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MCP grand tour #1

abc

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With so little snow in the northeast, I would have expected a few more TR for the non-northeast. Or maybe people are still recovering like myself...

MCP stands for Mountain Collective Pass, which gives 2 days skiing in a whole bunch (20+?) of mountains all over the continent! In practice, few have the time to hit all of the mountains, especially given the distance among them. However, there're a few "cluster" of mountains that can be done as one trip. That's what I did during the Christmas-New Year week. The list on this tour were Snowbird, Sun Valley and Jackson Hole.

I was originally planning to do this group later in the season when snow condition will be better. But I had a job change last year, with different vacation policy (no carry over). So time off in hand and no snow on the ground in the northeast, what's a ski-addict to do but to fork over the plane ticket to the promise land out west? :) )

Cost consideration:

Most of the mountains in the MCP list are top tier mountains (at least in terms of list ticket price). So it's actually a good deal to use them during the most expensive period of the season. 2 days free at $125/day work out to be far more valuable than 2 days free when it's $50/day, right? ;-)

The flight, booked at relatively late stage, wasn't cheap but not exorbitant. And it's a direct flight to Salt Lake City at the time of my liking. So can't really complain there.

Lodging: Those of you who had skied SLC knows one can find motels for less than $50 a night easy. I actually did it in style, paying $55 at the Hilton by the airport. Sure, it adds an extra 15 min to the morning drive. But I have the 2 hr time advantage anyway. So it's not such a hardship to get up early.

Sun Valley was more expensive, though partly it's because I've never been there and didn't have a clue where I should base myself at. Turned out it was too cold to walk around town and still require a short drive to the mountain anyway. So the premium I paid staying "in town" didn't really bought me much.

Jackson is familiar ground for me. It's the biggest summer tourist destination of the country. So lodging is over-supplied in the winter time. I had my pick of decent motels for about $70-80/night. A couple blocks walk to the town square (and all its fantastic restaurants), pool/hot tub & free breakfast. Had I wish to, I could just hop on the ski bus which stops right outside the door.

To get from one place to another, I had to have a car. My company had a contract rate with Avis so that's not too bad.

Stop 1, Alta/Snowbird

Flew out Christmas eve. There was snow in the forecast but it was dry when I landed. Morning reveals several inches of snow on the ground in the city itself!

All excited, I hop in the car only to realize this being Christmas day, plows were nowhere to be seen! The roads still had a blanket of 2-3" of fresh snow! Glad I had a SUV but still had to take it cautiously. Fortunately, the roads up to Alta/bird were open (chains required but AWD's ok)

Up in the canyon, it was still snowing. Can't see much of the mountains. So I opted to do Alta which has more trees than Snowbird which is more open. There were fresh snow everywhere and NOBODY around!!! No lift line to speak of too. :D

That's the good news. The not so good news was I couldn't see too well in that flying snow. I hadn't ski Alta for a while so although I vaguely remembers the layout, I wasn't too sure which trail goes to which lift. And Alta being the acronym of "Another Long Traverse Again" lived up to its reputation. With the new snow and poor visibility, it was very easy to get caught on some flat area. So my bliss of fresh track was almost always punctuated by long poling to get out of some long flat run out... :(

Still, a good enjoyable day. Having just recovered from a bad shoulder injury, the poling really killed me. Advil was called for at lunch, and another one before bed time.

Forecast was calling for clearing the next day. Snowbird, here I come!

(to be continued)
 
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JDMRoma

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Good read so far ! Let's go with the rest.
Glad to hear you were able to get out there whilst the east sucked !


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abc

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Day 2, Snowbird.

The previous day's lack of crowd was expected. It was Christmas day and many people are still doing family stuff. And the storm didn't produce that much by the local's standard. But the following day, I was bracing for big crowd, long lift line and crowded slopes. So when I first found a parking spot not too far away and then stepped onto a pretty quiet tram deck, I was in luck!

Sunshine after a (small) snow storm, lack of crowds, what's not to like? When the chair that take you to the goods are down :(

But that's later in the day. In the morning, it was ski on the lift. Lots of soft pile of snow all over the place. The groomers had a thick top coat of soft hero snow. I alternate lapping the Little Cloud and the groomers below it so I don't tire out my legs too soon. But at some point, my legs scream for a rest so lunch at the mid-Gap lodge. Even the lodge wasn't too crowded. Found a spot to sit easily.




(view off Little Cloud bowl)


At lunch, I overheard they just opened Mineral Basin for the season. Suddenly, even that small insignificant crowd evaporated away! Everybody must have headed over there. So I thought I would head up on the Little Cloud and over to the other side of the ridge. I took the Gap II chair which should get me to Little Cloud. But as I got off the chair, I was informed the trail that would take me to the Little Cloud was closed! I asked why. They were clearing the area so a lifeflight heli can land. Oho. I lap the GAP II chair one more time, ended up sharing a chair with someone who saw what happened. The incident description was graphic and gruesome. Puts a damper on the spirit of the day. Ended up having to lap that chair several times before they finally open the run again. With both Gazook down and Election closed, there's simply no way to get to Little Cloud and up the ridge (unless I go all the way down to the base to take the bus to the tram).

When I finally got back to Little Cloud, it didn't seem to be worth going over to Mineral Basin side any more.
The skiing in the Little Cloud bowl was very good. Didn't seem to make sense to give up on certain good in search of possible great. Besides, Mineral side of the ridge goes into the shadow in earlier in the afternoon. I lapped that chair until they close it down. By then, my legs were about to turn into jelly...

---

If you ski SLC but have never eaten at Frida's Bistro in downtown Salt Lake, you owe yourself an experience of Mexican/fusion you never will find anywhere else! It's not a cheap Mexican joint. But it's a culinary delight well worth the cost!
 
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abc

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Stop #2, Sun Valley

Now the math of how valuable a holiday "free" day is turns against me. For once I used up the free days, any additional days are 50% off. Great, but 50% of $100+ holiday rate is still a lot. And my legs really could use a rest. (Didn't know what happened, for the first time ever, I somehow wind up with very raw skin of my shin after the 2 days of skiing. So a day of rest would allow the skin to recover)

So instead of paying $60 to suffer through my raw shin skin, I endure the pain of leaving all that powder behind and headed over to Sun Valley.

Cruising along the highway, I saw this little sign of "Hot Spring". My steering wheel turn on its own and I found myself in this really crowded and noisy little place with a few pools of hot water. Now you wouldn't have thought hot water and raw skin goes together too well, but you'd be wrong if that hot water is full of minerals. My shin was a lot happier the next morning.

Sun Valley didn't strike me as a place I would go out of my way to pay to visit. But since it's included in the pass, it's the perfect chance to sample it. Let's just say it isn't my kind of place.

Why? It's a cruiser's paradise. Cruiser of steeps, that is. Which I'm NOT.
 
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abc

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Day 1: Heart attack on warm up run!

Since I've never been there and didn't know my way around, I thought I'll see if I could hook up with a mountain tour which many big destination mountain runs. The crowd I didn't see at the Salt Lake area must have gone to Sun Valley. The lodge was swarming with bodies and gears. The locals are friendly, but the visitors are a different matter. They hog tables. They even hog the little wagon for carrying gears from the parking lot to the lodge! (what would you do after you pull your wagon full of gear to the lodge? Leave your gear on the wagon so no one gets to use the wagon if you're a Sun Valley visitor!) As I said, I had shoulder injury so carrying skis were a bit of a pain. I tried to find one of those wagon to drag my gear but with very little success.

In that crowd and chaos, I didn't find the mountain tour I was looking for. So I went exploring myself. After all, I can pretty much ski anything short of cliffs and super tight trees.

Despite the big crowd in the lodge, the gondola line was blissfully short. So up to the top I went and, according to the trail map, a nice long blue call Christmas Ridge should give me a good eye's over of a good part of the mountain and a nice warm up.

So as I cruise the first 50 yard of the nice blue run, I came to the edge of a roll over and my heart suddenly stopped! Holy sh*t, they call this a blue?!

Ok, it's just a groomer. But like I said, I'm not a groomer person, much less a steep one. But I did get a view of the terrain on both side of the ridge, and the bowl next to it. So that's where I headed over. Unfortunately, the "Sun" part of Sun Valley isn't the kindest thing for snow. It took me a couple runs to find the aspect with good snow. (the more Sun facing part of the bowl was a bit rough).

Just when I was about to settle in a groove of lapping the good part of the bowl, I found myself dangling in a chair that's not moving. The lack of crowd means I was in a chair by myself, with no one to talk to. Minutes tick by in a glaciated pace. It felt like I was stuck on the chair for ages. In reality, it was about 10-15 minutes. When I got off, I asked what was the issue. "Mechanical, we're shutting the chair down for the rest of the day". Ahhh... my luck again! All the good snow but no direct ways to lap it. (it takes two chair to do the same, and suddenly the line builds).

I turned my attention to the Warm Spring side of the mountain. Unofficially, it's called the refrigerator! The base temperature was above freezing. But the ride up on the Warm Spring chair was like riding in the freezer section of a giant frig. I only lasted 2 runs before I had to return to the sunny side of the mountain (the side with the broken chair and long lines).

So it's time to call it a day. There's always tomorrow. Maybe they'll even got that chair fixed.
 
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abc

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Day 2 Sun Valley, where's the sun?

Day 2 dawn with the sun going in and out of the clouds. I started the day from the freezer section ("Warm" Spring chair). The snow was better preserved by NOT being baked by the sun. Soft and edgeable. Even for a non-groomer person like myself, I was enjoying the cruise. Still, after 2-3 runs, the cold really seep into every bone of my body and I needed to head over to the sunny side.

Fortunately, the sun did come out. And the broken chair of the previous day was running again. The day was even warmer than the previous day. So strangely, the snow on the sun facing side of the bowl, which was hard and lumpy the previous day, had soften into something resembling soft corn. I lapped that quite a few times. Until all of a sudden, clouds came in and all the definition of snow surface had blurred.

Back to the "Warm" Spring side freezer section one more time. The snow was still pretty good and not too many people were skiing it. I guess I wasn't the only wussy who couldn't stand the cold. I lapped it a couple more times before I had to bail again.

With the "sunny" side now in the cloud and the tree-lined side in deep freeze, I called it a day.

The skiing was fun enough. I felt I got my money's worth from the pass. But I don't think I'll go out of my way to ski Sun Valley if I hadn't got it as part of a pass.
 
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abc

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Day 3 of Sun Valley, indecision and decision.

Day 3 dawn clear as a bell. But some weird inversion kept the village in NEGATIVE single digit territory, walking from the front door to the car was painful!

The previous day, I had a blast on the bowl but poor visibility cut my time on it short. So I was very much tempted to do the same again. Holiday price notwithstanding (well, 50% of holiday price).

I drove to the parking lot I've been using. It was pretty full. So I thought, there's that bigger lot up the hill, I'd go there since there's a parking shuttle to take me to the lodge anyway. I drove there, waited, waited, and no shuttle.

Because I had trouble carrying my skis on my shoulder, I decided I drove to the skier drop off, and find out about the shuttle. It turned out they only run the shuttle to one of the lots, whatever their rational. No wonder one lot was almost full and the other half empty!

So, after all the flaffing about and time waste, I was finally getting ready. I look out the window and found, to my astonishment, a long lines snaking its way around the building! It turned out another of the chair was down, which one from the base to mid-mountain. So the gondola line was pretty insane.

Because I have a 5 hour drive from Sun Valley to Jackson, with the last hour on the infamous Teton Pass, I was planning on only do a few hour of intense run on the sunny side of the bowl where I had a good time on the day before. But with the delay from the parking shuttle, and now the long line just to get up the mountain, time was running away faster than an empty snowboard with a broken leash on a black run (yes, I saw it once, very amusing, as long as you were not its owner)

At $60 for the day, it didn't seem to be worth it for the few hours I've got. So I took off my boot and drove off towards Jackson.

(Jackson and the final day of Snowbird later)
 
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dlague

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I agree - interesting perspective! Looking forward to the rest.


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abc

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Stop #3 Jackson

I've been to Jackson twice before. My second visit, I lucked out with fresh snow which was absolutely unreal! (it wasn't JUST the snow, but the combination of terrain and snow) Unfortunately, the timing of my third visit wasn't quite that perfect. Still, there's plenty of base and the snow they had was plenty soft too.

The inversion I experienced in Sun Valley the day before followed me to Jackson. Morning temperature was in the negative territory. brrrr.... :( Getting going was tough. First chair? What first chair?

First day, the tram line looked reasonably short. They even roped off the maze so the line went straight into the tram waiting area. But, not knowing what the condition was like, I was reluctant to head straight up there on my first run. More over, standing in line at -10 degrees first thing in the morning just didn't appeal. :( (maybe THAT's why the tram line was so short?) So I went up the gondola instead. Talking to the host on the gondola exit, I was reminded there's new terrain opened with the newly installed Teton chair. So I decided I'll use that as my warm up instead.

The groomers were nice and soft. But the bumps on the side look shiny and skied off. I dipped my tip in there just to verified. Yuck! Even some of the trees look skied off. So I stayed on the groomer for a few more runs and quite enjoyed the nice soft snow.

Jackson is really a very different place than most other mountains I've been to. The locals seems to be all hardcore. They ski for a challenge! So are the majority of the visitors. They come for the legendary expert terrain Jackson has to offer. So the herd went up the tram to the Resolution bowls and the Sublet chair to lap Larami bowl (forgive my spelling, probably wrong but you got the idea). That leaves all the blue on the (looker's) right side of the mountain all empty for the wussy, which I was for the day, to explore at leisure. There're enough variety it doesn't bore me to death like some of the look-exactly-alike blue boulevards of the east (Okemo anyone?).

Still, it was time to move up the mountain to the "big league" off the tram. The wait was never too bad for the days I was there. Each time I reached the top of the tram, I asked whoever on staff (standing in front of the map board) which path had the best snow. Each time I got a different answer. Eventually, I figured it out on my own (by trying out the variation of suggestions) which part of the bowl had the best snow and the least demanding bumps. I lost count of how many times I lap the tram (but no more than 3 times each day, it's a looong way to ski top to bottom). I have to admit though, the wait for the tram, although short by tram standard, was excruciating due to the cold.

At the bottom of the top bowl, one has the choice of lapping Larami bowl via the Sublet chair. That's the "bumper's paradise". On my first visit several years ago, that's where I spend a lot of my time, because usually the tram wait were too long. But this time, because the tram wait was relatively short, I did the top part of the mountain a lot more. (waiting in negative temperature notwithstanding)

To get from mid-mountain down to the bottom, there're all these glorious (or endless? depends on one's perspective) bumper fields called the Hogbacks. On day 1, which was the coldest, the bumps looked totally skied off so I didn't attempt them. (once you commit, you're stuck with a VERY long bump run). More over, because of the inversion, the base of the mountain was actually far colder than the sunny top side. I took the easy way down via the groomer instead. On the last day, it warmed up enough I took one of the easier ones all the way to the bottom. It took more than 1/2 an hr!

Obligatory picture from the top of the tram:



xxx
 
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abc

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On second day, I discovered a little hut by the Casper lodge, with no sign but a sea of flags bearing the name of all the ski manufacturers. It turned out this was the Ski Demo Center, where anyone can demo a bunch of skis at the (gasp) rate of $5/hr! The condition on mountain was perfect for trying out skis: there were chopped up powder, soft edgeable bumps, shinny skied-off bumps and groomers both soft and the scraped-off kind! (the only condition missing was fresh bottomless powder but that's not what I need to demo ski for anyway) So I took great advantage of that offer and tried out quite a few different skis too. Basically, I took a run on the Casper chair with a new pair of skis. If I don't care for it, I swap it for something different. But if the ski passed the run off Casper (which has the center groomed but the sides bumped up), I took it to Sublet chair and put it through the pace at Larami bowl (vast open bump field with a strip of "escape" groomer down the middle)

Another thing about Jackson, I never had a bad meal there!

This time, I tried a new one call The Kitchen. The food was international fusion, with a tilt towards the east (Asia/Middle east). The menu was creative and execution spot on. I went back a second time just so I could try some different dishes. Unlike motels though, restaurants in Jackson were not cheap. You do get some really good food, but pay for it.
 
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abc

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I spend 4 days at Jackson. Thoroughly enjoyed my time there despite the lack of any fresh snow. It's a mountain for free roaming. There are vast variety of lines as far as one's eye can see (and balls to attempt). One can mix and match to make it as difficult (or less difficult) as one's mood dictate. It's also a fairly "vertical" mountain (as oppose to Alta) so I was spared of excessive poling at traverses. (to get from one side of the mountain to the other, there're some cat tracks to deal with, but they weren't quite as flat as the ones I had to deal with at Alta. Granted, there's no new snow so the cat tracks were easier to get through)

Initially, I was planning on heading back to SLC on Saturday and ski Snowbird Sunday and Monday. But the skiing at Jackson was so pleasant I decided to stay and ski Sunday there too. Again, I chose to stick with know good rather than hunting for potential great. Besides, with no new snow, Snowbird couldn't possibly be much better anyway.

From talking with the locals, I was lucky in my timing after all. The deep bone chilling cold kept the snow from melting in the sun (Jackson faces mostly south). So I was spared the refrozen coral reef that was often the case of the Hogbacks.

The only "casualty" of the deep freeze was I didn't get to walk about the town which is otherwise delightful. Last night in town, it was finally warm enough that I walked 2 blocks to a wine bar/restaurant called the Bin 22. It's a cute place with lots of wine choices. The restaurant part was like a bar but arranged in multiple rows. Menu was supposed to be Spanish, which I can't vouch for its authenticity, though nonetheless excellent. Portion was definitely tapas ;). So whilst great for sampling variety of dishes, it's pricy by the time I was done with desert and all.
 
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JDMRoma

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Great report, sounds like you had fun !
Thanks for sharing !


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abc

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Stop #4, Back to Snorbird for one last day!

My flight back was 5pm on Monday. So I knew I could get a pretty good bit of skiing before needing to head to the airport.

After skiing on Sunday, I drove back to SLC, bed down at some non-descriptive motel at Midvale for like $39. Breakfast was included, that's about it. The "spa" wasn't working. Not a big deal since I arrived relatively late and was so tire I went to bed quickly.

Got up early in the morning so I could fully utilize that last day of skiing. Quick check on the web site shows just about everything was open! Many of the trail that wasn't open a week ago would be in play on my last day. I was excited!

Driving up the mountain, I saw a different story unfolding. There's a mist on the top half of the mountain. Knowing the top half of Snowbird is treeless, that didn't bode well.

I've figured it out from past visit that I could park at Creekside and use the 2 chair combo of Gadzook + Little Cloud to get (almost) to the top. This way, I avoided the congestion at the tram base & the long walk through the "base" maze. At Creekside, I could simply ski to the small parking lot nobody use anyway! This strategy is needed so I could get off the mountain quickly to make my flight.

Sure enough, when I got up to the top of Gadzook chair, I couldn't even see the top of Little Cloud. So stay on the Gad II chair I did. Even found a short section of trees that hadn't been skied off (i.e. soft snow). It was nice enough I did it a couple more times. All the while, hoping the mist would burn off, which it did eventually.

Up the Little Cloud I went. But once on top, it's a different story. The light was very flat, and a thin veil of cloud still obscured the surrounding. Well, I was up there and I had no choice but to ski down somehow. I headed to the side of Road To Provo. That side of the bowl wasn't open a week ago when I was there, so I suspect it maybe less skied off. I traverse as far as my nerve allowed (traversing without able to see the cat track was scary, several times I got frighteningly close to the edge!). Then I jumped off into the abyss...

Hallelujah!

Deep pile of soft snow cushioned my landing! Followed by big-S turns on that same deep soft snow!!! It's NOT untracked fresh powder , mind you. But nonetheless floaty soft smooth snow we east coast skiers dream of but only occasionally get for real in our home environment.

I went right back up, knowing the condition could change any moment. Second trip, I didn't traverse as far as I did the first time. Nerve is a funny thing. In the white out, it felt a lot more comforting to jump off the vertical lip on my own terms rather than unknowingly slip off the edge of the cat track. :(

By the time I got to the bottom a second time, the cloud was streaming in fast. I decided to chance it one more time, this trip doing the Regulator side of the bowl which had better lighting. Not wise. The bumps were the shiny skied-off kind. And the groomed Regulator was a sheet of (western) ice. I "made" it down, not exactly enjoying it. And decided I'd go back to the woods in Gad II.

On the Gad II chair, I got a tip from another skier that a whole section on looker's right had "tons of powder"! (He even gave me specific directions on how to proceed, but once in the woods, it's not entirely clear which path leads where). Powder I had plenty indeed, up to mid-calf at time. But not being too familiar with the lay of land, I wasn't too adventurous in my line choices. At one point, I saw a patch of fairly open woods with only 2 separate tracks down it. But I couldn't see the exit... "why did the locals NOT go down this delicious patch of untracked powder a full week after the last dump?" It could be that trail hadn't been open all week, I would never know. But the conservative side of me prevail and I left that patch of untouched powder, well untouched. After all, I had a flight to catch in an hour, I can't afford to be fumbling in the woods in knee deep snow.

Anyway, I missed the line suggested by my friendly chair-mate. Instead of coming out at the Gad II chair for another lap, the path I went took me all the way to the base. By then, the timing was such I would be really rushing it if I choose to head back up mountain. So I decided to end my trip on a high note of that last run down some calf deep powder.

Landed at JFK close to midnight. The temperature was a frigid 10 degrees. The baggage handlers were having it rough. It took nearly an hour for our bags to appear in the terminal. But for me coming back from negative temperature land, it's positively balmy! :)

THE END.

(I'll try to upload a few pictures later, I didn't take many though, just a lot of cloud)
 
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