We blew into Utah last week and ran headlong into the Pineapple Express. The Wasatch were getting pummeled with snow, but we were beginning to miss the sun. Finally, on our last day, the clouds parted as the Express moved on and ran out. This is my Pineapple Express Diary.
Day Four, Alta: This was our last day in Utah for 2010. Luckily, 2010 is almost over, so we have 2011 to which we can look forward. I was feeling a little melancholy, especially after yesterday, which had been a fun, but very soggy, foggy and windy day.
When we awoke, Salt Lake was blanketed in fog. On this morning, we did remember to check the snow report: 15 inches of new snow at Alta. (What a week, when 15 inches of new snow doesn’t sound like a lot!) I had lost track of the running snowfall total since we arrived in Utah, but I am guessing that in the four days we were in Utah, the Wasatch received well over 5, and possibly 6, feet of snow! While none of us were going to complain about all the new snow, we were all hoping for a bit of a reprieve today.
As we drove to Alta, it didn’t look good. Rain, snow and fog abounded. About half-way up Little Cottonwood Canyon, the clouds began to break up. When we got to Alta, we could see up the mountain. This doesn’t sound very impressive, but it meant we would actually have some visibility today. No sun, as of yet, but the light was not totally flat. A cause for celebration!
It was December 23rd, and ironically, we were at Alta on a cold snowy day last December 23rd. There was one big difference this year however: much more snow. Last year, I got a core shot on the High Traverse and most of the chutes were like skiing through minefield of barely hidden rock and tree. This year, not a rock or limb to be seen.
Acting as our advance crew, our older son had ejected himself from our car, fully-clad and ready to go, the minute we parked in the Wildcat Lot. By the time we got booted and in the Collins Lift line, he had skied Alf’s High Rustler and proclaimed it awesome. Off we went to spend the morning racing down the traverse (me, as always, more terrified on the traverse than on any actual downhill ski run) and taking our pick of the chutes.
At one point in the morning, as we were riding up the lift, my younger son turned to me and said, “Alta is my favorite mountain. I love this place. I know it may sound silly, but I just like the vibe.” I smiled to myself. One boy loves Alta, one boy loves Snowbird. Could we, their parents, have won a better jackpot?
And “No,” I told him, “it doesn’t sound silly. I know just what you mean.” For Alta is unique unto itself: totally relaxed and as challenging as you want to make it. The story at Alta is the skiing. Period. No glitz, no fuss, no extraneous activities. Just skiing.
By the time noon rolled around, I was ready for a break. We met up with Connie Marshall, the Director of Sales and PR for Alta and proceeded to take the longest (and one of the most pleasant!) ski lunches we have taken in years. (According to our boys, the food at Alf’s is also the best ski lunch they’ve had in years). Connie has been with Alta for many years and she knows everything and everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting her and discussing all things Alta. Thank you Connie!
One of the things I love about Alta is that it is compact and completely manageable. While we might think twice about letting our boys just take off from lunch without a plan, a meeting place or even a word of warning at a super-large resort, at Alta, we just smile and say “We’ll catch up with you” and we know we will. So, when they bailed about halfway through lunch we didn’t mind. No problem. “Go have fun and jump off some big rocks,” we told them.
Now one of the reasons the long lunch was so welcome was that the snow was heavy. Usually, skiers can count on super-dry powder in Utah. We in Colorado (and probably you in Utah, too) sometimes comment derisively about the heavy, wet snow in California. You’ve heard it: The Sierra Cement. Well, thanks to the Pineapple Express, we had spent the week skiing the Utah version of California snow.
I was back on my own “skinny” skis, (I had never thought of them as “skinny” before this trip, but after my three days of demo-ing big fat skis, they suddenly looked like relics from the 1970s) and my legs were crushed. Connie was kind to set me up for the afternoon with some Dynastar Exclusive Legand Paradise twin tips from The Alta Ski Shop and while I don’t know if it was the long lunch or the new skis, or most likely, a combination of the two, I was a new skier.
Kid-less for the afternoon, my husband and I spent the afternoon skiing the chutes off of the Supreme lift. The snow was much less chopped up than the chutes off of the High Traverse, and it actually felt lighter. It some areas, we were among the only skiers taking that line that day. The sun came out, really out, and the mountains appeared in full-relief. With every bough on every tree bent low with the snow load, the world was frosted and sparkling, ready for Christmas.
As we took the Sugarloaf Lift up one last time to get us back over to the Wildcat Base, we saw our boys ripping underneath the lift and catching some pretty big air off a rock (they followed our post-lunch directions perfectly!). They didn’t know we could see them and when we, and the perfect strangers we were riding with, cheered, they looked up beaming and waved, just absolutely, perfectly happy.
And that was the consensus on our day at Alta. When we all met back at the car, we were all absolutely, perfectly happy. The Pineapple Express and come and gone, the sun was shining and the mountains were reflecting the late afternoon light back onto us. As we drove down Little Cottonwood Canyon, we shared stories, triumphs, laughs and the last of our cookie stash.
When we dropped into the Salt Lake basin, we hit the same wall of dense fog we had left earlier that morning. The city never saw the sun, but high up in the mountains at Alta, the sun had shone and the snow was Supreme. Pineapple Express day four: success.
Four days of skiing in Utah, the week before Christmas: a perfect success. No wonder we do this every year.
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