For a mountain so large, Baldy hides itself well in Alta. Through most of the season it remains closed, garnering long stares and wistful glances from skiers on the chairlift. I often catch myself looking at lines like Tree Chute and the Ballroom Chutes, wishing for the year that it all fills in and stays put through the extensive control work Ski Patrol performs. Wind loading and nasty, nasty, cliff bands in the chutes keep the peak rightfully closed, relegating skiers to the lower slopes of Ballroom and The Shoulder. And so it is that it hides out in the open, by necessity forgotten and ignored so we don’t form strange anxieties about skiing it.
The winter moves forward, deep tree shots all through North Rustler and the open slopes of The Backside distracting us from the siren song that Baldy sings. February and March come and go, breathing life into Alta every few days, and transforming Little Cottonwood Canyon through the power of 90 and 100 inch bases. When the sun finally begins to bear down on Salt Lake City, heralding the new season of spring, slopes that softly entertained us for four months freeze at night and slowly melt through the day. And instead of looking down for the next face shot we start to look up, up at the majestic mountain that is now ready to receive us. Birds sing, spring costumes come out, and Baldy opens.
In a world of fast edits and folks only showcasing the absolute “best” turns I want to bring something different to you. Wherever you sit right now, you’re more than likely reading this blog because you want to know what it’s like to ski Alta. Well it’s full of lines that take more than two minutes to ski, so that’s what I share. The full line, traverses, slide slips, and all. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoy hiking to and skiing them. Tally Ho!
Watch yourself on Baldy. The High Shoulder consists of a slide path that releases BIG and carries everything over a cliff of several hundred feet. Just because Patrol completed control work throughout the winter it is not simply good to go after we close on Sunday. Treat it with respect like any other backcountry line in the Wasatch and learn to ski it over time.
Main Chute (lookers left) High Shoulder (lookers right)
When I started skiing Alta in 2001 the Wildcat chair was the center of attention on a powder day. No high-speed detach left the base, and the old Collins running to the top of Aggies – well who cared? It ended in the trees by the mid mountain snow study plot, rarely ran, and no one has ever raced to get Aggies or Blitz first. The Kitty, however, dropped you at the base of Baldy’s Shoulder (glorious), gave access down Stimulation to the Germania Chair (blower under the lift), and let you run out the Peruvian Ridge to the Westward Ho. It was literally the gateway to deep powder skiing. And then everything changed. Old Collins was removed, Wildcats base terminal moved up the hill a hundred feet into near obscurity, and the high-speed detachable quad named Collins was built. In the history of skiing at Alta the decision to build the quad ranks with putting a chair up the mountain in the first place (the original Collins chair built in 1938), and installing the mid mountain lift Germania (1954), as having the most dynamic impact on skiing at the worlds best powder ski area. It also changed skiing off Wildcat forever.
Running at 450 feet per minute, Wildcat is no match for the blazing 1000 fpm the new quad is capable of. A reliable double, it keeps group mentality from forming. No magazine ads of four friends yucking it up here, in fact time spent on Wildcat invokes images of two people sitting with shoulders touching, laps full of snow, and heads down against the west wind that often blows snow up the canyon and into the Ho. The people skiing underneath are not faceless phantoms that will be lost in a crowd at the bottom of the lift. You will probably see them over and over throughout the day, crossing paths in the Ho while each of you ski your own little slice of heaven. Wildcat was and still is the chair Alta Lift Foreman ride up in the dark every day of the season to reach the Angle Station of Collins, after skiing Stimulation in the dark. The Angle is where Collins is started and run from, and without the Kitty to deliver the employees for start up that chair is just another pretty face, lifeless and empty.
Of course in the big picture it’s not really a competition between the two lifts. Ultimately Collins is master supreme in all of the categories that decide such things. The capacity, the speed, and the terrain are all better with Collins. At 900 fpm a Collins lap can take you from the base to High traverse to a thousand vertical feet in multiple directions and back in less than twenty or thirty minutes. There are more face shots held between West Rustler and Stone Crusher than all of Westward Ho. I love skiing from Collins, and I have finally submitted to its dominance as Flagship Chair in Alta. But my first run ever in Alta was from Wildcat. A Shoulder run on a day that you had to look around the snowflakes like corners of buildings, big lake effect flakes refilling tracks in minutes. To me Wildcat is powder skiing in Alta, and one day when it’s time to bring her down, when the decision is made to put up a new chair, let’s hope we walk up past the vacuüm cleaner that is Collins and get on a brand spanking new double – next to the same old friends that know where to go when it snows.
Remember to watch the video in 720pHD, and keep in mind there are only a few weeks left. Don’t be sitting on your deck in July wishing you had skied more days.
This is an amazingly smooth send by Alta local Jarrett Smith. Easily one of the most creative lines I have seen someone put together in Alta. If you want more smooth skiing check out his other videos and drop some likes and shares on him!
This is a spectacular line off of Mt Baldy, skiers right of Main Chute. In all but the best years, dropping in from the top can be difficult. Even in those years the control work (explosives) Ski Patrol does throughout the season tends to remove most of the snow at the top proper. While many people entered and side slipped Little during the last opening, guys like Matt Hundhammer ski it top to bottom. Don’t worry about skiing at fast as Matt, just ski it with out side slipping you too can claim “I skied Little Chute in Alta, Utah.”
Wondering why Ski Patrol does control work on Baldy but does not always open it? Check this out.
So often I ski the same lines or slight variations of those lines. A lot of that has to do the fact that I watch my favorites fill in and want to revisit them with each new storm. I imagine we all get that way sometimes, so how do we change it up? The answer is simple. Next time you ride the chair with a friend or even a stranger, and they ask you where you are going to ski, say “I don’t know. Where are you headed?”
That is how I ended up skiing a line literally forty feet to the right of my usual shots in Eagles Nest Bowl. Ski the steep, spectacular pitches in the trees and take a good look at the drop halfway down. I haven’t hit or even really looked at it in years, but now that I remember it is there you can be sure I will give it another chance next storm.
Our base is holding at 91″ with another storm system moving in later in tomorrow through the end of the week. And let’s throw in a High Traverse to West Rustler for good measure. Enjoy!
Today was a visceral reminder of the difference between skiing in Alta and skiing anywhere else. Here’s the low down. Single digit temperatures at night, multi day storms refilling over and over, periods of bright blue sky, and our base skyrocketing in true February fashion. That’s the key to having the best powder skiing in North America folks, the base. It cannot be underestimated.
While there are some beautiful places to ski in other states, don’t listen to the hype. In fact, don’t even listen to mine. Go here and check out the base at some of our neighbors in Colorado. Oh, boy. Forget about snowfall totals, many don’t even post that number. Of course, the snowfall could change at anytime, for us or them. And I’m sure that I could be called an elitist or snob about it, but remember – I want you to come and ski Alta, so you might as well know the truth.
But seeing is believing, so here’s some more truth. Here’s skiing at 2:30 today.
Right now we have a a 93″ base to hold our 7.5, 2, 6.5, 16, and 12 inches over the past seven days. Skiing is beyond fun at this point and you should be here to enjoy it! I’ll be at the bottom of Collins all week. If you have a favorite line or want to see one of mine stop in and say hello. I’ll be the guy that just came out of the trees in West Rustler with the giant smile.
First one through the Supreme Bowl gate.
Lines like this are what keep me off of the Collins Chair and skiing in the Albion Basin for the past several weeks. While most of my time has been spent in Supreme Bowl and out in Catherine’s Area, I have been keeping an eye on the Castle. With the last storm hitting on the weekend it became obvious that there would be a Monday opening for Devils Castle, all but guaranteeing fresh lines.
Interestingly enough there was no mid traverse as I started the long sidestep to the Far Wall. Normally it doesn’t take long for someone to break off of the sidestep halfway and try to reach the steep pitches below the Wall by low traversing across the Castle. A ski instructor made the attempt behind us but was unable to extend the traverse far enough to turn the bend to the last pitch. I don’t particularly mind that traverse, there is no stopping it, but it was nice to get the turns without thirty people standing halfway down.
The Castle is a tremendous place, with lines at every point of departure from the traverse. Don’t bother with the last thirty feet of sidestep at the Wall until our base is over 100″. Right now it’s just a sidestep to rocks that patrol sets a charge off in. No turns are missed by skipping the very end. Also, every line in the Devils Castle has hidden rocks. You can see some of them in the video, peeking out of the fresh snow. If you’re familiar with the ocean then think of the Castle as shoal water until the base is up from our current 94″.
With a foot of new snow since yesterday the area is closed again, leaving us anticipating a mid week opening and lots of fresh lines again. Watch alta.com when the sun comes out over the next few days and you may be rewarded with one of the nicest Castle days possible. Have fun, and see if you can do the entire sidestep!
There are few places as beautiful as our National Forests. There are few animals with as much personality as a porcupine having breakfast.
As a mid January high pressure sets in (I just checked on how long – do yourself a favor and do not look here), it becomes time to start looking around the mountain. Guess what? Good snow is all over. The sun has been working a low angle crawl across the sky above Mt. Baldy, leaving large sections of north facing slopes alone, and warming what it hits just enough to give us two different types of outstanding skiing. Faux powder in places like the Shoulder and North Rustler, and sun warmed soft snow in West Rustler. Of course our base is running at an edge bending 64″ so things like the High Traverse can have some interesting features.
This morning was all about skiing under Baldy. The contrast from snow, to stone, to sky is mind bending. I entered from Collins top through the Ballroom gate. After passing under Main Chute I traversed around the corner to the side step.
I feel like I have been pounding out these steps for a long time and I cannot remember when they were this good. There are several high pressure mid traverses leading off of the side step. You really can’t go wrong dropping anywhere at this point. As I stepped towards the top I checked down the hill above Tombstone and Onno’s Slide. Everything looked slightly windswept but still really soft. I wondered for a moment why I no longer dropped in on those lines. The truth is I used to ski them a lot, but there is something that compels me to the end. If you’ve been up on the Shoulder lately you understand.
I will be quiet while you look at Mount Superior. Take your time.
So that’s how it is now. It’s there and it’s good for those that come up and ski. Be one of those people. Coming soon – High Rustler and Devils Castle