Friday, March 09, 2012

3/9/2012 Ski Week!

Finally -- Ski Week! Sort of after the act, since it was 80 degrees in Sunnyvale today on March 9 as I publish, but what can we do. I had a lot of technical issues with this -- I really need to quit blogging and just write.

Sunday 2/19/12

Ski Week!

OK, it's not officially called that, but rumor is that our school district timed its "winter recess" with peak ski season, so that parents would quit pulling their kids out of school to ski. The ski resorts are onto this, and hike prices up for "peak" time -- and if you don't plan lodging and other reservations weeks ahead of time, you're doomed. And so, "Ski Week" was born.

Despite my aversion to crowds and peak times, I decided to attempt skiing during ski week this year. I'd heard from friends that President's Day weekend itself is pretty packed, but the weekdays following aren't bad. I reserved a small house in Truckee for 5 nights, and planned to drive up on a Sunday morning when traffic wouldn't be bad. It turned out Dave couldn't join us, but I'd already taken the kids on ski trips myself, so I was ready.

The kids are getting used to these drives, and were ready for some time in the snow -- though Katrina wasn't excited about the pre-trip photos.

I like to find my way to a new place while it's still daylight, and arrive in time for the kids to play outside for a while. They blow off steam after a 200-mile-or-so drive while I figure out the logistics. Though it means driving during the best part of the day, and not having much heart or energy to insist the kids help me unpack the car, this plan works great.

This particular house violated a consistent rule of Truckee houses: There Shalt Be Horrible Lighting In The Kitchen. Though this house is on the old side, it had everything we needed and then some, including a piano.

It also had a huge garage, appointed with 3 sleds. The kids wasted no time in playing with the sleds in the huge front yard, despite the poor snow and overall lack of slope. I was so happy to see them running around outside, joyful in the packed, icy remnants of snow, that I didn't bug them much to help me unpack.

Monday 2/20/12

The Plan was to hang out and "relax" the first day in Truckee, then spend 3 days at Sugarbowl skiing.

But no matter what the kids say, there's no getting around it: they can't stay home and "relax" all day. As much fun as they were having playing in the ample front yard of our home-to-be for 5 days, I knew they needed to get out. So I insisted we get out to go tubing at Boreal in the morning.

This proved to be a bit of a bust, actually. Lines were long, and the tubing runs themselves were pretty mundane.

At least this place had a "magic carpet" lift.

And long slow lines.


They all got bored after about half an hour, and instead wanted to play in what little snow there was. I let them do that for a while, amusing myself by experimenting with my new camera, until I just couldn't take standing around anymore.

As much fun as "relaxing" sounds, I was very ready for an active busy ski day!

Tuesday 2/21/12

Our first ski day started with a very strange night.

I'd impressed heavily upon the kids that we were leaving at 7:15am, and not to putz in the morning. I set all their snow clothes out, bowls for cereal, and had everything ready to go. But something woke Julian up, he said around 11:55pm, and he thought it was time to get up. He got dressed, had breakfast, and sat on the couch and waited, falling asleep on and off, until morning, where I found him sitting on a chair awake and puzzled at 6:30am.

I asked him if he knew that "11:55 PM" means it's still nighttime, but he couldn't really answer that. "I didn't want to wake you up, Mom." Judging by how crusty his cereal was, he'd eaten it many hours ago. What on earth?! He'd been up all night!!

Later I realized that what woke him was the dryer buzzing. The dryer has no way to turn the buzzer off, and it's right next to the kids' bedrooms. When they play in the snow, their mittens and snow pants get soaked and need to be dried, sometimes washed first. The dryer is on constant duty, and unfortunately, this one's buzzer sounds like an alarm clock.

Still, we were up early, which meant the primo parking spot.

Gabriel had no ski school on our first day, but I'd signed him and myself up for a morning general-admission group lesson (separate due to our ages) and we met up for lunch. Julian and Katrina were in ski school all day.

I caught some of Julian's class on the bunny hill ("White Pines") just before my lesson.

I also glimpsed Katrina's class from the lift. She was just meandering her way down through hoops on the bunny hill. Her body position was very unlike her brothers', who are crouched forward in a daring bolt (Gabriel) or in hesitant fear (Julian). She just lah-de-dah'd her way down, unconcerned and confident. Her teacher told me later that she's very ready for more challenging runs, and he'll take her on them tomorrow. Finally.

I like starting the day with a group lesson: it gives me someone to ski with, I don't worry about navigation, and I get essential instruction. But though I'm still a relatively new skiier, not many people at my level show up for lessons anymore.

Fortunately, a very experienced German woman showed up, and they weren't going to mess with her. This resulted in a last-minute scramble for another instructor for a more advanced lesson, so instead of making the most of a level 3 lesson, I got pushed hard in a level 4 lesson. I learned all sorts of new things, including an intro to moguls, and some new techniques for controlling speed on steep terrain -- something the German woman needed help with, because she was freakin' FAST and had no interest in controlling her speed!

After the morning's group lessons, I met up with Gabriel for lunch. This is now one of my all-time favorite life's moments: we have so much fun together at lunch: clunking around in our ski boots, sharing hot chocolate, joking about how good junk food tastes, comparing the morning's skiing experiences, and planning our afternoon routes.

Our afternoon had challenges though. The snow is sparse, and what's there today was sticky and slow. Sugarbowl has a lot of flat spots approaching lifts and on connecting paths between runs, which means a lot of pushing, huffing, skating, and ski-walking at the end of runs to get to the lifts. I'd done a lot of that in my morning lesson and was already really tired by the time I skiied with Gabriel, and found him to be even less energetic about this than I was. The skiing itself was still fun, but we were constantly dodging icy spots, slushy spots, and increasingly, bare spots as the thin snow cover melted away during the day.

I had quite the panic-moment on top of Mt. Lincoln though. After getting off the lift, I took my gloves off to check Gabriel's boot that he was complaining about. Next thing I knew, the wind started to blow my gloves away! I unlatched my skis quickly and sprinted after them, diving to catch one just before it rolled over a precipice. Whew!

Gabriel at Rahvle's Run, at the top of Mt. Lincoln.

My route from the top turned out to involve at least 3 sections of the dreaded huffing and walking and side-stepping uphill. Gabriel was absolutely exhausted by the time we finished up with "Donner's Way," Sugarbowl's intro black-diamond, though we sure as heck weren't going on any greens, 'cause they involve even more pushing. He conquered Donner's Way with his usual bravado and lack of style, but he was really wiped out.

I let Gabriel rest in the loading zone while I hustled with our gear to pick up Julian and Katrina. When I drove around to pick him up, he was asleep.

Julian's teacher said Julian wasn't exactly peppy about the huffing around, and she'd had to pull him a lot. She actually demoted him down to Level 2!

Katrina had spent the day on the bunny hill, which I'd really tried to avoid, but her teacher said she was completely ready for more and would do more tomorrow. She'd been promoted to Level 2. I cringed at the possibility they might end up in the same class -- oh please, no.

I never tire of this view on Donner Pass Road, the best way back to our rental house in Truckee.

Gabriel plopped himself straight down on the couch when we got home, and Julian went straight outside and didn't come back in until after dark. This is why I always get a place with a washer/dryer -- they get soaked playing in snow!

What a strange day -- first Julian being up all night, the glove incident, then Gabriel being so worn out by the huffing. But a ski trip wouldn't be a ski trip without these stories!

Wednesday 2/22/12

Our second ski day started again with Julian at 4am: "Mommy, I threw up!" Repeat at 5am and 6:30am. It it was clear he wasn't going to ski school today. Fortunately, I'd gotten a call that there was an all-day spot in ski school for Gabriel today.

I got Gabriel and Katrina together with far more trouble than there should have been, whisked them to ski school, sprinted to pick up mine and Gabriel's skis from the wax shop, which of course is as far as possible from the ski school, then drove back to check on Julian. He was back in bed asleep and woke up when I got home, then sprinted to the toilet again, hurling what little was left in his stomach.

I spent the morning with him, showing him Kung Fu videos and how to send me text messages from my computer. I turned on the TV, and he lay down to glue himself to TV Land. After a while, I decided his stomach was stable. He needed rest, he had a way to contact me, I was going to have leave him anyway to get the other two, he's 8...ok, it's rationalizing, but my sense really was that he'd be OK. And so with instructions to text me every half hour, I left him and went back to Sugarbowl.

It was too late for a lesson for me, but I did want to get in some skiing and figured this would be a good opportunity to practice yesterday's lesson and expand my black-diamond repertoire without worrying about Gabriel. With trepidation, I tried "Market Place," a slope I'd done last year with an instructor. I regretted it immediately. The top ridge was narrow, crusty and icy and filled with rock and bare-spot obstacles. It was better toward the bottom, but I sure didn't want to do the top approach again.

So I thought I'd try "Sugar Bowl" (what a name at a resort named Sugarbowl), but was intimidated by a sign that said "Ungroomed terrain, not controlled for avalanches." Doesn't sound good. Partially committed, I took "East Face," telling myself this "Expert Only" sign was written by lawyers.

Once again, completely out of my league. Icy, steep, icy, chopped-up, icy -- not good for someone who still can't turn quickly. I made it down, but it took all my effort, coaching myself aloud, and digging into depths of courage I just don't have. By the bottom, I was wrung out, moreso mentally than physically.

I figured I'd try a shorter black-diamond I'd done in my lesson yesterday, from the top of Mt. Lincoln. And I love the view there.

But "Vanderbilt" was the worst yet -- today it was complete ice and I had a terrible time trying to get around the lumps, contours and mini-moguls. I made it down without getting hurt, but it was really ugly. No more black-diamond adventures for me today. I can't get hurt, I have children to care for. I stuck to groomers after that.

It was absurdly warm today, with more and more bare spots appearing on the slopes as the day progressed, with ice in the shady spots. This does not make for good skiing! I've had it with ice and heavy snow -- I'm not sure I've ever skiied on the light, fluffy stuff I hear exists. Are we done yet? I was actually glad when it was time to pick up Gabriel and Katrina!

I was so happy to hear that Katrina's instructor had had a great day with her -- alone! An all-day private lesson! And she spent the whole day on easy blues, finally. Her instructor, genuinely I think, said that she was really fun to spend the day with, she was totally willing and able and was really advancing. He seemed truly proud of her, and so was I!

Gabriel had a mixed day that averaged out to GREAT.

He'd been put in a level 3 lesson in the morning, despite my telling the harried ski school director emphatically that he'd done a level 4 lesson the day before, and had breezed down an easy black (they don't do blacks in level 3). But he still got put into a lesson with kids who were falling all the time on beginner blues. This is what we go to Sugarbowl to avoid!

Fortunately, at lunch, he got traded to a much more advanced class, because another class had a girl who just couldn't keep up. His new instructor said Gabriel had to "ski up," and this proved to be a great thing. They did all sorts of stuff -- including the off-piste "Sugar Bowl" run that I hadn't dared. Gabriel said "Sugar Bowl" was really hard and he fell a few times, but his instructor said he did great, especially given the horrible snow conditions. They also did "ridges," (going over the edge of one run to the verticals down to the bottom), a rainbow jump among others in a terrain park, trees, and another black diamond I'd aimed for but couldn't find. And I think it did him good to get outski'd by two girls, including an 8-year-old.

I asked Gabriel if he wanted to try to get in the same class tomorrow, but he said, "No Mommy, I want to ski with you. I tried to talk him out of it, explaining that there's no way I can do take him where his instructor did today, but he said, "I don't care, I want to be with you." I'll take it! I only get another 1, 2 years tops of that!

My own ski day had been pretty rattling -- no lesson, a failed black-diamond blitz, missing Gabriel as a lunch companion, worrying about Julian. But I was so happy that Katrina and Gabriel had had such great ski school days.

When we got back to the house, Julian was exactly where I'd left him -- lying on the couch watching TV Land. Before long, he was demanding food and actively pestering his siblings -- back to his old self and ready to ski the next day.

Truckee hit a high of 56 degrees today -- has winter forgotten us this year?

Thursday 2/23/12

Once again, at 12:30am: "Mom! I threw up!" Julian had seemed so much better last night, and I was really looking forward to all being together the next day. But he said he was worried he'd get sick while at ski school, so I decided to let him stay at our adopted home.

Today I had no ski school for Gabriel, and since Julian was feeling mostly better, I truly didn't see any point in staying with him all day. I decided to go about the day same as I would have -- other than abandoning a sick 8-year-old that is. With orders to text me frequently and watch TV all day, I left Julian behind and took the other two to Sugarbowl.

After dropping Katrina off at ski school, Gabriel and I warmed up on the runs under the Mt. Judah lift. I was really discouraged. I'd had a tough day yesterday, and yesterday's super-warm snow had frozen overnight. The groomed runs were striated ice, and the nongroomed runs were pure ice. Will I ever get to ski on snow?! My thighs were burning by 10am when we went to our group lessons.

Gabriel got the same teacher he'd had in Tuesday's group lesson, so no momma-bearing about his level to a skeptical instructor who hears parents overstate their kids' ability every day. (The instructors told me that it's the parents who can actually ski who are the worst offenders; newbies like me don't know better!) But this instructor not only knew Gabriel's level, but that while he's short on style and technique, he's very high on courage and willingness. Having a teacher who already knows that about you means you can get right to work.

For my lesson, the same awesome German woman arrived -- and she too knew my ability and approach. She was clearly disappointed to see me -- she was ready for more! They weren't messing with her again, so they sent two instructors up with us to see if we were matched, and determined within seconds that we were nowhere close. Her rapidly diminishing form in the distance was the big clue there -- she was gone before I'd even wrapped my hands around my poles off the lift. So we each got a private lesson!

My instructor went back to basics. Most of what he said, I'd heard before, but not exactly as he said it, and I need constant reminders. I got to follow him a lot too, which was really helpful. We did mostly easy runs, but by the end, I'd learned how to make it down a run in a much narrower track than I had been, I had a few "ah-HAH" moments, some new visualizations (like pedaling a bicycle, that was cool) -- I had my mojo back! I gave my near-elderly instructor a genuine hug of joy afterward.

Gabriel too had had a great lesson, laregely because of having a teacher who already knew him, making me glad he wasn't in all-day ski school. This plan of us each taking a lesson in the morning, then having lunch and skiing the afternoon together is great. This will forever be one my favorite memories of my time with my firstborn son.

After lunch, we had fun taking photos and videos of each other in the terrain parks. I had a great time on the huge snowhills in the "large feature" terrain park, and a lot less fear than last year about the "small" terrain park's little bitty features, like flat boxes.

Gabriel on the rainbow box.

Gabriel bombs down "Juniper," a short steep stretch, nice tumble at the end.

Me doing 3 flat boxes in a row in the baby terrain park -- not so bad once you've done them!

Next time, the rainbow box!

We quit around 3pm in the hopes of catching Katrina's class coming back so we could ski with her, but her class came back too late.

While waiting, I chatted with her instructor Dylan she'd had the past 2 days, who I expected she'd have today. Turns out, she did have Dylan this morning, but there was a problem: her two new classmates were new beginners, so she was stuck on the bunny hill again. Worse, they were bickering brothers -- like she doesn't get enough of that! One boy was raring to go, while the other was crying in fear of the mild slope. Her instructor seemed frazzled, he'd had a tough day with the two brothers. Fortunately, he was able to regretfully trade Katrina to a higher class at lunch, because he knew she didn't belong on the bunny hill.

Done chatting, finally Katrina and her class came back, and I zoomed her into the bunny hill lift line before having a chance to talk to her new afternoon instructor. Katrina was outraged and almost threw a massive tantrum: she did not want to do the bunny hill: "I want to go to Jerome!" So I semi-lied and told her that we had to take this lift first to get to the other runs, which is true, but the complete truth was that we were out of time. And I wasn't sure I could help her on the icy blues -- I really just needed to see how she skiied first.

I set up to take video of her just off the lift, but she just took off and I missed it. I was floored! She was gone! Second time up I was better-prepared, but still had trouble catching her while video-ing.

No wonder she was so offended by having to be on the bunny hill again. She's doing great, far better than I expected! She wanted to ski until dark, and was insistent about returning tomorrow. I didn't know how to tell her that we were driving home tomorrow.

After returning Katrina's rentals, I had a chance talk to her afternoon instructor. Her upgraded class included one of those incredible 5-year-olds whose father is an instructor, and in fact was Julian's instructor last year. This meant that Katrina could try anything she was ready for, and she was all over it! He said she did great on the easy blues. I asked him what level she's at for future placement, and he said a high level 2. She still needs work on turns and stops, and isn't quite parallel yet, but emphasized especially that she is done with the bunny hill.

I was grateful to Katrina's instructors for moving her up, but a little irritated that it had to happen at all. On her 3rd day in a row, with the same instructor she'd had the prior 2 days, and having spent the day before on blues, she should not have been back on the bunny hill with a cryer! Similarly, Gabriel shouldn't have spent yesterday morning on the easy blues with a faller. We go out of our way to Sugarbowl to avoid exactly that. Not only is a below-level class a huge lost opportunity, but it can turn a kid against ski school and frustrate them watching other people whizz by as they're standing around.

Still, I credit the ski school for giving the instructors the latitude to notice the problem and trade when they can. I understand that it's very very hard to schedule level-appropriate classes during the busiest week of the season, especially with a limit of 3 per class, and in one of the worst snow years ever when they've had to cut way back on staff. But I'll think twice about this during Ski Week again.

With high spirits at our final successful day, I poured Gabriel and Katrina into the car and drove the lovely drive back to our temporary home one last time.

Julian was exactly where I'd left him: on the couch in his pajamas watching the Cartoon Network. Great. Well, some days, it just has to happen. He'd sent me texts from my computer a few times during the day that said "yaaahhh! having a GREAT time!", so I knew he was OK. I sure wish he'd gotten more than one so-so day of skiing in, but them's the breaks. He's got a lot of catching-up to do.

And so went our 3rd annual 3-days-at-Sugarbowl ski trip.

I have mixed feelings about Sugarbowl. Despite our narrow misses, I'm still convinced the ski school is unmatched. Gabriel and Katrina advanced so much, Katrina especially benefitting from the small class, the usual care to match levels, and teacher continuity. I also really like the "Mt. Judah" area, all blues, with the terrain parks (which as terrain parks go are probably considered lame, which must be why I like them). It's also a little more accessible than most other resorts, and as I was to soon learn, it doesn't have a bad lift. It has sentimental value too, because the majority of our learning curve has occurred here.

But I don't like how far apart the lifts are, what a pain it is to ski up to a lift on a slushy day, and the lack of good green runs. I heard it described as a place designed for "big snow," and also as an "intermediate" resort -- so, it doesn't work as well for beginner families in a low-snow winter. Maybe this is just bad luck, but it seems I've had more than my share of ice and heavy slushy snow and windy ridges there. And while ski resort food is never anything to be excited about, Sugarbowl's is on the low end.

Despite all the challenges, all the ups and downs, all the averted, near, and actual disasters, it was still a terrific time and will be another terrific memory. We're all very much looking forward to the next ski trip -- just where, I'm not sure yet...!

Friday 2/24/12

But wait -- there's more.

I'd planned to sleep late on our last morning, but that plan was foiled by screeEECH! at 6:45am. Then Julian burst in: "Katrina has a bloody nose!"

Katrina does nosebleeds right -- total gushers. I found her with multiple streams of bloud pouring down her arm and dripping off her elbow as she tried to stop it with a few tissues Julian had given her. Her hands were trembling, as she's done since she was a baby when woken up suddenly. I grabbed two full-sized bath towels, and about 25 minutes, it was under control.

During this crisis, I was starting to form a plan. We're up early....maybe we can pull off another ski day together....? Julian had missed out on two days, and I really wanted to see Katrina ski.

So I thought we'd try Homewood, a small, lower-key place known for its beauty, and a lovely green run that goes from top to bottom. Katrina almost threw a fit about not going to Sugarbowl, but once again I lied and told her we couldn't go to Sugarbowl today. Truth is, I really wanted to try Homewood, and I knew Sugarbowl would mean a lot of pushing her into lifts. (I had no idea what I was in for.)

I zoomed through the packing-up, regretting that I hadn't done some of it the night before, and squelched my irritation that it was so much faster to do it myself than to push my delinquent entitled children to pitch in. Somehow we were out by 9:30 and on our way south from the beautiful 40-minute drive to Homewood.

We started on one of their several bunny hills, with a small terrain park, to get Julian's ski legs back. But the lift was a "surface lift" -- a modern rope tow with poles and a mini-seat that you put between your legs and it pulls you up.

(That's Katrina in the pink helmet about to dismount -- and fall -- from this pole lift.)

Katrina had trouble with this surface lift, but none at all with its short hill. Julian got in a run or two, including a bit in the mini-terrain park, after which he announced, "I'm ready now!" Time to move on to the mountain.

I'm OK with ancient chair lifts, but Homewood's are particularly bad -- shallow seats, no bar, really fast to get on and really slow once you're on it, and a tendency to lurch so you feel like you're about to get thrown off. Both Julian and Katrina were very freaked out by this (they're 3-wide, so Gabriel was on his own), so I used my poles as a "bar." Plus it was tricky to get off.

As we approached the top of the lift, another problem revealed itself: How would I keep track of all three kids here? I formed a plan that I used the rest of the day: tell Gabriel what lift to meet us at, how he got there was up to him. I'd ski with Katrina and hope Julian would stay with us, since he falls a lot.

When we got off this lift, Katrina wasted no time taking off, and Julian too skied away. But soon I had tons of trouble. Homewood seemed particularly hit hard by the low snow and warm temperatures, with many bare or wet spots -- and lots and lots of slow and flat spots. The main green run also had a low bridge that you can only get over by building speed and zooming over, but the heavy slushy snow meant walking up. And for me, that meant a very long wait for Katrina, or pulling her with a pole.

You can see the bare spots and bad snow here. I was too busy pulling and pushing kids to take pictures where it was really bad.

Ick. Plan B. I herded everyone to the Ellis lift to get to the top -- another ancient, slow, long, uncomfortable 3-person lift with no bars. Then at the top awaited us -- another walk! More side-stepping, huffing, pole-pulling and heaving to get up to the top of the green run. Ugh!

At least Rainbow Ridge was beautiful, with view straight into Lake Tahoe. It looks like you're going to ski right into the water! Katrina and Julian enjoyed the top part (Gabriel was gone), where there was snow and enough slope to keep moving. had no trouble with it -- Gabriel was gone -- and we enjoyed the top part where there was enough snow and slope to keep moving.

At least Rainbow Ridge was beautiful, with view straight into Lake Tahoe. It looks like you're going to ski right down into the lake! Katrina and Julian had no trouble with it -- Gabriel was gone -- and we enjoyed the top part.

Some slightly-edited camera video of Katrina at Homewood on our last day. She and her tiny little skis can turn on a dime!

I had to SCREAM once to catch Julian just before he committed himself to an off-piste black-diamond -- he was fooled by an ambiguously-placed sign. Other signs are blocked by overgrown trees.

But this connected into the same sloppy, slow green that I'd already done so much pulling and pushing and walking on. A hardworking employee was shoveling snow to cover bare spots, trying hard to keep ahead of the melting, but the sun was relentless. I made up a "zoom boost" game in which I'd shove Katrina on the back to help her get past the flat spots, but this was exhausting. (And so bad for my tricky back -- this was not the time for it to freak out!)

In a quest to find a skiable area with no walking and a decent lift, I got everyone to Quail Chair. This one has a bar, but it came in so fast it smashed me in the back of my knees, and I had to work fast to pull Katrina onto it. I held her tightly on the lift and skiied her off it. I do not like the lifts here!

The view from the top of Quail Chair was fabulous, and I got the kids to reluctantly cooperate for a picture.

Then I realized that once again, getting to the green run I'd planned meant a lot of walking and pushing. SO done with that! The alternative was to attempt the nice handy blue that's right here. I sent Gabriel on his way with instructions to meet us at the bottom lift, and Katrina and Julian and I tackled the blue "Martin's Lane."

Katrina did fine at the top. She said she was scared a few times, but was always in control. Then I noticed Julian skiing off the run again, on the sides, and had to go catch him and give him instructions: Don't go there! I don't want to carry you out of a ditch! Then looking back at Katrina, I saw her heading toward the edge and fall.

Then it all went downhill, pardon the pun.

We'd reached a part of the run that was shaded and so really, really crusty and icy, and steeper than the top. Katrina was scared from her mild fall and it was very hard to get her up, since she'd just start to slide. Once she was up, she could easily traverse the slope, turn, and traverse again, but she got herself completely freaked out and would sit back and fall just after making a perfect turn. I dug deep to help her -- I gave her targets, talked to her calmly some times and gave her terse instructions other times, ski right next to her, ask what her Sugarbowl teacher Dylan would say. Some of this talking helped, but as soon as she'd start to ski, she scream "I'm scared! I'm scared!", cry, then make a fabulous tight little turn, scream again and fall again. It was killing me, because she really could do this.

Then she fell and started to slide straight down belly-first, skis facing downhill, screaming bloody murder. Gabriel arrived at the bottom of the run just about then: "What's going on?" I had no time to explain!

But that slide got her past the worst part, and now the end was within reach. Exhausted myself, I did a tough-love thing of getting her up, arranging her skis, and pretty much giving her a shove, and she skiied to the end quite competently, screeching the whole way.

That was awful!

Though safe on nearly level ground, Katrina was still crying and freaked out, so I asked Gabriel to lead her down. But he went ridiculously slowly despite my repeated admonitions to get moving. Overprotective brother! He was just getting in her way -- after that trauma, she really needed to just ski. I gladly sent him on his way at a turnoff to the easy black-diamond "Spillway," barely catching Katrina before she went that way too. Turns out Julian had already made that navigation mistake, and unwittingly did his first black.

I was worried that Katrina's last run with all the screaming and panicking would be a terrible note to end on, but she recovered quickly. I was done though. This was way way too much work for me today. Still worthwhile, but this isn't the place for me to handle 3 kids myself under these snow conditions. Homewood got an unfair shake today because of the awful snow conditions, but I longed for Sierra-at-Tahoe's friendly lifts and layouts.

The shuttle bus back to the other parking lot. More heaving - the bus doesn't have a ski rack, so everything has to be carried up onto it. UGH -- more heave-ho!

Rental returns, reunion with real shoes, put away skis....whew!! We went up to Homewood's restaurant and had a nice long leisurely lunch. The kids sat peacefully together and munched on corn dogs and watched snowboarders tumbling in the terrain park as we chatted happily about our day. I was in no hurry! I needed a rest! And I treasured this happy moment with my children.

We got on the road at 3:40pm, and already my memories were turning to only fond ones. The long drive ahead included spectacular Emerald Bay around Lake Tahoe, so I didn't mind. One stop in Placerville, a little commute traffic in Sacramento, and we were home by 8:15pm, exhausted.

Despite our disastrous last run down "Martin's Lane", I am thrilled with Katrina's new skiing skill. I delighted in the time when she blew by two young women, the quintessential tiny pole-less mite bopping nonchalantly past the grownups. She's clearly been taught to turn and stop, and she incorporates it into her skiing -- and she actually likes it.

Wrap-up Thoughts

Ski Week is a great and horrible idea.

On the one hand, the kids have a week off of school during what's usually the best snow time of the year. On the other hand, it's crowded, discounts don't apply, and even Sugarbowl has problems scheduling ski school.

The concept of dedicating one week a year (well, probably 4 days, plus travel time) is a great one though. Maybe next year we'll try Mount Bachelor in Oregon, where their school districts don't have a "ski week" and its snow quality is consistently better. I have the whole rest of the year to dream of the Sierras!


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