Bonus story: Alta 2003


There wasn't supposed to be a story here. I was supposed to leave for Alta Utah directly from work on Wednesday on JetBlue, ski Thursday through Sunday, return on a late flight Sunday night, catch up on some sleep Monday and wait a little less than three weeks for my Vail trip. There will be precious little skiing in this story, as I have now been to Alta for the 5th time, and it has all pretty much been covered, so if you are looking for adventure on the slopes, you'd probably best be served by reading one of the other stories, but if an unexpected adventure is what you're after, keep reading. Note that I had to rush this story out due to the fact that I am heading to Vail in two weeks from the time I returned from this trip and the demand was for this to be available before I leave. So there will by typos and probably some grammatical errors as I didn't have tome to proofread.

Wednesday, February 12: This trip was a first for me in that I was going alone. Equipped with my trusty Apple laptop to view some DVD's and my iPod with over 3000 songs, I was well prepared for the independent skiing I was in for. I left work at 4:00pm and made it to JFK in a little over half an hour for my 7:45pm flight. I had the World's Worst Pretzel at a vendor in the airport and had to wash it down with the World's Worst Sam Adams I ever drank. I got a Discover magazine, had an uneventful flight, although we landed half hour late due to strong tail winds. I land at 11:30 and finally get my luggage at 11:45 for the shuttle up to the mountain. It is 1:45am my time and I am exhausted. I share the shuttle ride up with a British woman who is in Alta for 10 days, for her first time.

Thursday, February 13: For the first time in all my trips to Alta, I have witnessed something new. I woke up to snow, but it was wet snow. I have never seen wet snow anywhere out west in any ski trip I have ever taken. Although it was wet, it was piling up. Although I have never witnessed wet snow in Alta, I have witnessed poor visibility sue to fog, heavy snow and just plain being in a cloud, and today was no different. Visibility fell to one pole length, while traveling up the chairlifts. The temperature is between 30 and 45 degrees.

I am to meet up with Willis (her online name. For an explanation of the name, you'll have to make up something yourself) from Salt Lake City today, a female I met over the Internet two weeks earlier. Realizing I am going to be spending four days skiing alone, I tried to drum up a "buddy" to ski with for a day or two. As luck would have it, she was going on a trip of her own, to Vegas on Friday, which would leave only Thursday for us to meet up, if she chose to do so. At first, she had no intention of skiing with a stranger, but then became intrigued by my interesting emails. Then reality hit and she realized that she couldn't possibly take another day off, especially to ski with some crazy New Yorker. However, her sense of adventure took over and she arranged to get the day off and ski with me. I check the voice mail on my phone and her message to me was that she would arrive around 11am at the mountain and give me a call. I ski some pretty good runs, just to get my ski legs, until 11am.

I get a call and she tell me she was all the way up the mountain when she realized that her notebook that she left on the roof of her car while hooking up her skies, was no longer on her roof. She has to backtrack to see if she could find it. She planned on meeting me about 1pm, whether she finds it or not. About 12:30 she calls me and told me she found it, with a big tire track on it. I go to the bottom of the mountain to find her, but she is nowhere to be found. I know of only one ticket office, yet it is empty. I give her a call and someone overhears me, only to inform me that indeed there is another ticket office all the way across Alta at the Albion Base. I take the rope tow and call her again. I see someone on a cell hone way up on the second level of the building and wave to her. It is Willis. I got up to meet her. She is in her flip flops while purchasing her lift ticket. We go to her car, get her boot and skies and we're off to Albion lift a few times before heading to Sugarloaf lift (the high speed lift that doesn't operate at high speed in Alta). We have a pretty good ski day, as she is a lot better than she led me to believe. She hasn't skies much over the last few years, but she handled herself pretty well. She is amazed at how empty it is on the slopes, not realizing that midweek skiing is the only way to go. We finish skiing and head over to the Goldminer's Daughter to change into presentable clothing and have a drink at the bar. We order chips and salsa and unwind. Time for Willis to head out and pick up her dad at the airport.

Friday, February 14: The snow has not stopped. Overnight it piled up a few inches. Not much, but much better consistency. There is some powder to be found today. Visibility has not improved. It snows the entire day. I spend most of the day skiing the Sugarloaf area, heading back to Goldminer's for lunch, then heading right back to Sugarloaf. Snow finally stops around 5pm.

Saturday, February 15: I wake up to sunny skies. I should take my camera out today, but with 4 years of pictures, I don't see what more I can accomplish. Of course, I do see some nice picture opportunities and decode that at lunch time I am going to go back for my camera. After all, I will be using the highest resolution my camera offers, which I have not used in Alta before, that being 3.34 megapixel. I also opt to ski without suntan lotion so I can get a good goofy skiers tan. I spend the morning in the Supreme Lift area, since I have not skied here yet on this trip. I am being very thorough in my terrain exploration on this trip.

I head in for lunch, go to my room, pick up my camera and then go get some grub. I want to sit outside and get some rays while chowing sown on their delicious burger. I walk outside and it is not only cloudy, but it is foggy and the visibility is not more than 200 feet. At first, I thought I walked through some interdimensional portal, until I realize that they haven't been invented yet. The I thought maybe I walked out of a different door, but again, I came to my senses and realized that it doesn't matter what door I walk out of, I am still in Alta. In all reality, this is the quickest weather change I have ever seen. Along with my missed picture opportunity, I'll have to put my tanning on hold. Lo and behold, at some point during the afternoon it starts snowing lightly. I again head back to the Supreme Lift area, although with the changed weather conditions, it is like a different place.

Sunday, February 16: I wake up to snow. It wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon. So now, I may be stuck up here, and that’s good! I get a phone call from my mom. The snow that was supposed to hit NY on Monday is now going to be a major blizzard of 20 inches! Of course, I didn’t think of the possibility that a storm at my destination of New York could possibly lengthen my trip. Short-sightedness on my part. I call JetBlue and the flight is still scheduled on time. The snow is not supposed to start until late in NY.

I check out of my room before heading out to ski. I'll have to loiter around when my ski day ends until I head to the airport. The conditions are pretty good today, even with the snow. The visibility at times drops to the same low 1-pole length at times. The wind picks up today and when the snow turns into that beanbag-insert type fluff, it’s like skiing in a sandstorm. Germania lift closes by 11am, which forces the crowds over the Supreme lift. On top of the Sugarloaf lift, the winds are hitting 40+ MPH. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the wind really picks up and it starts snowing a lot harder. Then, another thing I have never witnessed before; There is thunder and lightning and the snow is coming down like rocks. It hurts, man! All the lifts close. My trip is over. Or at least, volume number one is complete, in this two-volume trilogy. I go inside and take the shower down in the sauna. I pick up my stuff and head back upstairs to pack. Upon packing, it seems I picked up someone else’s underwear. Eeeewwww! I turn it into lost and found.

Now it's time to waste some time until 6pm dinner. I go to the bar and it is packed, probably due to the fact that the lifts closed abruptly. I get a Wasatch Ale and sit at the bar. I start a conversation with a girl who is sitting alone. This never happens to me. She is from Park City and works for a Wasatch SmallCap fund manager. We have a nice conversation before she has to headed back down the mountain pass. I watch the news for a short time before venturing on. It seems wind gusts topped out at 80MPH at Alta and 100MPH at Snowbird. Holy Shnikees!

I then go down to the “rec room” and take a half hour nap. I start to get fidgety and go and sit by the front desk and talk to anyone who will listen. Finally it is 6:00 and I can go eat. On line, a woman asks me if I am alone and would like to eat with her. She is in the same boat as me. She is here alone skiing on her own. We have dinner and then it’s time for me to get ready for the shuttle down to the airport.

I call JetBlue and the flight is still on schedule to leave, but the snow has just started to fall there. The driver shows up 20 minutes early and ask me if I want to go now or wait. I have nothing to do here, so I tell him it’s wok to leave now. We pick up another couple and head to the airport. He’s a lifelong skier, telling us about his ski life and Alta's ski history. He’s a nice guy, asking me about my plans if my flight is canceled.

I get down to the airport and of course the flight has been canceled. The next available flight out of SLC is Thursday at 11:59pm. This is too long to wait, so I go for the other option; fly into Long Beach on the 6:30am flight and then fly to NY the next day at some point. Inconvenient, but it will have to do. That was the plan. That was not the end result.

I now have to get a hotel for the night. There is a Comfort Inn right on the airport grounds that JetBlue gives me a discount coupon for. It will cost me only $43 dollars. I go to the shuttle and tell them where I want to go. My Alta Shuttle driver (let’s call him Doug) asks me if they are going to charge me for the ride. He tells me that he has to wait for the JetBlue flight from JFK to land, which is over two hours away, so he would be glad to drop me off. That was really nice. The shuttle was free, so I bid him farewell.

I shack up in the hotel Comfort Inn and get a wake-up call for 4:00am so I can catch a 4:30am shuttle to the airport. All works out well, for this portion of the story. I meet some guy named Tim while waiting who is also trying to get back to NY and I see he has an iPod he is listening to. He has no charger with his so I offer to charge it up while we wait. It turns out we are sitting in the same row on the plane. We both had the same idea to sit in the exit row for better leg room. We both start making phone calls to take up the time. He calls some girl who he claims is his girlfriend, but if it is, why did he have to write her phone number down on his JetBlue flight schedule and tell me that this is a number he should probably save. As a side note, this flight schedule is a list of all JetBlue departure and arrival times for every city they fly to.

We make it to Long Beach no problem and are promptly told that the 9:30am flight to NY is canceled. No surprise. I go to the counter and set up to be on standby for the 11:00am flight, but I am number 40 on the waiting list for a plane that holds only 162 people. Not too confident that I will be getting on this flight. I hear people taking that the earliest flight out to NY that you can get a booking on is Thursday! I ask Tim for his JetBlue flight schedule so I can weigh my options. I see many Florida destinations from Long Beach and many Florida flights to JFK. My plan is to fly into Ft. Lauderdale or Tampa and then get back to NY in the next day or two. Another option is Las Vegas, where I can maybe run into Stephanie, because I am sure she is not getting back to NY anytime soon either. Another off the wall option is to go back to SLC and ski Alta until I can get back home.

Well, the Florida ideas are shot down, as they all connect through NY. The earliest flight out of Las Vegas back to NY is also Thursday. So, call me wacky, but I decode to go back to Alta and ski until I can find a way back to NY. A real ski bum! They book me to SLC at 9:30pm, about twelve hours from now. What other option do I have? They also book me from SLC to NY on Thursday at 11:59, the earliest flight back home. I’ll take it.

Now, I have to get a room in Alta and a shuttle ride up to the mountain as I will be landing at 12:25am local time. I call Goldminer’s Daughter and talk to Lusty! Woo-hoo! She tells me that the Alta shuttle will probably charge me $72 for that time of night. Coupled with a $180 room rate, I decide that I should stay at thew same Comfort Inn overnight and then take a morning shuttle up to Alta. I am given the same discounted rate I got the other night. I am now booked at the Comfort Inn for Monday night, with a shuttle ride up to Alta at 8:00am, staying at Goldminer’s Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and pulling the same ski all day, hang out until 8pm, then go to the airport to come back home on the red-eye. Again, this is the plan. At this point, noon on Monday, sitting in Long Beach Airport, I cannot say how this story will play out.

I can’t find Tim, so I take a seat outside in the 70 degree weather. I remembered that Tim wrote down his girlfriend’s number on the JetBlue flight schedule he gave me, so I decide to give her a call to get his cellphone number. She is very suspicious of me, asking me more than once who I am and how I know Tim. She gives me the number and I call him up. He asks how I got the number and I tell him. He is impressed. He tells me he is at the Residence Inn and that JetBlue put him up for the night and that he is going to be getting on the first flight out in the morning. Or at least, JetBlue told him that there is a good chance he will get on. He may come down to meet me at th airport after taking a nap.

I start calling anyone I can think of to tell them of my experience. In need of even more attention, I see a girl sitting on the bench (let’s call her Donna) near me that I noticed on the same line of the canceled flights and ask her what her deal is. She is going to Dulles in Washington and is in the same dilemma as all of us. She is on standby for a night flight. There are only 3 flights the Dulles from Long Beach and the first two were canceled.

I still have all my luggage, so I can’t really do much else than sit here. I can’t check in until four hours before flight time, so I still have about 6 hours until I can do that. Finally at about 3pm I decide to try and check in because I want to eat at the restaurant and can’t possibly carry my skis and suitcase along with my laptop and knapsack. The line is short now, so they are not all in a tizzy and allow it. I feel a major burden relieved. Donna and I go inside at about 5pm because we are cold. We put our winter jackets on. Her thermometer shows 70 degrees. Are we wimps or what?  While sitting outside the restaurant we see more people waiting for the JFK and Dulles flight and talk to them. Lori is going to JFK. Bob works for the Command Center at the Pentagon. Wow! He is going to Dulles. Lori is going to JFK and is booked already due to a family emergency.  Only Donna does not know for sure if she or her flight are going. As of right now, JFK and Dulles are listed as scheduled.

Donna and I eat and go back outside to sit with Lori and Bob. Lori is now hungry and wants to order Pizza Hut delivery. She calls and orders a pie, but Donna tells me they don’t know that “pie” means pizza in California and they probably think she wants a more traditional pie; you know, a desert. She is right. Lori says they didn’t know what she was talking about. She orders the pizza and they ask where it has to be delivered to. She tells them Long Beach Airport. They ask for the address. I was just so tempted to tall her to tell them it’s the place where the airplanes land and take-off from. What kind of question is that?

I decide to go down once more to see if I can get onto the JFK flight. No dice, but this woman seems to have some senior position because she knows how to pull some tricks out of her hat. She tells me she can put me on a double-secret standby for the Tuesday flight out of SLC to JFK, and if I cannot get on, it will be automatically transfer to the Wednesday flight. The double-secret standby will guarantee me a seat of a seat opens up due to cancellation, as opposed to having to show up at the airport and use the first come first serve method.

The time has finally arrived. We can go to our gates! We go in and sit The JFK flight starts boarding. Once all rows have been announced, I go to see how many people are on standby to try once again to get on. 35 people waiting. No chance. But I come back 10 minutes later just to see what is happening and I see only 2 people waiting and ask them what is happening. It seems this attendant is a miracle worker and got almost everyone on by putting flight attendants and the extra traveling pilots in the fold-down seats. He gets everyone on. I wonder if I should try to throw a monkey wrench into his obvious current high-confidence and self-esteem right now by seeing if he can get me on that flight. I decide not to. Heck, I am now looking forward to more skiing.

I go back to my seat, but something makes me try again and upon walking to the JFK flight, a JetBlue person asks me where I am going and I tell her that I am scheduled to fly to JFK from SLC on Thursday, but would like to get on this flight. She tells me it is full but is not too convincing and I think if I really pushed it, I may have been able to get on. I give up.

We finally start to board our flight and I see people getting off of the plane next to ours, which I think was the JFK flight. Either it has already left, or maybe JFK has decided to cancel the flight and now everyone has to get off. Who knows, and I will not follow up on this, but you as the reader are free to check for yourself. I also do not know if Donna ever got on her flight.

We depart and I fall asleep, despite the snorer sitting behind me. Some stroke of luck is working in my favor and when we land and I go to baggage claim, my skis and suitcase are out immediately. Then, the shuttle to the hotel immediately appears. I go to the hotel and check in. The girl looks puzzled and asks me, "Didn’t you just check out this morning?" I explain the situation and she chuckles. I go to my room and fall asleep. I get a wake up call for 7am for the 7:30 shuttle up to Alta.

The Alta Shuttle arrives. A smiling laughing Doug comes out of the driver door. He is amused at the situation, and I have to tell you, I am too! We get up to Alta by 9:15 and I check in into a dorm room to save money. A dorm room is a simple room with four beds and no TV. At this point, and buck I can save is a bonus.

I go to my room, change into my ski clothes and ski. My plan is to stop at about 2:30 due to my fatigue. As you all know by now, my plans very rarely work out. It starts snowing like only Alta knows. Heavy champagne-powder snow gives me new energy and I ski the entire day, skiing some of the trails I have not skied in my previous 4 days, due to my hesitancy to ski some runs while I am alone and the conditions are non-powder. I have a great time and the best ski day of my trip.

I call JetBlue at 4:30pm and find out a seat opened up and I can fly out on Tuesday night if I so desire. I do. The prospect of skiing a few more days is appealing, but I am pooped and I don’t need to spend the extra money. I check out only eight hours after checking in. The Goldminer’s Daughter was nice enough to give me the “low season” rate for the room and not charge me for the meal plan. I save 60 dollars or so.

The Alta shuttle arrives at 9pm and it is not Doug. I call the parking lot I parked in to see the status of my car. they tell me it is probably buried. The flight from JFK is one hour late in arriving, causing us to depart about 45 minutes later than scheduled. I sleep the entire trip home and luck was working for me now. I get my luggage and call the Avistar shuttle. It arrive less than a minute after I walk outside. We get to the parking lot and my car is already started, with the heat on. I go home, feel good enough to go to work, but decide to call in a Personal Day. I made the right choice, as after I call in, I fall asleep for 6 hours.

I hope you liked it