Thursday, March 30, 2017

opposite day

Where Saturday was warm, cloudy, windy and wet, Sunday started cold, clear and sunny (19 F to start, but the base did warm to close to 40 F by mid afternoon) - a gorgeous bluebird morning.  I said to H that I predicted a much busier ski day attendance-wise since so many people don't like to storm-ski.  Add six inches of fresh snow to bright sunshine and the hordes emerge!

Because of the storm, the morning conditions were fantastic, with soft, smooth corduroy that our skis could just fly over.  Collins was cold, however, with most of its trails and all of the lift in the shade.  I had dressed a little lightly and after the first life ride and run back down I was already chilled.  I left H to head for sunnier Sugarloaf, making plans to rendezvous at Alf's for lunch if we didn't find each other first out on the slopes.

Alta's Main Street (ski trail)

It was definitely warmer on the Sugarloaf side and I just did laps there for a while.  But temperatures were still in the 20s and the groomers weren't warming me up at all, even the multiple Extrovert runs I did.  On one lift ride up, the guy sitting next to me was sweating and breathing hard; I asked him where he'd just skied.  He had just come down through Yellow Trail/Glory Hole/Glory Gulch and seemed very pleased with the snow.  I was a little skeptical, asking if it wasn't hard and scratchy under the new snow and he assured me that it was fine, even with just a few scratchy spots.  He sold me and since the line for the newly-opened Devil's Castle was quite long, I skated around the EBT and into the Backside.

The first pitch was okay, not great, and I moved across the low Yellow Trail traverse to Yellow Trail corner to contemplate my next move.  I realized that I was standing above a short pitch that H and I had never skied - we actually talked about it a couple weekends ago, because the turns looked nice.  It just went between a couple of stands of trees, not more than eight turns long, before turning left and following above Glory Gulch towards Glitch and Glatch.  Just a couple people had been down it and it looked good so I went for it.  My first turn was great, my second turn was great ... and on my third turn I hit a big crunchy bump under that nice fluffy top layer.  My skis stopped cold and I highsided it.  I wish H had been around to see it because it must have been impressive: I somersaulted off-axis twice and somehow managed to land standing upright, without having lost my skis.  If anyone had been around to see it, I'm sure I would have gotten some applause.

I met back up with H a couple of runs later and we skied together for the rest of the day.  The shock of adrenaline left my legs a little shaky so I was happy to cruise groomers for the rest of the day.  After lunch we moved to Supreme and did laps there.  Anything with bumps was pretty bad, scraped off in between the moguls, but the cruisers like Rock N' Roll and Lower Big Dipper were quite good.  I looked longingly at the folks hiking into Catherine's Area but reminded myself that if there were crusty bumps hidden in the Backside, there would certainly be plenty lurking in Catherine's as well.

The clouds moved in after lunch and after 2 p.m. the light got very, very flat.  I had been enough of a menace when I could see what I was skiing that we didn't feel the need to push our luck.  At the time of this writing, at home, I'm still mobile but I can feel some stiffness in my neck and shoulder.  I have a feeling I may be paying for that spectacular fall a little later tonight.

Monday, March 27, 2017

foggy and soggy

Saturday was when I discovered that my "new" ski pants were no longer water-proof.

Now, I got those ski pants in spring 2014, and they've gotten a lot of wear since then, so I shouldn't have been surprised.  I was, because they've gotten me through several heavy storms this past winter, but none of those have been as warm and wet as the one we got this past weekend.  While the Salt Lake Valley lawns greened up with 40 F and raining, it was 26-35 F up at Alta (warmer at the base) and snowing all day.  Attendance was way down: the fact that it was raining at home and valley temperatures hit the high 70s last week means the casual skier has moved on.

For good reason, too, because while the conditions were better than what we started out with last weekend (i.e. frozen corduroy), it wasn't fantastic snow.  The mountains had gotten a lovely storm on Wednesday/Thursday which left over a foot of fresh at Alta; the sun came out on Friday, alas, and baked the snow enough to make it crusty overnight.  The new snow we were getting all Saturday was nice and creamy but it just wasn't deep enough to keep us from skiing down through it and scraping along the crust.

Being from the east originally, crusty snow doesn't scare us.  We did three runs on Collins before switching to Sugarloaf to see if the visibility was any better over there.  It wasn't.  The clouds had been down to the base areas when we had gotten to Alta but then lifted somewhat by the time the lifts opened.  The light was very flat, however, and the clouds hadn't cleared enough that we could see the top of Supreme or Baldy.  We stayed on Sugarloaf for the rest of the morning, searching out pockets of soft snow wherever we could.  Skier's right down Extrovert was decent, as was Rollercoaster since it gets less traffic than Devil's Elbow.  Razorback was not very good - scraped off and clumpy and terrible visibility - and Sugarbowl deteriorated as the day went on.

We were already pretty soggy when we went in early for lunch.  My fingers and toes were cold and I was wishing that I'd worn one layer warmer; H's old gloves (which are more duct tape than fabric at this point) were soaking wet.  We went back out for another hour and a half, doing laps on Supreme.  There were so few people there that the lifties didn't even need to run the lift lines.  Again, we were able to find pockets of nice snow interspersed among the scratch and crust.  At 2 p.m., however, my fingers were cold again and I was starting to get chilled from being so damp.  We skied out through Sunnyside, hauled ourselves across the rope tow and downed a leisurely PBR before catching the bus down-canyon.  This will tell you how depleted the skier crowds are: we got seats on the 3 p.m. bus on a storm day.  That never happened in January!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

less springy, no problem

Sunday's weather was very similar to Saturday: perhaps a touch cooler, definitely less breezy, still with the high, thin clouds that kept it from becoming a true bluebird day.  The crowds about the same and the snow conditions were the same too: frozen hard in the morning, sticky and sloppy in the afternoon.  In fact, it was set up so hard in the morning that we didn't even bother doing a run down Collins and instead went straight to Sugarloaf.  We found that it was still a little frozen there too, plus fairly busy since everyone was skiing there on the groomers.  We both thought that there were a few too many people skiing too fast for the crowded conditions, especially since you just can't stop on frozen snow like that - we were in defensive skiing mode for most of the morning.

It also seemed like everyone out on the hill was a tourist and almost everyone was a bar-putter-downer!  Pretty much any time we rode with other people, they put the bar down, whether they were an old guy from Connecticut, a father and daughter duo or a pair of North Carolina ski patrollers.  We were grateful that we were wearing helmets (we always wear our helmets) because we lost count of the number of times someone whacked us in the head while dropping the bar.

On the side of Sugarbowl

So, here's where I have to confess something.  We've been good about bringing our own lunches all year.  H brings a tupperware container of mashed potatoes and I pack a Snickers bar and some pretzels or nuts.  I keep the Snickers bars in the freezer at home (out of sight, out of temptation to snack on midweek) and in the winter, they stay frozen in the backpack through until lunch.  But Sunday I took advantage of the warm temperatures to leave my Snickers at home, saying it wouldn't stay frozen and would get smushed down there at the bottom of the pack, and instead bought Alf's french fries for my lunch.  Was it a lame excuse?  Yes, it was.  Were the fries tasty?  Yes, they were.

Although the air was warm, those high, thin clouds kept snow fairly firm until after lunch.  We stuck to the groomers even into the afternoon:  over on Supreme, Challenger had not been groomed from the day before and looked awful, all scraped off in between huge moguls.  The one time we did go off-piste, when we ducked into the trees below East Castle just to see how it was, neither of us could turn our skis in the heavy snow.  The sticky conditions took their toll and this time we cut out around 2 p.m., unwilling to risk straining our knees for a few extra runs.

Monday, March 20, 2017

spring skiing springing early

We're continuing our dry patch of weather where it's been warm all week - allowing H to ride his road bike outside (much less boring than on rollers in the basement) - and that has brought some serious spring skiing conditions to the mountains.  On Saturday, it was already 40 F at the base when we got there, although the snow did manage to set up overnight.  It was windy (a warm wind) and mostly cloudy, clearing a bit to partly cloudy in the afternoon.  The crowds are way down since a lot of people don't like spring skiing - it is definitely more difficult than cruising smooth groomers - but we were there.

The corduroy had frozen hard overnight, however, so after only one Collins run we bailed for Sugarloaf.  That side of the mountain gets the sun earlier and thus the snow tends to soften up earlier.  We aren't the only ones who know this, unfortunately, and around 10:30 a.m. it was evident that almost everyone who was out skiing was out skiing Sugarloaf.  We moved over to Supreme at this point where, amazingly, Challenger was pretty good: soft and not yet bumped up enormously.  We stayed there before going in for an early lunch.  Patrol was keeping Supreme Bowl closed while the off-piste snow was still hard but all the groomers were decent.

Me and my giant mittens at the start
of Devil's Castle

The sun broke through the clouds when we were in at lunch and that set the snow to softening quickly.  The groomers started getting slushy and stick and even off-piste was soft.  We did an Extrovert run, then went in to Devil's Castle.  The snow was pretty good in there, all things considered, although H's legs started yelling at him for all the tele-turns he was making.  We went back to Supreme - where the vertical is short and the chair lift ride is long, so: good for resting legs - and did laps there.  Challenger was great and super-soft.

Our last run was in Catherine's Area.  We weren't sure what the conditions would be like but figured that if we did So Long, the area that gets the most traffic, it would be beaten down enough that we could still make turns.  This turned out to be exactly the case.  That section was nice but when we attempted the trees, where it hadn't been all tracked out, the snow was too heavy for either of us to turn in.  As we picked our way down, the snow got heavier and stickier and by the time we'd gotten out of there, we were done.  We'd made it until almost 3 p.m., leaving ourselves just enough time for a PBR before catching the bus home.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

not a last chair kind of day

We just had a feeling when we got up that Sunday wouldn't be a "ski to the last chair" day.  Although the ambient temperature was fairly mild, it remained overcast and windy the whole time we were up there and the snow just never softened.  This meant we stuck to the groomers (boring!).  As the day wore on, we kept jumping off the sides of the trails, hoping that it would be soft enough to venture further afield.  Alas, it was not to be.

The sun almost came out here

On the plus side, it wasn't that crowded.  Alta seemed to be mostly populated with tourists as the snow-snob locals only want to come out this time of year for (a) new snow or (b) bluebird spring conditions. (As you know, not being native Utahns means we'll go out and ski on almost anything.  A bad day of skiing is better than a good day of not skiing.)  In fact, it was so uncrowded that we got to ride quite a few chairlifts together - something that hasn't happened much all season.

By the afternoon, we spotted a fair number of brave/foolhardy people hiking into East Castle, but there was hardly anyone going into Devil's Castle, the Backside or West Rustler.  From the chair, we could hear some folks attempting Supreme Bowl; it sounded awful, all frozen hard and noisy. 

Even we had had enough of the conditions by 2 p.m. and caught the 2:30 bus out.  The sun was out a little more down in the valley and we spotted some fat robins in the tree in our front yard.  Spring is definitely coming - hopefully we'll get a few more snowstorms first.

Monday, March 13, 2017

french fries and soft snow

We're in a bit of a quiet spot right now weather-wise, with the last storm having moved out days ago and nothing but calm ahead, probably until past mid-month.  That's okay: there's a lot of snow out there and we like spring skiing conditions too.  And spring conditions it was: mostly sunny, temperatures starting out at 28 F and rising to into the 40s (at the base) as the day went on.  The bus wasn't packed and the parking lot was not even a third full when we got up to Alta.

Although the air was warm, the first couple of runs on Collins were fairly crisp.  Alta prefers to send its groomers out immediately after the lifts stop.  This isn't an issue in the winter, when the snow stays cold and dry.  But in the spring, the afternoon snow tends to be wet and slushy in the afternoon sun.  Sending the groomers out then makes the slush into corduroy, which then freezes up overnight.  (Our home mountain back east, Sunday River, would wait until 10 p.m. or later to send out their groomers: the snow had set up by then and the machines would be able to chop it up into something skiable.)

We moved over to Sugarloaf then, which gets better morning sun and tends to soften up quicker in the spring.  I was debuting new boots and even though they still need to be tweaked, I was skiing much better than I have been, with the new boots making my skis respond to what I asked of them.  The snow was decent over there and we stayed on Sugarloaf for the morning.  We did a bunch of laps on Extrovert, once venturing towards Chartreuse before bailing out - off-piste was still a little stiff at that point.

Poised to send it above Extrovert (there was 
no actual sending of it)

With the sun shining brightly, and people enjoying it out on the deck at Alf's, we were able to score what we consider "our" table.  I also scored a small order of fries; we've been very good about bringing our own lunches this winter - and saving a fair amount of money that way - but I just couldn't go a whole ski season without fries from Alf's.  Right out of the fryer, they were delicious.

We skied Supreme for the afternoon, again sticking to the groomers and not venturing into the hinterlands.  Challenger, Sleepy Hollow, Big Dipper and Rock N' Roll were all very, very soft, with the mashed potato-consistency snow bumping up more with every run.  Back east, spring conditions mean corn snow, but you don't seem to find that too often out here - because our snow has such a low water content, would be my guess.  Our spring conditions are mashed potato clumps, soft enough but dense and heavy on the legs.  Our legs managed to make it until just about 3 p.m.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


The weather was gearing up for another storm on Sunday so Saturday had a touch of "the warm before the storm" to it and it was also very windy ahead of the front.  Temperatures ranged from 24-42 F but it sure seemed colder because of all the wind.  Amazingly, the lifts were never put on wind hold but with it blowing steadily 30-35 mph, plus gusting to 55, it seemed like the lifts stopped a lot.  Mostly cloudy for the morning, the skies did clear to partly-mostly sunny in the afternoon, which was a treat visibility-wise.  Because of the forecasted warmer temperatures, I bravely went down a level in clothing - and didn't even wear my boot covers! But those winds meant that I was a little chilled throughout the day, especially since we did a lot of groomers, and my toes got very cold, although not so much that I had to take a mid-morning break to warm them.

We started off with a couple of runs on Collins per usual.  Then, at H's suggestion, we went straight to Supreme, thinking it might be more protected from the winds.  It was a little more protected but lots of other people figured that out too and at times the singles line wrapped around the corner.  As usual, Sugarloaf was the most wind-buffeted lift and there was hardly anyone skiing over there because of it.  Despite the crowds at Supreme, the line moved pretty quickly, even with shenanigans like kids trying to cut the line and Skier Services pouncing on them.

We ended up skiing together on Supreme the whole day.  The groomers were pretty good but anything off-piste was a generally little stiff.  Amazingly, Challenger was good by the afternoon (well, the bottom half of Challenger that was getting the most sun was good) and I did three runs on it, finishing by veering right at the bottom of the trail and following the rope line.

A whole herd of monoskiers

We noticed that there were a couple of groups getting their Alta on.  A Boys and Girls Club group was gearing up and practicing on the bunny slope first thing in the morning, and on the extra-fun side of things, Monopalooza 2017 was having their day at Alta.  All day we had noticed quite a few more monoskiers than one usually sees - although Alta being Alta, there's always someone weird on the hill.  Then, after lunch, we got to the top of the Supreme lift and there were about forty monoskiers all standing there, taking pictures and having a great time.  They all took off together shortly thereafter, with a bunch of them heading right down under the lift and dropping into the chutes with abandon.  It was very excellent.

Also very excellent: the nearly empty bus we had for the down-canyon ride.  We got our favorite bus driver - a really funny young woman with facial piercings and no time for bullshit, who likes to tell riders to "hang on!" as she roars out onto the roads and does an out-loud countdown when kids are taking too long to get their skis out of the rack - and there were only three of us riding once we got past Snowbird.  Our driver remarked that she couldn't believe H and I were able to read on the moving bus without getting sick, and then later, at a stoplight, she and I swapped sci-fi/fantasy book recommendations.

The winds continued to build over time, even down in the valley, and so much so that we didn't end up skiing on Sunday - just stayed home and listened to the wind howl around the house.  I confess that we felt ambivalent about that: we hate to miss a day of skiing but skiing in a lot of wind (plus flat light) is just not that much fun.  What made us feel better was was the mounting snow totals as the storm front finally pushed into the area: Alta would end up getting around 13" and that's nothing to feel bad about.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

bonus days

In his constant quest for more ski days, H was able to take some time off and ski both Thursday and Friday.  Thursday he went with several guys from his work - all skiers but none of them able to get out as much as we do.  With blue skies bright above and all sorts of wonderful snow to be had, the corral at Collins was already full when they got up to Alta.  They immediately hopped on Wildcat and did a bunch of laps there.  H later said that the snow was terrific, gullies filled in and rocks well-covered.  He and I haven't skied there together yet this year and he appreciated the reminder of the world-class terrain off that tiny old lift.

Traversing into Devil's Castle

Since H skis at Alta all the time, he ended up leading a bit of a mountain tour.  When ski patrol dropped the rope into Devil's Castle, H and two of the guys joined the long line hiking in.  It was phenomenal - the sun can't get around Sugarloaf Mountain this time of year and so the snow is preserved there longer - so they went back up and did it again, hiking in a little further this time.  After that second lap, the other two's legs were shot and it was time for lunch.  After the break, they went back for more Collins and Sugarloaf skiing, never even making it over to Supreme.  H was on his alpine skis and when the rest of the group cried uncle around 3 p.m., his legs were not yet fatigued due to how much strength he's built on his teles so far this season.

Superior looks glorious with all that snow

He was on his own for Friday, for which the skiers seemed to mostly be regulars, locals/retirees for whom weekday skiing is the thing.  The weather was very nice again - a few high, thin clouds but still warm and sunny.  He was happy to be back on his telemark skis and did runs on all the lifts (Collins, Sugarloaf and Supreme, anyway).  It was busy, and people seemed unusually determined to talk to him, which I found hilarious because of the two of us, I am the one who likes to talk to strangers on the chairlifts and the ski bus.  With these two bonus days, that puts H a solid nine days ahead of me on the total ski days.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

blue and white

We had a bit of a break on Sunday (although the storm system was not quite done with us, coming back in Monday night with a vengeance and staying until Wednesday, its final dumpage giving Alta 79 inches in eight days) which meant blue skies and very cold temperatures in the morning.  It was 0 at the summit and 0 at the base when we got up to Alta.  It was busy too, with as many people putting their gear on inside the Goldminer's Daughter lodge as there were standing in line for the lift.  H was back on his telemark skis and I was back on my little all-mountain Salomons.  I also got a little confidence back as well (which I believe comes from being on those skis) and had a better day of skiing all around, even though I still had to go in mid-morning to warm my ice-cold toes.

Brrrrrrrr - top of first run, Collins pass

The snow was all skied out everywhere else so when it was revealed that ski patrol would be doing routes in Devil's Castle to get it open, people started getting in line to wait.  The line would eventually wrap around the snowbank and back up towards the EBT and when ski patrol dropped the rope, it took no time at all for everyone to churn up that untracked pow.  H and I didn't bother this time. 

The snow elsewhere was staying pretty soft, despite being tracked out; the cold had kept it from getting dense.  I went looking for low-profile bumps on Sugarloaf in the morning while H cruised Supreme.  After sharing our lunch table with a solo old guy (on vacation from NYC, wearing a 70+ years patch), we went back to Supreme.  Catherine's Area was still quite good, especially going out further.  H continues to impress me on his teles: not only is he fast on the groomers but he is much improved off-piste, only getting bogged down turning in the very deep stuff.  I think he's getting good enough that he needs to upgrade his equipment - and even if he wasn't, any excuse to get new gear!