1998 ski trip to Alta, Utah (the best snow on earth)

For those who just want to hear about the skiing, click here.

Saturday February 21 - Take-off was uneventful at 8:30am. I landed in Dallas 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and then landed in Salt Lake City a little ahead of schedule. The only thing worth noting about the whole trip was that as we were landing in SLC, a woman looks out the window, seeing the beautiful site and asks her kids what body of water that is outside the window. Just another example of a stupid American. I land at 2:30 local time (2 hour time difference for all you geographically inept readers).

Trok's flight came in late. Hell, what do you expect from a flight originating in Chicago in the middle of winter, even in an El Ni§o year. I realized I forgot to bring suntan lotion (an item you'll later realize I didn't need), and went to the shop in the airport, but it was conveniently overpriced for an airport, so I passed. I check to make sure our reservation is set with the Alta shuttle, and just before it is ready to leave, Trok makes it there. If he was any later, we would have had to wait about half an hour for the next.

We get to the lodge, about 45 minutes away, without incident. What kind of trip is this going to be if all our plans are working out as they should? That's not our normal routine! We get out an walk up the 6 stairs into the lodge and are already out of breath. The base lodge is at 8500 feet, higher than any base lodge we've stayed at before. The sun is out and the temperature is in the 30's.

We tour the lodge, with all it's non-amenities. We go to the bar. I get a dark beer and some Mexican dish (Chimichonga or something) because I haven't eaten any substantial food since the previous night. We go to the "lounge/game room" which consists of a cruddy couch, a video game with no plug, a skanky pool table and two beat up ping-pong tables. One of the ping-pong table is smack against the wall, so we decided to play, adding a new dimension to the game by allowing bank shots off the wall.

For dinner that night (the breakfast and dinner are included in the price of the lodging), I have the Mahi-mahi. We are put at a table right next to a heater that must have had revenge on its mind, as we are stifling. There are three choices of meals for every dinner. We order the most expensive wine on the menu, a bottle of Rutherford hills Merlot for $29. Utah is controlled/owned by the Mormon's and they controlled all the liquor laws. Without getting into detail (you can look it up on the web if you really want to know), we were not able to order wine by the glass; Only by the bottle. Also, if you bring your own wine, it has to be "approved" by some alcohol agency which consists of charging you a fee for uncorking your bottle.

In Switzerland, we landed on a Saturday morning, relaxed all day, and then took off Sunday also to get out internal clocks on track. Our plan was to land Saturday in SLC, and not ski until Monday, a plan which was fine for skiing in Europe, over eight hours away and 7 hour time difference. But it was silly to do that here also. Why the hell does one go to Alta? To ski! So we decided to ski on Sunday, even just take it easy to get used to powder skiing, which we have never done. I read in a ski magazine that one does not go to Alta to learn how to powder ski, but to experience the powder skiing they have been searching their life for. Of course, this didn't apply to us as we have never powder skied. So, we want to take it really easy the first day. We watch some TV, and go to bed.

Sunday February 22: There were about 6 inches of snow overnight. During breakfast, we heard the avalanche bombs going off. It snowed all day while we skied. We went back to our room for lunch, a pattern we followed every day. Hell, it was so convenient to do so. It was at this time we noticed our unusual television. No matter what channel we left it on, it would always go back to channel 2, and it was at maximum volume. In addition, TNT was not listed as one of the channels, and you couldn't get to it by using the up/down button on the remote, but you can get to it directly by pressing in the channel number. Damned if remember what channel that is, for you future Utah visitors.

We tried to find the Alta Lodge, which has a general store, and maybe some other shops where we could buy "stuff." We went all the way down the rope tow, but found out that this was just another restaurant. We realized it was right next to our lodge, and took another rope tow up to it. We went downstairs to the general store but it was closed. It's only open a few hours per day. It also didn't look like it would have to much "stuff" being it was in what resembled a locker room.

I skied only until a little after lunch. I didn't want to overdue it the first day. Trok stayed out a little longer. At dinner that night, we sat with some people who have been coming to Alta for 15 years! For desert, we had chocolate cream cake. A rather uneventful day ends. We're not quite sure how much snow fell during the day.

Monday, February 23: It snowed about 12 inches overnight. It snowed all day. We ski a full day today. It was snowing so hard at times, that it looked like the snow was going both horizontal and upwards. And no, it wasn't the wind causing this.

On one of the lifts, we saw money (bills of some kind) on the ground right below us. We tried to ski down the trail that would lead us to the money, but believe me, it's not easy to find a single spot on the mountain on your way down. We thought we may have found the area, but there was no money. It looked as if someone may have tracked off trail to get the money. On the way up the lift the next time, the money was gone, and we are pretty sure it was the area we checked. Either the person who was out the money found it, or someone else had the same idea as us. We're in Utah, so the money probably made it back to the owner ;)

At dinner that night we sat with a guy from Austria who has been skiing at Alta for 30 years! He says it's the only place he skies; why would anyone want to go anywhere else? He told us that three weeks ago, there was an avalanche here that wiped out a couple of rooms in the lodge right next to ours. No one was hurt, but there was a rumor that there was a couple in there "making whoopie" because they wanted to experience the height of their enjoyment just as the avalanche hit. They were buried and had to be dug out. He also told us that sometimes it snows so much here, that they lock you in the lodge, literally. You are not allowed outside, as they have to do avalanche control and make sure it's safe to go outside. He also told us a story about how one day he took the bus to downtown SLC, and the driver has a foreign accent that he couldn't understand, and when the driver asked for "exact change," he thought the driver was asking him for a sex change. He didn't board the bus and later realized what the driver meant. Anyway, this Austrian's idea of the perfect day in Alta is:

That night, while cruising the channels, we were watching a movie, and when the commercial came on, the announcement of the movie we were watching was "Army Of Darkness." Holy Shit! This movie will forever be linked to skiing. To find out why, go here.

Tuesday, February 24: We wake up. Itís snowing. Whatís new? I wrote down "wine Tylenol" in my notes and have no idea what it means. See what happens when I write the story so far after it happened? This is the day when my "powder chords" would have come in handy for Trok. While skiing down one of the more adventurous trails, he fell, and lost one of his skies. We spent over an hour looking for his ski. To make matters worse, it happened right under the ski lift, so we had people looking at us the whole time. Some laughed, some told us to look at a distance well after we think the ski should be, while others said, no, look for it well before you think where it should be. We gave up, and just as Trok was ready to ski down the rest of the way on one ski (What a dummy. This is a sure way to die), he stepped right on the missing ski. For reference, it was neither ahead or behind where he thinks he lost it. It was far off to the right. So, our advice is look far of to the right!

We went in for lunch a little early as we were pooped. You try spending an hour looking for a ski, on unstable two to three foot high powder on un-flat ground and see how much energy you have. We went back to the room, and placed our very wet clothes (sweat and melting snow from lying down and resting every couple of minutes as we conducted our search) on the heater, rested and then headed back out. The heat was up really high, as our burning clothes smelled up the whole room. I guess the events of the day started affecting my brain as I put on my boots before putting on my ski suit.

After finishing our day skiing, we decided to hit the hot tub. This one was in a more traditional indoor environment. At dinner this night, we were put at a table with some surfer dudes from California. I think one of the guys names was Jeff Spicoli. We asked what job he has in California, and he said he had no job. He just lives on the beach and surfs all day. He had us going, because then he told us that he was putting us on because we probably thought thatís what all people from California do. Hehehe. The snow finally stopped just as dinner ended.

We went back to the room and I called Dan, a friend who lives in SLC. I was planning on seeing him on Sunday, but we skied, so we decided to see him Wednesday, as that was going to be our day of no skiing. We would go tour SLC, like the Mormon Tabernacle, and then see him for dinner. I said Iíd call him tomorrow with the details. We watched TV for a while, and looking outside, I noticed it started snowing again.

Wednesday, February 25: It snowed 22 inches overnight and was still snowing as we went to breakfast. While at breakfast, we heard the avalanche bombs going off. We went back to the room, as we were in no rush to go into SLC this early. I decided to go downstairs to look at the bus schedule. I overheard someone say something about the road being closed and I asked if I can get into town. The response I got was like Wayne from Wayneís World saying, "Hya, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!"

I went back to the room and told Trok that we couldnít go to town, so we decided to go and take a stroll outside instead. We go downstairs, but there is a bench blocking the door outside. What was this? There is a sign on the door telling us that "interlodge" is in effect, which means we are forbidden from going outside under penalty of arrest. Wow! So what the Austrian guy told us the other day wasnít just being over dramatic. It turns out the road was closed, the mountain was closed, and the airport was closed. However, strangely enough, he rope tow was open. Odd.

Now we really have nothing to do. Luckily this was the day we decided not to ski, so we really didnít lose any skiing. So, we went to the "game room" and shot some pool. Yeah, that took up about 1 hourís worth of time. What fun! TNT was on, on the TV in the game room, and it was at this time we noticed that TNT shows only cowboy movies all day. After boring ourselves in the game room, we went back to the room, hoping something changed from the last time we were there. I decided to call Berkely and speak to some of my long lost friends, since they have an 800 number. I speak to Gary #2 and Ralf, telling them of the trip so far, along with our current dilemma.

It is just about now that the lifts open, and we are freed from our confines. The road is still closed, so the only people skiing, would be those at the mountain. We decide to take a walk up to the "library," since there ins nothing better to do. Maybe we could use their internet connection (which we were told they have) to check in at home, or just to appease our online addiction. We stop at Alta lodge for no reason and look around the ski shop. They have what look like Star Trek skiing outfits, which give us a laugh. We go to the "library" but it is closed. It doesnít look like much of a library; sort of like a big room with books in it. On the way back to our lodge, we stop at Alta lodge again, asking if they know when the library would open. It turns out, this library is open from 6pm-9pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday only. And since the librarian lives in SLC, and the road is closed, it wouldnít be open today.

What does one do when you're stuck in Alta and donít ski? Go to the bar! Yesterday just happened to be "Fat Tuesday" and written in the window in magic marker at the bar, is a message, "Fat Tuesday, Deep Wednesday." The window is sort of a message board for current cute little sayings.

Dinner that night we sat with an the Austrian guy again among others. I wrote "fire pizza" in my notes and have no idea what it means. Oh, it snows 22 inches during the day today. While we were telling some of the people at our table about the "secret" TNT channel that can only be gotten to by punching in the number on the remote (as the up/down keys just pass right by it), they said, "you have a remote?" I found that rather amusing.

Thursday, February 26: I donít recall how much it snowed overnight, but during today, it snows another 17 inches. This is the ultimate day of skiing we have ever done. Because of all the snow yesterday, and the fact that the mountain was only open for half a day and only people who were at the mountain were able to ski, the powder is DEEP! I rent powder skies today to experience it the correct way.

Trok sticks with his skies, and has a tough go at it. Meanwhile, Iím digging these skies and find no problem turning at all. We sample terrain at knee depth, then waist depth and finally chest depth. Snow is flying in our faces. Iím moving like a banshee and Trok keeps falling. One time he fell and the only part of his body visible was his hat and glove. The rest of his body was under snow.

Tree. What that means I donít know. It was in my notes, and now that Iím writing this part of the story 6 months after the trip, I have no idea what it means. Because of my easy time with these skies, I do not feel tired today and we go all the way to 4:30. However, we end in a place where we would just normally ski down a trail called "return to Garmania" right down to our lodge, but due to the massive snow buildup overnight and during the day, it is closed. We are forced to ski all around the mountain to find a way back, and it was not easy. It took a long time, and much of it was flat until we found the rope tow. Blue sky appeared for a minute or two and then it was gone. What a tease!

We get back to the lodge and there are all these people lying around in the hallways. It turns out that the mountain road was closed at around noon because it was snowing so hard, so anyone up at the mountain is now stuck there. Of course, if you are already staying at the mountain, you are not inconvenienced in any way. We go to the bar, hang out in our room and feel bad for these people. Well, maybe not that much. At 6pm, they open the road, and there is a mass exodus, which leads to a mass traffic buildup. I heard that it took some people 3 hours to get to the bottom of the mountain. It is only a couple of miles, but with a single lane, and snowy road, no one was going anywhere fast. At 10pm, interlodge was declared again, as it kept snowing. We were worried that we would be locked in tomorrow and miss some skiing.

Saturday, February 27th: Did it snow last night? Duh! However only 3 inches. During the day we got another 7 inches of snow. Today, for the first time, we saw the sun. During the day the weather shifted from sun to snow and back all day. As a special treat, the mountain road was closed in the morning, so the place was empty until late morning. I was back to my regular skies today. There was nothing unusual about todayís skiing, or least nothing I wrote down in my notes. We were pretty tired at this point having skied for a 5th day. We did, however ski until the mountain closed today, skiing for the first time at a part of the mountain we hadnít seen yet.

That night our dinner partners were an Australian couple. We went down to check out of the lodge so we wouldnít have to do it in the morning and we were talking with Lusty, the lodge proprietor, and she offered me a job to work there after finding out I was a computer programmer. She said it would be free room and board and I can ski for free. Pay was somewhere around $1000/month. This was very enticing, but I think Iíd get sick of it after a while, and without access to the Internet, I'd die.

Before we went to sleep we saw the interlodge sign go up again, locking us in the hotel until 6:45am the next day. If this wasnít lifted before we had to leave at round 10am, weíd be in trouble. Weíd miss our flights and have to stay another day. That wouldnít have been a problem.

At the airport, we ran into the epitome of White Trash. Iíll end on that.

Next year: Austria!