Days 60-61: Exceeding expectations
The week's snowfall total was 26.5 inches by Saturday, with most of that coming in a little over a foot on Thursday. I missed skiing on Friday, so I figured that I'd be getting little more than sloppy seconds on Saturday.
I'm very happy to have been wrong. Very little terrain baked on Friday, so weekend warriors on Saturday were treated to three inches of new snow topping old tracks from Friday that still remained soft. And much to my pleasant surprise, there was nobody there.
The same can't be said for Snowbird. I know that I've said several times this season that the crowds were deeper at Snowbird than at Alta, but this weekend the difference was remarkable. We ventured over for a few laps in Mineral. We had hoped to follow the long, long traverse out Road to Provo, across Pipeline Bowl, the Rastas, Whoopsies and Bass Benches to reach the top of the closed Gad 2 lift, but they had that closed at the Knucklehead. It's just as well, for at the same time that every lift at Alta was ski-on there was a 20-minute long full maze to board Little Cloud.
Sunday morning at Alta was somewhat creepy. First of all, once again there was no one there. Second, it was their last day of regular operations this season. Alta will reopen for two bonus weekends with only Collins and Sunnyside running, but that's it. Most of the lodges closed after today, including GMD which serves as the de facto day lodge on the Wildcat side. And it happened with a 106-inch base, as deep as we've had all season. Even in this crappy year we're now knocking on the door of 400 inches of snowfall, in sharp contrast to Colorado's Front Range where I've heard that Copper logged only 160 inches and Keystone a measly 120 inches. Vail closed today with only 600 of their over 5,000 acres skiable while all of Little Cottonwood Canyon is skiable border to border. Perhaps that's why I've bumped into so many Coloradans on the lifts over the last few weeks, including yet another Denverite today named Rudy who laughed repeatedly when I mentioned how disappointing this season has been. "You don't know bad," Rudy told me, adding that he only bothered to get four days on his Intrawest Copper/Winter Park pass this season. "You Utahans are just spoiled."
We picked up another two inches after closing Saturday evening, which freshened surfaces beautifully. Honestly, the snow didn't wet anywhere other than the flats at the very bottom of Snowbird. Everywhere else remained full-on winter snow.
For the second day in a row we played on both sides of the border. About a month ago the Alta Shuttle pulled the plug on bus runs after a couple of jackasses with anger management issues ruined it for everyone. So if you drop off the Wildcat Ridge into Peruvian Gulch you now can choose only between walking/hitching back to Alta or riding Snowbird's lifts. And with the Peruvian chair closed for several weeks you either board the Tram or ski all the way down to Gadzoom and work your way back via that lift, Little Cloud and Mineral Basin.
We dropped into Keyhole at 10:30 a.m. Bobby Danger and AmyZ went to Keyhole proper, while a stray dog we picked up named Dana went to "Keyhole right" with me. FYI Dana could really rip, especially considering that his skis lacked edges on either side anymore underneath the entire boot of both skis. What we found was a line down through Keyhole that lacked any tracks whatsoever. Not even a patrol track. I've never experienced that before.
Dana headed down the Blackjack Road to walk back to Alta while the rest of us headed for the Tram. Like I said, Alta was once again deserted today (Dana called it a "country club" day without a road closure) but when we saw the Tram line out the door and past the ticket windows onto the plaza, I said "to hell with that" and we walked back up Heart Attack Hill to glide down to Gadzoom once again.
After riding Little Cloud to regain the summit we dropped into Mineral to skier's right of Lone Star. The first couple of hundred verts were divine, but below that was a punchy death crust that was absolutely horrid. Several hundred survival turns later we returned to Baldy Express to head back to Snowbird East.
rdwore called from Little Cloud as we were having lunch at Watson Shelter back at Alta. He arrived after we had finished eating but he had yet to eat and insisted upon doing so. He's really got to get his schedule in sync.
While rdwore ate we went back to repeat our Keyhole run. This time we all headed to Keyhole proper, and although now tracked up there were still wide swaths of untracked snow to be had. By the time we reached Gadzoom rdwore had finished lunch, and we agreed to meet at the bottom of MBE.
Bobby dropped off the Path to Paradise just shy of the gun tower, while AmyZ and I found that the triange bounded by the road, White Diamonds and Powder Paradise had barely been touched. Bobby reported that the wind had obscured the crust found earlier, so when rdwore failed to materialize at the bottom of MBE we went up for another lap. Sure enough, the stiff breeze had now sifted in new cover and it was skiing exceptionally well. Shin deep wind sift. Amazing what a difference it made without any new snow falling at all.
The windier side of the ridge, however, was in Little Cloud, and once we retrieved rdwore we went back for a lap under the chair. It had now been buffed smooth and we did a non-stop high speed thigh burner top to bottom. It was so good we went back for more in Puckerbrush and down into Eddie Moe's, which also still had acres of untracked snow.
It was now 3:15 p.m. and it was time to work our way back to Snowbird East once again. We noticed, though, that the terrain to skier's left of MBE had also sifted in and was barely touched. Traversing over from the top of Little Cloud we were skiing even more untracked snow, right down to the lower Chamonix Chutes beneath the bottom of Baldy Express that had been bare ground only a week ago.
We reached the Taliban Checkpoint at Sugarloaf Pass right at 3:30. Alta officials had pulled the automated gates and were graciously welcoming a large party of snowboarders for their annual poach of Alta.
We headed out the High T to ski West Rustler at 4 p.m. Near the end of the T we encountered one of the boarders complaining about how painful the traverse is on a board, merely reinforcing my belief that Alta would positively suck on a board.
We skied Annie's, which even at this hour on a mid-April afternoon still sported true winter snow. Divine. People were gathering atop High Boy for the party, but it was smaller than normal and I expect that the main party will be at the end of the month. I only saw a half dozen or so tailgates going in the parking lot, although the "Frank" party on Wildcat was raging.
Returning to the base I encountered a sad scene. All of the patio furniture had been pulled already from GMD.
I went inside, grabbed my shoes and coffee mug and changed on the bench outside. Changing inside wasn't an option.