I just returned from my first "big" ski trip... previous ski experience was limited to four days total at Crystal Mountain in Michigan and Blue Mountain in the Poconos. I knew the trip to Utah was going to be different but was wholly unprepared for how much bigger the mountains were. The trip was perfect - snow, lessons, conditions, etc.
I started a bit later than planned, jet lag from two weeks in Asia and a late flight into SLC conspiring to keep me in bed a couple of extra hours. After a leisurely breakfast I arrived at Alta at 10:30. The mountains were incredible, inspiring both awe at their beauty and fear at the height and steep slopes. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t Kansas anymore, Dorothy! As I was purchasing tickets and a group lesson, the place was abuzz about the storm which was due to arrive later in the afternoon. After inquiring, I decided to drive back to the Park ‘n Ride and take advantage of the ski bus. My rented Chevrolet HHR was not equipped to deal with the snow.
After returning to the top, I took a couple trips up the Sunnyside lift to get a feeling for the Utah snow. Crooked Mile and Dipsy Doodle / Home Run were manageable but more difficult in spots than the green or blue runs I had done at slopes in Northern Michigan and the Poconos.
Upon reaching the check-in for the ski school, I learned there were no other students so my group lesson was now a private lesson. Awesome!!! Sid and I chatted briefly, and then rode up Sunnyside so he could evaluate my skills. I managed to handle Dipsy Doodle okay, and spent the day working on basic skills and tackling progressively more challenging green and blue runs. We ended the day with a turn down Big Dipper and an agreement to continue the next two afternoons with private lessons. The day was equal parts scary and exhilarating.
It was snowing hard when the ski bus left Alta, but the snow tapered off as we came down the mountain, so I opted to get a badly-needed haircut before buying groceries for the week and returning to my condo. Bad move. The snow was really coming down hard when my haircut was finished. I finally reached my condo two hours later and without groceries or dinner; long story which I am too embarrassed to tell. I am grateful for the Bonk Breaker in my pack as that was my sustenance for the evening.
I woke up very sore but ready to tackle the foot of fresh new snow. I did a few runs to practice what I had learned the previous day, then met Sid for the day’s lessons. Once again, we worked on basic skills training while working up progressively more difficult runs on Sugarloaf and Collins. I was making plenty of rookie mistakes, including a couple of nice face plants in snow banks, but things were really starting to click and I was having a blast.
We ended the day picking out powder skis for the next day; the Volkl Unlimited AC1 I brought were fine for the groomed trails but poorly equipped for the powder.
Loads of new snow the previous night resulted in closed roads and a long line of cars waiting to climb the mountain. Rather than wait for the ski bus, I found a kind soul (Mike M who does lift maintenance at Snowbird) who let me ride up with him. Great guy, and I learned a lot about SLC on the way up. We just missed an avalanche, the cloud of snow the remnants of what must have been quite a show only seconds earlier.
Rinse and repeat from the prior two days, with 14 inches of new snow and a twist. I picked up the rental skis and took a couple of runs down the groomed Crooked Mile and ungroomed / untracked Patsey Marley. The skis were too much… 10 cm longer than my Volkl and I was struggling to maintain balance. Back to the rental shop for shorter skis and I was in business. Back to Sunnyside and Sugarloaf for a few runs and then lunch before lessons. On the way down I saw an ermine running through the snow carrying a mouse it had killed. Very cool. Well, not for the mouse.
Lessons for the afternoon were a big success. We started with a quick review before launching into more difficult hills. I wish I could keep track of all the runs we came down but we were all over the resort, primarily sticking to runs off of Collins. Some of the runs were quite bumpy – almost like moguls but not quite? There also were a couple of short runs that seemed like a half-pipe; these were my favorite of the trip.
- Buying lessons was the most beneficial thing I could have done. Yes, they are pricey, but so worth it.
- I feel very privileged to have learned from Sid at Alta’s ski school. A very fine instructor and a good man. I am a better person for having spent so much time with him. We talked about everything from skiing, to his time spent overseas, to my doctoral dissertation. If you have a chance to meet him, do so.
- If snow is in the forecast, get a 4x4.
- If you ignore #3 and choose to get snow chains, make sure a) you don’t buy cheap junk, and b) you know how to put them on.
- Alta rocks. I really enjoyed the varied terrain, some groomed and some not. I will most certainly come back.