January 24, 2011

Photo Essay of a Perfect Ski Day

There are good days and there are great days, and sometimes there are perfect days. Yesterday was a perfect day, and this is a photo essay that hopefully captures it well.

First, some background to set the stage: Last Sunday (Jan 16th), after we skied the Meadow Chutes, it RAINED in the mountains... in mid-January. Weird, considering Utah isn't in the Pacific Northwest. The good news is that the subsequent ice crust essentially "raised the ground level" and capped off two sketchy weak layers in the snowpack. The bad news is that until we got a bunch more snow, that ice layer was going to be a slide-for-life death crust. About a foot of snow fell mid-week, and we got a few more inches on Friday night. We skied in the upper North section of Big Cottonwood Canyon on Saturday, with somewhat low expectations. The weather was crappy, and ski conditions weren't much better. The death crust was still in play, depending on aspect. But it was obvious that all we needed was another 6-8" and anything not being scoured by the wind was setup to be skiing blissfully. We called it a day early on Saturday as conditions / visibility deteriorated after only skiing 3000 feet. As we got back to my jeep, the snow was absolutely dumping (see inset photo above!). The forecast was calling for mostly cloudy and a bitter windchill on Sunday, but I had a feeling it was wrong. I kept telling Andrea, "Tomorrow is going to be THE DAY." I'm not sure if she thought I was being serious, or just overly-optimistic, or just annoying. But I really had a gut feeling that was were DUE for a blue sky powder day. I could feel it. And this time, I was right on the money...

When I went out for my run on Sunday morning, it was obvious that the skies were going to be clear. My excitement increased as I cruised through the streets of our neighborhood... "TODAY IS THE DAY!"

The plan was to start at Alta, head up to Twin Lakes Pass, then either to Silver Fork or Mt Wolverine. Here's how the rest of the day shook out...

Not exactly an alpine start... 9:20am at the Alta parking lot... looking at Mt Superior always get me excited

Skinning up to Twin Lakes Pass

When your first objective of the day is Twin Lakes Pass, you're bound to run into lots of other people that are starting their tours from Alta. The first half-mile of the skintrack definitely feels like Wasangeles. But, I love watching the looks on the faces of all the dudes as Andrea flies past and puts a hundred yards on them in a matter of minutes. Guys hate getting beat by girls. I love watching my girl kick all the guys' butts!

Our first run of the day was off the east side of the ridge between Twin Lakes Pass and Patsy Marley:

The first turns of the day were some of the best turns of my life

It was soft and deep and wonderful. The skies were blue, it wasn't cold, and it was obvious that today was the day. We decided to head towards Mt Wolverine, a 10,795 peak that we have climbed in the fall, but had not yet visited this ski season.

Andrea just below the summit of Patsy Marley

Rime covered trees

Mt Wolverine is the peak in the upper-left of this picture. We traversed around the cirque to reach the top. As you can see, the cirque has about a dozen steep, amazing chutes. With the ice layer lurking below, and the fact that my whippets were at home, it was an easy decision to not ski any of the chutes. Soon, though, we will.

Scoping out the cirque

Check out this huge cornice!

On the summit of Mt Wolverine

A few scenics from the top:

With no inversion and very few clouds, you could see 6-7,000 feet down to the SLC valley floor. I often wonder how many people in SLC have no idea that you can drive 20 minutes up the canyon, hike for another 2 hours, and be surrounded by views like this? Its a whole different world up in the alpine. I wish everyone could see it the way we are lucky enough to.

Here's the east bowl of Wolverine, where we'd ski our next 4 laps

And now, its once again time to ski. Andrea starts it off:

The skintrack back to the top...

My turn to be on camera:

As you can tell, the snow was oh-so-good.

Andrea skinning back up. I think this is for lap #3. Or maybe #4. Hard to keep track sometimes.

She's happy

Let's ski some more:

Leaving a trail of cold smoke behind

Our tracks in the bowl. We did some nice work here.

After 4 laps in the bowl, it was time to head elsewhere. We took this self-portrait, then dropped off the south side of Mt Wolverine.

The southern aspects of Wolverine were equally fun. The snow was fast, so Davenport-style backcountry skiing was the name of the game. Grip it and rip it.

We skied down to Alta and ended up on one of the groomed runs. When about to enter an area of chopped up snow, Andrea jokingly asked how she was supposed to ski on a surface that wasn't perfect, untracked, untouched powder!? At the bottom of the run, a quick glance at the GPS revealed that we had climbed just under 6500 vertical feet. A great day, right? Of course, but not enough for us... this video captures the next few moments...

(You might have to click this and let it open in a new window to watch the video)

So we put the skins on one more time, and headed up towards this little zone, which has some nice options for "mini-golf" style skiing between the upper cliff bands:

Andrea bringing it home

She's feeling good

I'm feeling good, too

We climbed 7,232 vertical feet. Our best day of the season, and the most vertical either of us has done on skis in one day.

Time to call it a day, go home, and eat tacos and ice cream!

The GPS track

The elevation profile

So that's what a picture perfect day in Utah's Wasatch mountains looks like.

Now, some side notes, if I haven't lost you yet:

It felt great to crank out a 7000 foot day (and even better to makes hundreds upon hundreds of powder turns!). That number (7000) means something, because its the amount of ascent required to reach the summits of two peaks we intend to ski this summer, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Adams. Of the mountains on our 2011 "hit list," only Rainier requires more climbing in a single day (9,000 feet).

Our fitness levels are really coming into great form, which actually makes days like this feel pretty easy. I've averaged 125 miles of running per week for the past 10 weeks. Andrea has been running about 50 miles per week and doing all sorts of crazy extra stuff, like Insanity. We're running a 15 mile XTerra trail race in Arizona in 2 weeks, then probably doing a rando rally ski race in mid-February. The big one, though, for me, is a 50K trail race towards the end of March (which should explain why I'm running more mileage than I ever have in my life). Andrea is (wisely) running the 25K at the same event.

There are a few more pictures that are in my picasa gallery, which can be found here.

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