Friday, March 27, 2015

getting patchy

Another ski day, another ski day without snow.  We got up at a reasonable time (there being no need to race on up to the mountain) and made bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast.  We experienced hardly any traffic on our way up to Alta and even after 10 a.m., the parking lot only about a third full.  There was rock-hard frozen corduroy on Collins to start so we did a couple of runs at Sugarloaf first until the crowds drove us away.  When we returned to Collins, there was no one there, for good reason: still hard and frozen and fast.

We got to Supreme a little after 11 a.m.  Sunday was turning out cooler than Saturday and although we had clear skies to start, high and thin clouds started to move in midday, meaning the snow wouldn't soften as much as it had the day before.  We stuck to the groomers - taking the cat track to Rock N Roll or Lower Big Dipper - until late lunch.  This time we didn't bother with Devil's Castle when we headed back out but went directly back to Supreme for the afternoon.

No. 9 Express, Challenger and Sleepy Hollow stayed frozen (scraped off and frozen bumps) although Upper Big Dipper did finally soften up as did Rock N Roll and Lower Big Dipper.  In the end, it was the flat light, the limited trail availability (any attempts off-piste were futile) and frustration with our fellow skiers (rampant obliviousness in both the lift lines and on the trails) chased us off the mountain over an hour earlier than we've recently been skiing.  We paused for a parking lot beer, then headed home.  They're talking about a storm coming in Monday: I'm hopeful but am not getting my hopes up too high.  But the thing is, if we don't get some snow, as I mentioned before, it will be questionable whether Alta can finish its season when it has planned to.  On the plus side, two separate ski instructors recommended the Twin Peaks ski shop as somewhere who can actually put a decent edge on a ski - and boy don't we need edges with the morning conditions these days.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

variable

Oops - had this post loaded up but forgot to schedule it to publish ...

The thing to keep in mind whilst spring skiing is that things are going to vary throughout the day: temperatures, condition of the snow, crowds.  We skied 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and started with high, thin clouds, chilly temperatures, rock-hard frozen corduroy on Collins.  It was not crowded because very few people were willing to ski on that surface and so most folks went over to Sugarloaf. By the time we gave up on Collins after about five or six runs, the Wildcat base parking lot was still less than half full.

When we got to Sugarloaf, it was readily apparent that all the people were there.  That lift is still struggling to figure out the singles line: where they've got it now requires the lifties to pay attention and be involved ... and most of the lifties aren't that into that.  We got out of there after one lift ride, not wanting to deal with the crowds, and went to Supreme.  Supreme was as well busy but the singles line moved quickly there.  The issue at this chair was the lift itself which stopped a lot throughout the day, both because of people have loading/unloading issues (dropping poles, falling over on the conveyor belt, falling off the chairs) and also some mechanical issues.

All through the morning it stayed too frozen off-piste to venture far afield: we didn't see anyone (or rather very, very few people) in Devil's Castle, Catherine's Area or the Backside - which was closed most of the morning anyway, most likely due to it being super-frozen.  After lunch we gave Devil's Castle a try: it wasn't frozen but it wasn't soft either; the snow felt tough, scoured fairly featureless from skiing and wind.  We opted to not go back in.  Instead we went back to Supreme and all of a sudden things got soft.  We skied the usual suspects that we've been skiing of late: Sleepy Hollow had huge slushy bumps on it; we didn't bother with Challenger because it hadn't been groomed and there were huge muddy bare patches.  We did do two runs into Catherine's where it was not-soft at the top and very-soft at the bottom.  No porcupine sightings this time.

Well-beaten in Devil's Castle

Here's the thing: if we don't get any snow, there is no way Alta is going to be able to stay open for the next five weeks they're supposed to be open.  There are hot spots opening up all across the mountains and if we don't get some snow on them, fill them in and cool them off, they're just going to spread.

Friday, March 20, 2015

spring is springing

Sunday: warmer and cloudier than Saturday, but also sunnier than we had expected.  The crowds were about the same although it did seem to take a while for the place to fill up.  On our first chairlift ride on Collins we rode with a kid who grew up in Salt Lake City (his dad is an Alta instructor) but who was currently enrolled at the University of New Hampshire and then on our next chair we rode with a kid from New Hampshire who was currently enrolled at Westminster College; because of the New Hampshire connection we talked with both of them about skiing Tuckerman's Ravine, which H has done (but not me).

Riding Collins chair in the morning

We ended up doing five runs on Collins where the snow was not as bullet-proof as it had been Saturday, Eastern-style but easy enough to ski.When we moved to Sugarloaf, one run was all it took before we had to get out of there due to the clueless crowds who had finally showed up.  We again stayed at Supreme for the majority of the day: it was busy there but the singles line moved quickly. The snow softened up much more quickly than it had Saturday although it was still after lunch before conditions off-piste and on No. 9 Express and Sleepy Hollow were any good.

After lunch we did a run in Catherine's Area, which was warm, soft, and slushy in spots.  On the plus side, my new Salomons do really well in the mashed potatoes-consistency snow: the skis' bigger shovel tip rides through the heavier snow well and doesn't get hung up so much as my narrower old Volkls.  We spotted the porcupine in the same area in lower Catherine's, napping in a different tree and completely unfazed/unaware of our interest in him.  We kept doing laps on Supreme for the afternoon and H did a different run each time, working from skier's right to skier's left: Challenger, then Erosion Gullies, then No. 9 Express, then the trees between No. 9 and Upper Sleepy Hollow, then Upper Sleepy Hollow, then Upper Big Dipper, then a couple of runs in the trees and the little bowl on skier's right of Upper Big Dipper.

Our last run on Supreme was at 3:15 p.m. because my legs were getting tired.  We skied over to Sugarloaf, scooted around the E.B.T. (which is definitely showing signs of losing snow in these very warm temperatures) and skied out to Wildcat base.  There were lots of folks sitting on the patio, apres-skiing despite the high thin cloud cover.  Alta plans to close for the season on the last weekend of April but if we don't get some more snow, it's going to be a challenge for them to hit that date.  We need snow!  And cooler temperatures!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

hard to plan for

It looks like we're going to be in spring skiing mode from here on out, although we are hoping desperately for a few more snowstorms before all is said and done.  It's still early enough that this makes for challenging layering (for me, anyway): what is warm enough for the mornings will be far too hot for the afternoons, but dressing for the warm afternoons means shivering in the mornings before the sun is up high enough.  Case in point: Saturday's weather report was for sunny skies and record-high warm temperatures in the 50s up at Alta's base.  I wore non-insulated running knickers, a non-cotton long sleeve t-shirt, light middle layer and my shell.  I was therefore cold all the way through the morning because those sunny skies were hidden behind high, thin clouds which kept the temperature down.  Those clouds kept the snow hard too until after lunch when the temperature jumped up (even with the persistent clouds).  Then conditions got soft very quickly.

We did several runs on Collins first, where we were treated to frozen corduroy.  I was warm enough while skiing but found it chilly on the lifts.  We moved to Sugarloaf for a couple of runs where it was sunnier for the chairlift but the conditions were still pretty firm.  We next moved to Supreme and found that Big Dipper and Rock N Roll were skiing pretty well and didn't seem to be frozen quite so hard.  We didn't dare go into Catherine's Area, however, because we could hear people clattering across the frozen snow through Supreme Bowl and the Catherine's Area run-out - it didn't sound good.  The crowds weren't too bad either, with seemingly very few locals in attendance: although we rode the singles line a fair amount, it was never longer than the corral and moved quickly.

After lunch, we did a run down Sugarloaf - on Extrovert, which was smooth and slippery but better than last weekend - then up the chair again for a run through Devil's Castle.  I liked it in there, beaten down into slight bumps but not hard, although H thought he didn't ski it very well.  We certainly got warm after the traverse/off-piste skiing.  When we went back to Supreme, things were definitely warming up there as well: Challenger, skier's right on No. 9 Express, Big Dipper and especially Sleepy Hollow were all getting soft and fun to ski.  We finally ventured into Catherine's Area just before it closed at 3 p.m.; we'd been waiting for the conditions in there to soften up and it ended up being good enough that we maybe should have gone in sooner.  A couple of 20 year-olds followed us in, asking us for recommendations on where to go.  We went to the middle meadow (Snowshoe Hill), which was much like Devil's Castle conditions-wise; the lower half of Catherine's Area was very soft, including the huge corn snow bumps on the run-out.  It was fun.

We ended up closing the Supreme chair at 3:30, nabbing the third-to-last chair, then rode out on Sugarloaf just fifteen minutes before that chair closed.  By the time we got back to Wildcat base to de-boot and drink our spring skiing PBRs, I had almost skied the whole day.  Clearly my legs are stronger, now that we're on the tail end of the season.  That bodes well for early season hiking once the lifts stop turning - and if we don't get some late season storms, hiking season is going to come early this year.

Friday, March 13, 2015

welcome, daylight

I had checked the weather report and I could have sworn that it said that Sunday was going to be a carbon copy of Saturday.  Now, I knew things would start out a little chillier because of the spring-forward time change (hooray! love it! favorite day of the year!  more light later!) but I figured it would warm up quickly in the sunshine, so I wore the same layers as Saturday.  Traffic was very light heading up the canyon, which was no doubt due in large part to the time change, and I scored a good parking spot near the front of the Wildcat base lot.  When I got out of the car to put on my boots, it seemed a couple of degrees cooler than Saturday and, with the sun still behind the mountains, it was pretty chilly.

It was chilly on the shady Collins chairlift ride too and I - and almost everyone else - immediately moved over to Sugarloaf to ski in the sunshine.  Surprisingly, it wasn't much warmer in the sun.  I did several runs on Sugarloaf, sticking to the groomers because I quickly learned that anything ungroomed that had been in the sun on Saturday was frozen solid now.  The groomers were pretty hard too: the worst of them was Extrovert which had people falling and sliding all over it, unused to skiing on snow where you have to dig your edges in.  I skied it, recalling my habits as an East Coast skier, and blew right past everyone else - and I am not a fast skier.
 
A nearly-empty Devil's Castle

After a little while I switched over to Supreme where the cold temperatures persisted.  My feet actually got pretty cold so I opted for an early lunch around 11:30 a.m. and ended up staying in Alf's for over a half hour while my toes warmed up.  I went back up Sugarloaf and traversed into Devil's Castle.  There were only three other people in there with me so it was like having the place to myself. I skied it a little better than I had on Saturday and went out far skier's right through some trees I'd never been in before; I wasn't sure where I was for a while although I ended up coming out by Funland.  The afternoon was spent doing laps on Supreme (Challenger, Sleepy Hollow, Upper Big Dipper, Rock N Roll) and waiting for the sun to soften the snow.  But it never softened.  I finally attempted one run in Catherine's Area which was not that successful: anything that had been in the sun Saturday was quite crusty; anything in the trees was soft; and the run-out, which had ended up as huge, soft, corn-snow bumps on Saturday afternoon, was rock hard, even well into the afternoon.  I finally started getting bored with skiing the same trails over and over again and skied out slightly earlier than I had on Saturday, ending up at the car around 3 p.m.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

and back to spring skiing

Northern Utah finally got a storm worth the wait this past Monday night and Tuesday: after dropping 52" (!!) down south at Brian Head, the weather moved north and brought the Wasatch Front around two feet of snow.  Lots of people called in sick on Tuesday and Wednesday; all reports were that the skiing was fantastic - just what we had been missing all winter.  The storm didn't stick around that long, however, and a high pressure system installed itself for the weekend.  High pressure means bright blue skies, no new snow and warmer temperatures.  Spring skiing has returned!

Looking towards Brighton from above Catherine's Pass

H went back east for a few days to help his folks move so I was on my own for skiing.  Saturday came in clear and warm and the traffic was pretty steady moving up Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Given the traffic, I assumed that Alta would be as busy as it has been the last couple of weekends.  Happily, I ended up being wrong about that: there were substantial lift lines at Sugarloaf and Supreme before lunch but not so afterwards.  One of the lifties remarked, with some relief in his voice, that today seemed more like a normal weekend crowds-wise than we've had lately.

Dark blue skies over East Greeley

I started my ski day with a couple of runs off Collins, taking one warm-up run down a groomer and then one through Ballroom which was soft and chunky.  I immediately noticed that I wasn't skiing off-piste very well.  Next was a run on the Backside: the traverse out to East Greeley was a bit of a mess with lots of whoop-de-doos but the skiing was pretty good, again soft and chunky and not yet sun-baked.  After that I rode up Sugarloaf and hiked into Devil's Castle which was, yet again, soft and chunky and I continued to ski terribly.  I scooted over to Supreme where I immediately tried a Catherine's Run, traversing out to the middle meadow.  The top parts of Catherine's were still soft, the slopes on a good angle away from the sun, but the bottom run out was still a frozen crust from melting in the afternoon sun the day before.

H's and my secret ski spot in Catherine's Area

I took an early and quick lunch, not needing to linger to warm up - I had found myself overdressed from my very first run - and not wanting to hog a whole table for too long.  I rode up Sugarloaf and skied back to Supreme where I decided to stick to the groomers for a while to work on my technique.  My Salomons are not quite as easy to turn as my old Volkls and I have been lifting up my inside foot when I turn - a bad habit that I need to break.  As the afternoon wore on, the groomers (Challenger, No. 9 Express and Sleepy Hollow) started getting softer and more fun to ski.  East Castle was open but I saw that the climb had been put in as a side-step and not a boot-pack, and I just couldn't get psyched up for slogging up there on my own.  There were plenty of other people willing to do it though.  I did a couple more runs in Catherine's Area, all the way out to H's and my favorite spot. The snow was still good there and I went slowly, practicing turning without lifting my feet.  The run out had softened up nicely at this point in the day, the moguls were big and super-soft corn snow.

I skied out slightly before 3 p.m., had a PBR while de-booting at the car and then drove down canyon for home.  My plans for the rest of the day were not too overwhelming: doing a load of laundry, calling H with the ski report, turning the clocks ahead in eager anticipation of Daylight Savings Time and treating myself to Chinese take-out for dinner.

Friday, March 6, 2015

skiing deeper than expected

We haven't been able to figure out why there were so many people at Alta this past weekend - crazy crowds, more than Christmas or February vacation. We did figure that Sunday would be especially busy given the new snow (everyone was so excited for three inches!  woohoo for re-adjusted expectations!) and the clear skies first thing in the morning.  It was slightly warmer than Saturday, especially when the sun was out, and the wind was not really a factor.  We did three runs off Collins to start, one warm-up groomer and then two in the very popular Ballroom, which was actually skiing quite well.  Next was a run on the Backside: I thought the traverse out there was sketchy because the light was flat (the clouds had moved in, eliminating the sun) but around the corner, East Greeley itself was good, deep and soft and fluffy.

Hiking into Catherine's Area, with flurries

We hopped on the Sugarloaf chair, finding that the lifties had moved the singles line to the other side of the corral in an attempt to make the lines work better; this was only marginally successful because it depended on the lifties paying attention to the hoi polloi).  We couldn't stand the crowds, though, so we shifted over to Supreme - and H got cut off about six times as we skied across.  As we had done the day before, we alternated runs in Catherine's Area with flyers again.  There were still lots and lots of people going into Catherine's Area although not so many of them seemed to be stopping on the traverse.  As we skied, ski patrol was bombing the heck out of Devil's Castle and they got it open before lunch.  From the Supreme chair, we could see the long, long line of people traversing into the Castle.  H did one run down Sunset in Catherine's Area without me and reported that it was still hugely bumped up with frozen moguls; as we went further in, it skied better and better.

Hoping to learn from our experience the day before, we skied past 1:00 p.m. before going in for a late lunch - even so, we had to circle for at least fifteen minutes before getting a table.  After lunch, we went in to Devil's Castle - at this point there were just a few other skiers in there with us, including one girl who had the exact same Flylow jacket as mine.  My legs were already fatiguing on the climb in and I found myself in the backseat too much, riding on the tails of my skis, so I didn't ski it very well.  There was a good amount of snow in there, though.  We skied out way skier's right, through the trees, ending up under the Apron.  Not so many people had found their way in there and the snow was really good.  We made our way back to Supreme, doing another Catherine's Area run all the way in, complete with face shots.  That's such a nice section - it's really a shame it isn't longer.

Seems steep here in Devil's Castle

After that, my legs were toast - once my hamstrings start hollering, I know I don't have much longer in me.  We did a couple more flyers on Supreme once Catherine's Area closed at 3 p.m., but then I had to ski out.  The run out through Collins was challenging: the snow was very clumpy although the sun was out again and the visibility was good at least.  H, who is strong and unafraid to ski fast, just went straight through all the clumps and bumps; I am not heavy or strong enough to ski through them without being tossed around, so I had to make lots of turns.  My legs were pretty tired by the time we finished up, which ended up being about a half hour earlier than Saturday.  Another storm is moving into the area for Monday and Tuesday - people are saying this one could bring a lot of snow.  Fingers crossed!