Wednesday, February 10, 2016

super sunday

Because of the high pressure system parking itself in the neighborhood, Sunday was quite beautiful weather-wise, if you like bluebird skies and very mild temperatures.I put aside my Rossignols for the day's skiing, secure in the knowledge that there hadn't been any new snow, some of the nice snow was starting to get sun-baked, and even when venturing into deeper stuff, it would all be chunked up and skiable on my shorter, turn-ier Salomons.

Heading up the sidestep to Gunsight

With H having scoped everything out for me on Saturday, I was psyched to ski some stuff that I haven't skied all season.  After a couple of warm-up groomers, we headed for Gunsight, taking the High Traverse out to the second of three avalanche control signs above Sunspot, and then side-stepping up to the notch in the ridgeline.  The side-step was the best I can remember seeing it; the very top of the chute was another story, molded into huge, deep troughs from prior skiers.  I paused for a little bit, uneasy, until H gave me some pointers on how to make the turns.  After three or four turns, the chute opened up and it got much easier; the snow was wind-buffed but still soft.  When the pitch flattened out, we moved left to Greeley Hill and then out on the run-out to Sunnyside.

Pausing for courage at the top of Gunsight

I needed a groomer to get some feeling back in my legs but after that, we went into the Backside, East Greeley to Glitch/Glatch.  We could tell that the snow was on the verge of getting sun-baked but at that point, it was still pretty soft.  I could have skied it better on my Rossignols but appreciated my nimble Salomons when we got into Glitch and/or Glatch.  Another groomer to take a breather and then it was off into Devil's Castle, for me the first time all season.  There was a serious dearth of traverse-etiquette - people shouldering their way past, people stopping - but it didn't matter because the snow was really pretty good.  Chunked up, sure, but soft.  We went down in the first third and cut across under the Cecret Chutes, heading for the trees in Boulder Basin.

That speck in the middle?  Me.

After lunch, H wanted to take another run through the Castle.  I knew my legs wouldn't stand for it so I took off for Supreme, with the plan that we would meet each other there around 1 p.m.  When we met up, we went into the Apron Bench trees that I had been skiing on Saturday.  The area had seen quite a lot of ski traffic in the interim but it was still possible to nap some untracked shots between the trees.  Always a good time.

H before heading into the Apron Bench trees

Although Alta had been quite busy throughout the morning, the place really started to clear out 1:30-2:00-ish, as people headed out of the canyon to their various SuperBowl parties.  We kept skiing for a bit longer, enjoying the nearly non-existent lift lines, but my legs cried uncle a little before 3 p.m.  We headed home then, pausing only to wash the truck before hunkering down for the evening with homemade buffalo wings, a beer or two and the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet (not being pro football fans ourselves).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

outskied by our dentist

We're in a ridging spell right now - in which high pressure parks itself over the area, keeping the snowstorms away and warming things up in the mountains - but before that happened, the weather gave us a wonderful present.  One last storm rolled through Thursday night and completely over-produced (i.e., did better than forecasted): Big Cottonwood Canyon got about five inches but Little Cottonwood Canyon got thirteen!  Bringing Alta (albeit briefly) to a 100-inch base!  By all accounts, Friday's skiing was wonderful, with blue skies above and blower pow underfoot.  Both H and I had to work but you're darn right that we got out there Saturday for the remnants.  As we were putting on our boots in the parking lot, our dentist pulled into the spot next to us.  He said he had left his family behind and was going solo today - we think that he probably doesn't get to ski all that often and was hoping to make the most of the time he had.

Plenty of snow at the top of Gunsight

The first ride up Collins showed us that it had been busy at Alta on Friday: things were definitely tracked out.  We could hear ski patrol setting off charges, however; they were working through Devil's Castle, trying to get it open.  After a couple of ski days skiing separately, we decided that we should ski together for a change.  But after two warm-up runs, when H said that we should give Gunsight, I got a little nervous and opted out, telling him to go do it and report back on the conditions of the traverse when we joined up for lunch.  So while he did Gunsight (the traverse was absolutely fine and not rocky as I feared and the snow in the chute on the other side of the ridge was very good) and several runs on the Backside (including East Greely and Keyhole, which was also very good), I moved on to Supreme.

Eddie's High Nowhere

My legs were feeling a little puny for some reason and muscling my Rossignols through the giant moguls in the Vicky's/White Squaw chutes wasn't helping.  Catherine's Area was a little better: although tracked out, the snow was very soft and easily skied.  I did one run through Snowshoe Hill and one down the So Long ropeline and into the Back Forty trees.  The snow was pretty well chunked-up in there but still soft.

Keyhole, looking better than it has in a long time

During lunch, we watched the ski patrollers continue their work in Devil's Castle and then, at about 12:30 p.m., they dropped the rope.  H said that people had been lined up for literally hours, waiting to get in there; we rode up the Sugarloaf chair and the line of skiers sidestepping up and into the Castle stretched around the corner and out onto the EBT.  We did a Cabin Run - grabbing untracked snow nearly the whole way - and then went up Sugarloaf again to see how the line looked.  It was shorter but still long and when H hopped in it, I bailed, not willing to deal with the mass of humanity.

Line of folks sidestepping in the Castle

I went back to Supreme and did some laps down Rock N' Roll, traversing in through the avalanche control gates and making my way through the excellent snow in the trees of Apron Bench.  I found H around 2:45 p.m. at the top of Supreme: he'd done three runs through Devil's Castle because it was so good, finding fantastic snow each time.  Our legs were toast and we skied out, getting back to the truck around 3 p.m.  Our dentist's SUV was still there so it was evident that he was having a very good day too.

Yay skiing!

Monday, February 1, 2016


Northern Utah got a nice storm from Friday afternoon through Saturday evening, with Alta picking up 15", bringing them up to a mid-mountain base of 90" and a to-date season total of 265".  This storm didn't turn out to be as massive as the forecasters once thought it would be - and southern Utah looks to be getting some very nice snow totals in the next system that moves through - but more is always better and we are now within 2% of "normal" snowpack, which given the last several years is cause to celebrate.  With spectacularly bad timing, however, poor H came down with a whopper of a head cold and we took a pass on skiing for the weekend, consoling ourselves with the fact that it looked like the visibility was pretty poor with the flat light.  (Sour grapes, yes.)

Instead we made the best of the downtime we could.  I shoveled on Saturday and went for a run on Sunday, thus avoiding trips to the gym.  We cleaned the bathrooms, caught up on laundry and ran the vacuum a bit.  We made homemade pizzas and also a peach crisp, diving deep into the freezer for last summer's stone fruit.  Sometimes a little nesting is in order.  But I have suggested to H that perhaps next time he could choose to get sick midweek and leave our weekends alone.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

in which we give the day an A

By all accounts, Sunday was quite a successful day.  The little storm that moved in Saturday afternoon continued throughout the night, and then all through the day, bringing Alta a 16" storm total as of closing Sunday afternoon.  Traffic was steady up the canyon with the road a little messy; we had to go up to Alta via the by-pass road - never a fun time - because avalanche danger on Superior caused them to close the road between Snowbird and Alta.  When we pulled into the Wildcat base parking lot at 9:10 a.m., we were surprised - nay, flabbergasted - to see that they were already loading Collins chair.  In fact, they opened the chair at 8:50 a.m.  We weren't the only people who were shocked by that; everyone we talked to, including lifties and old guys who have been skiing Alta for 30+ years, said they have never seen Alta open the lifts early.  We're not sure why they did it but everyone was grateful that they did.

Deep in the Back Forty trees

Because the snow was really quite good.  We did a couple of warm-up runs - me on my Rossignols and H on his GunSmokes - and I knew that I was going to be slow in the deep stuff.  So I cut H loose to ski on his own, with a plan to meet up at Alf's for lunch.  While he tore it up on West Rustler and the Backside, doing laps through East Greely, I went over to Supreme.  I thought about doing a run on Sugarloaf first but the wind was stronger there, leading me to abandon that idea quickly.  There was no one over at Supreme when I got there (in fact, the lift lines were surprisingly short all day, especially given how full the parking lot was at the end of the day).  I did three runs in the Erosion Gullies, getting chest- and face-shots, then following the bottom of Challenger and ducking into the low gates into Vicky's/White Squaw where the snow was super-deep and soft.  I did manage an excellent crash at one point: I must have hit a compression and launched myself out of both of my skis.  I somersaulted out of it and came up laughing and wiping snow off my goggles.  A couple of skiers stopped above my skis (which I fortunately could still see) to check if I was okay so I guess it was at least a little spectacular.  I also spun out and crashed on a Catherine's Area run, catching my edge, spinning around and landing flat on my back with my skis in the air.  There were no witnesses that time.

Looking back up the hill in the Back Forty

Also spectacular:  the poor tourist spotted clinging to a cliff in the Piney Glade area (possibly in Double Top chute, I'm not sure of the name).  As I rode up the chair, I saw a pair of skis and a pole or two at the bottom of a rocky chute.  Above the chute, wedged under a tree and literally clutching the 10-15' rock cliff face was a skier and it was pretty clear that he was wishing he was elsewhere.  A couple of patrollers, on the lift a few chairs ahead of me, were calling out to him and by the time I rode up on my next lift ride, the guy was gone, which I took to be a good sign.  I also think there may have been a couple more "CLIFF AREA" signs in place at that point in the general location.

Supreme lift across lower Supreme Bowl

H and I compared notes at lunch: he thought the snow was a little heavy and thought his skis weren't handling the chop that well; I thought the snow was lighter than last weekend and was having a blast.  After lunch, we continued to ski separately, planning to regroup at 2 p.m.  H did runs in Supreme Bowl, Vicky's/White Squaw, the 3 Bears trees and out to Sunset in Catherine's Area.  I did two Catherine's Area runs (Snowshoe Hill and So Long to Back Forty), a flyer to take a break and then one more So Long/Back Forty.

When we met at the bottom of the Supreme lift, our legs were shot.  We skied out - up Sugarloaf, across the EBT and down Collins, which I found brutal, with the terrible visibility and bumps galore - and made our way down-canyon (again through the by-pass, unfortunately).  At home, showered, snug in clean fleece and sipping Park City Brewery Breaking Trail Ale, we debated the day's grade.  H was inclined to give it an A-, because he thought the snow was a little heavy.  I had had enough fun to stay with a solid A: the only way it could have been better would have been under bluebird skies.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

in which we give the day a c

We really weren't sure if we were going to ski when Saturday morning rolled around.  H had been traveling for work and, because of weather-related delays, didn't get home until midnight; when the alarm went off, we both groaned.  The day's forecast wasn't ideal either, with the clouds due to build throughout the day but only a couple of inches of accumulation.  But we peeked out the window and saw that it was mostly clear skies up the canyon and figured well, it certainly couldn't hurt if we went up for just a little while.

It was pretty warm when we got up to Wildcat base (33F) and quite a bit windier than we had anticipated.  As we rode up Collins, we could see the snow swirling and blowing off the top of Baldy.  A patroller we rode with told us that neither the Ballroom nor the EBT would open due to the wind loading the East Baldy cornices.  We did three runs off of Collins and I quickly realized that I shouldn't have skipped the gym on Thursday and Friday as my legs felt heavy and tired.  H was feeling his legs too from the travel and lack of exercise that comes with it.

We switched to Sugarloaf but only one ride up convinced us that it was too exposed: by the afternoon, the lifties weren't allowing single riders to get on the Sugarloaf chairs alone, making them wait until someone else could ride with them to help stabilize the chairs.  Supreme was much better, more protected, but unfortunately everyone else realized that as well.  We did a run through Catherine's Area and although the snow was holding up nicely - skied out and beaten down but still soft - my legs were not and I skied it terribly.  On the next run, we both went down No. 9 Express (which had been groomed of all its ridiculously huge moguls).  H ducked into a gate towards Vicky's; after lunch, I took a lower gate into the adjacent White Squaw Area, coming out by the Elephant's Butt; we both found the snow soft in there but bumped up hugely so that it just wasn't that much fun to ski.

The clouds had been building quickly throughout the morning and just before we went in for lunch, the snow started.  The light got extremely flat after we ate and the winds were not letting up.  We went up Sugarloaf and then immediately back to Supreme.  H did another Catherine's Run and when I met him back at the lift, he said that his legs couldn't take any more of that today.  We kept going a little longer but we were both feeling it and finally called it quits just before 2 p.m.  Skiing out was a pain: not only did we have to ski down through Sunnyside but the rope tow wasn't running as we poled our way across from Albion base to Wildcat base - ugh.  The snow petered out as we drove down the canyon back to the valley, but the upper canyon behind us stayed full of clouds.  Hopefully an early bedtime would have us in good shape for the new inches those clouds would leave overnight.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

taking a break

We didn't actually go back up and ski on Monday.  We hemmed and hawed about it a bit and ultimately decided to take a day off.  The temperatures were going to be fine (low to mid-20s) but it was cloudy with very flat light and  no new snow overnight, with just a little snowfall forecasted for during the day.  We try to be as active as we can, taking advantage of whenever we're not working to get outside.  But sometimes it's okay to take a break, give our legs a rest.  And that's what we did.

Edited to add:  Actually, they ended up getting around nine inches of snow on Monday but the avalanche danger closed the canyon road between Alta and Snowbird and so all the people trying to leave at the end of the day were forced down the by-pass road.  It was taking people 3+ hours to get out.  We may wish we had been there for the skiing but we are absolutely grateful that we missed out on the drive home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

sunday fun-day

It was a very different day on Sunday.  For one, I didn't lose H.  For another, it was much warmer: 20-30 throughout the day, with clouds first thing in the morning and lovely blue skies later.  Alta got another five inches overnight and the winds had continued through the afternoon and evening so that the snow was all wind-buffed, still soft but denser, not fluffy.  H deemed that enough snow to bring out his Blizzard Gunsmokes - powder skis that he picked up three years ago and hadn't yet taken out on the hill; I went with my Rossignols as I had on Saturday.

Nice light on the Backside

This time we did a warm-up run!  Our second run was similar to our first from the day before, going in around Sunspot/Racecourse.  H flew through it on his new skis.  I like skiing on wind-buff because I don't sink in like I do blower powder, and so I don't fight it.  But from the first turn off the groomer I could feel the lactic acid in my quads and knew that I would need to ski at my own pace.  When H and I regrouped, I told him that I wanted to ski separately because I wanted him to put those Gunsmokes through their paces and not have to wait around for me.  Off he went, with a plan to meet up at lunchtime.

Not too many tracks in this part of Catherine's Area

I did a couple of pretty good runs down Extrovert, which was all chopped up but still soft, with a groomer run in between to give my legs a break.  I went slowly, taking my time and trying to work on technique.  The longer Rossignols don't turn as easily and thus go straighter and faster; this makes me nervous when my legs are fatigued so I try to slow down to remain in control.  I got over to Supreme around 11 a.m., with enough time for a couple of runs through the Erosion Gullies (still soft and a little easier for me to ski with being beaten down a bit).

Catherine's Pass ridgeline view

After lunch, I went back to Supreme and did three runs in Catherine's Area, interspersed with some groomers.  The first time in I went out to Snowshoe Hill, this time managing to ski without leaning into the backseat.  The second run was as recommended by H at lunch:  down the So Long rope line and then into the trees in Back Forty where the snow, protected from the wind by the trees, was still deep and soft and hardly skied.  My third Catherine's run was to Sunset and although I found some nice deep snow, my legs were so tired that I had to stop several times.  I only saw a couple of other skiers out there which was amazing, given how good the snow was.

Soft and deep

H had a very successful day on his new skis.  Some notable runs included the above-described Back Forty trees, Yellow Trail to Glory Gulch (where he had to break trail for some tourists who had no idea what they were doing) and a hike all the way out to Catherine's Pass where he had our favorite glade all to himself and nearly untouched.  He really liked those skis although they will need to be for very specific conditions: they run like crazy through powder and chop but are difficult to turn when things get bumpy.

Being the middle of a long holiday weekend, it was a little busy.  Liftline waits were in the 5-10 minute range, however, which isn't bad.  And the best thing is that we both have Monday off - which means another day up on the hill.