Sunday, January 29, 2012

1/29/2012 Back from Bear Valley

I'm WAY too tired and have WAY too much unpacking to do -- and it is a school night and we didn't get back until past 8:30pm tonight.

But first, let me say -- grab your earplugs -- that we had **SOO**MUCH**FUN***!!. Logistics were manageable, location stunningly beautiful, people very nice, no major disasters. The mountain is still snow-challenged, but had more than enough for us. I loved Bear Valley.

We left on Saturday at 11:30am, since our lodge check-in time wasn't until 4pm. Going for Saturday night instead of Friday night was a traffic gamble: we know traffic is horrible leaving on Friday nights, but returning Sunday nights is more variable, and we weren't returning from Tahoe. This paid off perfectly -- we had no traffic in either direction, and the ski place was far less crowded on Sunday also.

Lunch was in Murphy's, a historic tourist town I've been to many many times, at a restaurant with a hillbilly theme and what appeared to be a genuine prison transport carriage.

The restaurant was decorated with all sorts of "hillbilly" cliches and amusing signs (Hillbillies Signs).

After lunch, into the mountains. When we got to about 5000 feet, there it was -- snow! We stopped at a vista point close to Bear Valley Village (where our lodge was, about 3 miles from the ski resort) to gawk at the gorgeous view, and play a little. So so pretty, and the kids were thrilled to be in snow again.

Naturally the boys wasted no time throwing snow at each other.

Katrina was nonstop delighted by just being in it, and constantly sing-songed "Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!" She'd worn her snow boots all day for just this moment. (In fact I forgot to bring regular shoes for her).

I admired the views -- all ones I've seen before, but they look different every time and I never tired of them. In my motorcycling days, I'd never see it like this. Not because of snow on the road directly, but because this highway closes and you can't cross the Sierras on Hwy 4 until about June (and there's still plenty of snow on the side of the road then).

For once, cooperation!

We arrived at the lodge and settled in, and I was relieved to see there were plenty of places for the kids to play outside. The lodge was rustic and relaxed, and had a large cathedral-like central area for people to gather and relax -- and for the scores of ski-racer kids to zoom around playing hide-and-seek.

Meantime, my kids found a snowhill and played on it until the dark forced them inside.

Dinner was pizza on the beds in the hotel room watching a movie. I really liked not having to sit in another restaurant, and we just hung out and watched Forrest Gump.

Mad scramble in the morning to get to ski school in time! But this wasn't bad, we have a system now, the lodge served breakfast downstairs (very convenient) and Bear Valley ski school starts late (9:45). The only wrinkle was Katrina suddenly crying out in pain and saying that she was going to throw up -- and usually when she says that, she follows up -- but it passed, thank goodness.

I was delighted how easy it was to find and park at Bear Valley. It's ONE building. (Cripes, nothing like Heavenly with 9 entrances.) And oh, how very very pretty was everything around us.

Even the parking-lot views were spectacular. Maybe because we were just so snow-starved or something, or because it was a gorgeous clear sparkly day.

Getting everyone's rentals and equipment on and bathroom done before lessons is never fun, but I was quite happy to say goodbye to the kids for their lessons -- and mine!

Julian and Katrina had all-day lessons; Gabriel and I each had half-day lessons. I'd meet up with him for lunch, then we'd ski together in the afternoon. This is SO fun, I love spending this time with him! And he seems to greatly value it too.

Katrina, it turns out, once again didn't get off the "magic carpet." I hate that! It didn't really bother her, but she did say, "Mommy, I never got to go on the chair lift!" Her instructor said she can turn and stop and is definitely ready for the next level. Unfortunately, when you're 5, odds are you'll be a class with 4- and 5-year-olds who aren't ready for the lift, so you don't go either. This is exactly what sends us back to Sugarbowl. Getting Katrina skiing on her own will really change the way we do things, and at her age and level, a full-day ski school should make a huge difference -- and at $125 a pop, it better!

Still, I was impressed that Bear Valley does try to keep kids grouped by ability, and I understand that some mismatching is inevitable, especially at the younger ages. They did a great job with the boys -- and me. In fact, Gabriel and I each got a private lesson because no one else of our ability and age showed up for a lesson. That was great!. Gabriel's teacher said with sincerity what a joy he was to teach, really focused, really listened to her, very brave -- he made a lot of improvements during their lesson.

My teacher said much the same things about me, ironically. I wanted to learn 360s, and managed a few very ugly ones, and then tried again in the other direction unsuccessfully until it was time to go back up a lift. He commented, "Well, that tells me something about your tenacity." I don't know about that, but I do notice instructors are cautious with middle-aged women. I'm always up to try something new or hard with an instructor -- what better time to learn? (Later when I'm staring down a sheer-faced precipice and wondering if anyone knows what my favorite flower is for the funeral, I question that bravado -- or is it, braggado!) (For the record, lilacs.)

I learned about "hop" turns on this roughed-up hill ("Tiggers").

During my lesson, we came across Julian's lesson once, and he seemed like he was having a great time, if still his slightly tentative self.

Julian's teacher told me later that he loves his "hockey stops" though he can only do them on one side ('re supposed to know both sides??). He's getting closer to real parallel turning, though when it got steeper, he'd revert back to the beginner "pizza" wedge," but he's really coming along. He's taking the slower technique path, which Gabriel never troubled himself with.

My last run, my instructor took me down a short black-diamond that is intimidatingly steep to skiiers at my, me. Not being able to actually see the slope you'll be skiing on until you're committed to it is a little frightening.

But my instructor showed me how to sort of slip-slide down and across, and then how to pick turns. Lower down the slope, it turned into the best snow I've ever been on and I sailed down the run practically screaming "WHEEEE!!!! I was thrilled and ready for more, it was great.

But it was time to pick up Gabriel, and after talking to his teacher, she was confident he could do that run. She was really impressed with his focus and his bravery, and they did a lot of work on technique. He really listened to her and worked hard, and she said sincerely that teaching kids like him really makes this job worthwhile. And she's no college student looking for cheap lift tickets; she'd been teaching there for 25 years.

Nice open lunchroom, and I like the view of the whole "bowl" from the (one) lodge.

After lunch, I took Gabriel to the same great run I'd done just before picking him up ("National"). I love the view from the lifts.

A little navigation error put us at the bottom of a slope with a nonrunning lift, so we had a little bit of walking back up to do.

(That's Gabriel in the far right, walking back up to go around the trees.)

Then we figured out how to get to "National" -- but the ~2 hours since I'd done it had completely changed the complexion of the snow. Now, instead of the soft, forgiving, red-carpet treatment I'd gotten, it was crunchy, crusty, curmudgeonly and unforgiving. I'm certain it was also about 20 degrees steeper now -- honest!

Right away, Gabriel thought it was too hard for him, but we were already committed. He actually didn't act scared, he just said he couldn't do it. Now I had doubts that I could too -- and now I had Gabriel to worry about. He went down soft on purpose to keep from getting out of control.

But I remembered what my instructor had showed me about side-slipping first, and I showed Gabriel that. And that worked -- he made it down by side-slipping down and across, then lying on his back and flipping his skies to the other direction and going across to the other side.

(Really, this was a LOT steeper than the video shows).

It was slow going, but steady progress and I never felt we were in any real danger.

He did make a few actual ski turns and did fine on those, but mostly he slid his way down -- safely. I was really proud of him -- it was beyond his level (and mine), but he didn't cry or complain or give up, he'd take breaks and tackle it again. And he actually never fell! He said later he was a little freaked out by it, but he said it calmly and factually, and added that he doesn't need to try it again.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on moderate blues, and had a great time with that. I just loved the views, it seemed like every run was on a ridge and you could see far into valleys in every direction.

After picking up the other two and returning the rental gear and all that, we drove straight from the resort to Angel's Camp for dinner, then straight home. That would have gone better except the boys were being so annoying and rambunctious in the car -- throwing things, shoving each other, screeching, knocking into Katrina -- and no end of warnings would calm them. I asked them again and again to settle down, told myself I didn't really need to listen to the radio, warned them very seriously that the only way out of this was with them crying, and that would make all of us unhappy -- couldn't we fast-forward past the unhappy part and just get to the calm part? I gave them my iPhone to send texts, and that only made Katrina unhappy, so I had to give her a turn and then they were right back at it. I even uncapped a bottle of water and dumped some behind me onto Julian, and that only sent them into peals of laughter: "YOU MISSED!"

Finally after 115 miles and about 2 hours of nonstop chaos, and the 10th time my seat got shoved forward, I made good on my threat. I pulled off the highway, got out of the car, and vigorously smacked both of them. And whaddya know. Peace. I'm sure I'm supposed to regret my violence, but my only regret was that I hadn't done it a lot sooner.

Other than that typical behavioral blemish, it was such a delightful, if short trip. I was so happy the kids got to play in the snow when we arrived Saturday afternoon, then our cozy indulgent dinner-and-a-movie. It's time that brings us all together and makes me feel so close, like this is what it's all about. Having my children around me, facing the challenges of travelling together, seeing them delight in the simple pleasures in one of my favorite places in the world...these are the highlights of my life!

And the Highway 4/Murphys/Bear Valley area is filled with so much to do -- I got some great ideas for summer camping, and other recreation like ziplining. We were regulars to that area for many years with our annual trip to Sheepranch, and I think we will be again. I don't even think I'll miss Lake Tahoe that much...?!


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