The mountains are lonely. The crowds of snowriders who pressed their feet against crystal-covered slopes have gone. Yet, a thick layer of snow is still there, glittering in the warm sunshine, firm, not yet the slush of spring. Underfoot, it’s winter conditions, but above the ankles, it’s T-shirt weather—wonderful conditions, but still, no one comes in spring.
So, sadly, the resorts have shut down.
They would have killed in November for the kind of snow layering the slopes now, snow that will melt away and water our gardens.
But wait! Little Cottonwood Canyon is still the last leaf on the tree. Snowbird will stay open until Memorial Day. And there’s one more weekend to satisfy your ski hornies at Alta, which will “reopen” Friday and Saturday and close for the season at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 25. Ticket prices are discounted to $49, but you don’t even need to pay. Alta runs the lifts for free after 3 p.m., and you can make a lot of runs in an hour and a half.
Sunday is the big day, the best-known “secret” in the Wasatch. As closing time nears, everyone rides up Alta’s Collins lift, then hangs around, waiting for that last chair. When its passengers disembark, the lift stops. It’s over. There’s a big cheer, and everyone traverses over to High Rustler, where the crowd on the ridge swells. There are costumes and laughter; a shoulder-to-shoulder party. Those who dare make an early run down the steep, moguled slope are bombarded by a barrage of snowballs.
In the parking lot, the grills are ready.
It’s the traditional Alta closing-day tailgate party. People bring steaks to give away to strangers. Old friends run into each other again. The food, the mood and the laid-back friendliness are legendary. Binoculars focus on the top of High Rustler, where a large crowd hangs out until dark, while those in the parking lot feast.
It’s unauthorized, with no official permission from the resort. It happens mostly because everyone expects it to happen. Each gathering flows and changes without rules, with participants creating their own personal traditions that add to the overall vibe.
But whether you go to Alta or have already hung it up, here’s a word of warning: Don’t toss your gear in the garage or basement with no summer prep! The quality of the ride you get when the lifts start again will be heavily influenced by how you treat your skis or snowboard now.
“Clean your gear, then put a protective coat of wax on it to keep the base from drying out,” advises Jeff Butz, a well-known technician who owns Podium Ski Service in Park City. Ski and snowboard bases are a little like skin. If the base is not cared for, it will dry out and become rough instead of soft and smooth. It will catch at the snow instead of gliding smoothly over it. Worse, the bases are probably dirty with sticky pollen, grooming machine oil, dirt and other snow contaminants. Clean that stuff off before it hardens as your gear sits for the summer.
Butz, who mostly performs his finicky tuning miracles for racers, uses wax to clean skis. Everything he does for skis is good for snowboards, as well. Butz first brushes the base well to remove as much gunk as possible, then rubs a bar of wax over the base to protect it from the direct heat of the iron. Next, he holds a bar of wax against the bottom of the iron and lets it drip on the ski base, then irons the wax in.
As it cools, the contracting wax pulls all the dirt and gunk out of the base.
After about five or 10 minutes, scrape off the wax, and the base is clean. Brush it vigorously to remove any remaining traces of contaminants, then re-wax it to lubricate and protect it for the summer. Iron the wax in until the upside-down top feels warm to the touch. For a quicker, less detailed job, use liquid wax remover to clean the base before doing the summer-storage hot wax.
It may seem like a lot of trouble now, but the resulting smooth glide of your gear when the season comes around again will be worth it. The only problem is the snow in November may not be anywhere near as good as it is right now.