Monday, February 27, 2017

cold smoke

It's official:  we have a lot of snow here in northern Utah, finally and wonderfully.  Wasatch Snow Forecast put together a chart summarizing the various resorts' totals from the storm we had last week; I've excerpted the top three receivers here:

That's over four feet for Alta in four days.  And the best part was that it was all light and fluffy.  Sure, it caused a fair number of avalanches, including closing the road up to Snowbird and Alta on Friday at mid-morning - which meant that those folks who were already up there had amazing storm skiing with no lift lines.  But what's important is that there is a lot of snowpack (finally, wonderfully), with Alta reporting 135 inch base and 413" snow total at the end of February.  This is comparable to the amazing season of 2010/2011 when Alta got 800 inches (including that which fell in May after the ski resort closed).  It's good for the water table and it's damn good for the skiing.  Alta's gullies are filling in - the Erosion gullies off Supreme face are barely noticeable - and even the Diving Board doesn't look that impressive any more, with just about a six foot drop left.

Glory Hole

As far as our weekend skiing went, it was still snowing just a little bit as that storm headed east, leaving bitter cold air in its wake: it was 0 at the peak and 10 F at the base when we got up to Alta Saturday morning and would only warm to 5 F peak/18 F base throughout the day.  We were both on our powder skis (Blizzard Gunsmokes for H, Rossignol S110s for me) because so much of the mountain hadn't opened on Friday and patrol was expecting to get Ballroom, the Backside and Catherine's Area open.  We did a warm-up run on Collins, then jumped into West Rustler before leaving the front side for Sugarloaf and a trip down Chartreuse.  The snow was very soft and fairly deep, although cut up from being skied on.

After only three runs, I already needed to go in and warm my toes up, plus I wanted to cut H loose so he could play in the deep stuff.  I was struggling: my boots are so packed out that I can't get them tight enough without also causing pain, plus my heels are loose even when my instep is tight; I have lost a lot of confidence skiing because I can't make my skis do what they should due to the loose boots, and I can't afford to lose any confidence on my powder skis because I don't have all that much on them to begin with.  So I went in to regain feeling in my cold feet and H tore up the mountain.

So much snow

He did Angina Chute/Triple ByPass, two runs through East Greely, Razorback, Extrovert and two Cabin Runs.  In hindsight, he said that he probably didn't need his Gunsmokes: most of what he skied was cut up already and those skis do not turn easily.  Still, he managed to nab a few untracked sections and really let those skis run.

We went to Supreme after lunch.  I had gone in there when I was skiing on my own and Catherine's Area was magnificent.  Very few people had gone all the way out there and I had been able to score fresh tracks of my own then.  I wasn't really feeling it after lunch, however, and I pulled the plug early, heading back to the Goldminer's Daughter for a beer and my book (and chatting with a local with whom I shared my table).  H kept after it until 3 p.m., including runs down the rope line separating Catherine's Area from the Back Forty, some Supreme Bowl chutes and the trees in Vicky's.  Those trees were pretty well pummeled at that point, mounded with huge humps and troughs because people ski in a Z pattern, rather than small turns heading downhill.  Still, with all that snow it's tough to complain.

Friday, February 24, 2017

wrapping up the weekend, alta-style

We expected crowds for Presidents' Day, with the weekend's new snow and the holiday.  The bus was as crowded as it's been all season and we had to stand in the middle of the bus, holding our skis (I've developed a ranking of where I prefer to ride the bus: sitting in a seat at the front; then standing at the front/middle; then sitting in the back; and lastly, standing at the back).  When we got up to Alta, it was warm with partly clear skies; flurries were expected but the light was not yet flat.

There were the usual tourist lift line shenanigans - skier services was desperately trying not to roll their eyes as they, for the umpteenth time, explained to tourists how to get through the gates - but out on the hill, ski patrol got Ballroom and Backside open, which spread the people out.  We did a couple of warm up runs on Collins first, then went straight to Supreme.  Catherine's Area had been so good on Sunday that we wanted to get in there in the morning before things got too tracked out.  We did thee runs in Catherine's, including freshies down Last Chance.  The snow was quite deep there, but also a little stiffer because of the wind.  H struggled a little bit to get his tele skis around on his turns so I jumped out there and got first tracks.

Looks deep in there, doesn't it?

Happily, there were not that many people venturing much further than the first meadow in Catherine's.  We went further on our next two runs, finding some faces deep and soft.  The last pitch before the run-out back to the lift was great - soft but wind-buffed - and both H and I skied it well.

Devil's Castle, Baldy and Collins pass

Lunchtime was pretty busy and we ended up sharing a table with some other folks; we also saw our neighbor who we run into occasionally up at Alf's.  We took a ride up Sugarloaf after lunch but with the swarms of people, we scurried back to Supreme after a run down Razorback (big soft bumps).  At this point, the clouds moving in and light getting flatter quickly.  Before lunch, ski patrol had been actively shooting East Castle (we had seen some slides from the chairlift), and they had gotten Rock N' Roll opened.  At this point, skiers had trampled it but the last pitch had some nice soft bumps which killed my legs.  H, however, was still actively seeking out moguls even this late in the day, proving that his tele legs were getting much stronger.

We skied until around 2:45, then downed a quick PBR before a calm and uncrowded bus ride down the canyon.  We had planned ahead and dinner was all ready to go: homemade chili, cornbread and scratch brownies.  That, plus a glass of wine, made for a very nice way to wrap up the weekend.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

more of everything

Sunday gave us more of everything that we'd gotten on Saturday:  more people riding the morning bus, more people in the lift lines, more snow and more shenanigans out on the hill.  Alta got another four inches overnight, with an 11" storm total and the storm still going.  Temperatures were about the same but the snow quality ranged from big flakes to graupel to tiny bits of ice, depending on where you were on the mountain.  The snow was really quite good - and excellent if you could get off the high traffic areas - but a lot of the mountain was closed for avalanche control (Ballroom, Devil's Castle, Backside, East Castle/Rock N' Roll).  The safety closures, plus the high percentage of tourists, meant that parts of Alta (Mambo, Corkscrew, Devil's Elbow, Sugarbowl) were crowded with people, many of whom were out of their element or in over their heads.  I got cut off multiple times (stopped counting at five) by erratic skiers.  H almost got hit by a clueless dude who came flying onto a trail without looking.  Luckily, H saw him coming and hit the brakes - and then had a few choice words for the guy.

Seriously, though, the snow was terrific.  The visibility was still terrible and my boots were still too loose but for some reason, I was skiing much better than I had been.  I think I figured it out on a run down Razorback:  with the snow and flat light, I literally couldn't see anything, and everything was all bumped up so it just didn't matter - I just went for it.  This technique also worked on Extrovert.  H said he struggled there in the deeper snow but again, I just went for it without worrying about what I might be skiing on, and it worked.

Still in the storm

It worked again in Catherine's Area, when H led the way in there after lunch.  This wasn't the first time he has gone in there on his telemark skis but I suspect it was the most successful to date.  We went out to the middle meadow, leaving all the other skiers behind us the further we went in.  The snow was really good out there: we weren't the first people in there but the snow was still deep and soft and we had the place to ourselves.

That run pretty well wrecked my legs, however, and we decided we could do one more before skiing out.  On the last ride up Supreme, the storm unexpectedly broke.  We could see the cliffs of Devil's Castle for the first time in two days and there were even patches of blue sky overhead.  As much as we hated for it to stop snowing, it was quite nice to be able to see what we were skiing on as we made our way back to base.  It looks as though there will be a break in the action storm-wise for the next couple of days.  With the long weekend, we've got another day left to ski - I guess we'll see what we get on Monday.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

slow motion

After a mild week, a storm moved in Friday night, bringing rain to the Salt Lake valley and snow to the mountains.  It wasn't supposed to bring all that much although it was as least to continue into Sunday, and we were in need of a refresher.  By Saturday morning, Alta was reporting around four inches, just enough to get people excited about new snow.  Not that we needed any more excitement around here: being the start of vacation week, there would be plenty of stoke.  Actually, it isn't the stoke so much as the shenanigans.  As the ski resorts get inundated with enthusiastic tourists, it does get a little challenging.  It isn't even the long lift lines, the questions about everything or even the dearth of lift line etiquette, but more the uptick in beginners skiing erratically.  Add to that about four inches of heavy snow that gets clumped up quickly and sends newbies flying - and you have ski runs that are more obstacle courses than anything else.

Temperatures were mild, 23-36F, and it was steadily snowing, which meant that it was wet, dense snow: heavy clumps but creamy where untracked.  H has fully embraced the telemark thing and has improved vastly this season alone, determined now to up his game off-piste and in deeper snow.  I stuck with him (despite our taking the singles lines) and we cruised Collins face and then Sugarloaf all morning.  While H was powering through the soft snow, I was having a less successful day.  Three things were stacked against me: poor visibility, clumpy snow and boots that are too old/packed out/loose.  I can handle two of the three but all three together were throwing me for a loop and I was really struggling.  I had decided to go with my Salomons since I knew the snow would bump up and I'd need to be able to turn quickly between that and the tourists, but I was very slow all day.

Beer at Goldminer's Daughter

Lunch was a zoo and it took a long time to find a table, even though we went in on the early side.  We moved over to Supreme after lunch and H was actively seeking out soft bumps.  He even went into the trees near 3 Bears, which he hasn't really done much on his teles until now; it was a lot of work in the deeper snow but he seemed pleased about it.  My legs cried uncle around 2:30 p.m. and we bailed out then, with just enough time to pound a PBR before catching the 3 p.m. bus down-canyon.  It was still snowing as we left Alta and we crossed our fingers that the storm would stick around a little longer.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


The clouds moved out Saturday evening, bringing bluebird skies and skied-out snow to Alta for Sunday.  We figured it would be pretty busy with the gorgeous weather but while the lift lines were fairly long, the bus was just not that crowded.  It was a little chilly to start out, with the sun not yet over the mountains.  All it took was an off-piste run to start to warm up, however, and by late morning, people had started to peel off layers.

In the Ballroom, below Main Chute

We started out with three runs on Collins: two groomers to get our legs under us again and then one through the Ballroom where the wind-buffed snow was still a little soft and easy to turn in, even for me on my short Salomons.  We segued to Sugarloaf at that point, going into the Backside via the low traverse.  Once across Yellow Trail and around the corner, East Greely was chunked up but still pretty soft as the sun hadn't yet started to bake it.  We found a couple of scratchy spots on the Glitch/Glatch gullies where the newer snow had sloughed away but generally speaking the conditions were holding up.  Our next run was down Chartreuse which was well-bumped and mostly soft, with just a couple scraped-off bits.

Old friends, together again

The big news of the day was that at 11 a.m. we met up with one of H's old friends, Ted, whom we hadn't seen since our wedding 15+ years ago.  He is based in California and recently bought a Park City condo, and was gracious enough to drive over to ski with us.  Alta wasn't new to him but since he hadn't skied there for about a decade, he was happy to let us tour-guide him around.  Ted is a good skier so we took him down Chatreuse and Devil's Castle (once they got it open) and Catherine's Area and the Supreme Bowl and the trees below Devil's Apron ... even though hiking wasn't his favorite thing, he bore it all with good humor and a couple of water bottles.  It was wonderful to reconnect with him and very nice to see that it was as if no time had passed at all since we'd last seen him.

After Ted headed back to Park City, we did a couple more runs, venturing into West Rustler.  It was my favorite conditions - low-profile, soft bumps - but my legs were fatigued from the earlier part of the day spent hiking and skiing moguls, so I had to call it a day after that run.  We hopped on the bus (the bus driver, seeing how short I am, actually settled the bus down so I didn't have to step up so high, and was all "Come on, you can do it!) and scored seats for the ride down.  With the sunshine, warmth and mellow vibes, it had felt like a day of spring skiing, right in the middle of February; hopefully we'll get some more winter before this season is over.  And hopefully it won't take us another fifteen years to reconnect again with friends!

Monday, February 13, 2017

ripping it on teles

We'd sort of been in a lull for the last week or so snowfall-wise, very warm in the valleys and not much snow in the mountains, a stark difference from the bounty of January.  California and the far north had been doing okay - little Beaver Mountain had a 23" inch day last week - but of the storms that hit greater Salt Lake, the Cottonwoods were getting skunked.  Until Friday night, when Alta got a nice 13" overnight.  Saturday morning the mountains were still all socked in with clouds, the canyon road was closed to traffic until 8 a.m. ... and I just wasn't having any of it again.  I'm not sure whether I just didn't want to deal with the crowds or I thought the snow might be too heavy with the recent warm temperatures, but I sent H off by himself.  So while I did laundry, cleaned the bathrooms, worked on decluttering, made soup and scratch brownies and, yes, binge-watched the second half-season of Santa Clarita Diet, he headed up to Alta to rip it up on his tele skis.

H took an earlier bus, leaving the park and ride at 7:25 a.m., and it was still standing room only.  It took them almost an hour and half to get up there because of traffic from the road closure and when he got off the bus at Wildcat base, the Collins corral was already full.  The crowds held up all day but the snow was deep and soft, although a little bit heavy.  Even though he was on his telemark skis, H has really turned a corner in his tele skis and was actively seeking out untracked snow and bumps runs.

Baldy looking snowy

And it got bumped up quickly.  The snow tapered off - the clouds stuck around for most of the day, with the sun just barely peeking through a couple of times - and ski patrol was able to open most of the terrain, spreading people out across the mountain.  By the time H dragged his tired legs aboard the 3 p.m. bus, everything except Devil's Castle, East Castle and the Baldy Chutes had been opened for skiing, which means that everything will be tracked out for Sunday.  That's okay.  I'll be out there.  One day off is enough (plus I don't have any more bathrooms to clean).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

another day in paradise

Superbowl Sunday is often a good day to go skiing.  It tends to be busy in the morning but then people leave early to get into their spots for the game, whether down out of the canyon or in front of a resort bar's television.  This year, Alta seemed crowded to start but but the lift lines weren't completely horrific.  Once ski patrol opened Devil's Castle (around lunch), that took a lot of pressure off of the Supreme lift; the football devotees cleared out in the early afternoon. 

Clouds over Brighton, blue skies over the Uintas

It was another mild day on the hill: sunny in the morning and then clouding up as the day went on.  While Alta had groomed out their usual groomers, there were still good bumps to be had, although many were too big for [my] comfort.  With H's increased facility off-piste, we were able to ski together for most of the day.  I did take off for some solo Supreme runs before lunch, venturing out into Catherine's Area.  It was still pretty good there, especially way out where the only people I saw were backcountry skiers on the Brighton side and a lone snowshoer heading up to Catherine's Pass.  The snow was still soft and deep in the trees but was getting crusty in sun-bake spots and tending towards stiff/heavy in untracked areas.

For some reason there was a whole lot of lift line shenanigans going on: people cutting the singles line, people falling over whilst loading and unloading the chairs, people dropping the bar on my head.  I did have a few nice chairlift conversations, including one with some middle-aged guys from Florida, there with a big group for their regular Alta vacation; and one with a couple from Montreal who had never been to Utah before, who had skied thus far at Snowbasin and Deer Valley (I suggested Solitude next) and who were having the best time ever.  The snow was good, the temperature pleasant and they were at Alta - how could they not?

Monday, February 6, 2017


We give up.  We are hopeless about guessing how crowded it is going to be for an Alta weekend ski day.  Saturday morning arrived with mild temperatures (low 20s), snow flurries and under five inches of new snow and yet the bus was S.R.O. and there were people in the corral, waiting for Collins to open, when we got to Wildcat base with a half hour before opening.  Inside Goldminer's Daughter, we snagged a spot on a couch, pulled out our books and waited, not even heading outside until the lifts had been open for five minutes and the lift lines had started to move.

With such a small amount of new snow, H opted to go out on his telemark skis and I brought my turny little Salomons.  Alta sends their groomers out almost immediately after the lifts stop turning so the new snow was on top of the groomed trails ... meaning that there really weren't any groomed trails to be found.  And with the hordes of skiers, things got bumped up quickly.  At the beginning, the light was terribly flat which made it especially challenging since we couldn't see the bumps and clumps.  But before long the clouds thinned and moved off, letting the sun shine through.

Sunshine, bumps and H

And then it got fun.  I'm terrible at skiing the bumps but - strangely - I really, really like it and want to get better.  Once the light stopped being so flat, I started to seek out some moguls to play on.  With the new snow, everything was pretty soft too.  More importantly, H was tearing it up off-piste, spending nearly the whole morning on Rollercoaster which was totally bumped up (and, thus, largely clear of most other skiers who don't like bumps).  He is really getting good at tele-skiing and getting into the deeper, softer snow is the next step: bumps are irregular and you have to turn more quickly, so this is a big step up from just cruising the groomers.  After lunch we were on Supreme and did a gully run: H skied that gully, on his teles, at least as well as I skied it on my regular skis.  I am about to relinquish any advantage I had and go back to chasing him down the mountain, no matter what he's on.

Friday, February 3, 2017

january thaw

If anything has been consistent about this season, it is that H and I are terrible at predicting the size of the crowds at Alta.  For Sunday, we figured it would be less crowded since it was a Sunday and there was no new snow.  We were wrong about that: Sunday was warmer, sunnier, less windy and quite a bit busier than Saturday.  But we just rolled with it because at least we were skiing.

Snow-wise, the conditions were the same as they had been the day before.  H was on his teles; he is much faster than he was at the start of the season.  I was on my little Salomons again and was hoping to do some bumps but it was evident very quickly that I was way too overdressed for bumps and hiking and so had to limit my off-piste skiing so as not to entirely melt.  I had anticipated high 20s but it got to above 30F up on the mountain and 45 F at the base - my partial down jacket was overkill.


Ski patrol was taking advantage of the break in the weather.  They got Baldy open early and there was a long line of people clambering up the ridge to ski the chutes.  Patrol was doing avalanche abatement routes in Devil's Castle as well - upon seeing this, people started standing in line around 10 a.m., waiting for the rope to drop.  But some of the explosive charges ski patrol was using turned out to be duds and it took them a while to relocate the unexploded charges and set them off safely, so some people waited for THREE HOURS to get first tracks in the Castle.  Now, I think fresh snow is wonderful too but there is no way I'm standing in line that long for it.  (After patrol let people in, it took less than an hour for Devil's Castle to get all tracked out.)

Although the lift lines were huge for the morning, it started to clear out after lunch and H and I even got to ride together a few times instead of just taking the singles line.  By 3 p.m., however, the only people on the hill seemed to be beginners and after a run or two of dodging erratic skiers, we thought we'd call it a day.  Traffic was a little heavy as we headed back down to the valley but we got seats on the bus and had our books, so it didn't seem long at all.  In short order we were home, cleaned up and eating homemade soup, another weekend well-spent but much too short.