Thursday, March 22, 2012

3/22/12 A step to suspension

Julian's teacher told us today in email that Julian had a disciplinary note to take home -- but we didn't realize until we saw it that it's an "official" form -- one step away from suspension. As usual, it's from an act that is at its core benign, but risky, obnoxious and unacceptable. This time, he was waving a pencil in a kid's face and calling it a knife. His explanation was that it was a Kung Fu knife. Great, because he's got a belt test Saturday, and if he moves up to Purple belt, then he'll start work with a dagger. I can't wait to explain that to the school.

I should be writing about our last incredible day of skiing this week -- which I think will be the last of the season unless I manage somehow to squeeze in one more. It is spring now, after all! But I'm glad -- mostly -- that this coming weekend, we have no plans to go anywhere -- in fact, I have plans not to go anywhere.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3/21/2012 From mountains to coast

I drove to Watsonville this morning to install a wireless network for the California Strawberry Commission -- or so I thought. Working with another IT consultant flown in from Chicago (because an hour from San Jose, they couldn't find one -- ??), most of the work was in migrating the wired network.

One funny thing about the Strawberry Commission's offices -- there's a boot scraper right outside the door. I guess they get a lot of visitors who've been out in the fields lately!!

Watsonville -- such an interesting, honest place, and I really love being near the coast. I've passed through and stayed in that area many, many times over the years -- mostly as a motorcyclist, but my first camping trip with the boys was less than a mile from where I worked today. This is what I first loved about living in CA -- the coast, the redwood trees, the agriculture, the scrubby landscape. But now my head is in the mountains -- just two days ago, I was knee-deep in snow!

I'm SO tempted to go back to the Sierras this weekend -- but I'm tired, I'm getting sick, I really need to do our taxes and plan the summer, and the kids need a break from driving. But planning the summer and reserving camping trips is a terrific consolation!


Monday, March 19, 2012

3/19/12 March Ski Trip Day 3: BlueBird!

This day wasn't promising -- though it'd snowed all night, the roads were icy. And this morning the time pressure was different: I had to pack up and clear out of house, get to Sugarbowl, get the kids' rentals and get them to a regular group lesson by 10:30.

I was horrified when we parked and I climbed up to take mine and Gabriel's skis down from the car's roof -- I'd driven the entire way with the ski-rack clamps up and the skis just resting atop the rack! Incredibly, all I lost was one pole. How dumb was that!

You'd think arriving at 9am would be in plenty of time for a 10:30 lesson, but we parked far away, rentals took forever and I barely got Julian and Katrina to group lessons in time. I expected Monday to be less crowded, but the fabulous snow conditions and clear skies brought everyone out of the woodwork.

Gabriel and I had two hours to ski together, so we headed straight for Mt. Disney to execute the plan we had to give up on yesterday because of visibility. Warmup? No time -- straight to the black diamonds please! The snow was so deep and forgiving that it really shaved a level or two off of every run.

For me, the past two days' lessons had turned deep powder from an exhausting, baffling ordeal into a fun, confidence-building challenge. And the wonderful snow meant there were no bad spots -- even the usual hard wind-blown ridges were soft and forgiving.

Gabriel plowing down "Donald Duck." (Dorky name for a ski run, but it is on Mt. Disney.)

Then we tried "Disney Nose," which Gabriel had done in a lesson. After I was committed, I found myself staring down what would be my first "chute" -- a narrow gap between jutting rocks, steep and pointing you straight down with no opportunity to turn. Good skiiers don't bother slowing down; I'm still wasn't quite ready to be catapulted down a precipice. But I was having such a good morning that I tackled it happily, if not beautifully. It wasn't pretty, but I survived my first chute!

Then there was the rest of the slope to contend with. (Actually, I think we were on "Liberty.") Steep, but the deep powder slowed us down and cushioned the falls.

Managed to find a flat-ish spot for some photos (on "Eagle").

Look what's in front of me! NOTHING! No tracks!

But the deep snow took its toll on Gabriel -- it's deeper for him after all, and to my surprise, he was tired and was ready for some fast action. So we did one more deep-snow run, then headed back to the groomers on Mt. Judah where he could barrel away to his heart's content.

When we picked up the other two, I was dismayed to find that once again, Katrina was back on the bunny hill -- not the whole time, but for some of it. Even Sugarbowl has the same problem all places do: there just aren't enough intermediate 5-year-olds who show up for group lessons for critical mass to get them off the bunny hill. The all-day ski school with a reservation system can handle that, but not the group lessons where anyone can show up.

But Katrina was in good spirits and anxious to show off on Mt. Judah, which has become one of favorite areas: all moderate blues, some groomed, some ungroomed, easy terrain parts, and one short steep section that if it were longer would qualify as an easy black, and easy access to the lodge.

With trepidation, I took all 3 on the lift up Mt. Judah, grateful for the comfortable, safe, padded and easy-to-load quad lifts at Sugarbowl. Katrina was still afraid of the lift though, and screamed for me to pick her up to get up on it. Once we were at the top, she was right in her element and was anxious to get going.

The boys were not happy about my plan for them to follow Katrina down, but I had to start somewhere to figure out how to keep track of all of them. I managed to persuade Gabriel to let Katrina "lead," though he complained a lot.

Interestingly, Julian couldn't always keep up -- sometimes he wasn't trying, but sometimes he was and couldn't.

Julian was more interested in showing me his "jump."

Finally I sent the boys off on their own, with instructions to wait at the lift for me and Katrina.

I wondered, how does my friend who skis with her 3 girls all day long -- and enjoys it -- deal with this?! I guess this is where having older kids, and ones who are more matched in ability, factors in.

And girls. Having the boys wait alone turned out to be a terrible idea: they started an obnoxious pole-fighting game, blocking the lift line and antagonizing everyone trying to get bt.

After a sound scolding on the ride back up, I told the boys they could ski down on their own, but they had to wait again at the bottom of the lift -- do not go back up without me -- and I'd throw away their poles if I saw any more pole/sword-fighting. I thought again about my friend who skis with her girls. Does she go through this aggravation?!

But at the top, my heart swelled to see the boys chase each other down -- what fun for brothers to do together! They might ski together long after I'm dead, trading stories and chuckles about me at my expense.

Or not. Turns out the split up fast; Julian went for the tree powder while Gabriel aimed for the "bimb run."

Katrina was irritated at not being the leader this time, but I told her she could lead me. Truth is, it's hard to ski behind her -- she turns way faster than I can, but overall is slower. Seems I have a thing or two to learn about fine control.

I stuck close to her though, and was glad I did when I saw her tumble in the snow.

She was all tangled up, and I had to lift her off the ground, shrieking her head off, to untwist her legs. She told me it was a "natural fall" -- that is, she'd fallen on purpose because she was going "way too fast, Mom!" Watching the video later, I can see that she'd gotten freaked out when a snowboarder rode in front of her.

But as soon as she was up, she cheerfully took off again as though nothing had gone wrong.

I love this winter-wonderland view, with the snow on the trees. So beautiful.

We got to one of the terrain areas, and Katrina said "WATCH ME MOM!"

Had I realized this would be her first "jump," I'd have moved to get a better shot, but I thought she'd done this before. Turns out, this was her first attempt at climbing to the little snow mounds adjacent to a flat-box terrain feature, then skiing straight down. It was only about 3 feet high, and hardly a "jump," but she was SOOOO excited! I was so proud that she wanted to try this and that she enjoyed it so much. She talked about her first "jump" for hours afterward, even telling strangers about it, she was so excited.

After the "jump," she bombed joyously down the rest of the run, with no turning, slowing or fear. Watching her happily and confidently zip down the slope, I tried not to think about the fact that this was probably our last run of the year.

But despite some yelling and irritation, it had gone well. It worked to pick a lift and tell the boys to stick to it, let them go take runs on their own, while I skiied with Katrina. This worked much better here than it had at our attempt at Homewood a few weeks ago -- the location was great, the runs consistent but interesting (all moderate blues, groomed, ungroomed and terrain parks), and a lift we could all handle easily. And this time, the snow was great.

My regret about ending our skiing morning went beyond knowing that the joyous challenge of skiing was over -- it also meant kicking into waitress duty for lunch. What a pain in the rear end -- thank goodness we'd returned our rentals and I'd changed into regular clothes and shoes. I know enough by now not to attempt lunch and the usual valet service for 3 kids wearing ski boots.

I've done this enough times now, I knew what to do after lunch. Organized packing goes by the wayside: everything gets dumped into the back of the car, kids get piled in -- this time I latched the skis down -- and we batten down the hatches for a focused drive home with one gas/bathroom stop.

We were home by 7pm, where once again experience drives habit: dump everything from the back of the car into the living room by the armload, where it will fester for at least a week. Zip the car out for a quick wash, and herd everyone to bed. (You'd think a car wash is hardly urgent, but my car comes back from these trips so filthy that it can't be touched at all, and it needed to turn from ski bus to commute vehicle tomorrow.)

From a pure skiing perspective, this weekend was the best we've had yet. The deep snow opened up so much more of the mountain and made me confident and able to dig deep and challenge myself in a fun way. Though skiing with all 3 kids can be really stressful and difficult, I also now remember it as one of the most fantastic moments of my life.

I think this was itfor ski trips this season though. We sure had some of the worst snow conditions imaginable -- no snow, man-made snow, slushy then icy remnants of very little snow -- and then, nirvana: fresh powder. The full spectrum! But it's not just about the snow, it's being in the mountains, the challenge of a new sport, having active fun with the kids. And what a way to end this season!


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!!