Sunday, March 18, 2012

3/18/12 March Ski Trip Day 2: Snow Day!

This day sure started out dicey.

It snowed all night -- a great thing for skiing, but a really bad thing for getting there. Like yesterday, my Subaru was waved past the chain-control checkpoint on I-80, and I made my way nervously on the more-direct but twisty and icy Donner Pass Road. This is what it looked like this morning, if you can call this "looked."

I was very aware of how slippery it was, unable to stop at an intersection once, sliding benignly and unpolitely into it.

The slopes were not promising this morning either, with snow blowing hard as Gabriel and I warmed up -- or froze down is more like it -- before our lessons. I didn't mind it snowing, but visibility was really bad.

I was reminded of something I hadn't experienced since my failed skiing start as a child: cold! Our toes and fingers were actually cold! We're SO spoiled in California, we have no idea what to do with ourselves when the temperature drops below 30 degrees.

After a warmup break in the lodge, we made it on time to our lessons. I forgot all about being cold, happy to be with the same instructor I had yesterday.

I was really surprised how many more people at my level showed up for lessons -- at least 15 people at or above Level 4. Four instructors split us up by ability, and I ended up about in the middle. It never fails to amaze me to watch much more seasoned skiiers, especially other women. Can I please do that too someday?? I'm still such a newbie, still so inexperienced. Within my group I was by far the least-skilled and least-seasoned skiier, but oddly the fastest, and as is so often the case, the most willing ("Did you say unmapped untouched off-piste run -- SURE!!").

Mt. Lincoln looked a whole lot different today. Here's how it looked yesterday.

The same vantage point today.

Still, I had one of the best lessons I've ever had today, despite some of the ugliest and most beginner-ish skiing I've ever done. The snow was deep and demanded different technique than I've developed in my 3 seasons skiing on ice, and it's tough and tiring without knowing how to "float" over it. Still, I emerged happy and confident and ready to try more -- a total turnaround from a very pessimistic outlook of the morning.

I chatted briefly with Gabriel's group lesson instructor, and learned that he and another very skilled girl had spent the day on double-black-diamonds!! Gabriel has completely surpassed me now in terms of difficult terrain! This new deep powder thing is something of an equalizer, blurring the distinction between harder blues and easier blacks, but there is no question that a double-black is serious stuff. Gabriel did "Strawberry Fields," Sugarbowl's "intro" double-black, and an unmapped chute run called "Two-and-Three-Quarters." Good for him!!!

I was so happy to be with him for lunch and an afternoon of skiing together. We happily downloaded together about our morning, trading food, laughing often.

But I nervously watched the weather deteriorate out the window -- the snow was driving harder and harder. Would our road back to our Truckee Treasure house be closed? Sugarbowl's lodge was packed with people, partly because eating outside was not an option, but unless Sugarbowl was prepared to lodge hundreds of people overnight, they'd have to find a way to keep the road open.

I learned from an instructor that Sugarbowl has an agreement with the County to maintain Donner Pass Road -- otherwise people just can't get there and the business would go under. So once Sugarbowl had serviced (plowed, sanded, blown) their internal roads and parking lots, they turned their full and constant attention to keeping the main access road open.

I drove in snow a lot in upstate NY, but I'm just now realizing how very very different it is here in the Sierras. It snows for days here at a time, and feet of snow can drop in a few hours. There isn't one plowing; the plows have to run constantly to keep roads open. I don't recall any chain-control checkpoints either, but I think that's a phenomenon of altitude.

Indeed, for years I've internally grumbled about my AWD car, since the all-wheel-drive detracts from gas mileage. When do I ever need AWD? Who cares? Well, I sure cared yesterday and today when I saw the Corollas and Civics I'd normally prefer pull over in the chain-check areas and pay to put chains on their wheels, or worse, do it themselves. It's not just the expense and hassle -- for us, the delay would have meant missing ski school today. So this weekend, 10 years of owning an AWD car paid off.

Today I heard that chain controls were as low as Colfax because of the snow-storming. I sure hope this is lifted by the time we drive home tomorrow. Even if we're waved through chain-control checkpoints due to having an AWD car, the traffic slowdown could cost us hours.

Enough digression, sorry.

Gabriel and I lounged around so long at lunch that by the time we were ready to ski again, we had barely an hour before it was time to pick up the other two. And it was really snowing by now. We did a test-run up Mt. Judah, a familiar and very fun place to be, and found visibility at the top to be much worse than in the morning, and wind to be horrific.

So I changed the plan we'd formed during lunch, and decided to stay on Mt. Judah -- closeby to where we'd pick up the other two. It was so windy and SO hard to see, it was no time to experiment or try new runs -- much as I wanted to practice some what I'd tried in my fabulous lesson that morning.

Gabriel was fine with this plan -- especially when we ran across Katrina's lesson on Mt Judah. I was so psyched to see her there, because these are all pure blues. She was doing GREAT! And on much steeper stuff than I thought she could handle, and the conditions didn't faze her a bit!

I tried to take video, but what I took was poor -- it was so windy and cold that my hands froze to useless in a few seconds of attempting operate my camera without gloves. My first attempt only caught Gabriel slowly making his way toward her on a narrow steep section (she's in the distance, indistinguishable).

Then I did catch her, just as she topped a small hill, a terrain feature, but this is pretty dull as a video. In real life, you had to be there to feel the snow being driven into your face and the biting cold of frozen fingers for this to be in any way remarkable.

But I was so happy to see how relaxed she was, how much she was enjoying this. Her teacher today and yesterday's teacher both said she loves the "powder" -- deep, slow, snow. Not all kids, or adults, like it -- it's great when it's untracked, but boy it can get deep and slow.

And did I mention deep? We came across a man stuck waist-deep in an area -- that'd easily bury Katrina. And it's not even that deep this year. (The man's daughter ended up leaving him and skiing to the ski school area to plead with instructors to rescue her 70yo father, he was exhausted from trying to push himself out of the powder.)

I dragged Gabriel away from Katrina's lesson -- he'd have followed her all day long but I took mercy on her poor teacher, and we took a different route.

Then we spotted Julian from a lift -- and oh my gosh, he was coming out of Grayson's Glades, a tree section, and onto Donner's Way -- both black diamonds!! He was slow and careful, but he was there! WOW!! This is serious skiing!!!!

My hasty photography and decidely un-hasty camera only caught Julian's instructor, but this gives a decent idea of the conditions. I couldn't believe it -- GOOD for Julian!!

Last run of the day -- and incredibly, we caught a break in the weather. It was blowing through so fast that the short blast of sun was quickly obscured again, but not before I got a few photos.

The mobs at Sugarbowl, and the instructor who'd explained to me the politics of road ownership, gave me confidence we'd be able to get back to Truckee -- but if we'd been trying to get down the mountain to home, we'd have been in for major highway delays.

And we made it. Even back to Truckee, it was a slow, slippery, tense (though plowed) drive -- which is all I've had since we've been here -- but we made it safely and in plenty of time for kids to play in the ample snow at our temporary adopted house.

After a little work, that is.

While Katrina played and the boys knocked down icicles (they've never seen them!!) and set up for a snowball fight --

-- I partook of a luxury only moms of older kids can dream of: a hot bath. I so needed that after the last two challenging, but exhilarating days. I ignored the screaming and banging and hoped my children weren't antagonizing the neighbors of the owners of our new beloved house.

But we're not done yet -- if the weather is anything close to decent tomorrow, I'm up for another massive hassle and expense of a short day of skiing before a long drive home. Especially if the snow is anything like it was today!

Someone mentioned today something about coming here to the Lake Tahoe area being a "relaxing vacation" -- I almost spit with laughter! This is about the farthest thing I can imagine from being a "relaxing vacation" -- and thank goodness for that!!


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