Thursday, December 31, 2015

I Open My Presents Christmas Morning


Freuliche Weinachten. Ist eine Powdah DAY!
Most people under the age of having a heating bill in their name likely equate winter to two things: Christmas and Winter Break, unless you grew up in Wisconsin. Then you had three things on your mind during the end of the year: Christmas, Winter Break and figuring out what recess activities could distract you from the fact that the two pairs of socks, Roman Meal bread bags and Sorels wrapped around your feet were no match for the arctic cold which turned every kickball game into  a reenactment of the 1967 NFL Championship game. When a national sportscasters describes the frosty conditions of the game (dubbed the Ice Bowl), I picture the entire state of Wisconsin saying, “Yeah, and…?” So with that in mind, it’s with great disappointment that I have to share this detail from my great Christmas break weekend of skiing at Alta. I was cold.

This probably isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned how spoiled Utahns are when it comes to winter… and I guarantee you it won’t be the last. Show me a Beehive state native that complains about winter and I’ll wager that a) they also complain about the heat in the summer  and b) they don’t ski. That is where I have been spoiled. Years of skiing in the harsh environs of the midwest and east coast bore an appreciation of the banana belt conditions in the Wasatch. I love winter here. Snow dumps in the mountains and I never go more than a week without seeing my lawn. However, when the temp drops like it did in the wake of this awesome storm we got for Christmas, even I get a little frosty.

Santa brought a rather unique gift for me. A powder day combined with a day off. When I got up Christmas morning, I shoveled at least 4” off my driveway. “Think what it’s like up on Alta,” I thought. “The skis were p-texed and ready to go and my father-in-law and I harvested soft laps off Wildcat most of the morning. When he left before noon to spend time with the family (yeah, I know, what’s that all about), I stayed and wore my legs out skiing until 2:30 when the winds picked up and the visibility dropped. I was so elated with the day that later that night when my friend texted me about skiing Saturday as well, I couldn’t say no. This was another rare conflagration of factors: day off, fresh snow and Jared, the newly minted father, had the day to ski as he wished, (yeah, I know that family thing again, notice a trend?) Unlike Christmas Day, the day after Christmas was clear and cold. Temps on top of Collins were starting the day below 0 and suddenly it occurred to me that the insulated jacket I often complain is too warm for skiing would have been perfect on this day.

Skiing after a storm cycle that hit the Wasatch with such velocity meant much of the resort was closed. All around us were pristine untracked slopes roped off like the VIP lounge. Because I knew Jared’s ski days are diminishing  due to non-ski obligations, my hope was that at least one set of velvet ropes would be lifted before we called it a day. A few early hikes up the ridge beyond Wildcat yielded some great floaty turns, but everything off the shoulder was still roped off. Ballroom, Backside and Catherines all closed as well… and with good reason. The volume of this storm was more than our shitty snowpack could take and patrol had to be cautious. When we shared a chair ride with a rather burnt out skier who kept interrogating the patroller sharing our chair, I had to hold back laughter when he asked if they might open up East Castle or Main Chute. Stupid questions like that from are probably why Alta patrol has a reputation for being gruff.
Jared makes the most of a short hike from Wildcat

The clock got closer to 2pm and there was little hope that Catherine’s would open by the end of the day, but while we rode up Sugarloaf, we saw skiers coming down Chartreuse Nose, the rocky spine that runs underneath the chair.  These were powder starved skiers devouring the terrain like locusts; and who could blame them. They were also, to a great majority, powder illiterate. Picking out tourists at Alta isn’t hard. If the clothing and difficulty appreciating the virtues of “quading up” don’t give them away, then their inability to ski powder certainly will. Due to their unfortunate geographically driven lack of experience and the valid need to protect against litigation, most rental shop bindings are set to release somewhere just above a sneeze. Bindings with that DIN didn’t stand a chance on conditions that existed on Extrovert and Amen that day. From our chair it seemed like a dozen people were digging for skis. Others were just sprawled out, searching for the best line through the still rocky and treacherous terrain that is almost never safely covered. From above it was kind of fun to see them unknowingly head straight for a land mine. Sure, I’m cruel, but keep in mind my skis have taken their share of damage over the last few weeks.

After a few laps through the carnage on Chartreuse, we thought the day was going to have to end with a lap down Rustler, but right around 2pm, the gate was opened into Ballroom and the line to ski it stretched all the way to the chair ramp. There is a tendency, at least for me, so see a lemming cue of such proportions and be so disgusted that I would rather ski a groomer and let things thin out, but that slope was about to take a beating and as painful as it was to traverse like you were in line at Golden Corral, I knew it would be worth it.
Mooooooooo
As you might expect at this time of year, there was an element of amature hour. I overheard someone congratulate himself on taking a parallel traverse that temporarily shunted people away from a stump… a STUMP?! If you can’t ski around a stump, then don’t ski at Alta. Imagine of this guy was on the High T? Dammit, I hope that the biggest obstacle in my way is a stump. When it comes to “vegetable or mineral” I’ll take vegetable every time. Once we got past the needless merge with the half-wits protecting their precious boards on the “upper” traverse, we crossed the rope line into the crux between Ballroom and the Baldy Shoulder. Jared picked out a pretty untrammeled line just before the main hike up to the Shoulder-proper that served up the  softest, hovercraft turns of the day. “For once, Ballroom wasn’t choked with avy deb--,” I thought way too soon. I crossed the lower boundary where the deposition zone debris built up and the fresh pow thinned. It interrupted my turn and I got thrown like a rag doll, cheering the whole way. Those are the falls I love taking and help me forget my feet were iced cinder blocks afterwards.

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