My summer tradition of skiing Gunsight at Alta Ski Area continues. I hit Gunsight a couple of days ago and it was, uh, not good skiing.
The chute was full of large sun-cups, rocks, pine cones, branches, and even one lady’s season pass to Jackson Hole. When I got home it took me quite a bit of time to rub off the pine sap from the bottoms of my skis.
The summer road wasn’t open yet, so I had to hike up from the Albion parking lot, which added about another 2 miles round trip of hiking in the heat. At the start of the hike it was 80 degrees and when I finished it was 85. Very hot for up there. By the time I got to the top of Gunsight I was asking myself if my season was finally over due to the ever worsening effort to reward ratio.
Today I imposed an interesting test on myself both physically and mentally. Lovely bride asked me why I like to do stuff like this and it kind of set me aback. I’ll have to ponder that.
Anyway… Today’s run was on Eddie’s High Nowhere, a special area where you can go in to skimo (ski mountaineering) mode inbounds. After lots of side-stepping and traversing you have to boot pack to the top, where you’ll almost always find a cornice as the winds howl in this spot. Today’s boot pack was so windy I couldn’t hold my skis in the typical place over my shoulder. So I crawled with my poles and skis ahead of me.
The top is an amazing spot. Super rugged. No-fall-zone in all directions. The drop from the cornice to the run is about the steepest thing there is at Alta. It’s practically straight down and today that drop was about as wide as a pair of skis. I chose no on that. I didn’t think side-sliding it was possible and I sure as hell wasn’t going to point a ski down it. So I went for the side entrance below the cornice. There was a steep drop there too. Because of the poor visibility I couldn’t tell if there was anything to avoid, bumps, ice, who knows. My mind wouldn’t let me point a ski down that either. So for perhaps the first time ever, I started thinking about how I was going to back out. I’d probably have to reverse boot pack down where I came from.
On the way out I checked the trees to see if I could find another way to enter Eddies, and I managed to find one. I had to traverse a section of trees that is extremely steep. The video can’t convey just how steep it is. Not even close. A fall there would result in a case of human pinball. So I took it slow and eventually found my way in. Once I was in, the skiing was on ice and breakable crust with wind blown dust on top. Did I mention the poor visibility? LOL So you don’t know if you’re going to hit a bump, slide on ice, or stop suddenly. It’s basically defensive skiing at that point.
It felt satisfying to get down Eddie’s today. That’s where my thighs cramped up a few weeks ago, so I had a bit of a mental demon to exercise.
Hilariously, after getting down one of the toughest runs at Alta, I crashed into a tree (yes I know, another tree) off the cat track at the top of Collins, in front of all the people who get off the lift. What a hack I’m sure they were thinking.
Stoked to hear that the final load testing of the new Sunnyside lift at Alta Ski Area is taking place. I’ve been watching the construction for months. See photo below:
A couple of days ago I watched the lift actually move. Load testing and brake testing is happening now and if all goes according to plan the lift will be carrying skiers this Saturday the 21st of January, 2023! Looking forward to riding it on Saturday!
East Baldy at Alta Ski Area is a short side step and/or boot back hike to a big open face on Mount Baldy. Often times snow conditions aren’t great on that face, but when conditions are right it can be a pow fest. Check out the video and photos below.
A YouTube follower asked about the photos from Peak Photo Alta, so I took the opportunity to post them here:
Skied Stone Crusher last weekend with a couple of friends from out of town. Stone Crusher is a less-known run at Alta compared to High Boy (Alf’s High Rustler) or Main Chute on Mount Baldy. Stone Crusher is right next to High Boy though, and is just as steep but not quite as long. The entrance to the run was quite difficult to navigate due to a less than optimal base and lack of new snow over the last month or so. Enjoy the video.
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….