by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
We gather at 9 am on the first day of our 23-day Global Scavenger Hunt, a “Blind Date with the World,” where 10 teams of two people each don’t know where we are going until Bill Chalmers, the Global Scavenger Hunt Ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer, tells us. We have come to the meeting prepared for anything – a 4 hour notice to pack up to our next destination, perhaps? – and learn that we will spend the day doing a practice scavenger hunt, to level the playing field between newbies (me) and troopers/vets (one of the teams has done it 12 times). He has prepared the same kind of booklet and score sheet as we will get on arrival at every mystery destination.
We can choose the scavengers out of the selections – they each have different points . Among them are a choice of “mandatory” including at least one “experience”. During the course of this day, we will have to complete 10 scavengers by 8 pm when we get together again. We are told this is a Par 1 in terms of difficulty, which can go as high as Par 6.
We start in search of “Affluent Alley” – after all, we are staying in Vancouver’s famous Hotel Vancouver in a toney boulevard off Robson Street where we were told you had to drive a Rolls or BMW in order to park on the street. We look at a couple of streets which are called Vancouver’s Fifth Avenue and Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive. We are only allowed to ask locals – not the hotel concierge or any actual guide – but no one has heard of Affluent Alley – possibly because everyone we ask is either too young or a transplant. One woman at a bus stop is extremely helpful when we ask where a certain shoe store is located, and about how the bus system works. As for Affluent Alley, I suspect that it actually refers to the opposite (maybe East Hastings), or is the red-herring (and doesn’t exist at all).
But we are in search of the high-end shoe store, John
Fluevog – go into several stores, finally Coach, and the salesperson directs us…
We walk the several blocks to the store – unbelievably wacky, creative,
magnificent (better art than the modern art I had seen at the Vancouver Art
Gallery). We learn we are the 6th team to ask
Walk to Olympic cauldron, take our selfies, record the time.
Pouring rain now when we walk to the bike rental shop on the list to rent bikes
to ride around Stanley Park’s seawall, find the Totem Poles, stop at the
Teahouse (fantastic carrot soup to restore our energy). Go to Gastown to find
more scavenges (Hotel Europe, Angelo Calori built 1908-9, no longer a hotel, is
“social housing,” ad haunted, looks remarkably like a smaller version of the
Flat Iron Building in NYC), see the statue of Gassy Jack, the garrulous bartender
that gave Gastown its name, and, of
course, the steam clock.
Scavengers give purpose to your wandering – more than that, they become a platform for a completely different perspective on a place and people. The Global Scavenger Hunt is designed to have us interact as much as possible with local people, to trust strangers, which we have been doing all day long, and finding how incredibly friendly and kind the Canadians are (even the many who have come here from all points of the globe and made Vancouver their home.
One of the scavengers is to write a haiku, and with time
running out to our 8 pm deadline, I write:
What a way to see
Vancouver’s many treasures.
By bike, bus, on foot.
We gather at 8 pm, and Bill,the Ringmaster of the Global Scavenger Hunt (he also refers to as a traveling circus) tells us we are off tonight on a 2 am flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, hands us our airline info and visas, and we are off.
Everywhere on Alta’s
2,600 skiable acres feels like we’re in a snow globe. What used to be a
treeless mining town is now home to what we found to be one of the country’s
most fairytale-esque, European-feeling, lovable ski mountains in the US. This
weekend, our annual adventure takes our bicoastal group of millennials to the
glacier-carved Colli known as “Little Cottonwood”, roughly an hour from Salt
Lake City and home to Alta and Snowbird, two adjacent and amazingly
complementary ski mountains. We are excited to experience Alta, a mountain that
we expect will be both challenging and accessible to our group of varied skier
We are lucky to be taken around the slopes our first morning by Alta’s Andria Huskinson and Sarah McMath. Andria, who is also a veteran racer, has been skiing Alta for over 20 years and is still discovering new lines down the mountain. She and Sarah are the perfect duo to show us the ropes and give us a taste of that #AltaMagic that we heard about — a combination of Goldilocks snow (not too hard, not too soft, just the right density and feel!), sun-beamed vistas of encircling mountain faces, enchanting runs with tons of skiable chutes and side areas, and general good energy vibes from Alta’s loyal skier community (and Alta is one of the few mountains left that are skiers-only).
One of the most enjoyable parts of the morning is meandering through the trees and around the occasional mountain home (grandfathered on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest land) as we wrap down Cabin Hill, a run that we will attempt to revisit several times today and tomorrow, though we occasionally miss the entrance points. This run entails a relaxing, yet fun video-game like experience of skiing with wide spaces between trees and fast terrain that is not too steep.
While most of our group
is busy exploring with Andria and Sarah, the most “rusty intermediate” in our
group, Maya, breaks away and has the chance to take a 2-hour private
lesson. They start off on some easy greens so the instructor has the
opportunity to see what she’s working with, while offering some simple pointers
as they ski. They continue to harder and more challenging trails. While some
lessons can be bagged down with frequent stops and wordy instruction, Maya
really appreciates that they spend the bulk of their time skiing with
occasional pointers as she goes. It isn’t until they ride the chairlift that
more detailed instruction is offered, as well as some other pleasant and
enjoyable “get-to-know-you” conversation. As the half-day lesson comes to a
close, Maya rejoins the rest of the gang with a renewed confidence and comfort for
tackling all that Alta has to offer.
True to the congenial
Alta way, there is also a new “Lady Shred,” a supportive lady-based ski group
begun by Sarah and Andria in an effort to bring more woman power to the mountain
in a sport that’s typically 11:1 male to female. The group is open to anyone
who wants to join Saturdays at 1 pm and is promoted on their instagram
@altahighgirls and #altaladyshred.
From there, we generally stay together while a few of us veer off into the various “choose-your-own-adventure” virgin-snow-covered side paths through the trees here and there. It’s a perfect Bluebird Day with about a foot of fresh new snow just this week, taking the mountain to a cumulative 397.5 inches already this season. As Ski Utah’s Adam Fehr points out, “high elevation, dry air, the primarily north-facing aspect, and lake-effect snowfall makes for the perfect combination”.
We venture to
Catherine’s Area along the perimeter of Supreme, the part of the mountain with
views that Sarah mentioned earlier in the day made her fall in love with Alta.
The hike up to Catherine’s is flanked by panoramic vistas. (Riding the Alta
lifts is similarly picturesque.) There is a real backcountry feel to the
mountain, though you don’t have to spend an entire morning trekking (just a bit
here and there, if you want to). “If you see it, you can ski it!” Andria says.
Our gourmet sit-down
lunch at Rustler Lodge introduces us to such mouth-watering dishes as the
Rustler Game Burger (half-pound blend of elk, bison and waygu), the Halibut
Fish Tacos, the Thai Chicken Salad, and an incredible cup of white bean chili
(making us wish we ordered a bowl). Our gloves and hats are warming by the wood
fire in the middle of the restaurant, and the ambiance is somewhere between
that of a rustic ski lodge, a modern New American restaurant, and an Ivy League
dining hall (particularly if you get the large table that commands its own
little alcove along the windows, for a more private party feel). We can see
Eagle’s Nest from our window-side table, which gives us mixed feelings about
indulging in such a relaxed lunch. We of course skip dessert, briefly take in
the beautiful lodge, and head back out to the slopes.
More snow begins to fall in the afternoon and we lose some of the blue skies, but the strategy of gradually moving across the mountain, starting the day at Supreme and making our way East to Collins by the end of the day, seems to give us the best conditions at every point in the day. A three-minute cut across the High Traverse, with a few sidesteps “up and over” to the other side, takes us to the sheltered and snow-swamped Gunsight. This turns out to be the perfect last run of the day, the sun gleaming through and the afternoon light glittering on the very steep entrance slot. There is an intense initial drop, and then the run eases slightly and empties into “the gulley” toward the bottom. Finally, we can either take a green run home to the Transfer Tow, or cut through the trees to the left for a final bout of mogul-ey glades. The latter enables us to truly earn the après at The “Sitz” (the iconic Sitzmark Club).
The vibe at Alta just feels
different. People come to Alta, fall in love with it, and then don’t go
anywhere else. There is a staggeringly high rate of return among guests.
One place you’ll most certainly feel the warm community is at Alta’s après-ski
bars, especially the cozy Sitzmark Club at Alta Lodge, where we walk in and,
consumed by the aroma, instantly crave a hot whiskey cider, along with their
complementary homemade hummus with chips. The place is filled with skier
friends who seem like they’ve known each other since childhood, and some of
them do. As we sit talking to Andria and the team, she points out some of the
Alta all-stars. “That’s the guy who was basically the grandfather of ski
We hang for the après ski and then the après après ski, enjoying the atmosphere, good conversation, and additional mountain trivia (e.g. Alta is one of the oldest ski mountains in the country!). Nearby, the Alta Peruvian Lodge is slightly bigger, and similarly packed to the brim with warm people. If The Peruvian’s free-reign tapas run out by the time you arrive, be sure to ask for a basket of popcorn or nuts with your cold beer. Both bars are intimate rooms with that old lodge feel and Alta memorabilia adorning the walls. There are no C-list garage bands or brand sponsorships—the sound and energy comes from old and new friends enjoying each other after their awesome day of skiing.
Despite being a
world-renowned ski destination (sorry, no snowboarders or “other snow-sliding
equipment” allowed), Alta feels very accessible. The lines really only pick up
on weekends, but even then, move surprisingly fast. We spend much of our second
day going down moderate to intense trails. Alta marks all expert terrain with a
single black diamond, despite the varying levels of steepness and intensity of
their diamond runs. Although Alta has a reputation as a challenging mountain,
we meet many families with kids just trying on skis for their first time. The
ski school at Alta is world-renowned for training all levels of skiers.
Like the mountain, which
can be graded with varying levels of challenge and adventure, the cuisine and
lodging options on the mountain are similarly varied.
Our second day, we enjoy
a cozy lunch at the Collins Grill, a European-style bistro grill right by the
Collins and Wildcat lifts and nestled within Watson Shelter. We feast on
decadent delights like bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, crab cakes, rabbit stew
and lamb skewers. This hearty mountain-fare tastes all the more satisfying for
two reasons. First, we’re wearing the restaurant-supplied slippers instead of
our ski boots. And second, we learn that all of the ingredients in the
beautifully prepared food we’re eating is sourced locally and sustainably
We learn from Maura
Olivos, Alta’s Sustainability Coordinator, Ecologist and founder of the
mountain’s Environmental Center, that locally sourced food isn’t the only
environmentally conscious action Alta takes. Whether it’s planting trees,
conducting research, educating the community or reporting their environmental
impact, Alta has been at the forefront of conservation and sustainability for
over 80 years (though the Environmental Center was officially formed in 2008).
It’s the antithesis of a man-made ski resort with premeditated and manicured
trails. Instead, Alta celebrates and even improves the national forest that it
leases and calls home. “You
ski it as the mountain was meant to be skied,” says instructor Bob who’s been
teaching there for 13 years.
While the fire, espresso
shots and discussion of all the ways we can be better stewards of our planet is
delightfully pleasant, the clouds clear and the mountain calls.
We make our way to
Sunnyside to say hello to the resident porcupine, and then head up the
Sugarloaf lift to hit one of the longest blue runs at Alta – The Devil’s Elbow.
From there, we follow the sun and head east to Ballroom and Mambo. Ballroom is
a huge highlight, offering expansive and high-up intermediate powder bowl
skiing, while Mambo is a fun and fast groomer at the top of Collins that
funnels into the Wildcat base area.
We enjoy every second at
Alta and pack in every last run until the lifts close.
As an instructor who’s
been teaching at Alta for over 13 years explains to us as we head up the lift
for our last run, “At Alta, you ski as the mountain was meant to be skied”.
Indeed, we felt a
certain sort-of spiritual connection to Alta. We will most certainly be back