The first knockout storm of the season has occurred. With mythical intensity, the sky dumped over 40 inches of snow in just two days, at a rate of almost an inch an hour, burying almost everything. In local jargon, we were “nuked”. The bumpers and roofs of cars disappeared. Walkways became impassable with snowdrifts. Part of Highway 210, the main 8 mile road running up from the valley, was closed off, with traffic being diverted onto the bi-pass road. The avalanche danger even warranted a brief interlodge (see “arrival” post) on Monday morning. Of course this is just the storm people have prayed for, and in the context, the resulting inconveniences are actually blessings.
On Sunday morning, through the most apocalyptic phase of the storm, hundreds of skiers brazenly dared the highway to arrive at Alta in the early morning hours to hit the first runs of fresh powder. The parking in town quickly filled up. A mass of skiers formed at the base of the mountain. The lifts were delayed for hours as a result of the conditions. Yet, people waited happily at the base of the mountain, appeased with the thought that soon they would be floating down basins of deep untracked powder snow. The scene was reminiscent of surfers waiting idle in the ocean waters until the Big Wave rolls forth. This day the mountain promised to deliver it’s first big crest. It was just a matter of time.
The reason for the delay was that during storms like this constant blasting is required to ensure safety from avalanches. Currently, the mainstay of avalanche control is the manually placed explosive hand charge. A detonation from this device sounds like the loudest crack of thunder. This sound, echoing across the canyon, is a good indication as it always accompanies a hearty snowfall. To anyone preparing to ski on Sunday morning the constant thunderous blasting overhead was a very promising sound.
Eventually the lifts opened, to loud applause, and delivered the first group of skiers up into heights above. The storm continued to bear down so hard it seemed belligerent. Visibility degraded to almost nothing, coupled with lacerating winds The temperature on top of the mountain, at 10,000 plus feet, was somewhere below zero, less with the wind-chill. Yet, through it all a line persisted in front of the main lift. Through it all skiers emerged from the white abyss of the slopes looking as if they had climbed Mt. Everest – snow dusted, windblown cheeks, and watering eyes. However, each and everyone one of them had the biggest of smiles on their faces.
If anything the storm was a great initiation leading into the season. So far there has been 90 total inches of snowfall this season. That is a meager figure compared to the yearly average of 550 inches that Alta receives. There will be many more full-throttle whiteout storms. There will be many more mornings where people wake to the sound of explosives. There will be a lot more powder to ski and many more victorious smiles.