Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Alta, UT: 02/20/2014

First of all, my wife’s a saint for letting me go on this year’s version of the guys’ ski trip. She took care of the kids solo for the second half of their school break while I headed to Utah for three days of skiing at Alta and Snowbird.

Instead of cramming all my photos into one trip report, I’m breaking it into three. This is day 1: Alta, UT.

Looking down one of the west-facing runs off Alta's High Traverse.  I think this one is Stonecrusher.

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Three days is not a lot of time for exploring two resorts that encompass nearly 5,000 skiable acres, but since we were staying right at Alta’s base it would be easy to ski bell-to-bell each day. Plus I had a hit list in my pocket with terrain recommendations from friends and pre-trip interwebz research.

Our condo and the nearly 300" of snow that has fallen so far this winter

Yes, there can be such a thing as too much snow

Warm-up lap through 4" to 6" of new powder

Alta had a good run of snow leading up to our trip, more than two feet in the week before our arrival, and it was still snowing when we lined up for first chair just before 9am on Thursday. Avalanche control had been going on since first light at 7am, and first chair was delayed by 15 minutes or so, presumably as ski patrol wrapped up their pre-opening checks.

Heading up the Supreme chair

The view from the top of Catherine's Area as the sun started to peek out

Some of the best snow at Catherine's is found by traversing out, a common theme at Alta

After a couple warm-up runs through the still falling snow, we headed to the Supreme chairlift and spent a good portion of the morning exploring Catherine’s Area, a terrain pod with some steep tree lines near the lift and the promise of untracked powder to be found by traversing out. Despite my assertion that I’m good with maps, I never identified exactly which named runs and lines we skied – we just took whatever looked good. Check one off my hit list.

My friend Howard on the Catherine's traverse

Lots of untracked tree lines to be found at Catherine's

More low-angle trees at Catherine's

Sometimes it’s not so bad to become separated from your group, and somehow that’s exactly what happened to me after lunch. The morning snow had ended, and the afternoon turned bluebird. I took the opportunity to do some solo exploration out the High Traverse. High T follows a ridgeline that divides the core of Alta’s terrain down the middle: steep lines on the east side lead back to the Sunnyside and Sugarloaf lifts, equally steep (and longer) lines down the west side lead back to the Collins and Wildcat lifts.

High T: side-stepping and climbing keeps traffic light

Looking across to Wildcat from High T

High T leads out to this ridge line. Skier's right is the east-facing Greely Bowl

Skier dropping in on the Greely side of High T

One of the best pieces of advice I got before our trip was that Alta rewards the hiker. Indeed, the trek out High T seemed to filter out the tourists and casual skiers, leading to outstanding advanced terrain, including what might be considered Alta’s signature black diamond run, Alf’s High Rustler, aka High Boy.

Peeking over the edge before dropping into Greely

Looking up as a skier descends Greely

One of the west-facing lines off the High T ridge, Stonecrusher I think

Looking down Stonecrusher

Like the good stuff back at Catherine’s, trail signs are largely absent for the terrain off High T. On each run I initially dropped down the east side (now shaded) of the divide into Greely Bowl, then cut back across the ridgeline for a long descent on the sunny west side. The first of those runs seems to have been Stonecrusher, the second I know was High Boy. Not that there was any sign. “Wow, that was awesome. What run was that?” I said in true gaper style at the bottom to another skier who had dropped in behind me. “Alf’s High Rustler” came the response – the guy probably figured I wouldn’t even recognize the nickname “High Boy.” Gaper or not, another check off the hit list.

Dropping into High Boy's tight entrance

Looking down High Boy's nearly 2,000' vertical

Skier on High Boy

I ultimately closed out the day with another hit list recommendation. The Wildcat chairlift tops out next to the rope line that separates Alta from Snowbird. Our condo sat right at the bottom of that rope line. Keeping the rope line close to my left, I skied down through the Westward Ho trees, finding lots of untracked powder along the way, and eventually popping out of the woods directly across the street from our condo at about 4:10pm. Five minutes later it was Miller time (well, Cutthroat Pale Ale time) with Day 1 in the books.

Looking at the High T ridge from Wildcat. High Boy drops down the left end of the ridge.

Westward Ho trees

I should have days 2 (Alta) and 3 (Snowbird) posted in the next few days.

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