"I'm over it," my friend Susan said to me as I described my day at Alta.. "The traffic, the scene, the waiting in line everywhere. I don't need it. I can go to Solitude." She's right I thought as I paced myself through the last 24 hours. A storm had just raged over Tahoe and was headed our way.
It came in like a sheep, drizzling in Park City. Maybe an inch before nightfall. I considered my options as I made my way home eastbound on I-80. For sure I would ski.
The reports were all predicting powder for the morning. This would finally be the winter we had hoped for- just a little late. But, ugh, Susan was right. Getting up early to sit in the traffic snaking up Little Cottonwood Canyon only to fight all of those lucky souls who were staying in the condos and hotels at the two resorts seemed futile. The ski-in/ski-outers would track everything out before I could get on my first boot.
So, do I skip the drive and ski Park City? Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley all have easy access and almost always clear roads in. But the snow is never as blower or deep as in the Cottonwoods and don’t get me started on the terrain.
Or maybe I head up Big Cottonwood Canyon instead. Solitude and Brighton are awesome mountains and should absolutely neverbe considered plan B. Big Cottonwood rarely closes compared to Little Cottonwood.
But there's something to be said for the ritual. The one that includes sitting in a line of stop-and-go traffic, anticipating the goods while you text bragging rights to all your friends for the extra 45 minutes it tacks onto your journey. I did it last week. Sat in line to get to Snowbird only to stand in line for the tram. Two trams to be exact. In two hours.
We tried to ride the chairlifts but the lines there were nearly as bad. The goods were tracked faster than you can say ‘Powder Day!’ People everywhere fighting for a turn. So I guess, like Susan, I was ‘over it’ too. That day; but not now. A terribly dry ski season has made me a beggar. But I do believe that Alta was the best option.
Alta can get a lot more of their mountain open sooner than the ‘Bird, the singles line moves ten times faster than the tram line, and it's easy to find new friends if you’re solo. Snowbird is not the place to ski alone. Alta, oh, yeah. It's like the friendliest place in Utah.
I don't know what it is but no matter when I go, I always come home with the number of a new ski buddy. The people you ride up the lift with want to know you, want to know your story, they ski at your level and they're happy to share a run or two or the rest of the day with you. That doesn't happen anywhere else. Ask anyone who has skied there. They'll all agree.
Wheels Of A Plan
The wheels of my plan began to turn. I’d fight the traffic in the morning, ski Alta, but then check into the Alta Lodge so that when the next wave of snow hit overnight and shut down the road, I’d be booting up while everyone else was doing the auto mambo up the Canyon.
I could have tried for a room at the Rustler, the Goldminer’s Daughter, the Snow Pine, or the Alta Peruvian, but I feel at home at the Alta Lodge. Anyone who stays there does. The Lodge first opened its doors to overnight guests in 1940 and I could swear the kids of some of those skiers are dining at the table next to us.
Generations of skiers return annually either to vacation or work. Some might complain that the ambiance lacks the glitz of a Ritz or Regis but there's an old money elegance here in the simple halls and décor that keeps you from ever thinking you're slumming it.
The rooms are clean and quiet, and the food itself is some of the best around. Even if you don’t have a room, you can pop in for dinner or breakfast. Though the employees are all ski bums, they're alert and friendly. Our server at dinner (the Sunday buffet is included with your room) chatted with us about the tight parking situation around the Lodge before retelling the story of how he stood in line for two hours waiting for Collins to open.
It never did. I almost had a similar experience early in the day but chose to ski the Sugarloaf side of the resort rather than hope for a ride up Collins.
I met up with friends at the ropet ow to Sunnyside lift but nearly fell over when I saw the line. It was the longest I'd ever seen at the triple. That's what you get when Collins isn't open on a powder day. Everyone was hungry for the reported 23-inches of fluff. We strategically split up to ride ‘single’ and loaded in less than five minutes. We were skiing soft chunder in ten minutes. The wait was nothing while the skiing was everything.
Oops, A Faceshot
I got a faceshot! No way, a real faceshot. It was like the first powder day of the season all over again. It had been a month since I skied snow this deep. Last year, we had freshies every day. The trick today was getting around the mountain without the resort's main lift. The opening of EBT to the top of Collins made it easier. We looped around from Sugarloaf and skied under Collins, Greeley and Eagles Nest.
The cold wind kept the snow soft and buttery. It felt dense but not heavy. You floated and arced with ease today. Hero snow. My grin nearly cracked my goggles. I'd share photos but they would all show nothing but a white square.
The road was open when I checked into the Lodge, but the snow was falling hard outside. The sign on the front desk stated it would close at 6 a.m. with an “interlodge” at 6:30 a.m. No cars up or down, no people moving between the lodges or from their rooms to the resort.
All would be still while the snowpack was tested. Crews would blast the northside of the Canyon to check for stability. If something slid, it would need to be cleared. Not only would cars and people get in the way, they could be seriously injured.
My calculations were correct. The road actually closed at midnight due to this latest assault and didn’t reopen until 8:45 a.m. I’d be first in line at Collins (which was fixed); I’d get first tracks in an area that hadn’t been touched in 24 hours (that’s 40 inches), and the rest of the Utah ski world would turn green with envy the way I do when I’m stuck in that Canyon traffic, knowing those lucky overnight guests were getting first dibs. Teehee. It was about time.
Photos by Jill Adler