Why I Love Alta, Utah

Bottomless. Breathless. Wild...Alta is a homewrecker, all right. Confessions of a Little Cottonwood groupie.
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Bottomless. Breathless. Wild...Alta is a homewrecker, all right. Confessions of a Little Cottonwood groupie.
Crazy Love: Alta thumb

Dearest Alta, Forgive me. You’ve probably heard this all before. I know I’m just one skier in your 75-year blur of one-day stands. I fly in for a long weekend, have a fling with the High Traverse, and then go back to Brooklyn. Brooklyn. What gives me the right, the honor, to think that you’re mine? I started skiing when I was 3, but I’ve never been a ski bum. I gave four years of my life to a job at a ski magazine, but I’ve never washed dishes for a season pass. And here I am, entangled in yet another May–December romance: I’m writing to you in May, dreaming about December.

The thing is, I’m obsessed with you. I was raised on the shellac of the Pacific Northwest, where “powder” had the consistency of marshmallow fluff. I’ve skied all over—Squaw, Big Sky, Whistler, Jackson. But I can’t get you out of my head: I can still feel the bounce in my legs from that 40-degree run through the Eagle’s Nest (it’s in my diary: March 14, 2010); the frenzy the afternoon I happened to be at the top of Sugarloaf when the rope to Devil’s Castle dropped; the way my heart pounded as I threaded the steep needle of a chute under the Supreme lift. Alta snow is like an improved version of air: Skiing it is flying without leaving the ground.

I read somewhere that Utah powder has an average 8.4 percent water content, and lots of downy dendritic crystals— maybe it was in the 2008 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society study called “Secrets of the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth.’” The authors write, “So-called bottomless powder—in which the skier is floating in new snow, does not feel the underlying snow surface, and experiences ‘face shots’ (i.e., powder lofting onto their body and face)—represents the apex of powder skiing (Fig. 1).”

Alta, you are my apex. My love for you is bottomless. I want to be your Figure 1.

See? I’m Googling you, stalking you on Facebook. I have a problem. It’s hard for me to see your shortcomings because I’m blinded by your crystalline brilliance; I forgive you, even when you treat me like dirt. Remember the time I stayed at the Goldminer’s Daughter, slopeside, and the whole lodge was ravaged by the Norwalk virus? We put our heads down on the tables in Alf’s Restaurant, listening to our volcanic insides, while inch after inch piled up on the windowsills.

I forgive you even when you’re a tease. You’ve never granted me an interlodge. You’re sometimes foggy. Remember the time I stayed at the Peruvian, slopeside, for three straight sunny days—checking the weather obsessively, whining about the pre-noon crust and afternoon slush like they were personal insults—and then you started dumping as I drove down Highway 210 to the airport? You held out, you faked me out, and then you waited until I was on my way before you put out.

But powder love is fickle, and that’s what makes it so grand. When I’m in Little Cottonwood, I know every morning could be the start of the best ski day of my life. Alta, you have me in your power, ever thine, ever mine, ever ours, etc. I realize that you’re cold—and, yeah, longdistance relationships are always doomed. Just know that you’re always on my mind. When I dream about you in my big city, you are my drug. When I’m on you, I’m crazy. And the withdrawal is a bitch. --Evelyn Spence