Friday, January 30, 2015

lemonade from lemons, winter edition

The National Weather Service got the forecast bang on the money for Sunday: thin clouds to start and then clearing to sunny.  It was also warmer right from the first chair; I was dressed perfectly for the morning but felt overdressed for the afternoon as the temperatures crept closer to springtime.  Since it was so much warmer, my feet never got cold and as much as I want it to be winter again (please, please, get cold and snow and be winter again!), I am grateful whenever my feet don't get cold.

Pretty, pretty day

Supreme stayed busy all day and the trails off Sugarloaf were well-populated.  It never seemed all that crowded, however, and at lunchtime there were plenty of empty tables at Alf's - although lots of folks were taking advantage of the warmer temperatures and sitting outside.  In the afternoon, the snow softened and got fun to ski on, especially Upper Big Dipper off the Supreme chair.  I was on my old Volkls - just taking them out for a spin for the heck of it - and I could definitely feel the difference between them and my new Salomons.  The Volkls are very light and easy to turn and my knees didn't ache halfway through the afternoon, but I did actually miss my Salomons because they have more of an edge at this point, plus the Volkls just seemed a bit too light.  As much as we desperately want it to snow (and snow a lot), it was a stunning, gorgeous day to be out skiing.

Sunday's statistics:  21 runs; 29,753 vertical.  And in comparison, Mt. Everest is 29, 029 feet high.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

if you're just skiing groomers, you might as well count them

Another weekend, still no new snow.  We're about 26% below "normal" snowfall (and after the last three years I'm beginning to think that "normal" may need to be recalibrated) but we're still ahead of where we were last year at this time.  So there's that.  As we headed up the canyon after a leisurely breakfast of coffee, o.j. and fried egg sandwiches with bacon, I figured that the only locals up at Alta would be eastern transplants like us, people who don't mind skiing/know how to ski on hard snow, in addition to the tourists.  Native Utahns think that the conditions are "icy" right now.  It isn't icy, if you've ever skied back east, but it is firm and fast.  Real eastern icy conditions are referred to as "packed powder" anyway.

It was partly sunny in the morning and in the mid-20s, good temperatures and positively pleasant when the sun came up over the mountains.  As we did our five runs on Collins first thing, no one was going into Main Street/Race Course at all but a fair number of people were taking the traverse across the Ballroom and then bootpacking straight up (currently allowed by Ski Patrol) to just below the cliffs to nab some untracked snow.  H thought that looked like a lot of work for just five or six turns.  I agreed.

We stuck to groomers all day since the offpiste stuff was quite firm, moving from Collins to Sugarloaf to Supreme.  The Supreme lift line got really busy just before lunch but afterwards, all the people disappeared and we were skiing right onto the lift.  We ended up doing nineteen runs with 26,800 vertical feet on the day before I got too cold (even though the temperatures were fairly warm for the time of year, we weren't working very hard since we were just skiing groomers and my feet got very cold) and we called it a day.  The clouds had moved in by then anyway and the light was flat.  There was still no measurable snow on the horizon - although the cloud cover was spitting a snowflake out occasionally - but Sunday's forecast was for spring skiing-like warmth.  If you can't have snow, you might as well have sunshine, I guess.

Friday, January 23, 2015

diminishing returns

It was bound to happen: Monday was not as good as the rest of the long holiday weekend.  Although it wasn't that much colder, it clouded up entirely and the light got flat.  When we did our first runs on Collins, the clouds had settled right down around 10,100 feet, so visibility was completely nil for a while.  After two or three runs, however, the breeze picked up and moved the clouds off.  We moved to Sugarloaf and then Supreme (of course).  We tried a run in Catherine's Area but the snow had stiffened up a bit (and, truth be told, my legs were fatigued) and I was really struggling.  After that, we pretty much stuck to the groomers.  The snow was firm and fast but not icy - except Challenger looked terribly scratchy and skied off.  We relearned these things about skiing groomers: it's tough to stay warm when you're not hiking and/or working hard; and you can get a lot more runs in when you're just flying down the trails.  (Truth again: H was flying, I was just going my speed.)  We finally got tired of groomers around 2:30 p.m. and headed home.

Given the dearth of new snow, getting two out of three decent ski days was better than expected.  The forecast is looking pretty dire, though: we're stuck under a ridge of high pressure for a while.  It's time to get down and do a snow dance for sure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

a little bit more

Sunday, day #2 of the long Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, was slightly cloudier, slightly warmer, slightly windier and a whole lot crowded-er than Saturday had been.  There was even a tiny little bit more snow, with one to two new inches having come in overnight.  We did three runs on Collins to start, including our first time of the season into the Ballroom.  The traverse in was pretty sketchy with lots of whoop-de-doos; one woman ahead of us was really tentative, snowplowing down the traverse itself.  She seemed so nervous and out of her depth that we weren't even annoyed with her, instead skiing around her and continuing on.  The Ballroom itself skied okay - the snow was beaten down from all the skier traffic but still soft.

Devil's Castle in the morning

We moved over to Sugarloaf, starting off with a flyer and then a run down Chartreuse Nose which was still holding up well.  After that, we did a run into Devil's Castle which was also still good.  We then skied over to Supreme for runs in Catherine's Area.  We also got into the high gates off Rock N' Roll, the traverse of which spits you out under the cliffs approaching the Apron.  Not many people had been in there and we found some deep snow in a tree-lined chute (and I did a somersault over a fallen tree that H managed to hop right over).  It was back to Catherine's for more hiking/skiing after that.  The snow was holding up and I was finally feeling like I was skiing pretty well.

In the trees/chutes near the Apron

After lunch we did a cabin run, then hiked back into Devil's Castle.  For the run-out we went far to skier's right through trees and chutes in Boulder Basin (?) stuffed with deep but heavy snow.  Then it was back to Supreme and Catherine's Area for laps until my legs gave out.  There were WAY more people on Sunday - which we did not at all expect.  They had to extend the corral at Supreme and we had to wait a while even in the singles line.  Strangely lunch wasn't crowded at all - we guessed they were all still standing in the Supreme corral.

Waiting to drop in

Sunday, January 18, 2015

beautiful start to the long weekend

When the long three-day weekend finally rolled around, we were eager to get up to Alta to get our skis on the remains of the 26" storm.  The forecast was nice but not really January-ish: sunny, no wind and low 30s.  Perfect March weather!  After readjusting our layers to spring levels, we headed on up.  Traffic was steady but not overwhelming; we parked in the front row, waited for the corral to clear and got on the Collins lift.

H on Chartreuse Nose

Trying something new, we did a couple of warm-up runs on the Collins side, then switched it up and went into East Greeley along the main traverse.  We were pleasantly surprised to find the snow soft and skiable.  It wasn't fluffy and untracked but it was fun.  After skiing down to Sugarloaf, we did a run through Chartreuse Nose for the first time this season.  We had to pick our way around a couple of rocks but the snow was, again, soft and pretty deep and fun to ski in.  It was starting to get a little busier (although not terribly so: we would end up riding the singles line a lot but never actually stood in line) and we moved to Supreme.

In the trees at Catherine's Area

Once at Supreme, we mainly hiked into and skied Catherine's Area.  Amazingly it was quite good, given that it had been several days since it last snowed.  We did four or five runs in there throughout the day, including two down the first rope line and through the gate, in the trees between Back Forty and So Long.  No one had been in there (!!!) and the snow was terrific, deep and light.  When we hiked all the way to Last Chance, we again found deep, untracked snow. So fun!

Back in Devil's Castle again

After lunch, we did a cabin run and then hiked into Devil's Castle for the first time this season.  To continue the day's theme:  it was really good in there, still soft even though it had been skied out.  H did a second hike/run in there - I did a flyer since my legs were fading - and then we returned to Supreme where we stayed until Catherine's Area closed at 3 p.m.  We headed out then, pleased with the snow, pleased with the crowds, pleased with having our expectations on the day surpassed.  A great start to the long weekend.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

flat snow, flat light

While the rest of the country is seemingly in the deep freeze, we've been having a January thaw here in Salt Lake City.  When we left for Alta on Saturday morning, it was already 28 F at Wildcat base; by the time we left in the afternoon, it was 29 F at the summit and 40 F at the base.  There was patchy sunlight to start but after lunch the clouds really rolled in and the light got emphatically flat, making it extremely difficult to see.

We did a couple of runs on Collins to start, then moved over to Sugarloaf for a couple of runs, and then continued on to Supreme.  The snow was a little bit eastern-style - firm and fast - but it wasn't actually icy since the warmer temperatures kept it soft; the only places where it approached "icy" were where the sun had baked it earlier in the week.  It didn't seem like there were too many people and the parking lot certainly wasn't packed when we left, but the trails coming off Sugarloaf were fairly busy at times and we did end up riding the Supreme singles line a couple of times when the corral got full.

In under the Apron

We only did one run into Catherine's Area: the top was soft and lovely to ski in but the last pitch on the way out was much less fun, having melted in the sun earlier in the week and then frozen up overnight.  Luckily, we did find that a couple of the lower gates on Rock N Roll were finally open, so we were able to get into the trees below the Apron.  It was fairly soft in there but a little grabby for the turns and very tracked out.  Everything was tracked out - I don't think I've ever seen Catherine's Area as beaten down as it was.  We hadn't had any decent snow for at least 7-10 days and were starting to get desperate for it.  [This would change on Monday when a very excellent and over-producing storm brought a much-needed 26" to Alta.  Of course, we had to work and missed it.  I'm sure some people got out and enjoyed it.]

After lunch, snow started spitting down sporadically, which was the start of a weak system moving in for the overnight.  The light got even worse after lunch: it was incredibly difficult to see what we were skiing on, even on groomers.  We decided to quit while we were ahead and were back at the truck by 2 p.m.  On Sunday, we got up and checked Alta's overnight snowfall total (3") and webcams (low clouds socking in the whole resort but not actually snowing).  We played the Utah ski snob card (as in, refusing to ski in such poor visibility) and stayed home.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

taqueria 27

Another birthday rolled around for me recently and I was determined to break our trend of mediocre birthday dining selections (Citris Grill in 2010, Pat's BBQ in 2011, Cafe Trio in 2013 and Epic in 2014; our 2012 place, Aristo's, was the lone quite good dinner).  I had some trouble coming up with a new place to try - not because of lack of places but because there's an inversion settled in the valley and I wanted to keep the driving to a minimum - and finally settled on Taqueria 27 in Holladay center (there's also another one in town on Foothill Drive in SLC).

Taqueria 27 is in a newish building (that also houses Copper Kitchen, also on my list of places to try) right in the center of the Holladay village.  After circling a couple of times to find a parking spot, we strolled into the restaurant 6:30 p.m.ish - we had hoped that an early dinner might mean a shorter wait for a table since Taqueria 27 doesn't take reservations.  We ended up waiting for only 5-10 minutes, despite the full waiting room; when we were walked past the mostly empty bar to our table, we realized that we could have sat there with no waiting whatsoever.  The restaurant is quite big, with high ceilings and a wood-and-metal industrial decor.  Since it was busy, it was pretty noisy although we were able to hear each other at least.

The menu is not huge, with entrees limited to street-style tacos (all on soft tacos, either corn or flour) and some mole plates, plus salads and chips and homemade salsas and guacamoles.  There are a couple of beers on draft and several in cans/bottles, a variety of margaritas and a whole page of tequilas.  The tacos come in small orders (2) or large (4).  I got two duck confit tacos (roasted veggies, chipotle crema and crispy leeks) and two carnitas tacos (tomatillo salsa, pickled red onion, chiccarones and cilantro), H got four turkey chorizo tacos (pickled red onion, cilantro, queso and chipotle crema) and we got an order of chips with two salsas, a verde version and a hot one.  Beverage-wise, H had a Cutthroat ($3/can) and I got a T27 margarita (blanco tequila, lime, blood orange and agave nectar for $6 or $7 for an additional 1/2 ounce of tequila "long pour").  My margarita was very tasty - bright and fresh and not too sweet.

The food came out very quickly despite how busy the place was.  The chips and salsas were quite tasty: the verde salsa was creamy, which I thought was a weird way to go, but zesty and the "hot" salsa was very good.  The small tacos are served standing up on little metal W-shaped racks.  I couldn't eat all of mine so I gave a carnitas one to H.  Everything was good and fresh - I had never had soft corn tacos and they were lovely - but we both thought that it all could have had bigger flavor.

Since the food came out so soon, and since you can't really put down a taco once you pick it up, we were in and out of there pretty quickly, especially since we declined dessert and opted for only one round of drinks.   I really liked the food but I can see Taqueria 27 as being more of a come in/sit at the bar/get out quick because it's noisy place for us ... although they do have a large outdoor seating area that might be nice in the spring/fall for lingering over more than one margarita.  Best of all, we're now two for five on successful birthday dinners.