It seems to me that almost every outdoor activity that I partake in has a certain benchmark challenge associated with it. For backcountry skiing, I would have to say that it is the 10,000 vertical foot day of touring. Sure, there are plenty of superstars out there that have pounded out 50 grand in 24 hours (www.greghill.ca), but to go out and get 10,000 feet of turns under human power is a great achievable goal for everyone (well, almost everyone).
Although to make it a spectacular experience, a bunch of key ingredients have to come together and today was one of those truly amazing Wasatch ski days. It has been puking non-stop here in Utah for weeks now. Alta's base is in the 150" range, the snowpack doesn't have many funky layers in it, and it just finished storming about 3 feet in the last 2 days. Of course I haven't been letting the snow settle for the last two days, with all of the new accumulation, I had to get out on Sunday and Monday, and logged in 14 grand over those two days. But today, Tuesday, was coming together to be the day. Storm snow and avalanche danger was settling down, blue skies were forecast, and the partners, Jasmin (my wife) and Adam were very keen. So the plan was simple, a variation on the famous "Northern Powder Circuit," starting in Alta and skiing down into Big Cottonwood Canyon. We met at 7am at Adam's house, loaded up the car, and bolted for Big Cottonwood Canyon's park and ride lot to stash the car. We geared up and by 7:30am we were thumbing it for a ride up to Alta.
I barely had time to snap a photo, as the first car that pulled over was heading to Alta and had room for the three of us! Perfect.
8 am and we were at Alta, witnessing the results of a classic Wasatch dawn patrol. A handfull of my buddies had just ripped down Little Superior, and we chatted at the cars as they got ready to go to work. They didn't have to say a word about the quality of the skiing, as snow plastered all over their hats was a true indicator. Not to mention the state of a few cars in the parking lot. Check out the antennae I circled:
Time for the first stage of the plan to take effect. Up Flagstaff, back down in the sun to Alta, back up Flagstaff, down Day's Fork. Wow. The powder was deep and light and turns came easy, except for cold faces.
In classic Wasatch style, the backcountry enthusiasts were out in force...bonus for us for the big day, as we didn't have to break too much trail in the 3 feet of unsettled cold smoke. Not to mention the fact that there was tons of room for us to make turns.
Stage 2 of the day got us away from the crowds a little more-but with a catch. We got to the top of a run called 'Banana Days' and skied that shot down another 1,500 feet. As a testament to the beauty of the day, we ran into the Powderwhores film crew getting some shots for their next installment. We pulled onto the summit with a few of that crew, just in time to watch the infamous heli ski operation of the Wasatch, Wasatch Powder Birds, land nearby to ski the same shot as us. Fast transitions were pulled off, and before I knew it Jasmin was ripping down the run, not about to be smoked by some heli-skiers after we had earned our turns!
We skied the lap, and busted a heavy track back up to Banana Days for the next segment of our 10,000 foot operation: The Hallway Couloir, one of my favorite runs in the Wasatch! We worked our way down and found the entrance to the line and enjoyed 1,800' of tight chute and open apron powder bliss down into Cardiff Fork. Here's a shot of Jasmin dropping into the Hallway with a few feet of fresh and a few thousand feet of it below her skis!
We hit the valley bottom and were in the Powder Birds frenzy as helicopters, and heli-skiers were everywhere, skiing the same lines we were enjoying under human power. It was hard not to feel self-righteous - wouldn't you? We stumbled onto another group's track up George's Bowl, as we neared 7,000' for the day. Ahead of us lay 1,500' of more powder bliss, so we took our only double lap of the day on George's bowl...it was just too good to be true. We managed to find some room for turns, despite the heli-traffic, but it was hard for us not to get into the debate about whether or not heli-skiing should be allowed in the central Wasatch...I would love to hear some opinions on this one.
On top of the second lap, the helicopter flew up, spotted us in the landing zone and turned around...at least they respected our space a bit.
After two runs, and a climb back to the top of George's bowl, our mission was accomplished: 10 grand (and 50 extra feet!). Here's where my Suunto S6 watch is super handy...I can track the vertical all day, while running my log book. Handy mountain guide geek tool altimeter watch that every backcountry skier should have!
Now it was 4pm, we had been at it for 8 hours and reached our goal. It was time for one last rip down Mineral Fork, with a few grand of blower powder waiting to get some tracks in it. The sun was still out, the city was in the distance, and the mission was accomplished. The pub was calling us for some nachos and beverages!
Or so we thought...one more adventure besides hitchhiking down to our cars awaited. The trail out Mineral Fork was being guarded by Bullwinkle. And he was pissed off with all this snow, because life is tough when you can't go to the pub for nachos.
We teamed up, tried to scare him down the trail, but he charged us and we skied down into the creek as fast as we could, forcing an unplanned stream crossing, and post hole up to the road.
10 grand don't come easy.