Okay, Twin Lakes Pass isn’t really a summit in the strictest sense, but it is a named high point in the Wasatch Mountains and is one way to link the towns of Alta and Brighton between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. The start of this hike was motivated by a need to beg Ullr, Norse God of Snow, to please, for all that is cold and powdery, make copious amounts of snow fall in Utah. To supplement my plea, I brought along a beer with an appropriate name – Snow Day from New Belgium Brewing.
The high point destination of the day was supposed to be Patsy Marley, a 10,500 foot peak that lords over Grizzly Gulch north of Alta. But thanks to the terrible, wind-blown snow conditions, nobody wanted to ski with me, so I set out alone. Of course, there’s nothing safe about backcountry skiing solo, and the sight of Patsy Marley’s frozen north face spring-loaded with considerable avalanche danger curbed any ambitions I had to deliver Ullr prayers atop a mountain. So Twin Lakes Pass became a stand-in, and I hope Ullr doesn’t look down on this transgression with anger.
To begin, I started at the upper Albion parking lot in Alta. The morning was unseasonably warm, but the view of Mount Superior at sunrise provided an inspiring backdrop as I buckled on my ski boots. The trail starts at Albion winter gate, where nordic skiers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers access the upper reaches of Alta’s backcountry terrain. I skinned alone up the groomed road, and was occasionally passed by Alta workers on snowmobiles. After a short distance, the tracks curved to the left and ascended to the mouth of Grizzly Gulch where quaint homes dot the mountainside beneath the grandeur of Wasatch peaks.
A steep, icy switchback climbed up a steep hill above the houses where I could imagine myself waking up and sipping my morning coffee while gazing at Superior from picture windows. Ah, to be so lucky. Then again, I was there looking at the view anyway, and only paid for gear and gas to get there. After daydreaming of mountain cabins, I entered Grizzly Gulch and continued on.
Grizzly Gulch was once home to an old mining town and is still dotted with evidence of its past. Mine tailing and rusted metal is everywhere, and due to the low snow levels, were easily seen. As I plodded along the road that is typically groomed in deeper times, I scanned the mountainsides, longingly tracing ski lines through forests and down steep faces that were today lousy with rocks and wind affected snow.
After a short hour or so, I reached the top of Twin Lakes Pass at an elevation of 9,997 feet. The entire time, I never saw a single other person. Clearly I was the only one crazy enough to try and ski in these sad conditions. But, the view from the pass was worth the short hike up. Twin Lakes sat frozen below Wolverine Cirque, where the snow levels seemed even worse. Across the way, Brighton’s Millicent Lift sat un-running. Down Little Cottonwood Canyon, Superior continued to hold court as skiers began to trickle in at Snowbird and Alta far below. It was time for action. From my back pack I pulled a New Belgium Snow Day, took a drink, and poured Ullr’s share on the bare ground. Along with the offering, I prayed that Ullr be generous and bring us some snow storms. If a beer called Snow Day doesn’t do the trick, then we may be doomed.
New Belgium Snow Day Winter Ale
I’m originally from Colorado, and having spent my college years during the time that microbrews, led by Fat Tire, started to take the nation by storm, my affection for New Belgium beers remains strong. So when these alchemists from Fort Collins whip up a brand new concoction, I try to wrap my lips around one in rabid fashion. Such was the case with New Belgium’s Snow Day, a seasonal Winter Ale that is sadly replacing one of my old holiday favorites, 2° Below Ale.
Luckily, upon my first sip of Snow Day, my sadness for 2° Below flew away as Snow Day is a much better beer. It’s darker, fuller in body, and most important, hoppier. The beer even has a fun backstory, as printed on the label. “With 3 feet of powder closing the roads, a brewery is not a bad place to get snowed in. Given the unanticipated hall pass of a snow day, our brewers decided to experiment. Hmm… what about this dark caramel roasted Midnight Wheat braced with a serious load of Styrian Goldings, Centennial and Cascade hops? Shovel it in. What a deliciously unexpected way to spend a snow day!”
Well fa la la la la! Snow Day is definitely a winter beer, full of dark, hearty flavors like roasted malts, chocolate, and even hints of dried fruit. On top of a mountain pass it was the perfect beer to consume in a cold wind.
In the glass, Snow Day pours a very dark, almost black color. But held up to the light, you can see a deep ruby highlight. A thick, tan head disappeared quickly but left nice lacing on the glass when consumed.
The beer has a surprisingly complex profile. New Belgium says they used a new brewing malt called Midnight Wheat. I really like it a lot as it sets up a very flavorful base to the beer that’s about as “roasty” as any beer I’ve tasted… almost like black toast. But there are plenty of citrus hops that round out the roasted malts really well. In fact, this may be the most hopped up winter beer I can remember drinking… almost like a black IPA.
It may sound like Snow Day is a heavy beer, but despite all that’s going on it’s still really drinkable and smooth. Hopefully Ullr appreciates it as much as I did, because after enjoying this Summit Brew on Twin Lakes Pass, the ski back down to the car was more like ice skating. Until we actually get the snow day we’re due in northern Utah, I’ll just have to drink some more New Belgium Snow Day and bide my time.
New Belgium Snow Day Winter Ale is 6.2% ABV with a 55 IBU. For more, visit www.newbelgium.com