Thursday, February 28, 2013

Out 'n About in SLC

Kim and I had nearly a full day to kill before our evening flight home.  Since we'd spent most of our vacation skiing, this was our opportunity to check out the sights in Salt Lake City.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

The site of the 2002 Olympics!

First up - a visit to the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Cauldron Park.  A huge fan of the Olympics, I was super-excited to see the very stadium that held the XIX Olympic Winter Games opening and closing ceremonies.

(And you finally get to see a photo of me without my blue ski coat and helmet!  You now know what I normally look like).

The Olympic Cauldron

The Olympic Cauldron Park is located next to the Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus.  The main attraction, of course, is the cauldron, lit for the duration of the 2002 winter games.  It was designed to look like an icicle to compliment the motto of the 2002 Olympics, Light the Fire Within, and its Fire and Ice theme.

Channeling my inner freestyle skier

A fence encircles one end of the stadium, decorated with colorful panels.  I later learned (thanks to Wikipedia) that there are 17 panels on this fence, one for each day of the Olympics.  The interior sides of the panels describe the highlights of each particular day, and the outer images are the same ones that adorned buildings in Salt Lake City during the games.

Colorful images decorated the fence

Of course, I only took photos of the panels with skiers. :)  (Not really, these two just turned out the best).

Another fence view

At the fence's far end, stood a intricate sculpture.  I later learned that this beautiful artwork, known as the Hoberman Arch, was originally located in the Olympics Medal Plaza downtown.  It was used as a backdrop for the Olympic medal ceremonies, and also as a concert venue.  After the Olympics ended, it was moved to this present location.

The Hoberman Arch

After walking the length of the fence, and peering at the cauldron through its bars, Kim and I decided to check out the visitor center.  The place was deserted.  As a matter of fact, we startled the one man working there when he walked out of a store room and saw us.  We got the impression this place doesn't see many visitors anymore (well, the SLC games were over 10 years ago).

There really wasn't much to see.  The only things on display were a collection of photographs from the 2002 games, and a torch in a glass case.  Supposedly, you could watch a movie, but the theater was roped off, and didn't look like it had seen recent use.

Snowy day at the Cauldron Park

Kim spotted a set of doors that opened to the courtyard where the cauldron resided.  She asked the visitor center host if we could go outside, and the man seemed surprised at our request.  He made the comment that almost nobody ever wanted to go out there.  But he was fine with us exploring the plaza.  Out we went again, into the snow (no one had bothered to shovel the walks, probably due to the lack of visitors).  Kim joked about us making "first tracks."

Not much happening today

The cauldron's base was fenced off, so we weren't able to get very close.  It was surrounded by some sort of concrete wall.  Everything was covered in snow, so I wasn't able to tell what it was.  Later (again via research on Wikipedia) I learned that this is supposed to be a plaza with a reflecting pool.  The names of all the 2002 medalists are engraved in stones at its base.

The cauldron looked shabby and dirty.  It didn't appear to get much use anymore.  I suppose interest has waned, since its been many years since the 2002 games.  Still, it was very cool to see an actual Olympic cauldron, live and in person.

Fountain in City Creek Center

Our Olympic quest complete, Kim and I hopped on the TRAX light rail train and headed for downtown.  Both being nerdy transportation engineers, we had a field day checking out all the light rail infrastructure, and comparing it to Portland's system.  Of course, we also took note of the curb ramps, sidewalks, and street paving (we're such geeks!)

Retractable roof in City Creek Shopping Center

Downtown SLC has a fabulous new shopping center, called City Creek.  It takes up nearly four blocks, and is interconnected through skybridges.  The ceiling boasts a retractable roof, that I'm assuming is opened on beautiful summer days.  There are fountains in two plazas, and an actual rock-lined creek trickles through the center.  Kim and wandered the many levels of this mall, admiring the beautiful decor.

Salt Lake LDS Temple

Directly across the street from City Creek, was Temple Square, world HQ of the LDS church.  Although neither of us are Mormon, Kim and I were still interested in checking it out.  Having visited SLC as a teenager, I recalled that the Salt Lake Temple was a stunningly beautiful building. 

Close up of intricate details

Temple Square was a lovely place.  Although the dead of winter, the grounds were immaculately maintained, every walk shoveled.  And the temple was just as breathtaking as I remembered.

Golden angel Moroni on top

The temple was encircled with a fence.  Only LDS members are allowed inside.  Kim and I went into one of the visitor centers, and it had a interesting set of exhibits that described the temple construction.  Being nerdy civil engineers, Kim and I ate that up. 

An impressive building!

This magnificent building took 40 years to complete.  Starting in 1853, granite stone for the temple was mined from nearby Little Cottonwood Canyon.  It was constructed by church members.  Imagine building such a large intricate structure without the modern tools and equipment we have today.  An impressive feat!

Kin checks out the founders statues

Back outside, Kim and I wandered the nearby plazas, stopping to read inscriptions on a statue or two.

Smaller church building

I thought this smaller church building especially pretty.  Not sure what it's used for, though.  We were kind of hoping to catch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in rehearsal, but no such luck.

Pano view of Temple Square

I was kind of glad to be here in wintertime.  With leafless trees, you could see all the buildings through the bare branches.  But I'm sure this place is especially beautiful in the spring and summer when flowers and plants are in full bloom.

Angel glimpse through the branches

Heading to the airport later in the day, Kim and I reminisced about our successful trip.  Although not the abundance of fresh powder we'd hoped for, the skiing was still loads of fun.  The people of Utah were wonderful - extremely friendly and helpful.  Nothing but excellent service everywhere we went.  And our motel staff were amazing; I highly recommend the Crystal Inn at Midvale.  The people who work here totally rock!

I hope to return again and ski more of Utah's resorts.  Maybe next time I'll get lucky and hit the powder jackpot. 

Linking to:  Sunny Simple Sunday.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Solitude - The Fun Continues

I'm ba-ack!  Time for part two of my Utah adventure.

After two days at Alta, Kim and I were ready for more.  Time to check out another Salt Lake City ski area.  But which one?

Although I really wanted to ski Snowbird, it looked very crowded and full of snowboarders (since they weren't allowed at next-door Alta).  And someone on the lift told us all the snowboarders also like to go to Brighton.  But one young man recommended we try Solitude.  He said after Alta it was his favorite resort in the SLC area.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Back on the slopes!

So our decision was made.  Solitude here we come!  But first, we had to dry all our gear, wet from two straight days of skiing.  How does one dry out wet boots and gloves when staying in a motel?  Well, you improvise a little.  We slid an end table in front of our room heater, and propped our boots on top.  Worked like a charm.

But first we gotta dry our gear

That evening the clouds opened up and zillions of white flakes fell from the sky.  It dumped snow all night.  In the morning we woke to five inches of sparkly fluff on the ground.  Kim and I were giddy - powder day!

Kim at Solitude

Solitude Mountain Resort is located in Big Cottonwood Canyon.  It's the next canyon over from Alta/Snowbird.  Although such smaller than Alta, it looked to have some nice terrain.  Still very close to town, our bus whisked us to Solitude's Moonbeam base in no time.

The beautiful scenery from Solitude's slopes

What a beautiful place!  Although it lacked the steep, craggy mountains of Alta, Solitude was surrounded by wide, gentle mountains covered in aspens.  The canyon here was wider and the views more open.  The slopes were meticulously groomed, the Moonbeam Lodge gorgeous.  On top of everything, the slopes were covered with a thick blanket of new-fallen snow.

Lots of nice aspen trees

The day was frigid.  I didn't check the temperature because I was afraid to know how cold.  But we'd traveled here to ski, so Kim and I bundled up in our warmest layers and donned face masks.  Feeling like Michelin Men, my ski-buddy and I hit the lifts.

After a couple "warm-up" (ha-ha) runs, I suggested we hop on the Powderhorn II Lift.  It appeared to reach the top of an adjacent ridge where the skiing looked good.  Well, I've never been on such a slow chair in my life!  It plodded along at a snail's pace, an excruciatingly long ride in the bitter cold.  Both Kim and I's feet, hands and faces became numb.  Upon finally reaching the terminus and exiting, Kim adamantly declared she was not riding that lift again.    

Kim shows off her fat powder skis

I was sorry Kim felt that way, because off the ridge was some fun steeps covered with soft, fluffy pow.  I had a great run down to the bottom, then we headed to the Eagle Express Lift to check out things in its neighborhood.

Kim and I had discussed demo'ing some fat powder skis while in Utah.  But meager snowfall the prior two days hadn't quite warranted spending the bucks.  However, with today's ample white stuff, we hit Solitude's ski shop first thing, and were each outfitted with some wide boards.  It was great fun to blast through the new snow on some fatties.

Skiing down from the summit

Kim and I traveled all over Solitude's slopes, checking things out.  For a Sunday in February, we were amazed to find hardly any lift lines.  The place was full of families, which gave it a nice, relaxed atmosphere. 

Good friends and good times

For most of the morning, we explored the trails off the Eagle Express lift.  Lots of nice runs, but you had to be careful - some trails were full of huge moguls (almost Dolly Parton size!).  I made the mistake more than once turning into a run that was nothing but bump alley.  I don't mind skiing moguls, but Kim is not a fan.  Since I value her friendship, I quickly learned to look downslope first.

Solitude panorama (click to enlarge)

After a mid-morning warm up (our feet were freezing!) and more trips up Eagle Express, Kim and I decided to check out the other side of the resort.  We skied over to the Sunrise Lift and caught it en route to the Summit Chair.  The Summit chair was an old two-person buttwhapper lift, and loading was an adventure in itself.  But once on the very top, we took in the marvelous views.  Big Cottonwood Canyon spread out before us.  I hungrily looked down Honeycomb Canyon, but the steep, treed slopes weren't Kim's cup of tea.  So we made a couple of nice runs down the summit's front side.

Photographic proof that Kim skied the trees!

By then it was nearing 2:00 and our tummies were grumbling.  Time to ski down to the base lodge for some chow!  I soon discovered there was only one way down, via a run named "Deer Trail."  Following the other skiers, I didn't realize this trail flattens out dramatically (even going slightly uphill for a short distance).  I ran out of momentum, and ended up skating and poling a long ways.  Poor Kim was already tired, and I could almost hear her behind me muttering the "b" word.

Me and the tree get close

But we got down safely, and found a beautiful slopeside lodge with great food.  Our tummies happy once again, for our final hour I decided we should take some runs off of the Apex Lift.  But by now the nice fluffy powder had all been skied off, revealing old, icy snow underneath.  Not a fan of ice, I decided to check out a pretty aspen glade between the trails.  Although chewed up, the snow was still soft.  And the forest had ample gaps between trees.  A good place for the beginning tree skier.  It was so much fun, I even convinced Kim to give it a try.  And she liked it.  (See Kim, tree skiing is a blast!)

Love this sign!

By 3:30, we were cold and tired.  Three days of skiing in a row had taken its toll.  But I was so proud of Kim - she hung in there like a trooper!  Since we had some time to kill before the bus arrived, Kim and I hit the watering hole at the Moonbeam Lodge.  The bar had some signs on the wall advertising local beers.  I've seen many microbrews with creative names, but "Yard Sale Lager" is now my very favorite!  (And for those of you who don't ski, "yard sale" is slang for a wipeout so epic it scatters gear all over the slope.)

The perfect way to end a day of skiing!

I enjoyed my day at Solitude.  Although a smaller resort, it had a nice variety of runs, beautiful new lodges, friendly people, and small crowds.  (All they need to do is work on those slow, buttwhapper lifts!)

Cheers to three fabulous ski days in Utah!  But the fun wasn't over quite yet.  Although Kim and I were scheduled to fly home the next day, our flight didn't leave 'till evening.  That gave us most of the day to do something.  Time to see the sights in Salt Lake City!   

I'll tell you all about it in my next blog post......  :)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Utah Ski Pilgrimage

As mentioned in a previous post, my hubby and I take big trips to celebrate milestone birthdays.  For my 40th B-day, I chose a ski trip to Whistler, BC.  Two weeks ago, I got an early start on the big 5-0 festivities with a ski-o-rama excursion to someplace I've always wanted to visit - Alta Ski Area, near Salt Lake City, Utah.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

I'm in Alta!

Every ski movie, magazine, or other publication always touts Alta as "the" place to go.  It's a highly-regarded skiers mecca.  Of course, Utah's also famous for it's snow, reputed to be "the greatest snow on earth."   Not only wishing to experience the legendary light and fluffy powder, I'd also read that Alta is a skiers mountain - no snowboarders allowed.  A resort without boarders?  I'm so there!

Waiting for the bus

Because Roger doesn't ski anymore, I recruited my friend and best ski buddy, Kim to join me for this latest adventure.  We've both had Utah on our snow-riding bucket list.

Kim and I flew into SLC, and the next morning found us waiting outside our motel for the bus to Alta.

Foggy, snowy morning

Getting to the mountain was super easy.  Salt Lake City has several ski resorts located a short distance from town.  Their city bus system has regular routes to many of the resorts.  It was a piece of cake - hop a bus, stow your skis (there are custom bins for equipment storage inside), sit back and relax.  Before you know it, the bus is pulling in to the ski area of your choice.

Surface rope tow transports skiers between lodges

Alta greeted us with overcast, snowy skies.  It wasn't the best photographic conditions.  But the good news - it was snowing!  The bad news - visibility wasn't great.  Not exactly the best conditions for finding your way around a new resort.

But Kim and were super-excited to be at the famous Alta.  We poured over the trail maps, trying to decide where to ski first.  From Albion Base, we traveled to the Sugarloaf Lift.  This chair took us to the top of a ridge, and we skied down the other side to Wildcat Base. 

The original Collins Chairlift

We took a couple of laps down runs paralleling the Collins chair.  Although a small amount of snow had fallen, things were getting skied off quickly.  And underneath the fluff was a layer of hard, slippery ice. Just like back home in Oregon!

Kim can't believe she's in Alta!

Kim was having a tough time.  Her edges weren't catching on the icy slopes.  So we took a break and dropped her skis off at one of the Wildcat Base repair shops for a quick sharpening.  It was a cold day, so I didn't mind an early coffee/tea break.  A hot beverage in the belly does wonders.

Brief afternoon sun lights up a distant mountain

With sharp skis and warm bodies, Kim and I set out again on our quest to conquer the slopes.  We had more fun trips down trails beside the Collins Lift, and I even ducked into the trees a time or two.  I found the snow was best there - the groomed runs were fast getting skied off and icy.  The snow let up mid-day and the visibility improved.  The weather allowed us a few glimpses of the amazing mountains that line Little Cottonwood Canyon.

It's dumping snow!

About halfway through the first day I had a sudden realization.  I hadn't seen a snowboarder!  Just skiers here.  It was nice not having to worry about boarders hurtling out of the trees, and coming within inches as they passed you by.  And the snow on the slopes didn't seem as bumped up or irregular as it gets in other resorts that allow snowboarders.  I could get used to this!

The end of a wonderful day one

Kim and I skied through lunch and finally took a break around 2:00.  By then the snowfall had resumed and it was dumping hard.  Visibility waned, and the temps plummeted.   Cold and hungry, we stumbled into Alf's Restaurant, one of the many slopeside dining options.

City bus ski racks

After a great lunch, Kim and I returned outside to a couple inches of new, fluffy powder.  It had all fallen during the short time we'd taken for lunch.  The snow was so beautiful, I just had to take some photos.  Then we clicked into our skis for the best run of the day.

Sunset over the mountains

Kim and I hustled to catch our bus in time.  Heading back, the bus made many stops along Little Cottonwood Canyon, first two stops at Alta and then three stops at Snowbird ski area.  By the time we left the canyon, our ride was full to the brim.

The day's heavy snowfall had taken its toll on the roads.  Since there's only one road into and out of the canyon, two ski areas worth of traffic emptying out combined with the slippery, snowy roads made for a traffic jam of epic proportions.  It took our bus two hours before we finally arrived back at our motel (a trip that is supposed to take about 40 minutes).  But exiting the bus, I glimpsed a beautiful sight.  The setting sun colored some nearby mountains a lovely shade of pink.  Too good to pass up, I dropped my equipment on the spot and captured a couple of photos (much to Kim's amusement).

Day two crowd - skiers only

Now the big question was where to ski our second day.  Kim and I purchased a "Salt Lake Super Pass" which allowed us one lift ticket per day at our choice our four local resorts (Alta, Snowbird, Brighton or Solitude) and also included bus transportation.  (A killer deal!)  So.....should we try a different resort, or go back to Alta?  The decision was not too hard.  We has so much fun at Alta (loved the lack of snowboarders!) and wanted to explore more of this resort.  So the following day found us back at Alta in a much larger lift line (it was Saturday and fresh snow had fallen overnight).

Kim heads down the slope

The night before, a large group of people from the Alabama Ski Club checked into our motel (yes, I know, I was surprised to learn there are skiers in Alabama too).  A bunch of club members joined us on our bus ride the next day.  They were an interesting group.  One portly old man sat next to me and for the entire trip bragged about his double black diamond skiing abilities.  The guy didn't look like he'd make it down the bunny slope.  It was the longest bus trip of my life - I was never so glad to arrive!
Visibility was much better on day two.  The surrounding mountains came out from behind the foggy clouds.  Rising almost vertically from the canyon's base, they were craggy beauties.  Exiting the lift, Kim and I were treated to some amazing views.  Add to it a couple inches of new snow, and we had ourselves a great morning.

Powder happiness

Although my birthday wasn't until the following week, Kim brought a festive helmet cover along for me to wear.  It was a pink, frilly princess hat.  Deciding today was time to celebrate, I wore the thing all day.  It was funny to see people's reactions.  A few guessed it was my B-day, some laughed (especially little kids), and I got birthday cheers from my new friends in the Alabama Ski Club.  But most folks didn't say a word.  I didn't see anyone else wearing wacky attire.  People at Alta are much too serious!  (Back on Mt. Hood, I see funny stuff all the time)

I model my birthday princess hat

Studying the trail map, Kim and I discovered a place we'd yet to visit, the Supreme Lift.  So off went my ski buddy and I to explore yet another new area.  We soon found out this lift was not a high speed quad.  Getting onto the chair was an experience in itself.  Skiers slid out onto a conveyor that transported them a short distance before the chair whipped around and - whap! - scooped up its passengers.  The first time Kim and I loaded onto the lift, we were so surprised by the speed and force of the chair, we both squealed (providing the liftie a good laugh I'm sure!)  Thereafter we dubbed this lift the "buttwhapper."

Vacation homes in the middle of the ski area!

The Supreme Lift offered lots of great skiing options.  There were hike-to areas with steep cliffs for the more adventurous.  But Kim and I stuck to the official trails.  I did peel off and try a couple of tree runs, but found them riddled with crusty, huge moguls.  By afternoon the meager snow that had fallen overnight was pretty well tracked out.

One interesting thing about this area of Alta - we discovered a bunch of vacation rental homes right in the middle of the ski runs.  I don't know how renters access these places as I didn't see any driveways (snowcat maybe?).  But they were fabulous houses.  Looked like a great place to park yourself after a hard day playing in the snow (ski-in, ski out!)

Could my smile be any bigger?

After another late lunch at Alf's, (and fending off a weird old man that plopped himself at our table with the line: "you girls must be expert skiers.  I was hoping to poach a lesson."  Ick!) Kim and I concluded another wonderful day at Alta.

Tomorrow was our final day of skiing.  Kim and I both agreed we should try one of the other resorts.  But which one?

Stay tuned -  my next blog post will answer that question and more!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Superbowl Ski Weekend

Many football fans (including my husband) can't wait for Superbowl Sunday.  But for me, it's one of the best days to go skiing.  Everyone's so busy with parties and game watching, sparse crowds at resorts are guaranteed. 

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Football?  No way!

I normally travel to Bend and ski Mt. Bachelor at least twice a season.  Possessing a four time pass for the resort, I wanted to be sure to use it up.  The planets aligned, and Superbowl weekend became clear on my calendar.

The heck with football - it was time to ski!

Dale and Max on the summit

Friday evening found me on the road to Bend.  Bright and early Saturday morning I was on the lift heading up the side of Mt. Bachelor.  I was delighted to have my brother Dale and his son Max join me for the day.

Dale makin' turns

Coming off a successful photo recon the prior week, I again packed my DSLR, hoping to capture some action shots of my brother and nephew.

And here comes Max!

I couldn't believe how much Max had grown.  He's wearing the same shoe size as his dad, and is rapidly approaching Dale's height.  Max has really improved in skiing too.  He had no problem keeping up with his old aunt.

Proof that I made it to the summit

Saturday was a beautiful warm, blue-sky kind of day.  Hard to believe it was early February!  The clear conditions meant Mt. Bachelor Resort opened the Summit Lift.  Of course, we had to ride up and check things out.

More proof I was on the summit

From 9,000 feet on top of Mt. Bachelor, the views couldn't be beat!  Photo ops abounded.  Dale even got a couple shots of me to prove I was actually there.  (And for those of you who wonder how I tote my DSLR when skiing - the fanny pack around my waist is where the "big girl" camera resides.  It's a fairly safe spot.  My skiing falls are usually to the side or back.  And in the unlikely event I fall forward, I figure there's enough blubber around my belly to protect the camera).

Dale and Max take in the amazing views

The ski down offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains to the north, and high desert plains to the east.  Most snow-riders whip quickly down Summit's steep slopes.  But Dale, Max and I took our sweet time.

The chairlift ride isn't bad either

Lots of great scenery to enjoy!  As long as the weather's nice, I don't mind the long lift ride.

Looks like you're heading up to heaven

This shot is looking towards the summit proper.  Kind of appears as though you're heading straight up to the pearly gates!

The mountain views can't be beat

Of course the best view from anywhere on the resort is of the Three Sisters and Broken Top Mountains.  Absolutely jaw-dropping!  This is one panorama I never tire of seeing.

The cone covered in tracks

Superbowl Sunday morning, found me back on Bachelor's slopes.  This time I was solo.  The prior days skiing had tuckered out Dale and Max.  It was another incredible bluebird day.  The first glimpse I had from the parking lot was of the cinder cone's intricate snow patterns, made by many ski tracks.

Bachelor's summit shadows

Bachelor's summit shimmered in the early morning light.  The shadows made it look almost blue.

Here comes the sun

I headed over to the Northwest Express Lift.  The trails off of Northwest are long, steep and super-fun.  Although the lower portions were nicely groomed, the price of admission was surviving a swath of Dolly Parton-sized moguls on the very top.  Bumping through those deep, crusty obstacles was a true challenge.

Looking east from Northwest Express Lift

But once through the mogul field, it was a fast, easy cruise to the bottom.  The lower runs were so much fun, I nearly forgot about the difficult moguls on top.  That is, until starting back down the run again.

Skiing towards the cone

Sunday was just as great as the previous day.  Although I didn't count the number of runs, or vertical feet descended, I know I got my money's worth out of that pass!

Heading down the mountain about 3:00, I walked through my brother's front door just as the Superbowl was starting.  But I couldn't stay - it was time to head home to Portland.  On the road the entire time, I didn't see a bit of the big game.

But a fantastic weekend skiing in Central Oregon will always trump the Superbowl.  Let the tradition continue!