Sunday, January 08, 2012

Utah Winter Ramblings

Last week I spent a few days on a business trip in South Jordan Utah and was fortunate enough to have time to do a little exploring in the area.  My colleague Tina and I were visiting Neumont University where we work with student teams that do software development projects for our company.  South Jordan is located about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City and just west of Little Cottonwood Canyon - home of Snowbird and Alta ski resorts.  I had previously been in Utah only once on a day trip to Zion National Park when we were in Las Vegas a few years ago.  Zion is an easy place to fall in love with and I was really anxious to see more of Utah's spectacular natural beauty.  We debated many options, but in the end we both decided that there was no better place to see the scenery than from the top of a mountain.  There wasn't enough time to do it by hiking, but the Snowbird aerial tram provided the perfect answer.

First, I have to say that the area around Salt Lake City is just breathtaking.  Everywhere you look you seem to be surrounded by mountains (and you pretty much are).  I suppose if you live there it becomes commonplace after a while, but for me I couldn't get over stopping and staring everywhere we went.  The locals also have it perfect for skiing.  We picked up the UTA ski bus that runs all day about a mile from our hotel and got to enjoy the scenery through Little Cottonwood Canyon before getting dropped at Snowbird Center.  Snowbird is known as one of the best ski resorts in the US and it's easy to see why.  For non-skiers like us they have lots of great year round options including the aerial tram (apparently known as the "Birdbox") to the top of Hidden Peak.  The $14 ride to the top is not only great for winter sightseeing and photography, but also provides the option for some great ridge-line hiking to the surrounding peaks in the summer (or all seasons for that matter).

When we got to Snowbird the peaks were still in the clouds and with clearing in the forecast we decided to explore at the base for a while.  It wasn't long before the skies started to clear and we caught the next 'box' to the summit.

Skies clearing over the lower peak on the tram line

On the bunny slopes

The Birdbox arrives

Packed in with the other sardines

It was a beautiful ride to the top and provided a great chance to see the scenery.  The tram operators give special preference to the "walkers" and gave us a front window location so that we could take photos on the way up.  For a change I remembered to switch the camera to video mode to better capture the view.

Full size video here:

American Forks Twin Peaks over the slopes

From the tram station

It was COLD at the top!  Single digits and windy.  Fortunately the ski patrol building on the summit has a warming hut that's kept at about 80 degrees and we has windows with amazing views down the canyon so we were able to alternate warming up and taking photos inside with trips outside to walk around the top and catch the 360 views.  Hidden Peak at just over 11,000' is the second highest in the area (Twin Peaks just across the ridge is slightly higher) so the views were amazing.

Lenticular over north wall of the canyon

Northern Oquirrh Mountains on the horizon beyond South Jordan

Dromedary Peak, O'Sullivan Peak above the north canyon wall (right)

Peaks picture framed in the window of the warming hut

80 degrees in here vs. -5 wind chill outside

Lenticular descending on north canyon wall

Tina catches me taking in the view


Great day on top of the world!

Sugarloaf Mountain

Clouds boiling up from the valley

Mt Baldy - a summer hike someday...

Twin Peaks across the ridge - another future hike

Canyon disappearing in the fog

Ski patrol hut hanging on the precipice

We spent about an hour on top and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.  I really want to get back up here in the summer and explore these ridges and peaks when the snow is gone (mostly) and the wildflowers are in bloom!  We grabbed the tram back to the base and had it to ourselves allowing us to enjoy the views from every side.

Peruvian Express lift below

Looking up Little Cottonwood Canyon toward Alta

Canyon in the mist

Snowbird resort

 We stopped at the base lodge for lunch and grabbed a few more photos before grabbing the bus back to the hotel.  Can't think of a better way to have spent a morning in Utah!

Great place to warm up and recharge at the base

Sun breaking over the peaks on a perfect day!

 Later in the afternoon we took a ride out into the mountains to the north and wound up in Park City.  This turned out to be another great spot to visit.  The drive back after dark turned out to be beautiful with the lights of Salt Lake City spread out below us as we came back down Rt 80 into the valley.  No pictures to share - guess we'll save those for next time.

The rest of the trip was great and we had a great time working with our student team at Neumont.  Each morning I took the opportunity to check out the sunrise mountain views and was fortunate to capture a few more images.

Wasatch Mountains painted in morning pastels

Moon setting at sunrise from the hotel window

Views over Neumont University (left center building).
How do the students ever manage to study?

Between the one day in Zion and the few days here I realize that I've barely begun to scratch the surface of all the natural beauty that Utah has to offer.  I hope we'll return many times in the future (and I know that Nat isn't going to let me go without her again).

Lots more photos in the album here: