I’ve been eyeballing Little Apron at Alta Ski Area for many years. Little Apron is a small coulior in the Devil’s Castle area. It is located next to Castle Apron which is much larger.
The hike up would usually be about 10 minutes, but it was easily 20+ because the snow was not cooperating. The top layer was a breakable crust and underneath was powder. Once my foot would break through too far, I would sink. Each step took three steps to complete. By the time I got to the top I was drenched in sweat.
When Alta shut down because of covid last season, I still skinned up to the top of many runs like Devil’s Castle, to get powder runs. I made a few friends and many runs with snowboarders, who jumped at the chance to board Alta. It was interesting. It takes a worldwide pandemic for snowboarders to be allowed to board at Alta. May never happen again. Someone made an actual short film about snowboarders at Alta, and you can see many of the runs I skied last year in my quest for 116, skiing every run there in one season. Fun to watch. That chute they hit above East Greeley looks awesome.
During the 2018-2019 ski season I started tracking the runs I was skiing at Alta Ski Area by tracing them in a yellow highlighter on the Alta trail map. After marking a few runs the idea hit me to see if I could ski all of the marked runs at Alta in one ski season. Unfortunately that goal was cut short when I had shoulder surgery on my right shoulder on February 14th, 2019.
When the 2019-2020 ski season started I once again set the goal to ski 116. This time I marked the map with a pink highlighter.
I went at it hard and fast, skiing Alta 30 times, not including backcountry skiing there during the offseason. After each ski day I carefully highlighted each run and many of them are all-timers. There were several big pow days in Devil’s Castle, and another big pow day on Wildcat. Then I finally skied the elusive East Castle, which is not open very often. What a thrill and pretty steep at the top. Other very memorable runs included big pow in Castle Apron and Catherine’s Area. Can’t do a greatest hits without mentioning East Greeley. That’s a tricky entrance. It was all great preparation for 116.
Run 116 – Main Chute, Mt. Baldy
This run has been some 30 years in the making. The last and only time I “went down” the Baldy Chutes was with my cousin Phil in 1990. Upon entering the main chute I hit a rock which stopped my ski, throwing me off balance. The chute was so steep I fell over onto a mogul and instantly dislocated my shoulder. From that point I slid, tumbled, cartwheeled, fell hundreds of feet, all the way to the bottom of the chute. During the fall I was calm. Everything was moving very slowly. I was puzzled that I couldn’t stop falling, but when on a slope that steep gravity wins. At one point during the fall I was sliding and managed to get my feet below me. “I’ll just dig my boot heels in and stop now,” I thought. When I dug my heels in I flipped. I remember watching the rocks on each side go by in slow motion.
At the bottom of the chute a ski patrolman was there and asked if I was ok. I told him I had dislocated my shoulder. He said, “no, you’d be screaming in pain if you did.” Well he was wrong. I was so full of adrenaline I couldn’t feel any pain. From the bottom of the chute I skied down with my poles in my right hand all the way to the parking lot. I would end up in the Snowbird Medical Clinic where I did eventually go into shock before they put my shoulder back in the socket.
A week or later my dad was up there talking to someone at Alta in the Watson Shelter and mentioned my crash. I’d become some kind of legend up there for falling all the way down Main Chute, surviving, and just skiing away. Since then I’ve re-dislocated my shoulder two additional times, one last summer hiking at…. Alta.
Each season as I ski Alta I’ve been eyeballing Main Chute hoping to make up for that bad day. Could I do it? Would I crash again? Why even try it? Often times I would ski by and take a picture from below from Ballroom. I always made it a point to say hello and thank the chute for spitting me out alive.
This season at Alta I’ve been skiing my butt off. I’m skiing the best I ever have. I once again set a goal to ski all 116 of the marked runs on the Alta trail map this season and found some incredible, scenic, and difficult terrain I’d never skied before. I was killing it; sure to get in all 116 with several weeks to spare. Or so I thought.
Alta shut down for the season early due to the Covid-19. At that point I had skied 115 of the 116 runs. The final run was the Baldy Chutes. It looked like my goal would not be reached this season, which was a punch in the gut.
I’d been working out for over a year, eating better, and doing backcountry skiing since last spring. I lost some 45 pounds. I’ve built up some very good cardio, strength, and endurance. So this past Sunday I gave it a shot; I skinned all the way from the lower parking lot to the top of Mt. Baldy, 11,068 feet.
It was almost three miles from the parking lot to the top, about 2,600 vertical feet. At the top of Mineral Basin near the top of the Sugarloaf lift, I had to take my skis off and “boot pack” up the side of Baldy with my skis on my backpack. The snow kept giving way straight down so it was hard treading. I almost turned around because it was too difficult to boot pack. But I found some better snow and was able to get better traction. Once up a small ridge it flattened out and I could put my skis, with skins on, back on. From there I was to the top in probably 20 minutes.
That’s where the video below BEGINS.
After all the vertical, sweating, leg fatigue, skinning and hiking up, now I had to ski down with rubber legs. At first glance I was stunned at how steep Main Chute was. Look closely when I meet the other skier at the top of the chute in the video. You can see straight down. I’ve skied some shorter patches of terrain that steep, but this is a sustained steepness with rocks on both sides. It is truly stunning and terrifying, especially for someone who has had 30 years to think about falling down it. I skied conservatively, and stopped often to catch my breath and composure. There are no style points here. Just get down in one piece.
2 for 1
I got down in one piece and completed the 116th run on what would have been Alta’s final day of operation for the 2020 season, and also exercised a ski demon that had been weighing on me for three decades. I have a spring in my step now. I’ll have until next ski season to ponder….
Today I skinned from Alta Ski Area’s lower parking lot straight up the Collins lift. That’s way steeper going up than it is going down. Hung a right after the Watson Shelter and proceeded to the top of Wildcat Lift. From there I skinned up the ridge between Alta and Snowbird to a run off of the side of Mt. Baldy called “Tree Jump.”
The Coronavirus pandemic has shut down nearly the entire planet. Sadly this includes ski resorts. In the couple of weeks prior to the closing of the ski resorts I had checked off the 115th of my quest to ski all 116 marked runs at Alta Ski Area. See the map below.
The remaining run is one of the toughest of them all, the Baldy Chutes. Since hitting 115 I watched the run status anxiously, waiting for the fine Alta Ski Patrol to open Mount Baldy up. There had been several storms during this period, and then winds. Fresh snow and wind-loaded snow means avalanche danger and thus closure.
You don’t want to be in a slide when in a chute that’s narrow, 45-50 degrees steep, and has rocks on both sides. Trust me. I know.
Will It Happen This Season?
Alta is now closed. The only way I could get this marked off would be to skin up from the lower parking lot. Totally doable. There are a couple of factors I will have to consider and/or arrange. First off, I have some knee issues at the moment and walking around the block is not easy. I have to rest my knee. Second, I need a partner to do this with me. A spotter at the least. I fell down the entire Main Chute decades ago. I survived (which I’m told was a feat for someone who fell the whole way) and only left with a dislocated shoulder. I have that in the back of my head.
Bagging the Main Chute would mean the closure of two different stories for me:
1: Taking back that big fall I had decades ago.
2: Checking off the last and final of the 116 marked runs this season.
There’s plenty of time left in the season. If anyone wants to join me on this run, hit me up.
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.