Saturday, March 13, 2010

Acclimatization at Alta

I landed in SLC on Thursday, and my friend Chris picked me up at the airport. It was fun to see him again, we went back to his place and chatted for a while then made a run to the Black Diamond Store where I picked up some ski crampons (just in case, based on my experience last weekend at Vertfest). We ate dinner at a really good Thai place, and then he dropped me off at Mike and Laura's place where I would be staying.

I was fully aware that I had just flown in from Seattle, which has an elevation of 0 feet above sea level, and that the Wasatch Powder Keg backcountry ski race was taking place at Brighton ski resort, at elevations ranging from 8800 feet above sea level (Brighton base) to 10,452 feet above sea level (peak of Mount Millicent, which is the top of the booter and the highest point on the course). So, naturally I decided to spend Friday acclimatizing to adapt to the altitude change. After much consideration, I decided to carry out my acclimatization in Little Cottonwood Canyon, while skiing at Alta (which has a similar elevation to Brighton). I got in touch with Ondrej, one of my former grad students at the University of Utah, and he agreed to join me for my day of acclimatization. Some might say that it isn't physiologically possible to acclimatize from sea level to 10,000 feet in one day, and others might even say that choosing the day before a backcountry ski race as my first day of resort skiing for the year is not a wise idea. However, my theory was that I would do better in the race if I had a lot of fun the day before, no matter what physical state it left me in.

Ondrej picked me up on Friday morning at 8:30am, and we were off to Alta. We arrived at the base just after it opened at 9am, and headed up the Sunnyside lift. It was a perfect bluebird day (aaargh, why did I move to Seattle!), and while there hadn't been new snow in the past few days it was still really nice conditions since they hadn't been experiencing the freeze thaw cycles that make things crusty and icy. Below is a shot of Ondrej skiing off the lift, ready for a day of fun!

We spent the morning moving throughout the resort, managing to ride all of the lifts (except the kiddie lifts) and sampling a wide variety of terrain. We started mostly on groomers, but then branched out into some mogul runs. I'm a terrible mogul skier, but I find that no matter how badly I suck on a mogul run, when I come out onto the groomers I feel like I can turn way better since moguls force you to be aggressive and decisive when making your turns. So, my plan of action for becoming a passable skier is to ski a lot of moguls. Luckily Ondrej likes skiing moguls also and is a way better skier than I will ever be, so he was able to give me some pointers. They didn't always work, as seen in the photo on the left where I am demonstrating my flawless moguls technique (at least the "crash and burn" part of it). At first glance this photo looks like those ones they have in powder magazines where someone is skiing deep powder and almost totally obscured by the snow, but upon closer inspection you realize that the terrain in question is a tracked-out mogul field and the skier is obscured because he is sliding through the moguls on his face.

Just so that there is a photo here of me skiing while not crashing, see below for a close-up of my patented "flying pole" turning technique. This is a very flamboyant way to turn, and only comes back to bite me when my arms end up behind me, forcing me into the back seat and then subsequently into the trees that line the edge of the run.

After a good morning we headed in for lunch around 1:00pm, and ate while sitting in the sun. It was really warm out, I think the high at Alta was between 45 F and 50 F and it was almost too hot in the direct sun. We managed to procure some delicious donuts to finish off our healthy lunch, below I am feeling baffled while trying to comprehend the good fortune that placed me at Alta with a double chocolate donut in front of me and a full afternoon of skiing still awaiting me.

After lunch was more of the same, and we were pretty diligent at alternating mogul runs with groomer "recovery runs" since we were flagging a bit by this point. Here is a shot of us riding the lift, headed up for another run on the best snow on earth.

By 3:30pm they started sequentially closing the lifts to force everyone back to the base area with the parking, so we adopting the approach of "closing out" each lift, making as many runs as we could on one lift until it closed and then moving on to the next one that was still open. By 4:15pm I was feeling pretty shattered, as seen in the photo below that Ondrej took after I inadvertently lost my balance and collapsed at the top of our next mogul mission.

After the subsequent run I decided that my acclimatization was complete, and we made one more groomer run off of the Sunnyside lift before calling it a day at 4:30pm (actually we were forced to stop skiing, since the resort was now closed). What an awesome day! It was super fun to catch up with Ondrej, with lots of good jokes, University of Utah gossip, and general hilarity. We made it back to Mike and Laura's place in time for Mike and I to attend the pre-race meeting for the Wasatch Powder Keg at 6:30pm, but I will save that for my next post which will be a race report. The race has actually already occurred as I write this, but I am tired of writing/blogging now so I will have to file the update tomorrow.


  1. Lots of fun to read this! Glad you are posting, and could have the time with friends :) I see that this elite sport also has its humbling moments!

  2. Max you're a glutton for punishment you crazy wolf! I spent the day sipping multiple espressos and studying Italiano...