Julian Carr reaps the rewards of the Alta Shuffle. PHOTO: Adam Barker
I skip over a few small rollers and tag a couple rocks before I'm back on the sidestep up to Thirds at Alta. It's early season and the High-Traverse is still boney, yet the snow is chalky on a handful of runs. I think I'm on my eighth consecutive lap, but I lost count an hour ago. The snow isn't great; but it's a really good way to figuratively and literally get your ass in shape for a season at Alta, where lifts bring you up the mountain, but traversing gets you to the goods.
Some skiers lament Alta's traverses and sidesteps. The ski area's layout simply takes some getting used to rather than having every run visible from underneath a chairlift. However, the Alta Shuffle requires a bit of an operator’s manual in addition to a strong gluteus maximus.
Perhaps the most daunting for first time Alta skiers is the High Traverse (colloquially named "The High T"), Alta's gateway for the steep powder runs like West and High Rustler, Thirds, Gunsight, High Eddies, Eagle's Nest, and Stonecrusher among others. To navigate the High T it's essential to treat it like a highway; merging on quickly while negotiating the rolling bumps. Most importantly, never stop on the track, simply scoot above or below the main traverse to scout your line or wait for your buddies. If you hear some pole clicks, then its heads up behind you that someone faster is coming along.
Similarly, when the Backside opens, you'll often see skiers begin stepping and duck walking up the ridge. Taking your skis off here and boot packing is a great way to get yelled at by patrol or locals, so keep calm and shuffle along. And if you're headed to Eddie's High Nowhere—a line that an old local kept to himself for several years, don't let go of the rope too early as you traverse in; the rocks below are sharp.
If you're looking for a more relaxed vibe, the slower Wildcat double chair holds tree skiing and jump lines underneath the chair. The Keyhole gate to Snowbird is also off of Wildcat. Here, steep shots through cliff bands send skiers towards Snowbird Resort, but can be daunting for the first timer.
Rounding out the other side of Alta are the Sugarloaf and Supreme chairs. Sugarloaf is perfect for those out for a cruise and also powder skiers looking to tag Devil's Castle and Baldy Chutes—the boot pack access for Baldy is accessible near the top of Sugarloaf. Typically the Baldy Chutes open several days after a storm, and are always worth the 30-minute haul up. The conditions will warrant which chute or face opens, so always take a look at the white board at the base of the boot pack.
If it hasn't snowed for a while, or if you just don't feel like dealing with the High T during a powder panic, many folks head to Catherine's off the Supreme Chair. Catherine's features short and steep chutes with some decent sized airs as well. Access is also a skate and a duck walk up to the entry point. You'll notice a duck-walk path in place, this eases your skating technique and is much faster than boot packing—which you can do here, but is frowned upon. Lastly, if you're lucky East Castle may open, though prepare for the most uneven and longest sidestep of your life if you don't have an AT setup and skins. Should it be open on your visit, suck it up and hit it. It's the longest and most sustained run at Alta aside from High Rustler and Eddies.