I wasn’t planning to ski. After three full days of romping around the chutes, couloirs and bumps of Jackson, I could feel the residual umph in my hip flexors and thighs. Damn Facebook. More than one person was posting about Baldy’s Main Chute being open. And it was sunny and warm. How could I ignore that carrot?
I dropped Sage at school and raced over to Alta. People think if you live in Park City, a drive to Little Cottonwood involves vacation days but it’s not true. It’s 40 minutes to click in. Plus, you have cell reception the whole way down Parley’s and most of LCC so you can get work done during your commute. The flat light was beginning to replace the sun by the time I loaded the Sugarloaf chair. When I got to the gate at the Snowbird checkpoint, it was all but gone; not a bad thing when you’re about to start a journey of connect-the- postholes straight up a spine.
I unfurled my Goat, strapped my skis to my back and off I went. It was 11 a.m. The sign at the gate said “Main Chute Only; if you ski anything else we’ll close the whole thing. Know where you’re going.” I thought I did.
At noon I was still trying to make my way to the summit. Two people passed me and three snowboarders were slowly catching up. I appreciated the fact that I wasn’t trying to get up with skis in my hands as I needed them to help me crawl at one point. The wind swirled around me, thankfully cooling my head through my helmet vents. Once on the ridge I could relax. I wasn’t quite to 11,000 feet but the drama was over. I had plenty of room on either side in case I needed to step out of the path and catch my breath. Thanks to a crappy season and lack of skiercise so far I was definitely struggling. But I made it. I dropped my skis and looked around. No one. The one guy ahead of me faded over the ridge. I waited. I skied Main Chute once last year but I hiked it from Snowbird in May. My perspective was off. I wanted to make sure I didn’t drop into the wrong chute and summon the wrath of every Alta patron. Soon an Alta ski instructor approached. A friendly one who gave me specific instructions, down to the mention of where I would want to enter the shot (far skier’s left). I clicked in, waved bye and deliberately worked my way to the entrance.
Where was everyone? Maybe because it was so skied up from yesterday they didn’t need to hit it again? Usually Main Chute is a cluster. The leeward wind exposure makes it a snow trap and one of the first of Baldy’s fingers to sport a relatively rock-free descent. It doesn’t open often so when it does, the march of eager backcountry skiers looks like ants heading for scraps at a picnic. On my lap, it was deserted.
I dropped in. Large, soft mounds of chalky packed powder, not quite close enough or big enough to be full-blown moguls, kept me working for each turn. My legs burned instantly. I had 750 feet of vert ahead. A few chocolate chips poked out but the run is wide and they were easy to navigate. I kept waiting for snow drifts to scoot by from skiers on the 40-degree pitch above but the only sloughs around me came from me. I thought about what I had learned at Jackson. Counter is your friend, plant your pole far down the hill, chin up so you can see ahead, etc. Despite getting sloppy toward the end, I proudly exited onto the apron of Ballroom. My only regret was not finding a friend to go with me. I could have used a huge High Five at that point.
It’s not every day we get to ski the Baldy Chutes and with the forecasted storm it looks like we’ll all be waiting to get back up there. I headed for the Collins parking lot with a self-satisfied buzz. Neeners!