snow and so many animal tracks.  Deer, porcupine, coyote, squirrels and smaller critters - the snow was positively trampled in spots.  We stumped our way up to the top of the lift to enjoy the views of Honeycomb Canyon, Brighton and Guardsman Pass across the canyon (now closed for the winter).  Then, before we could get too chilled, we retraced our steps for a ways before turning off onto an access road down into Solitude.  The snow was deep in some spots here, coming up to nearly my knees, and we found a couple of short pitches where we were surprised no one had come up to ski.  No fat bike tire tracks either - just critters.

Totally skiable

We went around Lake Solitude, the snow depth dropping with our elevation, crossed through the woods and under the Sunrise lift, heading back towards Silver Lake.  In a shady grove we happened upon a small herd of mule deer: a buck and what we guessed were two does and two fawns, now old enough to have lost their spots and look like mini-mes of their moms.  The buck was skittish but the does were not, standing their ground and watching us, warily and interestedly, but not at all scared.  We watched them for a little while and then continued on our way, letting them go theirs.

Very much unafraid

Back at the car, we were surprised to find the parking lot busier than before; there seemed to be lots of photographers taking advantage of the afternoon light.  We paused at the Silver Fork on our way down the canyon, stopping in for a couple of beers and some chips and salsa (they have a restaurant license and have to serve food, even if you're just sitting at the bar), and talked with another couple (transplants from New Jersey/Maryland) about how awesome Utah winters are.  And we're ready for another one.  Let it snow.

Hike stats:  4.92 miles; 1:59 hours; 1,400 feet of elevation

Friday, November 10, 2017

h gets in another one

I was unconvinced Saturday morning that I wanted to go MTBing.  It was stormy-looking over the mountains and a chilly 43 F in Park City at 9 a.m., with dropping temperatures and showers forecasted for early afternoon.  H, however, was jonesing to go, so I shooed him out the door with the thought that he might do some more exploring on the Round Valley trails we don't normally ride.  There were a few people out on the trails with him; he saw twenty or so, and seemed to be mostly women.  It never warmed up and actually dropped a couple of degrees as the day wore on, so he wore long sleeves and leg warmers against the chill.  Here's what he rode, doing 19.78 miles and 2,200 feet of climbing in 2 hours and 18 minutes of riding time:

Dark and stormy over the mountains

He started out our usual way, taking Fast Pitch or Hat Trick (one of those) and doing an out-and-back to the top of the PC hill, which was narrow, overgrown and not good for riding.  Then he got back on our regular route, Matt's Flat and up what I call "My Nemesis," then down the Round Valley Express to the RVE/Rambler junction.  He then continued riders' left up to Rademan Ridge, then linked up with Cammy's Trail, looping back to Valderoad.  He went down what we call the "Nouvelle Loop" above the National Ability Center, then climbed back up the Practice Loop, turning left onto Somewhere Elks.  Somewhere Elks is a long climb with tight turns and he took it to Nowhere Elks.  Then down Rusty Shovel with its many, many switchbacks, turning left onto Ramble On.  He went down to the jeep road, then back up Rambler (climbing the "Sagebrush Switchbacks") and then down the other side on Rambler (the "Sweet Sixteen" switchbacks), turning off onto Highside around the eighth turn.  From there, he took Highside to Kari's, then reconnected with Rambler again (Rambler is seemingly everywhere!) back to the Practice Loop and then back to the truck.

He got to almost all the trails

H said he didn't really want to stop riding but he had gone through several snow flurries throughout the morning, and the last few minutes of the ride it was actively sprinkling.  Rather than get cold and wet, he opted for a beer and a veggie burger at Squatter's before coming home - always a good choice.

Pretty good amount of climbing, eh?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

possible last mtb of the season

H was not so banged up on Sunday that we couldn't go for another MTB ride.  At this point in the year, every MTB ride we do has the potential for being that last one of the season.  Sunday was pretty gorgeous - breezy, just a few thin clouds, slightly cooler than the Sunday before - so we figured we should take advantage of the day. 

We still waited a little while for it to warm up to comfortable, if cool, temperatures in Park City.  Quinn's Trailhead had some action but did not seem overly crowded, and the cooler fall weather meant that nearly everyone had a dog or two with them.  I suggested that we do our usual route but backwards again, to give our brains a bit of a work out.  The climb up Rambler on the sagebrush switchbacks side is so much easier than the way we normally go up and I was thrilled to ride the whole thing except for that one really rocky corner.  Going down the other side is actually not as fun; the top half is good hard dirt but the bottom bit is rockier and makes me nervous - I am a very nervous descender. 

Apparently I'm wearing the same outfit as last time

When we were almost out (and H was way ahead of me, speedy on the double track), I scared up a herd of about seven or eight mule deer, who bounded away from me up a sagebrush-covered hill.  Then I had to stop and pet a 150 lb., 7 year old wolfhound who was walking with his person.  The man warned me that I'd get slobbered on but it was worth it to say hello to that giant, gentle dog.  We got a little more dog-time a little later, when we stopped by the Park City Brewery.  They don't serve food, so they're dog-friendly, and the picnic tables outside have carabiners screwed into them so you can park your dogs there.  We hung out with three dogs for a beer or two, chatting a little with their people, before heading home.  If that's going to be the last ride of the season, it was a pretty good way to finish up.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

going glenwild

While I was out tromping around at Alta, H met up with a buddy from work for a MTB ride in Park City.  Darren is a really good MTBer so I was more than happy to bow out, knowing that there was no way I could keep up with those guys.  They drove through Parleys Canyon to Park City, parking at a trailhead behind the Park City Brewery to get onto the Glenwild Trails.  It has been years and years since H and I have ridden at Glenwild and all I could recall is that the trails seemed rocky and there was a lot of climbing.

Darren on the trail 

After their ride, H reported that while he didn't find the trails too rocky, they definitely did a lot of climbing: 1,700 feet right from the start, up a wash and then switchbacking up and over a ridge, with a total of 2,200 feet climbed by the end of the 17-ish mile ride.  For comparison, the 16+ mile ride we regularly do at Round Valley has only 1,300 feet of climbing. 

The guys were evenly matched on the climbs but H was a little more cautious than Darren on the descents.  Caution aside, H still managed to overcook a turn on one descent, and then hit the brakes a little too hard, launching himself over the handlebars and into a sagebrush bush.  His MTB was unscathed and he only got some cuts, bumps and bruises, so all ended well enough.

Friday, November 3, 2017

wolverines and grizzlies

While we anxiously wait for it to get cold, we are trying to take advantage of the remaining good weather.  H had made plans to MTB with a friend from work on Saturday; since I cannot keep up with them, I decided to take a hike up at Alta.  I didn't want to do the usual route, though, and thought I might change it up a little by going up to Catherine's Pass, then up and over Tuscarora and Wolverine, around Wolverine Cirque, down to Twin Lakes Pass and out through Grizzly Gulch.  That was the plan - I love it when a plan comes to fruition!

Blue sky start

After waiting for it to warm up a little, I got to the parking lot above Albion base lodge at Alta around 11:30 a.m.  There was a helicopter working hard, transporting pieces of the new Summit lift towers from the Goldminer's Daughter parking lot up to the mountain, and there seemed to be a fair number of people up there just to watch it work.  To keep out from under the flight path, I decided to go up the Summer Road to the Catherine's Pass trailhead instead of making my way up through the bunny slope.

Lakes Mary and Martha from Tuscarora

By the time I reached the trailhead, I was warm enough to take off my gloves.  It was still cold enough in the shade to keep the trail frozen but out in the sunny spots the mud had warmed and softened.  It was a bit of a challenge in places to stay out of the mud, but I did my best, wanting to keep from messing up the trail.  I came across just a few hikers as I neared the pass but otherwise had it to myself.

Wolverine Cirque, Superior and the Salt Lake Valley

From Catherine's Pass, I turned north and climbed up to Tuscarora.  My only concern about this hike was if the ridge would be icy with leftover snow from the last storm we had.  From my vantage point on Tuscarora, there looked to be snow on the Brighton (east) side but the top of the ridge looked okay.  I met another hiker, coming the other way, and he confirmed that the ridge was okay with just a couple of snowy spots.

Giant floating selfie head

There was some snow to cross between Tuscarora and Wolverine but I stayed in the footprints of those who had gone before.  At the top of Wolverine (around 1:30 p.m.), I could see the whole trail around the top of the cirque and could confirm that it looked okay.  I took my time going around the cirque; luckily, the trail tends to go to the western/sunny side of the ridge and there were no issues with slippery footing. 

Snow-covered boulder field

The only sketchy bit was on that last boulder field coming down off the ridge to Twin Lakes Pass.  There was a lot of snow here so again I stuck to the footprints that were there, avoiding having to break trail and post-hole.  I met another hiker here: he was on his way up and seemed under-equipped with sneakers, no gloves and his shirt off.  He asked some questions about the trail - had never done it before - and then we continued on our ways, him up and me down.  I lost the trail for a little once off the boulder field and into the woods where the snow was sparser, but it was easy enough to get down to Twin Lakes Pass (2:15 p.m.).

Flowers are past-peak in Grizzly Gulch

After that, it was all downhill and out through Grizzly Gulch.  I started seeing a few more people there but again, it was certainly nothing like the summertime crowds.  I followed the old mining road down, then the flap poles directing hikers to the final bit of trail down to Alta and my car (3:00 p.m.).  That helicopter was still working hard - got to make hay while the sun shines, I guess, with winter coming - and I watched it as I had my post-hike beer.  Gorgeous day in the mountains of northern Utah - and I hoped H had had as good an outing as I had.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

home turf

After our fantastic Fruita/Moab trip, it took us a few days to re-acclimate to non-vacation life.  We dealt with laundry and the other mundane details of being back at home but by Sunday, we were ready to get back on the trails.  We had both been a little frustrated with our MTBing on vacation - which is what happens when five weeks go by without riding - so we felt that getting back to trails we were comfortable with would be comforting and good for the ego.  Plus, it would only have been five days since our last ride, so that had to count for something.

Cool enough for long sleeves and gloves

We had to wait for it to warm up in Park City and thus didn't end up getting on the trails until around 11:30 a.m.  With the late start but the sun still low in the sky, and all the leaves off the scrub oak, the light was a little weird.  But we know those trails so well that we were able to ride with confidence.  There weren't too many people out either, and that's always nice when you don't have to keep pulling over to pass on singletrack.

Monday, October 30, 2017

desert trip, part 6

All desert trips must come to an end, it seems.  We slept in a little Tuesday morning, then walked to the Moab Diner for breakfast (oatmeal, hash browns, English muffin with peanut butter and fruit).  We cleared out of our motel room and drove up to Dead Horse Point State Park.  The skies were mostly clear, just some light, thin clouds, and it was cool but not cold at about 54 F.  There were a few other cars in the parking lot with MTBers getting ready to hit the trails. 

Once we got out there, however, we really didn't see more than a handful of other people - just the way we like it.  We did the Big Chief loop, which has a couple of hike-a-bike sections at first but then is rideable and fun for the rest, then across the sagebrush flats on Crossroad to cross the road to the newer trails.

Scenery for days

We were both riding better than we had been and I had my best ride ever on Whiptail and Twisted Tree, never even putting my foot down on Whiptail except to let another rider go by.  Maybe fresher legs (from not doing double sessions the day before) helped?  Regardless, we felt good and it was wonderful to be out there under those desert skies.

I mean, look at that

We finished up our ride and had snacks/beers while people-watching and putting our gear away.  Then it was time to say farewell to Moab once again and, with a stop in Green River at Ray's Tavern for veggie burgers and beers, our desert trip was done.  Until the next time!


Ride stats:  16.41 miles; 2:21 hours; 7.0 avg. m.p.h.; 16.9 max m.p.h.