Our last ski trip of the year! Thank goodness for a "staff learning day" on Monday -- meaning, no school -- giving us a perfectly-timed non-peak 3-day weekend to go to the mountains.
Friday March 11
Dave and I took Friday off work to pack the car and pick the boys up a little early from school. Usually preparing for a trip doesn't include replacing the car's axle, but today it did.
The plan was to leave super early to avoid traffic. That plan failed completely. Two accidents, including one which closed two lanes, placed us perfectly in the midst of Sacramento rush-hour traffic. Then we reached our dinner destination in Auburn at the peak busy time. Lines, waiting, stop-n-go, for hours. Ugh!
We were very relieved to arrive at our rental condo on Donner Lake in Truckee, and were focused on getting the kids right to bed for early ski school tomorrow.
But....what's this? The master bed wasn't made. Sheets were strewn on top of the washer. No toilet paper in one of the bathrooms. No lights in the kids' rooms or the kitchen. No electricity in the kids' rooms at all actually, and the fans to send heat downstairs from the gas furnace weren't working. Garbage in the garbage can, half a papaya in the fridge...what's going on here?!
We were stunned. The place wasn't ready for us!
Dave called the emergency contact number -- voice mail box full. Then he called the condo's land line to find the inside phone, since cell service was pretty much only outside -- number disconnected.
Are we in the right place??
I went outside and left two frantic messages for the owner. Meantime, Dave got through to the maintenance contact person, who was very blase about her voice mail box being full. She told Dave she wasn't expecting anyone until March 17. That would explain the note she'd left on the fridge for previous renters apologizing that the place wasn't ready for them, as well as the electrical and plumbing (plumbing too?!) problems.
But now what? We had to get up early, and the kids should have been in bed hours ago. If it were just a matter of cleaning, we could deal with it, but there was no way to heat or light the kids' rooms, and almost no light in the kitchen, plus plumbing problems, and who knew what else.
The one thing that worked was the wireless network, so we used our new little Netbook to find a room at the Hampton Inn on the outskirts of Truckee. We repacked the car and bailed to the hotel. The kids were really tired when we arrived.
And I was intensely anxious about what to do for the rest of our trip.
At the hotel, we hustled the kids into bed. It was immediately clear that a hotel absolutely, positively would not work. How could they play outside in the snow? What were we supposed to do after we got back from skiing? How can I make popcorn and hot chocolate and brownies? I hate hotels with kids. No way. We had to find a house.
Plan B: I sent a bunch of inquiries to other vrbo.com rentals. Most were in the huge Tahoe-Donner development, that I'd originally ruled out because they were a little far, but this time we were in no position to be choosy. Usually vacation rentals are arranged weeks ahead of time, but I had to hope someone would get back to me quickly. Or that another great idea would come to me. Occasionally that happens.
Saturday March 12
While everyone had breakfast in the hotel lounge, I checked email and sent out two more inquiries on vrbo.com. No answers yet. We packed up and were on the road at 7:45 on the dot, perfect. I tried not to think about the bags of food in the back of the car.
Incredibly, the ski school building wasn't crowded, and the usually grueling process of getting kids fitted for rentals went smoothly. Sugarbowl makes this a lot easier than Sierra-at-Tahoe, because they have a roomy dedicated building to kids' ski school, including their rentals. And everyone is very helpful and informed and tells us the same thing. This is why we came back to Sugarbowl.
Once the kids were handed off to ski school, it was time to face our housing dilemma. I had slept very poorly and was already exhausted and frazzled and filled with resentment that we just couldn't happily go ski now. It was all I could do not to burst into tears repeatedly.
I called the condo owner, but no progress report on the place. He was very apologetic and understanding, but still, it's clear he's had management problems before and should have taken care of them.
Then, a most amazing wonderful thing happened.
Dave played me a voicemail from one of the vrbo inquiries I'd sent out that morning, less than two hours ago. This man said it sounded like we were a nice family in a jam, and his place was available, though perhaps expensive for just one night. One night? We needed it for two. After some phone tag, we got through to him and he said he'd hold it for us for the 2nd night if we needed.
We decided quickly: we needed. We called him back right away and said we'd take it.
That's when I really fell down in tears -- of relief. This man was so kind and reassuring. "Don't worry, you have a place to go now, and you'll love it. Please enjoy your day skiing." He gave us the address and lockbox code without having any way of knowing if we were just high-end scammers! We told him we'd figure out payment as soon as we got settled in to his place that night.
I knew there were much more horrible things going on in the world (Japan suffering a massive earthquake and tsunami for instance), but in our world, this was a really big deal. Thank goodness. We were set.
We went to go get Dave's ski rentals and our lift tickets. On the way, we caught sight of Julian starting off on the bunny hill.
Finally, I could feel the tension easing when we loaded up on our first lift. This is what we're here for!
I'd told Dave that we'd start on Trailblazer, Sugarbowl's easiest blue and the next step up from their nearly-flat bunny hill. He wanted an easy warmup and asked that I make sure I stay with him, not that I can do much. I assured him that he'd done this run last year and that it wasn't hard, take a look, it's....er...well, .... hmm, well, it's over there. Like, not where we're going.
We were on the wrong lift.
I turned around to see the lift base behind us. Oh yeah, there are two lifts right next to each other. I forgot about that. We're on the Mt. Judah lift, the one with all the NO BEGINNERS signs facing another way than where we went in. Oops. Wonder where this goes?
A snowboarder on our chair confirmed that there were no green runs to get down, and the blue runs mostly wind through terrain parks. One short black section, but you can avoid it. Sort of. Dave isn't usually one for strong words, but he had some for me this time.
I thought it was quite pretty at the top, if nothing else!
And it really wasn't bad to get down. A little confusing in spots (the signs didn't match the map, or "easiest way down" appeared to point into the woods), but our lessons at Sierra-at-Tahoe served us well. Dave fell a few times, moreso out of psych-out than anything else, but about halfway down, he regained his rhythm and made it down with no further incident. Later, in lessons, he'd ski this area many times with no problems -- it just wasn't what he had in mind for a warmup.
At least we weren't thinking about lodging anymore.
Dave and I had originally planned on the 10:30 group lesson, but our lodging crisis set us too far behind, so we had lunch and showed up to the 1:30 lesson.
I volunteered myself as a "Level 4" (out of 6), even though I didn't meet any of the Level 4 criteria: easy black runs, off-piste, pole plants. I wasn't even sure if I counted as "parallel turning" yet. I told the instructor I wanted to do all those things, did that count? He laughed and said they'd evaluate us first, "us" being the four lesson-takers who claimed to be level 3 or 4, including Dave.
On the way up the bunny hill lift, I caught sight of Katrina's lesson. Lah-de-dah, dum-de-dum, no problem. She's skiing!!
The short ski to the higher lifts revealed an obvious split, two for level 3 (including Dave) and two for level 4-ish (including me). Dave and I would each get semi-private lessons, yay!
The other guy in my lesson was a professor of veterinary medicine at Davis, a French man raised in Africa with a great sense of humor, and very willing to try things. Overall I was faster and more willing than he was, but we were a good match.
And we had such a great lesson. Our instructor showed us all sorts of exercises, lots of one-ski balancing, and took us to lifts and slopes I'd never been to. He had us go through terrain parks and ski over the big whoop-de-doos, some off-piste trails between woods, and even small rainbow and box jumps. I learned how to hold poles properly.
We did our first black diamond -- a short "easy" one, but still, a real one, and it wasn't bad at all! I felt like I'd made huge leaps as a skiier and was elated. What a way to turn a horrible, upsetting morning into an uplifting, thrilling afternoon.
No time to ski with Gabriel afterward though, and we were anxious to go find our new place. The kids had all had a great day, with never more than 2 in their class. I was especially delighted to hear that Katrina was really doing well -- cooperative, great attitude, athletic. Are we talking about my child?! Gabriel too had skiied a black diamond today, and Julian spent the day on blues.
Our new place was easy to find, and absolutely adorable. And with a garage! It was the most welcoming sight I'd ever seen.
The garage was also the only way in, because the front door on top of the deck was snowed in.
This place was absolutely wonderful -- charming, warm, inviting. I loved the kitchen, though its window's view was almost blocked by snow. Growing up in New York, I'm quite familiar with snow, but not truly deep snow like you get in the Sierras.
The kids went right outside to play, until it was so dark I had to insist they come in. Before dark, Julian came in once, freaked out by sinking in the snow: "It's SO deep, Mom!" No kidding, it was well over their heads.
Gabriel relaxed while I worked on dinner.
I was so glad to be "able" to cook! Usually I wouldn't say that being so tired and so frazzled that day. But I loved having a kitchen to spread out in and make popcorn and hot chocolate, and to defrost things, if not actually cook. I made rice krispy treats, brownies, boiled pasta, heated bread. What an incredible difference from a hotel. I was so, so grateful to the kind owner, and really amazed at our luck. All other inquiries I'd sent were either taken or didn't answer. Wow.
Sunday March 13
I had a private lesson scheduled for 10am on our 2nd day. The Plan had been that we'd take a lesson at 10:30 the first day, have some sink-in and recovery time before my private lesson the second day. Instead, I had almost no ski time between lessons, and I was really really tired from the first day's awesome afternoon lesson.
But I wasn't about to let that stop me. I met my private instructor as I was ignominiously detangling myself from a signpost that had somehow split my skis, then furthered his impression of me as a completely nincompoop when I had no coherent answer to his question, "Do you have anything in particular you'd like to work on?" How about not running into signs at a near-standstill?
Truth is, I mostly wanted to build fundamental skills that will open the entire mountain to me. Sounds trite, but it was true. I'm a shaky intermediate skiier, green and unseasoned. Oh yeah, and I'd really like to learn 360s (whirlygigs with your skis on the ground -- in the air will come later). I told him I like technical instruction, I'm not an intuitive natural learner, I need to be told exactly what to do and practice it a lot.
And he delivered. Lots of minute instruction, lots of exercises, lots of working on position. And a fun exercise to work on 360s, though I never succeeded in doing one. Next time! I got a little overloaded toward the end, but I felt again I'd made a huge leap in skill, had lots of "ah-HAH I get it" moments, and gained a ton more confidence.
I had my first real fall too, pretty much from a stop. I do that a lot, just topple over for no apparent reason. At least this time I didn't take out the instructor.
For some of the harder slopes, I found myself calling upon my motorcycling experience. Who knew? Motorcycling and skiing have little in common dynamically, but the fear factor is very similar. I have years and years of looking down (and up) at something and being terrified out of my wits and knowing I just had to do it anyway. This experience serves me well in skiing.
The only bummer about my lesson, aside from being drop-dead exhausted, was the increasingly threatening weather. The visibility was really dropping and our faces were pelted with heavy wet stinging snow. Skiing is a winter sport after all, but I sure hoped it would clear up tomorrow. We rode up a lift up once with another instructor, and they commented together about the extremity of the conditions today.
After I thanked my instructor profusely, I ran into Gabriel's lesson. He was the only kid skiing at his level that day, so he got a private lesson all day. No getting stuck with his "green" little brother to fill out a class!
I couldn't get much video, but I could see he was getting much more comfortable. He had thought poles would make him go faster, but it turns out they mostly just give instructors more things to tell him to do that he thinks he can ignore.
I met up with Dave for lunch, then we skiied a little together afterward, but though I was still really tired, I wanted to put some of my lesson time to work. Unlike at Sierra-at-Tahoe, there was no good place for Dave to video my attempts to go down tougher slopes without him committing to them himself, so I settled for a photo.
I thought I was going down the same easy black diamond I'd done in yesterday's lesson, but this one turned out to be much more cut-up and mogul-y-er than I was ready for (Steamers). I had such a hard time that I had to stop a few times to regroup. Ick! Well, that sucked.
I went back up and found Donner's Way, the actual slope I'd been aiming for, and skiied it four times in a row. The weather was declining fast, and at the open exposed face at the top, it was really, really windy. I could stop with my arms out and the wind would keep me from sliding down.
Donner's Way (Sugarbowl's "gateway" black diamond) from the top.
My last time down, Dave and I coordinated so he could shoot video from the bottom. I was super psyched to see this, but dismayed when I saw how I throw my whole body around, despite all my instructors' best efforts to get me to face down the fall line (fast-forward past the first 37 seconds to see me at the top).
Reminds me of watching beginning swimmers: I want to say, "stop working so hard and just let it flow!" Easy to say from the bottom.
Dave and I went together to go pick up the kids. I wanted to ski with Gabriel, and Dave wanted to try skiing with Katrina, at least on the super-slow bunny hill. Unfortunately the only video I got of them was out of focus, too bad because Dave said later this was his favorite memory. Miss Resistant seems to totally take skiing in stride. Too bad she had a nasty nosebleed on the lift.
After attending to Katrina's nose, I went with Gabriel up the Mt Judah lift -- Dave's ill-fated first run of this trip -- and took some video of him coming down from the top. He's still short on style, but I'm super proud of how willing and enthusiastic he is.
I tried to take video of Gabriel on some terrain features, but unfortunately he'd told me the wrong side of this boundary and I was facing the wrong way.
Wasn't in a great position for this shot either.
Time to go! An attempt to get a shot of all three, but I can always count on one of them to rush ahead to ruin the shot.
At least Julian was a little more helpful.
Then it snowed that evening, a lot, but we were happy and cozy in our borrowed rescue house.
Monday March 14
You'd think we'd have learned from last year what it means when it snows the night before: add a lot of time to get out. And on a morning when we were checking out, we couldn't easily afford the time! No time to shovel the whole driveway, we just had to move the mounds in the entryway that the street plow pushed up.
We arrived a little late, but the snow made everyone late, so we were OK.
I caught a hopeful glimpse of sun. But it surrendered to the clouds moments afterward for the rest of the day. I think this is the last I saw of treetops all day too.
I was totally psyched for fresh snow -- my own tracks! Dave had breakfast to recover from his morning work's shoveling while I eagerly went up the Mt Judah lift, tapping my skis impatiently to get to the top. Powder time!
Squish, slop, stop. Huh? What's going on here? I could barely move. My skis sank ankle-deep and I could barely turn them. All the fine motions I'd learned went unheeded. It was impossible to get going or develop any sort of rhythm. This is what everyone raves about?? What am I missing?
I went to the 10:30 group lesson, where the instructors straightened me out. No, this is not powder, it's some of the highest-water-content snow they'd ever seen. The backcountry instructor said it was "legbreaker" stuff, downright dangerous on the steepest slopes. Further, it was precipitating -- snowing sometimes, wet-snowing other times, flat-out raining other times. Eeps.
While waiting for my lesson to start, I caught sight of Katrina in her lesson.
I felt bad for her instructor -- it doesn't get duller than this! Katrina's instructor did tell me that she sure does like to talk.
To my surprise, on a Monday, there were more people there for lessons than on the weekends, perhaps because as of today, they're free for the rest of the season. My group was 3 women (including me), and we took straight off for the intermediate runs. I was happy to have the same instructor as I'd had for my awesome lesson on Saturday.
Our instructor used the tough conditions to to try to help us learn to ski through it. One woman in my group was slower and very afraid of falling, and indeed fell twice, which turned into a 10-minute operation for her to get back up. The other woman was a much better skiier than I am, and I really enjoyed skiing behind her.
While showing us an exercise in really bending our knees, I had a rare "click" moment. It was an amazing "swoopy" feeling, trusting the skis to dig in and hold me up, a little like in ice-skating. The instructor let out a "wowwww-WOW!!" when I got to the bottom, and I bragged like an overexcited 5-year-old: "DID YOU SEE ME!!" I was SO psyched. I got it! Edges!
Unfortunately it was impossible to feel that on the ungroomed runs, which was most of them where we were. We did my black diamond Donner's Way again, and it was a completely different place now. Cut-up, and with huge wells from snowboarders, a full-body effort to turn. It was too much for the less-skilled member of our group, who dropped out.
One last run up, and our instructor changed course, skillfully judging his smaller class. This time, we went through some glades, and then down into some woods -- "off-piste" skiing. I'd done this two days ago with this same instructor, and I was all for it.
This was the best! It's pretty, it's challenging, it's not all that scary, it's technical. This is my new favorite kind of skiing.
We moved on to the terrain park and untouched areas, which twice grabbed my skis and pulled me down. Turns out, one of the things I'm great at is getting back up. Just do "the cockroach" -- lie on your back, put your skis in the air, straighten them out, roll over, set down!
A fine finish to a really productive lesson, but I was ready to dry out over lunch. Then during lunch, I caught sight of Gabriel huffing it over to the bigger lifts from the kids' ski school area, and I ran out to get photos. None good, my camera lens was fogged over from being in a very wet pocket, I discovered later.
Then I saw Katrina's instructor with Katrina and another kindergarten boy in tow! And really in tow -- he had to pull them. The heavy wet snow made the bunny hill SO slow that the instructor was actually pulling Katrina and her classmate down. So he figured he might as well pull them over to the slightly steeper slopes.
I guess that's a silver lining -- the nasty conditions meant that Katrina got to ride the big lift! She seemed thrilled.
Later, her teacher told me he took them down Pioneer trail to the bottom of the Nob Hill lift, where they got some hot chocolate, then navigated some other lifts to more greens, including one of my favorites, Harriet's Hollow.
The boys' teachers also told me they'd have gone on a much wider variety of runs today too, but for the bad conditions. Ironically, the heavy snow that kept the boys off the tougher slopes is what pushed Katrina's class off the flatter slope.
After lunch, I was determined to get as much as possible out of our last afternoon -- rain, snow, fog notwithstanding (Dave decided to lounge-lizard out the wet). I really, really wanted to tackle Mt Lincoln again, Sugarbowl's highest peak, after my exhilarating but tough trip up there last year. Should be much easier this time with all my new skills!
Approaching Mount Lincoln. Who turned out the lights?
Last year, I was treated to a dazzling view atop Mt Lincoln.
March 14, 2010
This is what Mt Lincoln looked like this year. And I use the word "look" lightly.
Actually, this didn't affect the actual skiing so much, but it really affected navigation. I couldn't see signs ahead and in some cases couldn't see the trail far enough ahead to know what I was committing myself too. I had a horrible ski down -- it was so, so, SO hard trying to plow through the heavy snow. Every turn was a full-body effort, every moment a major strain to keep control. Form and technique all went out the window -- I was just trying to survive. Some improvement!
After that, I headed to the lower groomed runs to practice my fledgling technique. The clouds clung to even the lowest lifts. The "easy" black diamond I'd run 4 times yesterday was out of the question today.
I wasn't the only one sticking to the lower groomed runs -- I ran into Julian's lesson too!
His instructor was a great upbeat guy, I really liked him. He put up with, without over-tolerating, Julian's stupid messing around and falling on purpose. (That is REALLY REALLY annoying.)
Since Julian had an all-day private lesson today (as did Gabriel), Julian's instructor seemed ready for some grownup company, and welcomed me to tag along. I skiied ahead to get some video of Julian learning to turn with poles.
Sugarbowl changed their Level designations a little this year, and now all "Level 2" kids get poles. I don't know if that's good or bad, but Julian doesn't ski anything close to a "pole" level at most other places. On the other hand, it certainly seemed to focus his turning.
I followed them into the terrain park area, which was Julian's favorite. He likes "jumping," though I never saw him get more than a few inches of air, especially not today. Conditions were especially tough by now; we were all soaked and the snow was really really heavy.
It was fun seeing how much Julian had improved too, that made for a really fun last run. Still, because of the stinging wet snow, I was only 99% sorry when it was time to call it a day. Shift from ski mode to major logistics mode.
The plan had been to get everyone right into the car, in ski clothes, and drive for an hour to a dinner spot. But everyone's jackets were wet, so we had to do a little changing in the car. And to think, I almost left everyone's spare jackets at home! My jacket was wring-out-able soaked, and my shirt's sleeves were wet.
Car entertainment for us is still old-fashioned reading, staring out the window, and fighting with siblings. Thank goodness for the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book series; Gabriel read that to Katrina all the way to dinner in Davis: Sudwerk, a German brew-pub.
Katrina threw a massive tantrum in the restaurant for the outrageous offense of having a kid-pizza set in front of her, and Dave had to carry her out screeching her head off. I am so tired of that nonsense, she is consistently awful in restaurants when we're travelling. Even her brothers outgrew that by age 3.
We got home with no further incident, dumped out the contents of the car, and zoomed the kids to bed. School tomorrow!
This was really a remarkable trip in so many ways. My memory of the joy and relief and gratitude of our kind savior with the beautiful house in Tahoe-Donner outweighs my intense anxiety about the lodging problem. Discovering so many new fabulous facets to skiing outweighs, mostly, the struggle with the super tough conditions on Monday. And it's always exciting to see how everyone progresses.
Once again, I'm lamenting the short duration of ski season and counting the minutes until the next one! November 2011, we're there!
March 11-14, 2011