Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Alta Ski Trip - Skiing My First Powdah

This trip was a real big milestone in regards to my skiing adventures, as it was my first time skiing a real mountain with real snow. Before this trip, I had skiied a total of 10 days in my life; all in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin over the past three years. As you all know, vertical height at these resorts is around 500 ft. I did do Granite Peaks Rib Mountain in Wausau, WI which is actually 700 ft and that's where the idea was planted that I needed more vertical and more challenging terrain.

Once I put my motorcycle away for the winter, my focused switched to skiing and I was itching to go. I knew going out west was going to cost quite a bit, so I decided to get some early season deals. And then there was the task of choosing which resort. I did a fair bit of research here are and other sites and settled on Alta.

Things that appealed to me about Alta were 1) they seemed to get the most snow coverage in the area, 2) no snowboards, I wanted to see how that was like and 3) everyone was raving about it so much in the magazines and on the web. I chose Utah over Colorado as I heard Utah snow is much more the true powder snow and besides, i got the itinerary to work out pretty nicely with flying to Salt Lake City, due to the proximity of the resorts from the airport. Initially, I also wanted to take advantage of the Quick Start program at Park City, where if you catch an early flight into SLC, you can ski free at the PC resorts that day. In the end, it didn't seem worth it with all the logisticaly challenges of where to keep the bags while I was skiing and shuttles between PC and Alta, etc.

I also got an excellent early season package deal at the Snowpine Lodge: $123 for a dorm bed, lift ticket, 4 course dinner and full breakfast. I got a round trip ticket through Delta for $206. I maximized my time by arriving at SLC by 10:30 am on the Wednesday, planning to ski half day, then full day skiing till Sunday. I caught a red eye flight out of SLC on Sunday night, arriving in Chicago Monday morning and having a friend pick me up and take us straight to work. Rough, I know, but I'm single and young and had to make it work.

Many of my friends and coworkers couldn't understand how I could go on such a trip all by myself and I kept telling them that it's all about meeting cool new people and I sure did that over this trip. Staying at the Snowpine was an awesome experience and I'm definitely heading back there, maybe late season. The maximum capacity of the lodge is 40 people, so everyone gets to know you and it becomes a friendly environment. It's quite an old lodge and is built into the side of the mountain, which looks across at the Alta slopes. It was so much fun to be staying at a ski-in/ski-out lodge for the first time. They had tow ropes that pulled you right up to the lodge. And they also had a heated wooden closet for your ski books, so that they were nice and dry in the morning.

It was real interesting to try an outdoor hot tub in the winter for the first time. It was a great meeting place for all the young people staying there. I also got everyone into doing "polar bear" runs, as it had just snowed 24" in the past 24 hours before I got there. One of the Russians from New York was bravest to try it first and it involved rolling around in the snow and jumping back in the hot tub. It really awakens your spirits and the tingling feeling lasts for a good 5 minutes.

I was told that there's no night life in Alta, but I wasn't much interested in that. I was more there for the skiing and meeting other skiers. The general itinerary for the days was get back to the lodge around 5 pm (after catching the last lift at 4:30 pm and making it back to get the tow rope before it closed at 5 pm - it was quite a hike if you missed the tow rope). Then, jump in the hot tub for about 45 mins, take a nice shower, sit down for dinner at 6:30 pm, which never ended before 8 pm, as there was so much talking going on, then watch a movie or ski documentary with the others in the main room and hit the sack by 10 pm. It was my goal to make it to the lifts as early as possible in the morning. About the documentaries, we saw one of the 10th Mountain Division (WWII army unit that specialized in winter mountain conditions, which involved lots of skiing) and it was interesting to see how after the war, these started some of the big resorts out west - Vail's one of them. Also saw a documentary on the history of skiing and one on Alf Engen, prominent figure in Alta's history.

And now the skiing... I currently own a pair of 170 Rossi Bandit X, which are very good all mountain skis, but I didnt know how they would fair in the powder. My first half day there, after a few blue groomed runs, I thought I'd attempt the powder, seeing that it didn't look all that scary. I didn't know how to control my speed through the powder and fell so many times that I didnt know if I would make it out of there. I decided a lesson was needed. After getting an intro to powder lesson on Day 2, I was hooked and stayed off piste most of the time after that.

Days 1 to 4

That's all that I was taking, my ski bag and boot bag, with everything else wrapped around them. My carry on was my ski jacket. Nothing got damaged during transportation.

Salt Lake City

Special baggage claim area for skiis at Salt Lake City Airport. I believe they have something similar in Denver as well.

The Snowpine Lodge, where I was staying, on mountain. This is considered ski-in, ski-out type loding. My skiis are on the left and they are stored in the brown shed. The outdoor hot tub is next to it (behind the snow bank). The room with the windows is the dining area. Imgine the view...

Looking down from the lodge at the lift center

Here's the trail map of Alta for the ski pictures, so that you can place them with the trails marked on the map.

From the top of Corkscrew, looking across at the Alta Lodge and Snowpine on the right

Mount Baldy from Collins Lift. It had just snowed 24 inches in the last 24 hours before I got there and then the days were crystal clear. It made for some excellent skiing.

Hiking up Baldy to ski fresh powder

My Rossis in fresh powder with my pistol grip poles - I love them!

Entering expert area for the first time in my life at Race Course Saddle

Looking down Race Course Saddle (59 on the Trail Map)

Looking up Jitterbug (79). This is what is called "crud" by the skiiers. It is powder snow that has been skiied and disturbed. This makes for some bumpy skiing, but it's still soft powder.

The traverse at Wildcat lift

From the Wildcat Lift, looking at Rock Gully (111)

From Wildcat Lift looking back. What a view and check out those blue skies.

My fresh tracks in the powder (the curvy ones are mine).

The last run of the day, heading back on Home Run (6) looking at the slopes behind the lodges

High up on East Greeley (95). The first day, when I saw the tracks so high up on the mountain, I said I would never be able to do that in this trip. And here I was venturing into that exact terrain. Woo hoo! (By the way, the camera's level to the ground)

Avalanche sign on lift pole

Trees of Wilcat Face (112)

Trees of Wilcat Face (112)

The trees of Wildcat Face

Skis floating on fresh powder

Day 5
Everyone at dinner heard about how Day 5 was going to be my 15th day of skiing and they were all amazed at the runs that I was doing and how great it was that I was coming out west to ski. Whenever I mentioned to anyone on the lifts, or in the day lodges that this was first time skiing powder, they all said, "Well, you've come the perfect place!" And I really felt that too.

Staying at the lodge in the dorms were many other single guys and we all sort of bonded over the days. There was a Canadian ski instructor, Matt who was vactioning with his brother from Toronto. Matt requested if he could give me a few pointers and help me out with my technique in the morning. Wait no, I dont think that's a good idea.... Of course, I accepted. How lucky was I to have free private time with an instructor? He said he was itching to teach somebody. Right place, right time.

I explained to him that I was still doing the pizza wedge on the powder to make slow controlled turns (dont worry I can carve pretty good on the groomers). In the morning, we worked on pole planting on the groomers, with a slight jump to initiate the turns. For carving, he also showed me the technique of where during a turn, you squat down and then fully extended after the turn and squat again to make the next turn. Doing this in a fluid motion felt very comfortable and greatly added to setting rhythm down the slope.

Then they all wanted to go off piste into the big black runs, and I asked if I could tag along. They were comfortable with that and while they zoomed down the mountain, I was picking my way down and having fun along the way. By mid afternoon, I was getting some rhythm down, but still doing a few magnificent face plants.

And then the most hair-brained thing that I did was follow these guys for a "little hike" to get to some untouched powder.

Hiking up the High Traverse (69) to get to Greeley Bowl (90)

Not that bad of a hike, besides the fact that if you slipped you would be sliding all the way down. And I did just that, but luckily that green tree below stopped me when I lost my grip on the rocks. Snow boots aren't any good when there's no snow. I didn't panic during my 20 ft slide, and just got back up to where my skis where and climed over the ridge to meet the guys, who were waiting for me.

Taking a break on top of the world

Since I was demoing new skiis, why not go for the best - Goode carbon fiber skis. I loved the light weight, it was very nice to make the sharp turns that I was doing in the powder to control my speed. Looking down Greeley Bowl.

That's Matt. His suit had little red maple leafs all over the back, just in case you forgot where he was from...

And he was quite the looney, climbing to the peak

Ok, see this tree. It's at the top of Greeley Bowl and...

Can you see the same tree to the right of the second rock out crop. The picture doesnt do justice to the slope, it was steep as hell, pretty scary.

Cutting through fresh powder near the Sunnyside lift

That's me, at the Alta/Snowbird border near the top of Sugarloaf lift

The guys: L-R, Larry, Mike, Mark, Dave, Bob, Pete, Kevin, Matt and Moi

I was addicted. Skiing is such a beautiful thing to do. You're having this immense amount of fun in freezing weather and letting nature pull you down a mountain. It makes me look forward to winter and being an adrenaline junkie helps as well. I'm trying to plan a few more trips this winter, hopefully Canada will be next...