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.
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.”
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.
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.