Monday, August 1, 2016

The Resort Powder Day: Timing is Everything

Assuming you don't live in a ski town or out west, the ability to time a powder day at a ski resort can be considered a fine art; maybe more so than an aged bourbon or bottle of red wine. As a current resident of Atlanta, I  ski once or twice a year so you can only hope that it snows while you are on the hill out west. A real powder day for a vacation skiing powder hound is the equivalent of the power ball for any other  normal person who doesn’t know the beauty of skiing an untracked turn.

 When I lived in Jackson Hole for a winter, I got spoiled because I could pick and choose when I wanted to ski. If it hadn’t snowed in awhile I might not necessarily go out. But when it did snow, I was out. I had ten to twelve really good powder days (in bounds) encompassed into a full winter at one of the world’s great playgrounds.   Now I am fortunate to have one powder day in a ski trip. I had not had a resort powder day since I lived in Jackson. Thankfully that changed on the weekend of January 22, 2016. 

 My dad I spent and extended weekend at Snowbird, Utah. For seven to ten days leading up to the trip, I was and I spent  an inordinate amount of time checking the expected forecast. Every time I checked, the weather forecast, the chance of snow seemed to increase. Sure enough, the forecast proved accurate and the goods delivered.

Saturday began with an auspicious start. Winds upwards of 100 mph kept a large portion of Snowbird closed for majority of the day. The valley weekend warriors were out being it was Saturday. With most of the mountain closed, Gad 2 was the highest on the mountain you could go.  Soft snow and nice lines could still be found parallel to the lift line trees, which is where most of our time was spent.
Finding some soft snow in the trees before the storm set in. 

The treck over to ATLA was pretty creepy. A total white out with winds probably howling between 40-50 mph.  A few minutes of vertigo had us questioning our move to the new mountain. As we regained our senses, we made a transition to the lower half of the mountain and spent most of the afternoon running trees off Collins. The good news is that the storm had moved in around 11am and continued to pickup throughout the day. The turns were getting really nice in the afternoon filling and starting to fill in tracks. The temperature dropped and the snow came down harder. Does it get any better?

As the lifts stop spinning and day one came to an end the snow continued to come down and accumulate. Everything was setting up nicely for an epic Sunday pow day in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Sure enough, our fruitions came true and we woke up early Sunday morning to a total of eight inches over night on top of what the storm had delivered the day before. 

We decided to skip the Bird and grab the bus over to ATLA for the day. Wise choice. The laid back crew at ALTA drank coffee, chattered and wondered what the day would hold. We scattered up to the lift 20 minutes before opening and found ourself on the 20th chair up or so. 

Sunday morning goodness at Alta. Waiting for the lifts to spin and untrack turns to be had.

I couldn’t help but compare to my Jackson pow mornings where crowds stretched and winded and began lining up early in the mornings. It was a thing of beauty. Knee to waste deep untracked goodness from top to bottom. The snow was a little heavy and the legs were burning, but we certainly weren’t complaining. Face shots through the trees and untracked lines on the groomers to the bottom of the hill; it was something so rare for for a resort visitor and something that I had not experienced in some time.

The day continued to deliver. After running one more at Collins we transitioned over to Supreme where there was no crowds and more untouched goodness to be found. We had three to four runs at supreme of untracked and ran the lift until mid afternoon still finding pockets of really nice snow. Let me make sure I said that right - mid-afternoon and pockets of untouched snow - yea, that's when you know it's good. 

After a few more runs at Collins we decided to make the move back over to Snowbird. One of my favorite all time runs on either mountain is the keyhole. Don't tell anyone, because it's a little off the beaten path and a great spot for locals or skiers who know Alta/Snowbird well. 

If you want the goods on a powder day: Take one of the all time classic Alta lifts, Wildcat, take a short hike to what could be a powder paradise. 

Riding the storm out on Wildcat.

Some of the steepest terrain you might find also leads to some of the best-unkept snow on the mountain; seriously, don't tell anyone.  Sure enough The Key Hole delivered for one of the best runs of the day. Waste deep for a large portion of the run and untouched all the way down. 

No action Pow shots, but a moment to take in one of the best Key Hole runs in some time. 

After a few more runs it was time to call it a day and what a day in that. With a half day left skiing before heading back, to the concrete jungle, could the storm possibly continue to deliver? Absolutely.

With all the snow from the storm we actually began Monday morning in inter lodge; meaning you cannot actually leave the lodge due to the avalanche bombing going on. We started the morning at the Bird and caught the first tram. They only had one run open off the tram, a blue cruiser, Regulator Johnson. But when a blue cruiser has 6-8 inches of untouched snow on it, it becomes a whole different ball game. 
First tram. First tracks. Snowbird delivers. Heading up Little Cloud here to get the remains. 

After two untracked runs, we mozied our way over to Gad 2. The groomers were beginning to become tracked up, so we ventured off the beaten path to Tiger Tail, boom. Incredible untouched turns. We looked over the first drop in at an untouched powder field. It was a thing of beauty.  Such a beautiful thing I decided to get some pictures of my Dad going down. The group behind us was pushing us and I was anxious to get down and back up as well. Back on the lift I realized I had dropped my phone instead of putting it in my pocket. The phone is still on Tiger Tail somewhere and was likely found sometime this summer. In retrospect, I would have lost my phone 10/10 times to have access to what we skied that morning.

It was a pretty incredible two and a half days of skiing. To have two consecutive days of untracked powder at a resort is not very common and something I will not soon forget. When it comes to powder days at resorts, timing is everything.

1 comment:

  1. Nice writeup, Patrick. You captured the appeal of a powder day, as well as the difficulty of scoring one. I live in L.A., but planning a ski trip to coincide with powder is still difficult.
    Thanks for letting your light shine re. your faith, too!