Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Crystal Mountain

The third stop on this winter's "IKON pass ski tour" was Crystal Mountain Resort, in the neighboring state of Washington.  After flying to our destinations the previous two ski junkets, I was happy this trip didn't require air travel - the resort was a relatively short four-hour drive from home.

Enjoying adult beverages at the bar

It was round three of the "Adventures of Kim and Linda."  Leaving on Valentine's Day, we abandoned our hubbies for this ski trip.  Taking a leisurely drive up Interstate 5 and then eastward through a few Seattle suburbs, we arrived at our destination by mid-afternoon.  After checking in to our very small (and expensive!) base area hotel room, Kim and I wandered across a large parking lot to check out Crystal Mountain's day lodge.  At the bar, we celebrated our safe arrival with a round of adult beverages.

Cute, alpine-themed buildings

The wind had picked up during the last leg of our drive and by the time we arrived at Crystal Mountain it was absolutely howling.  I felt sorry for the folks who were still out skiing!  With that wind it had to be absolutely bone-chilling cold.  Not long after sitting down in the bar, we began to notice snowflakes swirling in the air.  By the time we walked back across the parking lot to find dinner, the skies were dumping snow.

There wasn't much for dining options at Crystal Mountain's base area.  Kim and I had the choice of an expensive German-themed restaurant or a deli.  Naturally, we chose the lower-priced deli, but it still wasn't cheap.  We shared a mediocre plate of nachos and washed them down with $12 beers. (Yes, each!)  

This is what 10 inches of overnight snow looks like

The next day dawned to a thick coating of fluffy powder snow.  I was pleased to see that a whopping 10 inches had fallen overnight.  It completely covered my car, parked along the road outside our hotel.  I was giddy.  Can you say powder day?  

Like many of the Pacific NW ski resorts this season, lower than normal snowfall had plagued Crystal Mountain.  As a matter of fact, upon reading a few dire conditions reports from their website, Kim and I almost pulled the plug on this trip.  But being within the "7-day no refund" window on our hotel by the time we thought about cancelling forced us to carry on.  Now I was glad we did!

It had snowed every day Kim and I had been in Utah, and we joked that now we'd also brought the snow to Crystal Mountain.  (Maybe they need to pay us to come here more often!)

Can you say powder day?

Crystal Mountain's parking lots were strung along their long entrance road.  A shuttle bus picked up skiers from each lot and ferried them to the lodge.  However, the lot closest to the lodge didn't offer any such transportation.  Unfortunately for us, that's where our hotel was situated.  Reaching the lifts would require a long trek across this icy parking lot in our ski boots.  I considered moving my car into the first lot to make a shorter walk, but a nearby resort worker told us this area was reserved for paid parking.  Apparently people pay $2,000 to park here for the season!

Kim and I were both miffed that our hotel didn't offer any kind of skier transport (especially for the price we paid!)  Although I opted to brave the walk in my ski boots, Kim wisely decided to carry her boots and change at the lodge.  (I've often joked that walking across an icy parking lot wearing ski boots and carrying your ski equipment should be an Olympic sport.)

Yes, the snow was great!

Fortunately we both made the trip across the parking lot with zero mishaps.  Kim went into the lodge to change into her boots and rent a locker to store her shoes.  I was practically salivating at all the fresh powder snow, so Kim told me to go ahead and take a couple runs and she'd catch up.

I jumped on Crystal's gondola and it whisked me to the very top of the mountain.  Having skied here twice in 2017 and '18 I remembered where to go upon disembarking.  Skies were cloudy and a bit foggy so the wonderful views this place was known for were practically nil.  But the snow amount and quality more than made up for that.  Although the early-bird skiers had tracked up most of the slopes already, I started down a run and had a great time swishing through the fluffy goodness.

Clouds parting at the summit

I did have one minor mishap - approaching the chairlift base, the slope began to flatten.  Being in fairly deep snow, I wasn't going fast enough to cut through it and something tripped me up (I blame a "snow snake!")  Before I knew what was happening, my skis stopped abruptly but my body continued forward and I skidded face-first into the snow.

Ugh - not a good way to start the day!  I picked myself up, dusted the snow off my goggles and helmet, and scooted uphill to retrieve my poles.  Luckily, nothing seemed to be hurt except my pride.

The nearby mountains were gorgeous

Kim rode up the gondola and we reunited at the top.  After a run here, we headed for the "Forest Queen" chairlift and spent most of the morning making laps down its powder-filled slopes.

Although the two areas we skied that day seemed to have adequate snowpack, I noticed the lower part of the mountain was a different story.  Grass and bushes poked up from a scant snow layer.  The lifts in the bottom third of the resort weren't running at all - despite the previous night's snowfall, there still wasn't enough coverage to safely ski.  Low snow amounts seemed to have affected the skier traffic coming to the resort.  Due to lack of skiers, we encountered scaled back services throughout - only one mid-mountain lodge was open, and the base area had just one dining establishment serving food and drink.

Cold temperatures kept the snow in good shape

Another thing Kim and I observed at Crystal Mountain - people were rude.  We were shuffling through the lift line when two young men on snowboards barged through, cutting in front of us so they could ride up with their buddies, without so much as an "excuse me."  And several times when Kim and I would stop at the side of a run to take a quick break (which is where you are supposed to stop instead of the middle of a run), skiers and boarders would fly by at high rates of speed, often missing us by inches.  The only ski patrol I saw the entire two days we skied at Crystal was a group working on someone who'd crashed and injured themselves.  Not sure if the resort cut back on ski patrol too?  Kim and I have skied at many different resorts, and we'd never witnessed such bad behavior as we did here.

Sunny skies the next day meant Mt. Rainier views

By midafternoon we both began to tire and the snow started to transform into bumpy moguls from all the skier traffic.  Moguls wear out already tired legs, so Kim and I decided to call it a day.  Following the designated run with adequate snow coverage all the way to the base got us safely back.  We ate a very early dinner in the day lodge and then spent the rest of the evening in our hotel room, watching the one channel we could get on our TV, and reading (me) or doing puzzles (Kim).  There wasn't much else to do unless you wanted to hang out in the dingy bar next to the deli (which we did not care to revisit.)

Another great mountain capture

The next morning dawned with clear skies.  Hooray - no visibility problems!  Kim and I traveled to the mountaintop once again because I wanted her to see the killer view of Mt. Rainier from the gondola's upper terminal.  And yes, it was a beautiful panorama of snowy peaks.  Mt. Rainier looked spectacular decked out in her finest white.  Unfortunately, the wind was absolutely howling across the ridge, blowing snow into our faces, so I stopped just long enough to snap two photos, before quickly descending to a lower, more wind-protected elevation.

The slopes were nicely groomed

Temperatures stayed cold enough overnight to preserve that the nice fluffy powder snow we'd enjoyed the day before.  Resort workers had transformed yesterday's bumpy surfaces into smooth groomed corduroy.  No moguls today!  It was easy skiing all morning, as we zipped effortlessly downhill.  The skies were bright blue, and the scenery spectacular.

Gotta get a ski selfie!

Today happened to be Friday.  Although we enjoyed short lift lines to begin with, it didn't last.  Word of new snow and people getting a jump on the weekend brought out the masses, and soon Kim and I found ourselves standing in long lines.  The slopes were also getting really crowded.  I don't care for lots of people flying by while I'm trying to ski.  I'm always afraid someone will plow into me.  Tired of fighting crowds, and knowing we had a long drive ahead, Kim and I decided to quit at noon and head home.

The weather was so nice, I didn't want to leave!

Crystal Mountain Resort got mixed reviews from both Kim and I.  Although it had lots of great - and very steep - terrain, a lot of the slopes weren't open due to lack of snow.  And a lot of the dining areas weren't open either.   It was like they'd already given up on the season.  The base area lodging didn't impress us at all.  Our room was old, worn, and extremely tiny - not worth the big bucks we spent.  It didn't even have a microwave oven, so we had to eat all our meals at the resort, which was expensive.  Breakfast options were extremely limited, and dinner wasn't much better.  We had to walk a far distance to get to the lifts, with no shuttle option.  And we found many of the people who recreate here rude, with no visible ski patrol presence to keep folks in line.

So, although we got to use our IKON passes again on a nearby Pacific NW resort, I doubt we'll return anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Blue Heron Day

Warning - if you're squeamish about photos of birds eating things or of snakes, you may want to skip over the first three images.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit a nearby nature preserve called Fernhill Wetlands.  Although this place is a wastewater facility for a nearby town, it has set aside several acres of wetlands for natural treatment.  These ponds and swamps attract lots of wildlife, especially birds.  It's a popular place for birders and wildlife photographers, like myself.

I've visited Fernhill for quite a few years, and my favorite time to visit is in the spring months, when migratory birds pass through and several other species hang around to rear their young.  

A great blue heron eating a snake

Upon my arrival, I'd no sooner started down the main path from the parking lot when I spotted a great blue heron (GBH) up ahead that had just caught a garter snake.  What a great start to my walk!  I got lots of good photo ops of the heron with the snake in his beak.  The GBH shook the poor reptile many times before finally gulping him down.

A little while later I came upon another snake-eating heron

After swallowing his lunch, the GBH flew away.  But I caught up with him a short time later on another path.  Again, he flew away.  Then I took a side trail to a pond overlook.  There, sitting in the water was another GBH (not sure if it was the same one) with a snake in his bill.  Another photography session ensued, until that snake went down the hatch.

Down the hatch!

I came out on one of the main paths, and there was another heron!  As he walked away, I watched him pick up another garter snake.  This one got quickly consumed, so I had to act fast.  But I managed to get a few shots of this guy too.  (I was beginning to think it was "Blue heron snake eating day.")

This GBH was just sitting in the water

The main path at Fernhill travels around a large lake.  As I was rounding the far side of this water body, another man traveling in the opposite direction struck up a conversation.  Seeing my camera with its large zoom lens always attracts attention, and often people will point out interesting wildlife sightings to me.  This man said he'd seen a GBH in the water just ahead that was acting strangely.  He told me to check it out.  Of course, I headed straight over to where he pointed.

Then he suddenly dived in

I came upon a GBH partially in the water.  Normally when these birds are hunting, they will stand stock still watching for prey with only their feet and legs are in the water.  This one had half his body submerged.  It appeared very odd.

And came back out

Then suddenly the bird dived head-first into the lake.  After a few seconds, the GBH popped back up in a huge spray of water.  It shook itself and fluffed its feathers.

Another dunking

At first, I though the GBH was hunting for fish.  But it kept diving and rising back up out of the water without anything in its bill.

I've never seen a GBH taking a bath before

After several iterations of this dive-and-resurface I realized the GBH was taking a bath.

Fluffing his feathers

I've seen lots of smaller birds splash around in puddles or birdbaths, but I'd never seen a GBH do anything like this.  It was really fun to watch this guy splash and fluff his feathers.  And the heron didn't seem to mind me taking photos.  Which was a good thing, as I clicked my shutter several dozen times.

A very soggy GBH

The GBH was backlit by the sun, so capturing these images was a bit tricky.  I had to overexpose the bird itself, and employ a quite bit of editing to get these photos.  But I really liked how they all turned out.  

I also caught this great egret in flight

To end the day, I was getting ready to leave when I spotted a white object at a nearby pond.  A great egret!  Hustling over, I arrived just in time to click a few shots of this lovely bird.  Then another man with a camera walked over and startled the bird.  But my camera was ready.  As the egret flew away I captured him in flight.  The man apologized for scaring the bird, but I told him it was okay because I'd gotten some great action shots.

Sorry I've gone so long between postings!  Life has been busy and blogging hasn't been high on the list lately.  But I'll get back to recapping a couple more ski trips and a hike or two.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Powder and Transportation Woes in SLC

Time to use those IKON passes again!

After a great trip to Steamboat, Kim and I planned to revisit another of our favorite places to ski - Salt Lake City, Utah.  We'd traveled there 11 years ago and had lots of fun at Alta and Solitude resorts.  It was high time for a return trip.  So we chose some days in early February and booked hotel and airline tickets.  Our IKON base passes granted us 5 days each at Brighton and Snowbird resorts, and unlimited days at Solitude.  (If we'd paid the extra bucks we could've skied Alta too, but there was already plenty of skiing to be had with those three.)

Ready to ski at Brighton!

A quick week and half after arriving home from Steamboat, Kim and I were on a plane again, this time a non-stop flight to Salt Lake City.  From the air, we were excited to see lots of snow coating the nearby Wasatch Mountains.  And more was forecast for the coming week.  Perfect!

The lodge and scenery at Brighton

Four popular ski areas are sited just east of the Salt Lake City Metro area.  Solitude and Brighton resorts are located down Big Cottonwood Canyon and Alta and Snowbird at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  From our past visit, we knew that Salt Lake City's transit authority ran buses down each canyon to reach these resorts.  We'd had a good experience accessing the slopes via the bus system and planned to do the same on this trip.

Kim enjoys the new snow

Kim and I picked a hotel that was near the entrance to Big Cottonwood Canyon.  It was a half mile away from the Big Cottonwood park and ride and about 5 miles to the Little Cottonwood Canyon bus stop.  Our chosen lodging offered a shuttle service to take skiers to the nearest bus stop - which sealed the deal for us. 

A few views between snow showers

So our first day dawned - chilly and a bit rainy.  But we'd heard snow was falling higher up at the resorts.  Kim and I planned to check out Brighton that day, and had dutifully made the required shuttle reservation with the hotel's front desk to ensure transportation to the bus stop.  We stood outside our hotel, waiting for the shuttle.  Our reservation time came and went.  The front desk woman said the shuttle was overbooked but would be "right back soon."  Kim and I waited a bit longer, but still no shuttle.  We'd already missed the first bus.  Finally, a van pulled up to the front door, and an apologetic driver quickly ushered us over to the park and ride.  Now to wait for a bus......

About noon it began dumping snow!

A bus pulled up, but it was so full the driver wasn't taking any more passengers.  So Kim and I were forced to wait longer.  Finally a second bus stopped, and although it too was full, the driver crammed us in anyway.  Kim and I had to stand, holding on to our skis with one hand, and the overhead handrail with the other.  Not fun!  To top things off, Big Cottonwood Canyon was a winding road, and each time the driver took a curve, we held on for dear life!  (The combination of a wet floor and slippery ski boots didn't help matters.)  Traffic was heavy in the canyon, and it took nearly an hour before our bus finally pulled up to Brighton's lodge.  I was never so glad to be off that cramped, stuffy bus.

Cute little log cabin beside one of the ski runs

Once outside all was nearly forgotten as we gaped at the swirling snow coming down.  After taking care of business (bathroom, water, trail map, etc.) Kim and I located a nearby lift that whisked us up the slopes.  

Long bus line - ugh!

It's always a bit of a challenge to find your way around a new ski area.  So it was with Brighton.  The overcast, foggy, snowy weather didn't help visibility, and we found trail signs few and far between.  But Kim and I wandered around until finally connecting with the "Snake Creek Express" lift.  The terrain off this area was nice, and the continually falling snow made for some great skiing.

Super-crowded bus to Solitude

Some overall impressions of Brighton - it was sprawled over several peaks, and getting around required long glides (and some skating) on flattish cat tracks to access everything.  As I mentioned before, it wasn't very well signed, so navigation was a bit challenging.  Also, there were tons of snowboarders!  Because snowboarding isn't allowed at Alta or nearby Deer Valley, they appeared to converge at this resort.  We also encountered a lot of beginner snow-riders - one young lady on a snowboard almost knocked me over as we got off a lift.  So overall it was okay, but not outstanding, and I don't think I'll be back anytime soon.

Solitude lodge

Finished for the day, Kim and I were a bit apprehensive about our bus ride home.  The huge line at the bus stop did nothing to allay our fears.  But lucky for us, we managed to score seats, and the trip back to our hotel went much more smoothly.

Smiles for a most excellent powder day

Day two - it had to get better, right?  Kim and I planned to visit Solitude, also down Big Cottonwood Canyon.  This time, our hotel shuttle was on time, and deposited us at the park and ride earlier than the previous day.  We hoped that would help our bus chances.  

Ski lift scenery

Sad to say, it did not.  One bus came by, packed to the gills, and couldn't take any more passengers.  Another bus arrived, and although already nearly full, let Kim and I and about six other folks board.  Then, although the driver said he was full, three more men shoved on, one nearly knocking Kim over.  This rude guy grabbed the handrail, his elbow almost in Kim's face.  We were mashed as tight as sardines.  When the bus took a corner, an adjacent guy pushed into me so hard, I had to hold on for dear life.  Heavy snowfall from the night before snarled traffic and our bus crept up the canyon.  It took a extremely long, hot, cramped hour to reach Solitude.  Our arms and hands ached from hanging on so tightly.  Today's ride was truly the bus from hell!

View down a ski run

Finally, we tumbled out of the overstuffed bus to a snowy Solitude resort.  Nearly 10 inches of snow had fallen and it looked wonderful.  After taking care of business, Kim and I boarded the closest chairlift and headed for the powder.  Thankfully, we'd skied here 11 years ago, and sort of remembered the resort layout.

Huge icicles on this building 

Due to all the bus and traffic delays, it was nearly 10:30 by the time we hit the slopes.  By this late morning hour, the nice, thick snowfall had been tracked up by skiers.  Although the slopes were rough and bumpy, the snow was soft and easy to cut through.  I loved bombing through the light powder.  But Kim, who preferred groomed runs, was having a hard time.

More snowy scenery

We took a break around noon for water and a granola bar.  Then Kim and I explored terrain off the Apex Express chairlift.  The runs over here were lined with beautiful aspen trees, their creamy tan trunks offering a bit of contrast to the white, swirling snow globe.


I really enjoyed skiing over here.  The snow was soft and the slopes a good angle for zipping through it.  Most of the crowds had gone in for lunch, so there were no lift lines.  But this constant up and down wore us out too, and after about an hour we took another break at a nearby lodge.

Loved the aspen-lined ski runs

With most of the lunch crowd now leaving, Kim and I snagged a large table.  With more seats than we needed, a man limped over and sat down.  We struck up a conversation and learned the poor guy had wiped out in the trees and broken his ankle.  After ski patrol patched him up, his buddies had left him here with food and water, with promises to meet up at day's end.

Kim shreds the pow!

Talking to that unfortunate man made Kim and I ski much more cautiously when we went back out.  After a few more runs, it was nearing 2:30 and after this morning's awful bus trip we were both having anxiety about the ride home.  So we decided to quit early in hopes of snagging a less-crowded bus.  There was still quite a line at the stop, but again we were both lucky enough to get seats.  The ride home was 100% better than the morning's trip.

Loved all the beautiful aspen trees

Day three - and we'd plan to ride over to the other canyon and explore Snowbird.  However, Kim woke up sore and needed a day of rest.  I'd be skiing solo today.  

Another tree photo

Due to the steep slopes and the light, powder snow that falls in Utah, both Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons are susceptible to avalanches.  Little Cottonwood Canyon has much more unstable snow activity than it's neighboring canyon, and state highway crews often close this road overnight to do avalanche control.  That morning Snowbird's website reported that the canyon road would be closed until 8:30 am for this very purpose.

Yup, the snow was deep!

Undaunted, I had the hotel shuttle driver deposit me at the park and ride for Little Cottonwood Canyon's bus.  Already a sizeable crowd here, I learned some folks had been waiting quite awhile.  Luckily, the weather was dry and there were interesting people to chat with.  I sent Kim a selfie of myself in line.  But after an hour of waiting, I was just about ready to call our shuttle driver and ask him to take me back to the other canyon, when a bus pulled up.  I got a seat, but the bus filled up quickly behind me.  

Third morning bus line - trying to get to Snowbird

With the road finally open, traffic was horrendous.  Cars had lined up outside the closure area, and these vehicles clogged the roadway.  It took another hour to reach Snowbird.  I was thankful to be seated for the ride this time.

Everyone on the bus was excited to ski Snowbird.  Apparently the resort had received 19 inches of snow the previous day and skiing had been fantastic.  More snow had fallen overnight and people were chomping at the bit to swoosh through it.  When my bus finally arrived at the Snowbird Tram building, people rushed out.  But first I needed a restroom and water break before going anywhere near a lift.

Two hours later, I finally arrived at Snowbird

It had taken me two hours to get to this point.  It would take another 30 minutes standing in the Tram line before I actually began skiing.  Apparently Snowbird staff were still digging out some of the lower chairlifts from the previous night's heavy snowfall, so the Tram was the only option here.  So I got in a huge line and shuffled through a Disneyland-like maze until finally arriving at the loading area.  When it was my turn to board the tram car, I ended up nearly first in line.

Foggy views while standing in the tram line

A good thing about being near the head of the line - first in the huge tram car.  I followed another man as he staked a spot in the very front, facing the Tram's spacious windows.  Now I'd have a front-row view as the tram climbed to the upper terminal.  Snowbird had two tram cabins, that alternated between the top and bottom.  Each cabin held 125 people.  

After loading all those skiers, we were off!  Although the weather was very foggy, I still enjoyed some views as the tram glided uphill.  I'd reviewed Snowbird's trail map the night before, and noticed a lot of single and double black diamond runs, but seeing them in person as I traveled up the mountain was a bit unnerving.  Those slopes were steep!  The higher we rose, the foggier the skies became.  Arriving at the very top, visibility wasn't good at all.  

Finally - in the tram!

Shuffling off the tram with the rest of the skiers, I emerged into a foggy, white world.  Although I'd planned to ski into Mineral Basin, a bit mellower area, I discovered that lift was closed.  Where to go now?  Nearly everything else was single- or double-black diamond slopes.  Although I'm a good skier, being in a new ski area by myself with low visibility was a bit intimidating.

Views from the tram ride

After dawdling at the tram landing for several minutes, I finally decided to pick a direction and go for it.  How bad could it be?  I slid downhill to the top of a steep, mogul-filled slope.  The previous days snowfall had been transformed into huge, car-sized bumps.  Hesitating at the top, I bolstered my confidence by telling myself "You're a good skier - you can do this!"  And I did.

There goes the other tram car!

Although the moguls made for some tiring skiing, I was able to slide through them.  Visibility was bad, but I just went slow and took lots of breaks.  Eventually, another chairlift came into view.  Shuffling over to the singles line, a lady behind me struck up a conversation, and by the time we loaded on the chairlift, asked if she could ski with me.  This woman had skied here many times and knew exactly where to go, so I was glad for her company.  She led me to another steep, mogully slope (they were all like that!) and I followed behind.  Visibility was really bad here, causing me to hit a hidden bump.  I went down hard.  Luckily I didn't lose any equipment, but rising to my feet, my right ankle began to protest.  Uh-oh!

The very top of the mountain

I told my companion that my ankle was bothering me, but I'd try another trail.  I didn't want to abandon such a good ski buddy after the first run!  We went down two more very bumpy trails.  My ankle did not like all the motion necessary for navigating these moguls.  I thought of the man I'd met yesterday with the broken ankle.  Not knowing what I'd done to myself, I reasoned it probably wasn't a good idea to continue skiing.  So I bid my new friend farewell and reluctantly made my way down to the base area.

Sigh - it had taken me 2 1/2 hours to get on the slopes and I'd only skied for about an hour and a half.  But I didn't want to really hurt myself and mess up the rest of my ski season.  So I found the bus stop and rode back into town.

This was the best view I had all day

Back at the hotel, Kim supplied me with ibuprofen and ice.  After removing my boot, my foot felt much better, and there didn't appear to be any swelling.  We both sat in our room the rest of the afternoon, icing our aching body parts.  Oh boy, did I feel old!

Icing our aching body parts

Luckily, my ankle seemed okay the next day.  I was a little concerned about shoving it into a ski boot, but although a tiny bit sore, it wasn't uncomfortable.  

Our fourth and final day happened to be a Friday.  Kim and I planned to go back to Solitude, in Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Because it was Friday, and the resorts had received even more new snow, traffic was predicted to be heavy - both vehicles and bus riders.  We set out to the park and ride with our fingers crossed.  

Celebrating our last night 

But....all the buses that came by were packed to the gills.  Us waiting skiers were having no luck.  People started jumping into their cars and driving to bus stops closer to the beginning of the line.  But Kim and I didn't have a car.  Then two guys said they were going to another bus stop and asked us if we wanted to ride with them.  Normally Kim and I wouldn't ride with strangers.  But these men were from Austria and seemed okay, so jumped into their rental car.  They were fun to chat with.  The one man said their rental car didn't have snow tires, so he couldn't take it to the resorts.  He was a little taken aback that in a place that receives regular snowfall, they didn't outfit their rental cars with proper tires (I was surprised too!)

The Austrian men drove to the very first bus stop.  There was a huge line of waiting skiers, but an empty bus pulled up and everyone fit inside.  We still had to stand, but by now Kim and I were used to that.  It was another extremely long ride.  Someone said the buses used to come more frequently, but the transit authority had a hard time finding drivers so they'd cut back service to the ski resorts.  Whatever - we certainly weren't impressed with the ski buses this time around.

Mountain views at SLC airport

Finally, our bus arrived at Solitude.  The resort had received more fresh snow and there were hordes of people ready to ski it.  Although we had to navigate lift lines, that was okay because after several days of skiing, I had tired legs and was happy for the rest.  It was another great day of swishing through newly-fallen powder snow.

The mountains are right outside of town

Due to fatigue and another round of bus anxiety, Kim and I again quit early and were in line at the bus stop by 2:30.  This time we had to stand at the very front of another super-crowded bus.  Kim stood right next to the driver and had a great conversation with the man.  Apparently he was supposed to have clocked out an hour ago, but made an extra trip for the skiers.

Back at the hotel, Kim and I decided to have dinner at the next door whiskey distillery.  Because we didn't have transportation, our dining choices had been limited to a nearby brew pub called "The Porcupine."  Although its food was okay, after four days we were tired of their fare.  At the distillery we splurged, enjoying a couple of delicious Manhattans each, a shared appetizer, and entrees.  Tipsy and full of good food, we made our way back to the hotel to pack up for our early morning flight.

The Columbia River Gorge

The next morning, we took off from the Salt Lake City International Airport as the sun began cresting over the Wasatch Mountains.  It was such a pretty sight, I took copious photos from the airplane window, until the deicing truck sprayed the plane, streaking my portal.  We had super clear weather the entire flight, which was perfect for another photographic session as our plane flew over the Columbia River Gorge.  It was wonderful to see the Cascade peaks of Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens all lined up across the horizon.  Welcome home!

Three mountain view - welcome home!

It had been great to visit the ski areas directly outside of Salt Lake City.  I added two new resorts - Snowbird and Brighton - to my "I've skied there" list.  The timing of fresh snow every day couldn't  have been better.  But the bad part of our visit had been enduring terrible rides on overcrowded city buses.  Kim and I agreed that riding SLC's public transportation had been such an awful experience, it soured our whole trip.  As a matter of fact, we aren't planning to return anytime soon.  (And once home, I sent an email to the Utah Transit Authority telling them just that.)

But I was glad for another opportunity to use our IKON passes.  The following week, we planned to visit another local resort for one final ski trip.  The next post I'll write about our experiences skiing Washington's Crystal Mountain Resort.