Thursday, March 04, 2010

Blacks and Blues

Well, after a good many years, I finally made it for a full out, hard core, ski 'till ya drop real western skiing vacation. But that's all I wanted to say, and also that I have no pictures either.......
But not really. Actually, the pictures speak for themselves. Also too, events are still unfolding in my mind as it slowly sinks in a becomes real in my memory. In some ways, it seems more real now, than what it once did. I hope the pictures convey the openness and vastness that the mountains there possess, and the effect that they can have on person, as they they glide down a groomer, or pick your way though the bumps. This was the first time I skied so many days in a single span. Frankly, I somewhat surprised myself at the way my body held up, especially in light of the fact that last year when I skied just once, I had some knee issues for about 2-3 weeks afterward. There was none of that, and also no negative effects from the altitude either. There was however a slight bit of trepidation on my part because of my skiing skills, or lack there of, and the big time skiing that lay in front of me. The Pocono's this was not....

The first day I skied myself at Park City. Four of our party were going to Snowbird, as Doug was going heliskiing, Michele his girlfriend was going to ski Snowbird, as well as Sue and Molly. I needed rental skis before I got started. And Joe, unfortunately, had Southwest lose his bag with his boots, somewhere between Philly and SLC, so he was out of action for the time being, but was kind enough to provide shuttle service for me. I only vaguely remembered the layout of the mountain, and with the persistent light, to occasionally heavier snow, it only further clouded my memory of the place. So it was with caution I skied for a while, as I got my legs underneath me, and understood where I was at and where I was going. Park City is a very large place, even by western standards at 3300 acres. Its also somewhat fragmented, so its imperative you make the correct turns if you're planning on going somewhere specific. I missed a cut off to get back to the main lodge twice before nailing the car size gap between ropes successfully the third time. Because I was not all together mentally and physically, or at least that was my perception at the time, and mostly because of the weather, I neglected to take my camera with me skiing. Hence the scarcity of pictures from that day. All in all, not a bad day. I got some really sweet runs in on groomers that had about 3 inches of soft, untouched snow over them for a period of time, before it got skied flat. And I liked my skis, which were an all mountain pair of Blizzard demos. Soft enough for bumps and crud, yet good on the groomers. It was going to be even better skiing in the coming days...I was giddy with excitement and exhilaration.

Fortunately, Joe's bag arrive later that night, and plans were made to drive up Little Cottonwood canyon the next morning. We were going to drive until we ran out of road - we were going to ski Alta the next day. Driving up the canyon on that somewhat foggy morning was incredible, with the impossibly steep cliffs rising up from the road. Also of note, there are at least 4 avalanche gates on the road, which, yes, are frequently closed during heavy snow events, because of avalanches.

The drive in its self was spectacular, but by most accounts, the best skiing in Utah lie just ahead, at the open bowl/valley that is Alta. Although Alta and Snowbird can be skied on a combo ticket, the terrain is quite a bit different. Snowbird is a nasty, advanced mountain, and has only about 5-6 trails classified as intermediate terrain. The rest are blacks and double blacks. Maybe someday, I'd feel more comfortable skiing there. It is such a dramatic, harsh place, the buildings there are built to withstand avalanches, and have done so before.

Just a few hundred yards further up the valley, the bowl opens and Alta awaits.

The day was shaping up, to be just stellar weather wise. Bright, high altitude sun, and little wind. It would be in the 20's today. Just a brilliant, pretty day in the winter, what else better to do than ski!?! We were still finding untouched snow in the woods and glades!

Alta, while not as extreme as Snowbird, is not without its thrills, and challenging terrain. In fact, we heard the guns discharging all morning, as they tried to dissipate avalanche danger. It also has just a nasty, steep mountain face that looked about impossible to ski. The East Greeley face, is not for the meek and mild. Mistakes made there could be serious and painful, or worse. This was not within my repertoire. Catherine's area is also for the experts.

Just a blissfully nice day to be on vacation and skiing!

We took off the next day and kicked around in Park City. My body relished a break! I also dumped my 172CM skis for the same ski in a 165CM length. I was ready for a little more bumps in my life, so to speak.

The day after that, we were like crack addicts, and went back to Alta.....This day was dawning with the promise of powder in the air! By the time we geared up, it was snowing in earnest, as we waited for the lifts to commence running. This was to be my first real pow day, and it promised to be good!

This is a bowl called the Ballroom. Avalanche control was plainly evident. Visibility was sketchy at best, blind at worst.

We skied all over the mountain and found great conditions everywhere. The best was some untouched powder in the trees, knee deep and silky smooth. Save a 45 minute lunch break, we skied all stinkin' day. In fact, Sue, Doug, and I caught THE very last chair to the top of the Sugarloaf lift. They turned it off when we got off. I was just smoked after that orgy of skiing, and it was grand and epic!

This artwork summed up the day:

As luck would have it, all flights into PHL were scrubbed, and we would not leave Thursday as planned. So a bonus day of skiing was to be had the next day. Back to Park City. Another lousy day in paradise....

Not my last trip to the west to ski.....Can't wait until next winter!