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!