I started out today with the sole intention of skiing the Baldy Chutes, the one remaining run in my quest to ski all 116 marked runs at Alta Ski Area. Mt. Baldy was closed today unfortunately. Probably due to wind.
I decided to take on a line I’d never completely done before as an alternate. The very highest line one can take in Devil’s Castle.
I knew there would be some hiking involved, and since I missed my workout at the gym yesterday this would be a great opportunity to get some cardio in!
Somehow I missed the fork in the traverse in the Castle, and ended up on the wrong/lower traverse. I took off my skis and boot packed straight up. It was easily a 45-50 degree angle, though the photo above doesn’t show it. That got the cardio going. But just getting to the higher traverse was only probably 1/3 of the hike. The rest was sidestepping on a 45 degree angle and winding under the rock ridge at the top of the castle.
Conditions were not optimal. Lighting was overcast and gray, making seeing undulations in the snow almost impossible. The temps have been high as well, which caused melting on the top layer. That melted layer then freezes at night. The result is an ice crust on top of very heavy snow. Very hard to turn in or have any control.
The ski down from the top of the Castle was fun. The snow quality was not bad. Not as much crusting up that high (probably 10,800 feet).
I came into today needing only four more runs to finish off my season long goal of skiing every marked run at Alta Ski Area. The Baldy Chutes were on the list, but I opted to try and bust off the other three remaining runs, No Name, Blitz and Christmas Tree. I made that decision because today I was testing out some new skis I just picked up.
The new skis are Atomic Bent Chetler 100’s. They’re narrower than my typical big mountain ski, and quite a bit shorter. I got them in hopes that I can make some quicker, tighter turns in steep and narrow areas.
My first run testing out the new skis, and busting another run off the list, was “No Name.” No Name is accessed from the High Traverse. The run is quite similar to many of the other runs which come off the High Traverse like Watson Line or Jitterbug. It’s extremely steep.
It was “interesting” to say the least, on new skis doing my first run on very steep terrain. It was early in the morning, about 9:40, and the snow was very hard pack with ice. At that point I realized now comfortable I am on bigger skis. I was lacking confidence in these smaller skis and really struggled to make turns in them. So No Name ended up being more of a “try not to fall” type of run. Not my favorite kind of skiing.
For my second run I decided I needed to take it a little easier and try to figure out the new skis, so I went up Wildcat lift where I could then access “Blitz.” Blitz is a black diamond run (advanced skiers), but compared to No Name it was pretty much cake. It had some small moguls which gave me my first mogul challenge on the new shorter skis. Not bad.
After Blitz I only had one more objective to claim on the day, “Christmas Tree.” Christmas Tree is a small pine tree shaped area off the High Traverse, to the right of Stone Crusher as one is looking up at it or at the trail map. Getting to Stone Crusher is quite interesting one has to navigate a maze of trees which on about a 40-45 degree slope.
I remembered that Christmas Tree was about half way down off of Stone Crusher. So I skied Stone Crusher and cut right into the trees. The snow was very bad. It had been melted by the sun the day before, and then frozen overnight. So it was very hard, icy, thick and very difficult to turn in. I wasn’t quite sure where I was and kept going at it through the trees. After I came out of the trees and looked back up, I wasn’t quite sure I’d actually skied Christmas Tree. Once I looked at a trail map, I realized that I came out into Lone Pine. I skied the wrong side!
Christmas Tree – This Time I Mean It
Armed with better directional awareness I headed back up to the top of Stone Crusher again. It’s such a tremendous, and frightening looking run at the top.
This time I properly cut LEFT about halfway down Stone Crusher. Voila. Found it.
Christmas Tree was run 115 of the 116 at Alta Ski Area. One more to go, and it is a biggie, the Baldy Chutes. Stay tuned.
One of the most essential items in a skier’s backcountry equipment list is a good shovel.
The shovel must be light and compact for carrying, while being strong and efficient when digging in a rescue situation.
In for review is the Access TS Shovel, which looks to be up to the task.
The Access TS features a telescopic “T” handle with 32cm and 46cm lengths, anodized aluminum blade, and weighs only 620 grams.
I’ve been carrying the Access TS Shovel in my backpack for a few days in the mountains. Have yet to put it through some tests of pit digging and rescue training. I will report back with a full review when I’ve had a chance to fully evaluate the TS.
Finally skied East Castle at Alta Ski Area. This was run number 112 in my quest to ski all 116 marked runs at Alta this ski season.
East Castle is big, steep run which takes a long sidestep hike to get to. The run is not often open due to the avalanche terrain it occupies.
After a pretty strenuous sidestepping hike up, the skier is greeted with a 50 degree angle slope at the top. Rather than sidestepping the hike, I brought my backcountry skis and skins, and skinned up. That was a much better plan and I was dusting people that were sidestepping.
The near the top I couldn’t help notice the incredible view. There was a strong wind coming from the opposite side of the peak and the sun was backlighting the snow as it blew off. It created a surreal photo opportunity. See below:
In this spot the sidestepping trail narrowed and the slope became more severe. I could no longer skin at that point. So I took the skins off and boot-packed the rest of the way.
I was fighting a few battles, so my skiing wasn’t great and I had to rest often. The first challenge was the hike up. Second was the snow conditions. The snow was quite thick and chunky with patches of better powder in the shade. The third challenge was my backcountry boots hurts my feet and make my feet go numb. I need to do some tweaking to improve that. It’s hard to ski well with numb feet. I had to keep adjusting boot pressure and resting them.
Despite the issues with fatigue and my boots I was thrilled to bag this one. I’ve admired East Castle for decades and always wanted to do it.
East Castle 360 Degree Video
Below is a YouTube video of the ski down. The views and angles are amazing. The skiing, well, I got down in one piece which is my primary goal.
Though I’ve posted quite a bit about backcountry skiing, I’m an off-piste resort skier mostly at this point. I grew up skiing Alta Ski Area here in northern Utah. I even took lessons from, and skied many times with, Alf Engen. That explains my incredibly beautiful form (yeah, right).
This winter (2019-2020) I’m in much better physical shape and have been skiing more than any year in my entire life. It has been fantastic. I made a goal this ski season to ski every marked run Alta. There are 116 of them, 55% of them black diamond rating for advanced skiers.
After knocking off about 5 more runs yesterday, I reached the century mark! I’ve skied 100 of the 116 as of Feb 10, 2020. Below is a resort map with pink highlights for each run I’ve done this season.
When I get home after each ski day, I sit down at my desk with my pink highlighter and mark the runs I did that day.
I’ve got about 16 more to go, but some of these may be difficult to cross off the list. A couple of areas are not open that often, like the Baldy Chutes and East Castle. I’ve not seen East Castle open yet this season. That one will take skinning, side stepping, or boot packing to get to the top.
I’ll be back at it this weekend, tying to bust out a few more of the marked runs. I’ve captured video for many of the runs and will post here and on my YouTube channel.