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!


  1. Loved this! I seriously love the Little Cottonwood Canyon and Utah's rugged, amazing mountains! Wish the conditions had been better for you though that first day.
    Eagerly awaiting part 2...
    Blessings, Aimee
    PS: Sunsets, even in the warmer months of the year, on the Wasatch Mtns. are beautiful too...saw one where the mountains looked golden :-)

  2. Nicely done- beautiful country

  3. One of the most wonderful things about blogging (IMHO) has been the opportunity to follow along with others on adventures I'll never do. I'll never be a skier, but have caught the excitement from you. This is fabulous and that picture of the sun on the mountains is captivating. Oddly enough, we enjoy visiting ski areas in the OFF season and this is certainly one that is on our list. We loved the two days we spent exploring Telluride a couple of years ago in MAY!! Anxiously awaiting the rest of the adventure. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  4. First of all very Happy Birthday wishes!! I'm so glad that you are fulfilling a special wish for your special birthday!! Sounds wonderful I have only been skiing once in Switzerland so I know nothing about it but am so enjoying your pictures and commentary. Thank you so much for taking us with you! Joan

  5. Happy birthday - what an awesome way to spend it too. You sure look like you're having a great time!

  6. Loved the hat. I don't think your smile could get any bigger. Happy Birthday.

  7. Great post! I love the Cottonwood Canyons so much. We're getting fat flakes here in the valley today, so hopefully you'll have lots of great powder by tomorrow!

  8. Mm... That sunset over the mountains looks pretty impressive. Worth investigating with a camera and tripod one day!

  9. Looks like a fun time. That sunset was worth the trip alone I think


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