Alta, Utah – The Comfort of Familiar Places

It’s not always about the new destination; it’s the comfort of familiar places

With some new friends at "Ski With The Girls" day at Alta.

With some new friends at “Ski With The Girls” day at Alta.

Last winter, the big fireside talk at the infamous Chateau Apres Lodge in Park City was Alta.  Skiers say it’s the place to go for deep powder.  If Deer Valley is the venue for those with deep pockets, Alta is for the ski purists because snow is the only thing there and skiing is the only thing to do.

It’s only September and I haven’t even finished my last race of the season, but I’m already filled with excitement about winter (I skipped autumn) and the skiing possibilities.  I’ve already booked my air and hotel, so I’m good to go for my Christmas ski holiday.

But this trip is more than a birthday and Christmas gift to myself; it’s a time to reflect upon the year’s race season and a time to take a break and simply play (without any odometers, lap counting, fueling, speed training or racing).  This trip is necessary as brushing one’s teeth; it’s a preventive measure.

How do you feel about your racing season?  For me, it meant surpassing bike accidents and learning to keep going and re-defining my race goals a week before the race, being honest with myself about my true abilities, not making any race all encompassing and bigger than others and learning how to be less self-critical while learning from mistakes.

A blue sky view of Alta's Collins base from afar.

A blue sky view of Alta’s Collins base from afar.

I’ve learned that racing is a very personal journey, as in many of life’s pursuits.  As one grows from the novice level, improvement comes with each season.  Each season has a theme, a feel that enables you to look back at each racing season and be objective, true and kind to yourself.  As a novice skier, while I have yet to learn how to properly tackle the moguls, deep powder and all mountain terrain, I already have an idea of what I want for next year’s races. I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon and my local bike club’s A-level spring training program, which means I have to work on speed on foot and on the bike.

But I’m not type A by any means; I pride myself on being more grounded, so I look to the year-end after I finish all the year’s races as a time to retreat.  Do you have such a place that you escape and retreat to? If not, you owe it to yourself to find your own personal haven.  It could be a wellness spa that you go to once a year, a weekend program at your yoga center, the woods behind your home, but it’s a place that you can call home, that evokes the feelings of comfort and security.

Smiling at the top of "Mambo" run.

Smiling at the top of “Mambo” run.

Such a place for me are the mountains of Alta during the winter.  While my ambitious side would prefer to leave no mountain range unexplored and no vantage point unviewed, the vast landscape makes that goal impossible to meet even if I decide to move to this old mining town.

I’ve learned that skiers return to Alta because it provides the comfort of home – warmth, connection, the inviting mountain and nature all around that makes you think you’ve found solace.  Families congregate like clockwork at the hotel lounges and they know to line up early in the morning to get their desired dinner reservation time. Their children have grown up skiing at Alta and only have holiday recollections at their particular hotel.  As strangers sharing the lift, one of the first questions tends to be, “Which hotel are you staying at?”  And each skier is almost always a devotee to his/her hotel.

Since I carry my digital camera everywhere, I’ve had to stop a few times to try to capture the post card scenery of greenery peppered with real, wild, pure white powder. I’ve learned that expert, adventurous and even not-so-smart skiers love to discover new trails and go off-piste.

I am an avid solo female traveler who tends to seek others, yet I also revel in my own company. I rise early and am on line as the lift opens.  I carb-up during lunch and waste no time so I can head out for the next half of my ski day.  Sometimes I’ll stop along the mountain to catch my breath, take a break or more likely, to figure out the curves I will make to get to the bottom of a challenging slope.   While I’m familiar with the main trails of this mountain, the variable snow and weather ensure that each familiar run never feels the same. Although I’ve never felt alone and was never one to return to the same destination, I have found the comfort, safety and security of returning to this familiar place.

A sunny ski day on February makes all the ski difference.

A sunny ski day on February makes all the ski difference.

There are lessons and tricks I’ve learned through my travels.  As a runner, I never leave home without my running shoes.  They’re a security blanket for me because I know I can work out whenever I want to, and in my travels I’ve discovered a certain beauty to early morning explorations.  Some of my fondest running explorations include the Sahara desert and Christchurch, New Zealand (I discovered the Cadbury factory where I scored some free chocolates to take back to my roommate at the hotel).  I always carry a water bottle with me when I travel to remind myself that I constantly need to drink.  Since I’m all about traveling light, my travel clothes are those that I hardly wear at home.  I wear them during my trip and donate them to the hotel after use.

My travel tradition has always been to spend my last day alone to let it all soak in.  On my last day at Alta, I let myself be guided as I glided over all the fluffy snow underneath.  I was surrounded by snow-capped peak mountains, the native trees and my heart lightened.  I knew this is how it’s supposed to feel; I knew this is how I’m supposed to feel.

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