A Bit of Backstory…
Last night I roped J-Bo into joining me on a little project I’d begun dreaming of three years earlier. Back then, I had an outstanding ski day at Alta – on a pass, it’s true! – that unfolded like this: Powder had dropped from the sky in quantity in earlier days. Baldy had been closed in the interim. I expected/guessed/hoped it would open on this bluebird day.
I did a few laps waiting for patrol to drop the rope to the Baldy OB, at the top of the Sugarloaf chairlift. From each vantage point possible, I kept an eye on the scene. People began queueing up. On my fourth chairlift lap or so, while still about 20 chairs from the uppermost lift tower, I watched the rope drop and about 20-30 people rush up the booter. Excitedly, I exited the chair and followed the fray. Everyone seemed to be headed to Main Chute, or the summit. I quickly dropped Perla’s and laughed my way down the deep untracked.
Skiing to the midway loading point for the Collins lift, I took that to the top, then skied down to the Sugarloaf lift, again heading to the top. From there, the booter again. So the day progressed. I ticked off the main four north/northeast facing chutes (Perla’s, Dog Leg, Little, and Main) as the day unfolded.
It was great. The powder was incredible, people were friendly, the weather perfect. However, even back then, it was a rare day for me in that I was riding chairlifts. Even as the chairlift merrily deposited me – without effort – high on the mountain, I dreamed of skiing the four lines in a day under my own power.
Enter the lighter, faster, farther scene in which many backcountry skiers are now dabbling. Tagging the four chutes in succession doesn’t even sound like a big day anymore. That in mind, when I explained the plan to J-Bo, I included the Pipeline in the mix. Kind of the cherry on the pie, that we would gobble up first.. Apparently I offered the right flavor of pie slice. J-Bo was in.
So the 5 Chutes day looked like this:
1. American Fork Twin Peaks: The Pipeline
..Over Hidden Peak to Baldy..
3. Dog Leg Chute
4. Little Chute
5. Main Chute
The day unfolded beautifully, with not a cloud in the sky. From here, it was all about timing the corn cycle. We did pretty good. Tagged the East facing Pipeline before it got too mushy. This was the best skiing I’ve had in this line. Smooth, not too rocky, excellent.
Perlas was a different story. Rocky in the upper bowl, then more snow coverage lower made for decent turns. We skied over to Main Chute to put in a booter. Not a ¼ of the way up, J-Bo let go with one of his zingers on the day. ‘10x, huh?’ referring to my last big outing last season. I laughed and kicked in a few more steps before pausing to catch my breath. We were both somewhat tired already. But tired is just a word. We pushed upwards.
Next came the Dog Leg Chute, with a dirt-dry entrance from Little Chute. A bit of walking on loose rock and dirt found us on top of the day’s crux: a narrow squeeze, maybe four feet wide. The right two feet were gravel, the left, somewhat slushy ice. After recently surmounting a similar obstacle with J-Bo in Pinball Alley, I knew downclimbing wasn’t on the menu. I could see rocks – think gravel – lining the runout, which required a hard right turn to avoid real rocks – think boulders.
I pointed ‘em and listened as my skis left a P-Tex offering to the snow gods for next winter. J-Bo came down as well, and then we began the real P-Tex offerings as we worked our way down the ‘Leg. Whoops. Ah, well. Ski mountaineers don’t require snow, as Sylvain Saudan proved decades ago. (Click the link; if you haven’t seen this short film clip, it’s worth your time.)
Little Chute was way better, best line on Baldy today. Deep corn, least amount of rocks, fun. Least amount of rocks is relative, of course.
Then back up Main, as Borro inquired if I was really going to make him ascend again. ‘Why, yes,’ I smiled. ‘What are friends for, if not encouragement?’ I wondered to myself. Although tired, I felt the best on this ascent. Can’t explain that one. Instead, I merely shouted occasional encouragement, such as, ‘only 800 more steps!’ Five minutes later, I cheerfully announced, ‘only 1,000 more steps!’
J-Bo reached the top more or less smiling, probably wondering if there were other chutes we could tack onto the tail end of the outing. But, he didn’t bring that up, so we kept it small. Back down Main Chute, trying our best to dodge the minefield of rocks that presented themselves. To the good, the exit had been groomed earlier, so it was smooth sailing on flat Alta waters down to the parking lot.
Hopes for the day: A-/B+ realm.
Delivered: A+, (plus being rocks, perhaps).