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Alta story

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Well, here's this. I saw some great skiing at Alta yesterday and I was moved to put an experience into words. Sorry it's not one of Ott's . I got the pitch measurements from what I recall in "Powderhounds Guide to Alta" although I've since lost the book.

The Baldy Chutes were open yesterday. The skies were a clear diamond blue, the wind light and there was no crowd. There was twenty three inches of new snow from early in the week settled into the couliers of Mt. Baldy that was completely untracked. Standing at what was normally the top of the resort we could see distant skiers swooping down the heights above like birds. Most of them. some were hesitant, clearly terrified and with good reason. It’s ski mountaineering and you need to know what you’re doing and exactly where you‘re going.

The Baldy Chutes are some of the most difficult and dangerous inbounds skiing in North America. The pitch probably averages about 50 degrees and there are cliffs everywhere. It’s only open a handful of days each year and then only very late in the season when the snowpack is deep and stable. People have been very seriously injured up there and some killed. The hike alone takes forty five minuites straight up a bootstair kicked into the snow and goes from the top of Sugerloaf chair to the peak of Mt. Baldy at eleven thousand feet. Main chute, considered the easiest way down, averages about forty eight degrees, is thirty feet wide, and has forty foot cliff walls on either side. It drops eight hundred feet straight down into Ballroom bowl. The entry is so hairball that by the time one actually gets into the chute, it’s a releif. I didn’t ski it yesterday. I have once before, and may again, but I was alone, and I’d made a promise to my wife.

I skied Main Chute with my pal Emily the winter of ‘98. Emily was one of these hell for leather Alta telechicks who could outski most of the boys on alpine gear. Her usual crowd was a group of experienced backcountry skiers but some of them had been caught in an avalanche the previous season, one died, one was busted up pretty bad and the gang drifted apart. Emily found herself skiing more and more inbounds at Alta and I tagged along. We skied pretty much everything there was; Gunsight, Third Door, Eddie’s High Notch, North Rustler, Devil’s Castle. We named unnamed runs after each other. Emily’s cutoff, a sidedoor into Stonecrusher; Emily’s Meadow, Emily’s El Dorado, Bob’s Gully, Bob’s Secret; all highly classified. I was at the peak of my abilities and confidence as an off-piste skier; I’d started skiing fairly late in life, at thirty four, and had been skiing ten years. But one learns much with sixty day plus seasons at Alta; so when the chutes opened and Emily asked if I was in I said “sure, let’s go”.

First of all, the climb kicked my ass; there were a lot of people climbing in single file and the eager beavers set the pace. You shoulder your skies, hold your poles in one hand and use them for balance, and literally climb snow stairs for hundreds of feet. Water or Gateraid are a must and I had neither. When we reached the summit there were groups of people picnicing and just sitting around resting. The surface is gravelly rock with a slight snow coverage clinging in spite of the winds. The absolute majesty of nature at such a high place is beyond description and must be experienced. The views are spectacular and go on forever in all directions. The summit’s horizon is startlingly close; it’s like being an ant on top of an egg; the white curve just dropping away a hundred yards out into the unknown. This is when it pays to know the way. A girl had gone off the cliff the week before and broken her back.

Scary as it was, it was one of the most exihilerating places that I’ve ever been. There’s no stopping with Emily and we hiked across the summit to the area above Main Chute and got our skis on.. We made short turns as the peak began to curve downward and then sidslipped around the huge cornice over the chute and entered from the side, perhaps the hairiest thing this resort skier has ever done. The entrance to the chute was a narrow traverse with a thousand feet of Baldy shoulder windpack and cliff dropping below. The lip of the chute was a knife blade as wide as my boots are long. I had a meter of ski in the air fore and aft. I kind of froze there for a minute. The chute is like a halfpipe, but vertical; on it’s end. The drop in is skied out by now so if you fall, it’s not a powderpillow, it’s a slide. I looked out at the canyon from my perch directly into an abyss; no friendly rocks or trees in the near distance, no near distance at all. I looked down and regretted it. Emily beckoned from the relative safety of the chute and I dropped in and made my first turns.

Once in the chute, one is struck by how big it is; the rock walls rise four stories on either side. It’s plenty wide, but pretty darn steep and there is no welcoming run out a few turns down like most chutes. This beast goes straight down for a fifth of a mile and is full of crud from the skiers who came before. Only the ski patrol and the very lucky, those in the right place at the right time, ever see it fresh. Emily, first time ever, had me go first. Usually, in chutes, we dropped Emily in first and listened to the sound of her skies to see where the ice was. I would have much preferred to follow. I felt a combination of fear and absolute joy to be in such a magnificent place.

I started down aggressivly, happy to have something to do that I felt a little bit in control of. I plowed through the junk in the middle of the chute and made my turns almost on the walls where the least cut powder was. I found myself finishing my turns back and hugging the hill like a timid intermediate. Then down again, linking more or less in rythm, fighting the crud. As much as we liked our skinnies at the time, they can’t hold a candle to today’s fats in a place like that. It took what seemed to be hours, then it was over, just like that. I stopped three times; The first two to recover my form which went straight to hell in the vertical crud. The third just to savor the moment. I hated to finish the run; to leave that fantastic high place. I wanted to be back on the top but knew that I was done for this day. I started down the last pitch, gaining confidence as the welcoming expanse of ballroom approached. I skied in better form; the chute widened and even the snow got better. Then I was out, down. People on the Ballroom traverse saw where I’d come from and looked at me in disbeleif. I turned and cheered as Emily came down, no stopping, elegent telemark turns, like a walk in the park. That was the first and last time I did it. When our first child was born the following fall, my wife asked me not to go up there anymore.

Yesteday, I watched great skiers ski all of Baldy; Main Chute and Dogleg, the Rotors, and a beautiful powder snowfield whose name I do not know above an imposing cliff with a tiny exit. Some of the best skiers in the world have been seen around Alta lately and I’m sure I was seeing some of them in action yesterday. I stuck to my promise and climbed only to the Mid Baldy traverse and skied East Baldy. It had gotten too much sun and wasn’t good.

I spoke to my wife; given the right conditions and companions, I will go up again. Until that day comes, I’ll stay in shape and work to improve my skiing. Yesterday I saw some truly fine skiers sking the Baldy Chutes really, really well. It’s amazing that such a place exists.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ March 28, 2002 07:02 PM: Message edited 1 time, by Rubob ]</font>
post #2 of 16
Thanks for the great post Rubob. I am leaving tommorow night from balmy Augusta, GA to make my first trip to Alta and Utah. I am psyched! I'm skiing Alta on Monday. I doubt if I'll venture into the Baldy Chutes even if they are open but I am hoping to find allot of other seriously steep terrain that won't get me so easily killed. Any good suggestions on where to find tamer steeps and at what time of the day to ski each part of the mountain? How's the snow holding up on the rest of the mountain?
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks Rusty; I wrote this like a short story so it's a bit dramatic. True though. Gotta respect the mountain. Everybody cuts their teeth on West Rustler.. Ski school's great.
post #4 of 16

to give an idea of the area being discused.

I have only skied the chutes 2x. I wont go there alone.
first time I did I should NOT have been there. It was years ago & was not 1/2 the skier I am now.
Second time was a year ago with ti form this board. Easter. It was really good but I remember our posting exitement about it causing a stir here. I was not as eloquent as you.
Well said.
hopefully one of my weekend warrior days will coincide with an open day this year.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ March 29, 2002 08:46 AM: Message edited 1 time, by matt_davis ]</font>
post #5 of 16
Thanks for the story Rubob.

Baldy is fun post-resort season. Less crowds. Last week main chute was getting bumps. :

I don't think main chute is 48 degrees. Maybe very briefly at the entry, but it mellows out fast into the high 30's. The photo doesn't look like main chute but looks to be a little east on that N. side. That's my guess anyway...
post #6 of 16
Great post, and a good photo,
But (and there always is a but...)
If we (the bears) are anywhere near there next year, I AM NOT DOING THOSE CHUTES.
It's not that I'm scared, or that I'm a bad skier, it's just that if anything happened to me, 1000's of women around the world would commit suicide.

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

post #7 of 16
That photo looks tilted to me...

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ March 29, 2002 02:12 PM: Message edited 1 time, by BakerBoy ]</font>
post #8 of 16
here are 2 more main chute photos from the Alta website. Yeah, they do look too flat, but it is real hard to convey an actual feel for slope angle unless you shoot the skier from the side.
http://www.alta.com/images/03_20_02.jpg http://www.alta.com/images/03_21_02.jpg
post #9 of 16
Jealousy envy lust...did I miss something?
post #10 of 16
I better be good or ya going to make me ski those chutes in 2003 ...... mmmmmmm .... whilst I am sure the legs can do it I better go practise my "mental silence" in preparation.

Excellent story Rubob I felt like I was there. It bought back memories of the backside of Mont Gele Verbier when my own "fortitude" was surely tested. Especially the bit when you "froze for a bit", I can relate to that.

Thanks for sharing.

Oz [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #11 of 16
Great Post Rubob,
I Have looked up at those Chutes and have seen The lines that skiers have left in the snow.I am amazed by the skill and courage of those skiers.I admire you for doing something that to honestly frank is beyond my limit.
I have to Hang my head in shame That I have not been to Alta once this season.Well I have a couple of more weeks to get over there
post #12 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks Bears; Assuming you're in good condition and know your way around, It's probably safer than Aspen on Christmas week, what with all the Enron executives zinging around in the flying wedge. It left a deep impression on me. It's amazing that some of you guys climb up there in July.
post #13 of 16
Sounds like an awesome day

I'd like to figure out if I should try to ski it, or if it is out of my league. The longest steepest chute I've skied is Banana at Crested Butte. It even looks a bit like the picture on the Alta website. I was able to ski it pretty aggressively. Can anyone who's skied both say how they compare? If I can handle Banana pretty cleanly, would Baldy Chutes be too much of a step up for me to dare?

Thanks again for such a great post.


<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ April 02, 2002 07:00 PM: Message edited 1 time, by mps ]</font>
post #14 of 16
Rubob, a very well written, my applause to you.

I've skied a good chunk of the chutes myself, and I can't wait to get back up there. Seems that I am never in the right place at the right time. Last season I was able to bag a run down the Main Chute and one of the others. I don't pay much attention to names, and since most aren't marked, I rarely try. The part about the chutes that I remember most fondly is the view from the top, and damn, it gets windy up there. Seems that you can almost see to the Pacific from up there!

The runs are fun, and in the back of your mind, you know people are watching you, so you want to ski well. As with any difficult run, there are always people in over their heads, but sometimes, that is how you learn to ski 'em. The hardest part of the Main Chute for me was waiting for people to drop in and get out of the way. If you choose to do the cornice drop, it can be up to a 15-20ft drop onto a fairly steep area, with very hard snow. Once in the chute, you feel that you are in the king of all chutes. Sure there are steeper, and longer ones, but this chute is huge!

While there are steeper runs in Alta off Supreme, they are not nearly as long or as eye catching as the Baldy's. They are all runs that you remember for your entire life, and make you feel that you have done something that few others have.

PS - I saw a guy break his femur up there last season.

PSS - Rubob, we gonna get a chance to meet up this year? How about the last day party up on Rustler?

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ April 03, 2002 11:12 AM: Message edited 1 time, by AltaSkier ]</font>
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
Alta; you're on gonna try to make DV on Friday for Bear outing if I hear back, otherwise Alta or see you on closing day for sure. R.
post #16 of 16
Well, I just got back from the glorious Wasatch early this morning. All I can say about Alta is INCREDIBLE! Two days ago, I was there for the lift openings and made it over to the Germania chair only to stare in complete awe with the size of Mount Baldy and her chutes that SKIERS come down. I must have been transfixed on Main Chute for more than five minutes because when I turned to look behind me, an instructor on the next chair was smiling and nodding in agreement. It was one of those rare mountain enlightenments. Later in the day, I was lucky enough to see a few brave souls come down Main Chute. You can only get a sence of Baldy's massiveness when you see a speck of a skier standing on the edge. I did not venture up there even to ski the Shoulder but I did make it down High Rustler in one piece!
I took a group workshop lesson from Andrzej Nieminski who was one of the best skiers and instructors I have ever had the pleasure of skiing with. He showed us some great stuff in the Wildcat area that I never would have ventured into or found alone and then took us over the High Traverse to High Rustler. I don't know what was worse, the traverse past Stone Crusher or standing at the top of High Rustler and looking down. I think if I would not have done the "slide for life" earlir in the day on Wildcat Face, when I was taken out by another skier's binding actually breaking, I would not have been so tense. The whole time, I was thinking don't fall or your not stopping till you hit the cat track. Mid way, a guy 50 yards above me did go down. He slid for a good 10-15 yards straight towards me! I thought NOT AGAIN! As I hastily made it toward the side, he managed to stop on a huge bump. Thankfully, he was fine. I was not until I made it to the cat track. I mean, I skied it tecnically well but stopped many times to catch my breath, control my emotions and check my line. Next time, and there will be a next time, I will not ski it so slowly or defensively. I will ski it like I skied the steeps when I was younger, for the thrill of it and not to ski it to not fall. A few more days in Alta and this Yankee turned Georgia boy may just find the confidence to hike up Mount Baldy.
Truly, that day at Alta was one of the greatest skiing days of my life. Alta (and Snowbird) now rank up there with Squaw and Verbier as my alltime favorite ski areas.
Thanks to everyone in Utah who showed me a great time!
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