Saturday, September 26, 2015

Annual hike to the Silver Fork Lodge

A record 16 of us did Ron and Carol Lee's hike over to Big Cottonwood Canyon. It was the Lee's fifteenth year and our fifth.

Half way up Rob's trail we ran into a dad, a mom and a baby moose.  They were hidden in the trees enough to prevent a great photo, but it was a nice start to the trip.  A bit earlier, they had actually been hanging out on the trail.  You could tell because of the large poop deposits they left for the mountain bikers to run through.
This shows a good example of how aspens spread.  One family is interconnected by the roots as a giant living organism.  An interconnected group changes color all at once.
Nice color and beautiful blue skies.
Julie and I.  Thanks for the photo Randy.
Not quite everyone, but most of the group as we get to Desolation Lake.  A little bit further and we turn down Bear Trap Canyon heading into Big Cottonwood.
Hiker Julie!
After 10.5 miles and a lot of up and down over the mountains, we reach the Silver Fork.  It's a great little place to stay the night (very simple) and an even better place to eat lunch and dinner.  The owner, Dan, is about as nice as he could possibly be.
The next day we chowed down on a big breakfast and took off again.  Sunny and highs of 80.  It didn't feel like late September.  On last year's hike we were hiking through some light snow.
There aren't that many ponds up in this stretch of mountains, but this one offered some nice reflections just above the Jupiter chairlift.
The only mildly annoying thing we ran into was the construction at Park City Mountain Resort.  Vail has a ton of lift work going on and it resulted in quite a few trail closures.  That meant having to detour off our normal routes, but nothing much.  This is the new King Con lift.

Great weather. No hail this year. No medical emergencies. No one getting locked out of their rooms all night.  It was pleasantly void of excitement.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Review of Canyons Golf Course in Park City

This is a bit delinquent.  Julie, Cathy Clark and I played the Canyons golf course about two weeks ago.  I wanted to write up a review, but we headed out to the east coast and I got behind.

There is a very long history to this golf course.  It was supposed to be developed about a decade ago as part of the Canyons' master plan.  Unfortunately, there were all sorts of disputes about land agreements, several of which ended up in court.  Then American Ski Corp went out of business. Then the new owner, Talisker, leased everything out to Vail.  A decade late, the course is in place and playable.

It was actually completed last fall and they allowed one day of invitation-only play, but they really opened it up to the public late this spring. The course winds around the lower areas of Canyons ski resort.  I have to give them credit for figuring out how to fit a course around all those buildings, which are surrounded by lots of steep mountains.  While an impressive achievement, it also resulted in a number of things I didn't like.

For being one year old, the course is in great shape.  As you can see from this photo of the first hole, the fairways look nice, especially for fall.  The grass on the greens is good, but the course definitely needs to settle in a bit.
The first thing you will notice playing the course is that there are some extreme elevation changes.  These make for spectacular scenery, but some fairly unpredictable golf shots.  In the photo below, we are aiming for the green in the middle of the photo, by hitting to the fairway on the left.

This photo also shows some of the issues.  The cart paths everywhere are fairly rough gravel roads.  They advertise this as "soft cart paths that you can play from."  There is no way in hell I would take a swing off one off these paths.  There is also a real gravel road running right along this fairway and we saw construction trucks driving through as we played.  The course distances aren't well marked and it isn't on any of our GPS systems yet.  I don't know how long that process normally takes.

There is a drink cart, but the elevations are so steep that the cart can't get to half of the front nine.  That's probably for the best.  Some of the cart paths wind up switchbacks so steep that you wouldn't want to drive them if you had been drinking.
Now my problems.  The course is very short.  Right now it is a par 70, with the tips playing less than 6300 yards.  To compensate for the shorter course, they designed the greens to be something like Extreme Putt Putt.  I regret having not taken some photos of the greens, but they normally have tier after tier with steep slopes between tiers.  This means that you may hit a nice lofting shot within 5 yards of the flag, only to have the ball roll 30 yards and you are off the green.  Now you get to judge the speed to putt the ball back up two or three tiers to get to the flag.  A mistake can result in a long putt ending up right where you started.

That's exactly what happened to me here.  This is a short par 5 (450 yards?) with a monstrous drop in elevation. You are aiming at the green to the left of these two lovely golf models.  My first tee shot was a nasty hook off to the left.  I teed up another and absolutely crushed it.  With the massive drop in elevation, it took forever to come down, but it ended up just short of the tree next to the green.  I was about 10-15 yards from the stick.  I made a decent chip, which for me is a rarity. The ball rolled onto the green and hit the side of the flag stick, deflecting it a bit left.  I thought I would have a 5 foot putt for a 3, but that isn't the way in extreme putt putt.  The ball slowly rolled down tier after tier, finishing about 30 yards away. It simply didn't feel a bit like golf.  I was so annoyed I just picked up my ball.

I played the rest of the round, enjoying the scenery, not keeping score, always looking for the windmill or the clowns mouth on the greens.
Just to reinforce my frustration, the golf Gods left a divot repair tool in the cart path, which my cart immediately found.  I have had problems with golf carts before, but never a flat tire.  The Canyons employees were great about getting us another cart quickly.

It is a great course to go play once.  The huge elevation changes and beautiful views of the Snyderville Basin make the course unique.  Just the same, I doubt I would ever put this course into my rotation.  I prefer Park City, Soldier Hollow, Wasatch and Mountain Dell better.  And if you can get on them, the numerous private courses like Red Ledges and Promontory, while difficult, are much more interesting as golf courses. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Aututmn Aloft

About 20 years ago, Park City had a balloon festival, but it became very popular and apparently outgrew itself, so it died.  Last year they got it started again and it was a big success.  Unfortunately, we were out of town and missed it.  This year I missed the first day, but caught the second.

Here are my two assistant photographers for the morning.  If it looks like Julie is overdressed for this time of year, it is in the low 30s, which is actually a good bit warmer than yesterday morning. Jasper, of course, is completely indifferent.
They festival is held on the North 40 fields.  For those who have been to Park City and seen the giant "PC" up on a hillside, this is right at the base of that hill.  We got there around 7:30 and a lot of the balloons were being rolled out for inflation.
They fill the balloons with portable fans until they have mostly taken shape.  Then they start firing up the burners.  I have to guess that a few balloons each year catch fire at this phase.
The flag balloon on the left is ready to go.  The rest are all still being inflated with fans.  The impressive thing is that a decent fan was able to inflate a balloon in about 5 minutes.
The launch starts.  We have now moved up the hill to get a different perspective.  I wish they would start about 15 minutes later.  These photos are tough when the balloons are in the shade and the background is bright and sunny.
There was wonderfully little wind this morning.  That meant that they could rise slowly and hang around the field.  I don't think they could have designed better weather.
 Pretty soon, they were taking off every few minutes.
In total, I think I counted 20 balloons, one of which remained tethered to the ground, providing people with little 50 foot rides.
Our fall tree colors are pretty terrible this year.  They have mostly been going quickly from green  to brown to gone.  Some years the mountains would have offered a much more colorful backdrop.
 With the air being so incredibly still, any surface of water provided mirror-like reflections.
The North 40 fields are over near the Park Meadows golf course and the festival had arranged to be able to use the golf course as a landing zone if that's where the winds were heading.  This turned out to be fantastic.
 Like most golf courses, Park Meadows has some ponds.  The first fun was just capturing the reflections.
 Then we sat and watched a game the balloons like to play.  They come down so that their baskets just touch the water.  That had to be a great ride for all of them.

It was cold enough to have a frost hold on the golf course, but I hope they hadn't scheduled any tee times for the morning anyway.  It would be tough to get your golf ball on the green with  a giant yellow balloon in the way.
 It is probably too small to see in this photo, but on the left bank of the pond, there is a woman standing outside her house in her bath robe taking pictures.  The balloons were coming right over her house.
Here was our water skimming champion.  He kept the basket right at the water's surface and went across the pond like he had a boat.  They probably went 200-300 yards doing this.
And we end with all reflection, no balloon.

Congrats to the people running the Autumn Aloft festival.  It was easily accessible, free to attend and a spectacular sight.  I was walking by one woman who said to her friend "Isn't it incredible to be somewhere where every single person has a huge smile on their face?"