Showdown on High Rustler – Alta ends season with a bash

Posted By: The Ski Channel on April 28, 2011 6:28 am

- By Jill Adler

It’s official. The season – at least in Little Cottonwood Canyon- is far from over. Snowbird’s hit an all-time season record for total snowfall at their resort and they’re well on their way to breaking Alta’s state record of 760 inches in 1983/84. For those of you who keep griping about the weather and the lack of spring, go to Moab. For the rest of us, Hallelujah! I’ve had some seriously sick days this month.

The epic spring may be the driving force behind the massive party that took place atop High Rustler Sunday for the “First Closing Day of Alta.” Alta reopens this Friday for one final weekend but you would have thought they were done after the ‘farewell’ scene I shared with a couple hundred of my fellow passholders.

Locals skiers aren’t ones to let their favorite resorts close without a bang and so annual ritual of meeting on High Boy for the last run of the season took place yet again this Easter Sunday. The history of the celebration began in the 1960s when a loyal group of Altaholics made the High Traverse to Rustler for one farewell kiss to winter and some raucous hell raising. The 45-degree pitch drops you quickly into the 1300 vertical-foot run but the point of the ceremony is to wait, and wait, drawing out the day until the last possible moment before making that painfully sweet run.

Back then, the gang waited until the last Germania chair emptied and those skiers joined up with them. That was around 6 p.m. or so. Well, last Sunday, 40 skiers were still crunching beer cans from the peak at 7:30 p.m. while about two dozen others were making their way to the parking lot.

Alta technically closes at 4:30 p.m. but the sign at the top of Collins Lift on April 25, 2011, said ski patrol’s going home at 5 p.m., you’re on your own so be careful.

That’s like leaving for the weekend and giving the teenagers the keys to the house, the car and liquor cabinet. Who’d want to leave that party? More than 200 skiers and snowboarders (who braved the cat track from Snowbird’s Baldy Express to the top of Collins and the High T) dressed in crazy costumes and rallied for the ridge above Rustler. Coolers, amps, boomboxes, beer, combustibles, fifths of whiskey and vodka, and firecrackers were passed among the crowd.




A flat spot no bigger than the bed of a pickup truck acted as the podium for the “judges”. If you jumped into Rustler too soon, these gatekeepers pounded you with harsh words and harsher snowballs.

We waited and waited. Hoping for a sign that it was time to start the mass exodus from the peak. But it never came. Everyone was having too much fun at the party to go home. In past seasons, a giant roar would erupt from the mob and you’d experience a Chinese Downhill, Alta style. Flash turns, hoots, hollers, wipeouts, and apologies made to the wind as skiers continued their nonstop crush to the bottom, rippers barely missing the snowplowing novices who dared the ritual. It wasn’t pretty for anyone as you spent most of the run trying to survive the onslaught of darting, out-of-control bodies. But that was the best part. I wish it had been like that this year. We waited but no one was going anywhere. It would have been a blast to look back up to the run and watch the hundreds weaving their way down. Instead, we snuck through a line in the trees, popped out below where the snowballs couldn’t reach us and slowly descended- alone. I wasn’t prepared to hang out last week but I have a second chance this Sunday for Alta’s second (and final) closing day.

With no dinner reservations waiting, wearing extra layers (the snow and wind kicked up last week), and a flask in my pocket, I’ll see about staying a bit longer. I’m thinking of packing my headlamp too- just in case.

P.S. The latest closing date in the history of the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort is July 4 (in 1995 and 2005). Thinking we’ll hit that record again….

Jill Adler is an award-winning outdoors writer and broadcaster based in Park City, Utah. As a professional skier, rock climber, kayaker, hiker and mom, she goes out of her way to play hard and tell about it. To find out more or to send her a note, follow her on Twitter @pcskigal.