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kevinbroderick.com » Blog Archive » Closing day at Alta

Closing day at Alta


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Alta Closed at 5:30 PMAlthough a Snowbird patroller seeking my input on snow conditions in Perla’s surprised me, it was a pseudorandom encounter with Marc Guido (firsttracksonline.com editor and skivt-l chief avalanche poodle) that started turning a good ski day into a memorable experience. No, it wasn’t just Marc’s politeness in waiting until after establishing that he knew me to ask what was going through my head in deciding to ski Perla’s while it was nice and firm; it was experiencing closing day at Alta with a bit of local guidance.

If you’ve never experienced an Alta closing day, you might wonder why it’s so special. Alta is not a normal ski area, and even I had already picked up on that when a management-type tacitly endorsed a liftie’s efforts to sell his employee comp vouchers while standing next to the ticket office door. It was reinforced when I rode a nice, modern detachable quad without restraining bars. And that was on Friday. The milk crate with a "place liftie treats here" sign proved that Sunday, April 23rd was no normal Sunday.Please remember to thank your lifities

Instead, it was closing day. With well over ten feet of snow left at the summit, wall to wall coverage, and Easter a week past, it was time to wrap up the 2005-2006 season. Even the previous week had been a warning, with lift operations suspended Monday through Thursday. The culmination of another season had arrived, and Alta’s regulars were prepared to go out in style.

Even as I was waiting for the Collins lift to open, the first costumed skiers were trickling in. By early afternoon, the party at Watson Shelter was roaring. With brews, brauts, and a box relocated from the terrain park, Watson was fully prepared for an afternoon of fun. As I joined Marc and his associates for lunch after a near-perfect corn harvest on Living the Dream, the box provided a stage for all manner of jibbing, crashing, and even a bit of fashion modeling. A skier not quite getting the box right

After lunch, Mark took care of one all-important task–giving the remainder of our beer pitcher to thirstier skiers–and we resumed a laid-back effort to make the most of the last lift-served day of the year. With an ominous storm looming down-canyon, we put aside thoughts of attempting Little Chute or Dogleg; flat light and the possibility of lightning made the top of Baldy an unappealing place to be. With the clouds came a chilly wind, and the sun’s efforts to provide us with classic spring skiing were thwarted. Marc suggested that it might be a good day to sneak off to the parking lot for an early start to tailgating, and the Utah weather proved itself to be just as fickle as Vermont’s. The skies over Alta cleared.

Marc skis under mid-afternoon clouds.Suddenly back to a sunny–albeit slightly chilled–spring day, we resumed the search for corn (or a reasonable approximation thereof). We skied a few of Alta’s classic runs and were treated to a flurry of snowballs from well-wishers already encamped atop Alf’s High Rustler. Marc suggested one last run in the Collins Bowl, and we traversed from the quad, beneath Baldy’s shoulder, in search of good snow. I chose to follow Marc’s son all the way over to Wildcat and was rewarded with soft, mostly untracked corn. That last run led to another, and then one more. The oncoming clouds seemed to stall out over Snowbird, and we took one more run. We were reminded that it was closing day as a snowboarder hiked in from the Snowbird side of Baldy and strapped in to join the migration towards High Rustler. Now it was nearly 4:30, and I left Marc to his tailgating. It was time for a New Englander to check out the High Boy Party.

As I slid through the trees at the end of High Traverse and past the sign warning that no ski patrol would be available after closing, I saw that the small group of partiers present earlier in the afternoon had grown, and the ridge line was packed with skiers.

Even at Alta, skiers are willing to help out a snowboarder in need of propulsionSkiers line the ridgeline above Alf's High RustlerDuck

I added my rental skis to the growing forest of equipment and began poking around. I cast a weary glance at the clouds moving in from down the canyon but was distracted by the ongoing party. Costumes were everywhere, and vintage skiwear seemed a popular theme. Many of those unable to procure all-out regalia to compete with the Sheriff, Santa Claus, or a PBR-swilling hippo settled for extravagant headwear; a sombrero and a PBR seemed enough costume for the skier at the center of evening’s first pyrotechnics display.

The steady flow of skiers trickled down to nothing as the time for last chair of the season passed, and the clouds moved in closer. Banks of white towered from the mountains and the valley all the way into the sky, and rain seemed to be only a matter of time. Unmoved by adversity, the party continued.

A well-prepared skier had brought a hula hoop, and some party-goers were able to demonstrate remarkable hula abilities; others demonstrated a complete lack thereof. The latter were likely influenced by more traditional party tools such as the handful of funnels working the crowd. Personally, I was under-prepared for the latter and opted to continue exploring the crowd and seek opportunistic photos with the stunning backdrop of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Hula done right That was when the snow began. We were amidst not April showers but instead the last flurry of the season. For fifteen minutes, the air was dotted with dancing flakes, tossed about by a moderate breeze. I ran into a high school teammate whom I hadn’t seen in nearly a year; evidently, he was continuing to pursue his career as a golf pro by summer and ski bum by winter. Luckily for me, he happened to have a few PBRs in his pack and left me with one and a reminder about May’s alumni lacrosse game.Skies clear over Little Cottonwood Canyon

Then the clouds began to clear and blue sky peeked down from above the lower canyon. Some flakes hovered lazily, and the storm had passed.

By this time, the hula hoop was around the waist of a slim and slightly inebriated Santa Claus, who seemed to be loosing a bet regarding his hula abilities. Nearby, another skier was wearing bubble wrap from shoulders to ankles; I neglected to ask if it was a costume or merely an attempt to make an inebriated descent of High Rustler less painful.

Around that time, descents began in earnest. As the number of departing skiers increased, so did the volume of snowballs directed at them. A few misdirected shots turned into a low-intensity snowball fight between two groups along the ridge, and one skier was able to demonstrate a throwing ability that did not bode well for the opposing side. After I extricating myself from the battle, I again ran into my classmate. He invited me to join in tailgating, and I decided that it was time to call it a day. I dropped into skier’s left, avoiding mandatory air but keeping my speed up until I was comfortably out of range. I stopped for a quick shot up the hill, turned downhill, and finished my last run of Alta’s 2005-2006 season.

Blue skies above and sunny bumps below keep the diehards atop High Rustler well into the evening
The End

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