Sunday, March 5, 2017

Trip of a Lifetime

Although, I must say, I certainly hope I'm fortunate enough to have another trip or two like this in my lifetime!

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As I re-read this post, I realized the large amount of skier jargon in it. Here is a quick glossary of terms for non-skiers:

Boot packA path in the snow beat down with ski boots resembling a staircase; it becomes easier to ascend with each pass. 
Bowl: Wide, treeless area resembling a bowl.
Cornice: An overhanging mass of hardened snow, often along a ridgeline formed by wind.
"Hammering": Whiteout conditions due to rapidly falling snow, alternately, "nuking".
"Nuking": A term for whiteout snow conditions, also, "hammering".
Interlodged: Becoming "trapped" at a resort due to road closures because of snow conditions. No traffic is allowed in or out of the canyon due to the closure and one must remain at the resort until roads are reopened.
Line: Downhill path; often through obstacles (trees, rocks, cliffs) or through a narrow strip of untracked powder.
Pitch: Vertical rise per foot; steepness
Powder/white powder: New snowfall, and for the means of this post, light fluffy snow that will cloud up with you blow on it.
Shralp: A slang term combining "shredding" and "ripping" used by skiers, snowboarders, skaters, surfers, etc.
Sierra cement: Fresh snowfall that is often heavy in quality.
Traverse: Travel sideways along a mountainside staying at or about the same elevation; in skiing, often involves a thin narrow track about a foot to 18 inches wide in the snowpack
Untracked: Snow that is untouched and no one has skied

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I spent the last week with Dave and close friends skiing outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a skiers mecca; 10+ resorts within an hours drive of SLC and the quality of the snow simply cannot be beat. I haven't skied in California or the PNW before (but I do know skiers refer to the snow over there as "Sierra cement") but I have skied in Colorado and Montana and I can say with certainty that what we skied in Utah was definitely superior. I definitely understand why my "snobby skier friends" (stated with respect) love Utah so much.

Winter in the east, or lack thereof, this year has been awful. The resort ski season used to be a good 20 weeks long. Last year we only squeaked out 14 weeks and that was a fight. This year? This year we are going to be damn lucky to make it to 10 weeks! You can say what you want about climate change, but this is pretty damning.

In an effort to enjoy a skier's paradise, we booked our trip to SLC mid-late January for a few weeks later, hoping and praying to Ullr and the snow gods that we'd time it right with good snow. (And personally, I crossed my digits that I could keep up with the group I was going with. I've been skiing as long as I've been horseback riding and am quite a strong skier, but I would definitely be the weakest link in the group for this trip!)

Did. We. EVER. The area received 83 inches of snow during our week there including a most epic dump of white powder on our third day of skiing. (In contrast it was sunny and in the 60s and 70s back home, ugh.)

Super psyched
Finding my legs on steep terrain
Kind of shows the steepness; photos don't accurately represent it! That's Dave below me.

With fresh powder on the ground, we really wanted our first day of skiing to be at Alta, the ultimate mecca for us this trip. However, the canyon was still closed that morning for avalanche control and the line of cars trying to get there was obscene. So, we made a quick change of decision - we created our own lane with our giant truck amidst bewildered looks from the locals and rerouted for Solitude instead.

We scored a decent parking lot at Solitude and were promptly given lift ticket vouchers by the parking attendant (score!). The pitches were pretty short and we had to traverse a lot, but we found the steep terrain we were looking for along with fresh powder to shralp. It was a great first day and I was pleased that I was able to keep up with our group with little to no problem; I certainly wasn't the first to descend the lines, but the visual guidance of someone in front of me was all I needed.

Traverse right for fresh lines!
Along the traverse above the cornice
Hanging tips over the edge of the cornice
Wind blown traverse tracks; we crept down this slope to reach the area where we dropped into the bowl

We still thought we may go to Alta the next day (more fresh snow), but as friends of ours from our home ski patrol were also out in SLC for a ski trip, we decided to go to Snowbasin to ski with them. Not a bad decision! While the locals complained that it was "so busy" we didn't think so. We found fresh powder all day (again) and had runs that descended 2,500 vertical feet almost every run. It was pretty epic and really helped my get my powder legs figured out for the next day. By midday at Snowbasin I was making the first move into fresh powder lines (she ain't gonna shralp herself!) amidst the whoops and hollers of my excited friends as they followed suit.

The last third of our day at Snowbasin we hiked a little boot pack to traverse a windy ridgeline that would allow us to drop a cornice into a bowl that didn't have many tracked lines through it. The traverse was highly intimidating for me. The track was narrow, rocks and small cliffs bordered it throughout and the winds whipped by me. The exposure of the terrain (and the weather) was intense. Finally reaching the drop-in point on the cornice wasn't that much more reassuring either! It was an intimidating drop down into fresh powder. However, powder makes for a soft landing, so I sucked it up and went for it and I'm really glad I pushed out of my comfort zone to do so. What a thrill!

Finally, on our third day, Alta was a go. We knew a snowstorm would be hitting Monday into Tuesday morning, but the forecasted accumulation from it had varied in the days leading up to it. Ultimately, the storm would dump 26+ inches of beautiful white powder on us.

Alta was by far the steepest terrain I've ever skied. Additionally, it was the most powder I've ever skied, shy of superstorm Jonas last year in the east where our terrain is mostly too low-angle to make it much fun.

The trees kind of demonstrate how steep it was;
still don't do much justice
Super psyched about the snow nuking down
Dave smiling and laughing about the interlodge news
Screenshot I took of the tweet announcing the interlodge threat
Almost needed a snorkel
Dave killed it on his telemark skis all week; I had no illusions about this trip and only took my
alpine gear - tele skiing is HARD WORK.

Our first runs were testing ground for me as I learned how to maneuver effectively in what was commonly waist-deep powder (varied depths for the day were knee to mid-thigh, waist-deep, and occasionally up to my chest). By our third run, I got the hang of it, and the rest of the day was simply amazing. It hammered down the snow the whole day. In fact, it was snowing so much that they closed the canyon around noon! Originally, they'd stated that reopening wasn't guaranteed and we would be interlodged.

Being interlodged means that you cannot leave. The road is closed and you are "stuck" at the resort until the road is reopened; often times the closing is for road maintenance to prevent worse conditions later, but sometimes it can be due to an avalanche or the impending certainty of an avalanche. Nothing and no one come in or out. For a skier, being interlodged at a place like Alta isn't an inconvenience, it is a dream come true. All the powder to shralp and nowhere else to go! Oh, damn. ;-)

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, for us, the road did reopen shortly after 4pm (although the snow was still nuking down) so we did make it back to the rental. Regardless, it was still the most amazing day of skiing any of us had ever had. I am officially a powder fiend.

Legs screaming, we finally took a rest day on Tuesday. Our little group dispersed on this day, one headed back east, Dave and I headed to Park City, and the other two headed to Jackson, WY.

Our time spent skiing in Park City was decent - we did manage to find untracked powder lines all day - but our bodies were still exhausted and it hadn't snowed since early Tuesday morning, so the skiing definitely didn't get any better. Still, we enjoyed what skiing we did before we journeyed back east on Friday.

Boot pack to fresh lines at Park City
Views from Park City
Fresh tracks off Pinecone Ridge
Aspens <3
Park City vista
Finishing up my second run through the mostly-untracked bowl

I'm so grateful we got to enjoy primo snow conditions for this trip and ski so much. I think our total vertical drop skied for the week was somewhere around 67k feet. I wore my HR monitor for much of it to see how the elevation was impacting me, but I haven't uploaded the data yet due to some technological issues. Regardless, I'm pretty sure I burned some serious calories skiing last week!

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Now that vacation is over and some other things in my life are beginning to settle, I plan to write a lot more on the blog. I have a lot of exciting updates to share and a product review in the near future. Stay tuned!


  1. Dear lord do I love the Wasatch, though I do prefer it yellow with autumn aspens and perfect hiking. ;)

    1. Golden aspens are a beautiful sight indeed =)

  2. Absolutely stunning photos but no. Just no. :)

    Now if there was a gondola to ride up and back I would be all over it!

    1. Gondola take ya up a lot of those resorts, but not the down so much ;-)

    2. May I suggest the oh-so-elegant scoot down on yer butt? It's a technique I'm quite fond of...

    3. You have elegance hiding inside for skiing, Austen, you can't hide it from me - I've WATCHED you ski. ;-)

  3. Gorgeous scenery and photos. What a great trip!

  4. Ahhh so incredible - what a trip! That deep powdery snow looks intense lol!

  5. Wow that is some incredible country out there!! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Your skiing posts always make me wish it was something I actively did. My parents always skied and I loved it when I tried it (even though I'm not very good at it). Unfortunately, I can only afford one expensive hobby and NJ is not the place to be serious about skiing. So I'll just be over here drooling over this post instead. The views in these photos are to die for!

    1. I can help you to ski a little more often on a budget ;-)

  7. That looks intense! I want to try skiing!