Friday, November 27, 2015

thanksgiving 2015

A storm rolled into Utah on Thanksgiving Eve, one that the forecasters were having difficulty getting ahold of, with possible mountain totals ranging from 6-18", plus the potential for snow/rain in the valleys.  This, of course, got me fretting about what to wear for my Thanksgiving morning City Creek Cold Turkey 6k, because I always fret about what I'm going to wear.  (Only for outdoors endeavors - I couldn't care less about work outfits: it's always black pants and some top.)  (And if you don't believe that I always fret about what to wear, just wait until the next post.)  I needn't have worried, however, since we got "half-skunked" on the storm, which dropped a neat six inches in Little Cottonwood Canyon during a 3-4 hour stretch in the afternoon/evening before moving out and leaving us with nothing for the overnight.

Pre-race purple fleece (which 
is about 20 years old - I will never get rid of it)

This meant that the weather for the race was nearly perfect: around 30F and dry, with high, thin clouds and negligible wind.  I much prefer to run when it's cold because I tend to heat up really quickly and even if I start cold, I'll be plenty warm by the race's end.  This time it was cool enough that I opted for a knit hat and I kept my gloves on for the whole race, although I did unzip my collar for the uphill portion.  The dry overnight meant that the racecourse was the standard one: start at the Capitol and run up City Creek Canyon, then turn around at the 3k mark and run back down through Memory Grove.  My uphill portion felt pretty good but as we approached the finish, I felt like I had no kick whatsoever.  Still, I continued my streak of consistent finishes:

Smiling at the finish

Race results (and history)
2015:  35:17.18, 6 out of 19 in age group, 186/593 overall
2014:  34:14:58 (fastest time by far, for some reason), 10 out of 26 in age group, 174/656 over
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

After the race, H dropped me at home.  I puttered around the house, making pies and cranberry sauce, while he went up to Alta.  When he got up there at 11 a.m., it was packed: the Collins corral was full, including the singles line, and he had to park in the very last row of the Wildcat base lot.  People were excited about the new snow, despite how little we ended up getting.  He noticed that the crowd thinned out a lot around 12:00 p.m., however, and figured that people had to get back to the valley for their Thanksgivings, just being able to get away for the morning.

You can see how full the parking lot 
and the corral are, even from up here

We had a quiet evening together afterwards, calling our families back east and exercising restraint in not having seconds on pie.  With a long weekend ahead, there would be plenty of time for runs on Collins and then pie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

the rest of opening weekend

What comes after Opening Day?  Opening Weekend, when those of us who had to work get to get back on our skis.  This year it felt like I fell back into the ski season routine more readily than I had in the past, finding all the clothing and gear I needed (including hand warmers and socks), figuring out my layers, getting up in time to make bacon for breakfast.  The only flutter of indecision came with respect to my skis: Alta has had 45" inches of snow thus far, settling into a 20" base, and although my Salomons were newly waxed and tuned, I feared for their bases and ended up skiing on my old beater Volkls instead, just in case of rocks.

Saturday, with Sugarloaf behind me

This year could not have been more different from last year, weather-wise.  There was no unsettled weather, with clear and bright blue skies the whole weekend.  Saturday was chilly, starting out around 18 F at the start, but there was no wind so it was really only my toes that got cold in the morning.  There were not very many people there first thing in the morning - which was nice because there is not that much open yet, forcing everyone to ski the same trails over and over and over and over again - but we had to switch to the singles line around 10:30 a.m. to combat the lines.  Sunday was largely a carbon copy of the day before, perhaps a little warmer and with just a tiny little bit of wind.  Again, we were able to have chairlift rides to ourselves until 10:30 a.m., and then the people showed up.

Carbon copy (near the Collins angle station)

The conditions were actually pretty good, dearth of snow considering.  H said that it was much better than Opening Day had been; no new snow meant they were able to groom things into submission and while high traffic areas (like Corkscrew - ugh) got skied off, the trails did not get bumped up.  When we switched over to the "Sugar side," which we did for the last run of each day, going "around the world" through Sugarloaf and out through Sunnyside, the snow was really pretty good there and with a fraction of the people that were skiing the Collins side.

By Sunday evening, our knees were a little sore and our legs were a little stiff.  That's just what happening on Opening Weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

opening day 2015

At long last, the day H has been waiting for since the end of April: Friday, November 20th, was Alta's opening day for the 2015/2016 season. I opted to work but H went skiing (of course).  Alta had gotten one or two inches of new snow which ended up being just enough to get bumped up over the course of the day, so there was a lot of scrape and clump going on.  The weather was variable - cloudy, cold, windy, snowing, clearing to blue skies - but that didn't keep the opening day crowds away in the least.

Waiting for the lifts to open

I got some texts throughout the day, keeping me up to speed:

"~30 cars.  More arriving.  Lift line already forming."  [this was at 7:51 a.m.; the lifts open at 9:15 a.m.]

"3rd in the singles line"

"Surprised the vents in my pants were zipped.  Then I recalled that horrible weather on closing day."

"Was sunny when I got here.  Now it is pea soup."

"See lots of familiar skiers.  Nobody cooking breakfast but one group just popped a bottle of champagne."

"Very eastern"  [meaning hard and fast]

"And rocky"

After the clouds dissipated

All in all, a pretty typical opening day.  Let the season begin!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

more than we thought

Shoulder season strikes again!  We only managed to get out into the mountains on Sunday this past weekend, but only one day is better than none.  After tossing around a few ideas about what to do (drag the MTBs out again?  drive to Antelope Island for a snow-free hike?), we settled on this: we needed to pick up our season passes at Alta and then, since we would be already all the way up there, we would hike up Grizzly Gulch or up to Catherine's Pass, depending on how much snow was up there.  Alta was saying that they had gotten just over a foot in last week's storm; given the warmer temperatures of the last couple of days, I figured that would have settled out to be easily walkable.  I planned to wear bread bags on my feet between my socks and my no longer waterproof hiking boots but I didn't bother with gaiters.

In the scrub near Patsy Marley

When we pulled into the Wildcat base area parking lot, we were astounded to see well over one hundred cars in the parking lot.  As we walked up to Skier Services for our passes, we could see scores of people hiking up and skiing down Corkscrew; up above on High Rustler, we could see a ton of tracks where intrepid skiers had come down, ostensibly on their early season rock skis.  After getting our passes, we parked in the upper lot above Albion base and that too was full, with people heading out to hike, cross-country ski and skin up the slopes.  Alta fans are clearly itching for the season to start.

Superior looks good in white

We headed up the Summer Road, taking some mileage off by cutting up Patsy Marley, and then got on the trail to Catherine's Pass.  The trail had been well-packed so we didn't have to worry about post-holing.  In the bright sun it got quite warm quite quickly, but stepping into any shade dropped the temperature right back down again.  The wind would pick up sporadically too which encouraged us to keep moving so as not to get chilled.  From Catherine's Pass we continued upwards toward Supreme and at the Sunset Peak trail junction, we lost our packed path.  Some skiers had been in there (including a couple of them just taking the skins off their skis in the Sunset section of Catherine's Area) but we were breaking trail and post-holing for the most part, the snow well over my knees in many places.  (And as the snow came into my boots from over the top, my bread bags failed.)

Someone got first tracks in Catherine's Area

By the time we were at the top of Upper Big Dipper, we had had enough of flailing around on the access road.  We dropped in over the edge, continuing down Upper Sleepy Hollow to Sleepy Hollow.  The snow, while still quite deep, was drier and lighter here and we were able to descend quickly.  We found ourselves having to veer to skier's right to avoid a cliff area and ended up in the White Squaw Area chutes near the Elephant's Butt.  This was trickier going since it was steep and we had to be careful not to get caught on any rocks or downed trees hidden under the snow.  If we'd had our skis, we would have been out of there in no time.

Picking our way down Upper Big Dipper

We finally got out of the woods and returned to the car via Patsy Marley and the Summer Road.  Our feet were soaked but our spirits were high as we toasted with a couple of IPAs from a newer Utah brewery, Park City Brewing.  Winter is coming and Alta is getting ready for it.  Let it snow.

Updated with our route map:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

the last time the season, for reals

Although we thought that this was the last time we would go MTBing for the year, it turns out that we actually had one more time in us.  The little storm that brought snow to the higher elevations really didn't touch Park City's lower trails and with the weekend being so beautiful, we just had to get our tires in the dirt one more time.  We checked the trail conditions and, upon finding them classified as "mostly dry," headed up Parley's Canyon.

We had delayed our departure a bit, letting the temperatures warm up to around 45 F.  It was windy, however, as windy as it's been for any MTB ride I've been on, and we planned our kits accordingly with long sleeves, tights/knee warmers and heavier socks (plus long fingered gloves for me).  As we headed down the paved bike path towards the Round Valley trails, we had a full-on headwind (which OF COURSE did not stick around to be a tailwind for the return trip) and it was chilly.  Some hill-climbing would be all we would need to warm up.

Managing to not ride off the side of the bridge

It turned out to be a quite nice day for riding.  Once we were on the dirt in the foothills, the wind wasn't much of a factor and the temperatures warmed into the low 50s, which was very pleasant.  Mud was not an issue as the trails were completely dry.  I managed to stay wheels-down for the entire ride and felt like I climbed the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks pretty well.  We started coming across quite a few people in that middle section - both sides of Rambler are popular - but we were all polite and well-versed in trail etiquette. It also turned out to be a good critter-viewing day: in addition to the boring old cows and horses, we saw a donkey, bison and zebra (residents of a ranch on the outskirts of Park City) and we got close to a winter-coated ermine twice on the paved bike path, on both the outbound and inbound portions.

When we got home, H decided to wash our MTBs one last time before putting them away for the winter.  And it was a good thing he did: starting Monday afternoon, a lovely little storm moved into Utah, bringing 12-17" of snow to the higher elevations.  The ski resorts have started to get excited - we skiers have started to get excited - and I think this time,  this time, that was our last MTB for the season.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Looking down the Sunrise chair

We have inadvertently established a bit of a tradition, going for a hike at Solitude and Brighton after the first snow of the year, in 2012, in 2014 and again this year.  A little midweek storm had brought about six inches to the mountains at altitude but the weekend was forecasted to be clear and nice, perhaps the last nice weekend of the year (which would be awesome as we want snow-snow-snow!).  We let it warm up a little bit first and got up to the parking lot at Silver Lake between Solitude and Brighton around 11 a.m.  The sun was up enough to bring the temperature to around 40 F; it was cold enough that Brighton was still blowing snow when we started.

Pausing for breath halfway up the Corner Chute

We started around Silver Lake counterclockwise, breaking off from that path to follow the packed snow trail towards Solitude.  We encountered a few other hikers until we got past Lake Solitude. There, a sign had been put up saying that the access road to the top of Solitude was closed due to construction.  Deer Valley bought Solitude last year and the biggest change they've made has been to take out the beloved, old two-seater Summit lift and put in a new high speed quad.  H and I are not thrilled with that decision: the Summit lift serviced expert terrain only, including Headwall Forest and Honeycomb Canyon.  Most non-expert skiers would take one look at the old double chair and decide to ski elsewhere but this new quad will encourage folks into the area, making it more crowded and probably bringing in people whose skill level is not quite equal to the terrain.  But they didn't ask our opinion and put in the new chairlift this summer.

Anybody lose a ski? Like, twenty years ago?

Since we couldn't slog up the access road, we considered our other options.  The best one looked like going up Corner Chute, between Headwall Forest and the Evergreen cliffs/glades.  Although this is a great little chute to ski, it's quite steep to hike up - steep enough that we probably wouldn't have considered it if it hadn't been covered in snow.  It was pretty well covered in snow, actually: it must have blown in there because it was up to our knees in places.  We clawed our way about halfway up the chute, then veered right, out of the chute and into the trees.  We found a bit of a flat part, found a vintage 1990s ski, and then found the access road.  We scampered up it just a little way to where the Sol-Bright trail came in.  Above us, we could see the construction equipment working on the new lift.  Wolverine Cirque loomed above us as well, sparkling in the sun with its light coating of snow.

Wolverine Cirque

We headed back down the Sol-Bright trail, which eventually reconnected with the loop around Silver Lake.  Just for fun, we finished the lake loop, our wet boots and hiking poles in sharp contrast to the people in their city coats and leather shoes who were sitting on the benches, enjoying the views.  That's what's so cool about Salt Lake City - the mountains are so close that anyone can enjoy them, no matter what they want to get out and do.

View of Silver Lake from the Sol-Bright trail
Edit:  To add the route map:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Nothing much going on around here right now.  We had a lovely visit from H's parents last weekend, with weather ranging from cold and rainy (I made H turn the heat on!) to sunny and nearly balmy.  But now the weather seems to be taking a turn, hopefully towards winter since in theory ski season starts in just a few weeks.  We're enjoying the edges of a small storm now that is giving us rain in the valley and just a little snow up in at altitude; this same storm dropped 22" at Jackson Hole and an awesome three feet at Mammoth, who is planning on opening tomorrow, just because they can.  We haven't gotten close to that here but it's cold enough right now that a number of resorts have fired up their snow guns.