Saturday, February 02, 2013

2/2/13 Squaw 2: Lesson Day

Today's "plan," as it were, was to put all 3 kids in ski school, so that I could take a lesson. My friend I'd planned to ski with had expected to put her 3 kids in ski school too, and probably tackle cliffs and precipices I could only imagine viewing from a helicopter, but I figured we might at least meet up for lunch. So I'd glommed off that idea and reserved ski school for all 3 of my kids, and a lesson for me.

Unfortunately, my friend's plans had a twist when her daughter was seriously injured yesterday, and the whole family packed up and zoomed to a hospital about 2 hours away. Fortunately, the girl's surgery went well today, and she's expected to make a full recovery. The family's trip was cut short, but my plans were cast in stone, so I just went with it.

First, getting everyone to ski school this morning was the usual challenge. Being in the village, we don't have to drive to the ski school, but I do still have to get everyone ready on time, and then get them to carry their gear to the ski school.

They all have their own gear now -- the cost of rentals was enough to push me over the edge to get their own stuff. Katrina is thrilled about her own boots, and is quite adept at latching them herself!

Still, even with a ski-in-ski-out lodging arrangement, there's never any way around trudging heavy ski equipment from place to place. With all three having their own equipment, there is no way I can play valet -- they have to do it themselves. Ironically, Katrina is the most cooperative about this.

With their own gear, I could make some choices -- and actually paid $10 more for a red helmet for Julian over a black one. Why would I do that? Just guess! To spot him easily from a distance, especially since he is so freakin' irresponsible and hard to keep track of! I made up for the extra expense by scoring an $80 helmet for Katrina for $20...there's only so much market for Dora-decorated helmets.

I checked them all into ski school, attempting to give busy instructors input into their levels. I've had so many experiences now with my kids being stuck in a class all day that outside their level, that I'm now turning into one of those parents who appears to be overstating their kids' abilities. This time though, there were so many kids, and the level descriptions were so clear, and Katrina had had such a good day yesterday, that I didn't worry much about misclassification. They assured me that they evaluate all the kids to place them in classes -- but I know better. If there's just one kid at their own level, they'll get put in the nearest group, which is how Katrina got stuck on the magic carpet all day earlier this year. Well, whatever, there were a lot of kids here. So, off you go!

Speaking of misclassification -- what about my lesson? Was I "Intermediate" (blue runs) or "Advanced (blue and black -- Squaw black) ? Noticing the crowd gathering around the "Intermediate" sign, and stereotyping based on the gear they had, I decided to hang around the "Advanced" area. I was immediately intimidated by a cheerful bright young woman who said easily that she did back-country skiing on her own all the time, but figured it was time for a lesson. She was raised in Alaska. Hu-kay.

In the end, four of us, including me and the back-country woman, were evaluated by two instructors, and they split us into two groups, with me and Ms. Alaska together. I always say I'd rather be the worst skiier in a lesson, and indeed I succeeded. I was really intimidated, putting ridiculous unnecessary performance pressure on myself. This is a lesson after all! But she was gracious and it was just us two, so we were in for a good lesson.

And so we had. The instructor deftly handled our differences: she with a lot of experience and no lessons; me with a lot of lessons and not enough experience. We did a lot of exercises and drills, always my favorite, but the instructor also asked if I could handle being "pushed." As always, I said, "Sure!", not knowing exactly what I was signing up for.

In this case, it was attempting icy steep moguls on "Sun Bowl," a black-diamond that's pretty high-up. This was really hard for me, and I had some moments of freak-out and not knowing what to do. My classmate handled it confidently, asking pointed questions about her technique, but it didn't faze her. It totally fazed me. It was hard and I hated not having the control to just whizz down this. The instructor saw how I was struggling, and later apologized that he hadn't anticipated how icy the terrain would be, but I said, "No excuses!" I have to learn this -- I want to, I don't want to be limited by how the conditions happen to be that day. I was thrilled that we did it, and have new determination to conquer moguls -- ice or not.

With regret but familiarity, I skiied the afternoon alone, and figured I'd use this time to try to get to know this huge mountain. I chickened out of one mogul-run after another, finding just one that I thought I could handle, and did. This is something I must master.

Ski school pickup time: 3:15!

I was annoyed to learn that Gabriel and Julian had been in the same class all day -- not again!! They're at very very different levels, how could they be in the same class?? I asked the teacher with obvious consternation, but of course he had the same answer they always do: not enough kids at Gabriel's level to fill out a class of his own. Julian was at the bottom of the class; Gabriel well at the top. There are plenty of kids Gabriel's age who ski better -- indeed, I was stunned at how many kids I saw skiing like experts -- but not in all-day lessons. Another selfish pang of regret about my friend's family having to leave -- her oldest daughter, Gabriel's age, would certainly have skiied at or above his level. In my opinion, they should have split the class, but I'm not the one paying instructors. Fortunately, the boys had both had a good day and didn't push each other off the lift or force instructors to kick Julian out of the class.

I was really tired from my morning challenge, but all 3 kids wanted to ski after ski school, and we had just enough time for one more run. This meant going up the gondola to mid-mountain, where the best and most accessible skiing for us is (that we've found so far, anyway).

From there, we rode up the newly haunted lift -- I'll never like Big Blue Express again after what happened to my friend's daughter there (and yes I know it's not really the lift's fault!), to get to Squaw's half-pipe.

To my amazement, Squaw has dealt with some long flat spots with a vestige from my childhood: a rope tow!

The kids weren't crazy about posing for photos, but I was able to persuade them to wait at the top of the half-pipe so I could position myself for photos of them in the half-pipe.

Which are pretty hard to take, and didn't work well at all. I should have waited at the bottom. All 3 kids clearly had done a lot of this half-pipe and were super-comfortable. What fun!

This was the first I'd skiied with Katrina since her 2 days at ski school. She's still very dependent on wedging ("pizza") to slow down, but I definitely see some increased confidence and ability to handle different terrain. She's faster too.

To my surprise, Gabriel too looks to my amateur eyes like he's picking up some real style, not that you can tell from this photo. Here he's going up the side of a run, following Katrina actually (who got so far ahead so quickly I wasn't able to get my camera in time).

Seeing this other woman in my class this morning, so confident and relaxed, made me wonder what it'd be like to have a ski buddy, or a group of adults I could ski with, even if we were at different levels. I think I'm an odd case that whatever ability I have has been developed entirely from group lessons, skiing alone, or with a kid -- no ambient learning from hanging with peers.

But, as much as I enjoyed my lesson today, and as annoying as it can be to try to keep track of all 3 kids skiing, I think I enjoyed our end-of-day run together the best of the whole day. It's so worth it to see Katrina's joy at showing off, her saying, "Do you see the GRIN on my face, Mommy?" and hugging me later. The boys show their appreciation a little differently, but it's totally there. Skiing is a major hassle, an unprecedented expense, the season is way too short, risky, and fraught with problems and annoyances, but at least for right now, it is such a wonderful thing for me to be learning, and to share with my kids.

And even though this trip was traumatic for my friend's family, one way or another, I will find a way to ski with her -- or at least see her expertise disappearing rapidly into the distance ahead of me!

Tonight I walked around the Village a little, picking up a pizza and more milk. Though there are some really nice interesting restaurants and shops here, I couldn't take my eyes off the stark mountains, and the creek winding its way through an oddly flat spot between the peaks. I had to wonder what this valley looked like before the village and ski resort and roads and people. It's stunningly beautiful, so large, so full of contrasts. As always the soaring mountains never fail to bring my spirit along with them. What is it about this rugged, drastic place that speaks to my heart and soul so clearly? I wish my father were here, he'd know. Even if I can't ski someday, there's a piece of me that just belongs in the Sierras.

Tomorrow, Katrina goes to ski school again, and the boys will show me the places they went to today in their lesson that I didn't know about. (I hear there's some big sporting event tomorrow that should keep the crowds down.) I can't wait!


Friday, February 01, 2013

2/1/13 Squaw 1: At Squaw!

I'm SO behind posting this week, mostly because of preparing for a ski trip. I type to you from Squaw Valley aside Lake Tahoe -- so if the prep was bad, at least I should post about the trip itself!

It had an auspicious start, starting with an almost non-start. I reserved this trip last August, before I knew how drastically my life would change, and even at the time I had some concerns. Squaw is a big resort, and the reservation was for the Village -- a very handy ski-in, ski-out arrangement (no driving!), but still, effectively a hotel. But my friend and mentor who got me started on this whole crazy expensive kick was also going this weekend, so I just couldn't resist. I almost cancelled when work commitments got to be too overwhelming, but in the end just couldn't bring myself to do it. What other chance would I ever get to ski with friends -- and I wanted to check out Squaw!

So all week, I prepared: pre-packing, getting all the kids their own ski equipment (deciding that the cost of rentals was better put toward their own gear), getting everything tuned and calibrated together. Not to mention making sure all my work commitments, and the kids' school commitments were met -- I'd have to pull them all out of school one day to do this.

Then, the day before leaving, a huge work project came up, and I was asked to attend a meeting that was scheduled to end at 4pm - in the city -- on the day I'd planned to leave work a little early and get a head start on the driving. But now, I'd be in San Francisco until 4pm! Normally I'd never mind, but this would set us behind by some very crucial hours. My employer has been so wonderful and flexible that I decided I had to suck it up and just do it. In the end, I was glad I attended the meeting, but time was super super tight. With no snags, maybe we could get on the road by 7pm. And bonus, no traffic.

But there was a snag. Meow-stache was nowhere to be found.

I'd seen her that morning, but not when I hurriedly dropped off our skis before the trip to SF. Usually she appears within minutes of my walking in the door, but not this time. Had she gotten out? As we packed up, we searched everywhere for her -- every closet, under every piece of furniture, in every drawer, behind every door, then outside with flashlights. No kitty.

I was devastated -- what did this mean? Where is this cat? Why did she pick now to do this hiding act?! Or not? Was she trapped? Had she gotten out somehow? What should I do?! In the end, I decided we had to get on the road. So we left, gloomily, and very very late.

Once I was able to talk without crying uncontrollably, I called the lady taking care of the cats in our absence to tell her. I was so upset, I was convinced my kitty was truly gone. Julian, to my surprise, arguably the least attached to this cat, was also very upset and worried and crying. I'm sure my visible worry was no help, but I was really upset. I've grown so attached to my BFF, and just don't need any more loss in my life right now.

I texted Bonne Maman at a stop, and called Stacey, both of whom assured me she was probably just hiding. And then, to my amazement and never-ending gratitude, I got a text from Stacey that she'd checked my house and found the kitty. I woke Julian (still driving) to tell him the great news, and we all cheered and celebrated. Thank goodness!! And thank you Stacey! Later, I talked to the caretaker lady and she said that cats are really good at hiding. When I ranted, "why NOW?!" she pointed out that the kitty now recognizes the "going-away" motions around the house, and was protesting. I'm sure she's right.

So, between work and the missing-kitty drama, that added up to a very very late start for a very very long drive, to a place I've never been to, and that had added logistical complications such as underground parking garages, elevators, missing parking permits, not being able to find carts to carry stuff, key-card entry -- at midnight with 3 tired children, everything is a pain. I was very focused though: get the kids to BED -- Katrina had ski school in the morning -- and then deal with the unpacking, unloading and preparing myself. Which I did, to the tune of 2:30am. I was fried. Had I really driven to and from the city that day too?! And been devastated by believing I'd lost my dear cat, until my friend rescued me?

But we were HERE -- Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics! Nothing else to do now but enjoy it! And finally, I get to do this with another family, my friend who started it all, and my kids get to ski with her daughters, and all that work and preparation and planning and massive effort -- and expense -- will result in a fabulous time together. Totally worth it!

In the morning, though I was SO tired, I HAD to get up and wake up Katrina to get her off to ski school first. She was so proud of her new skis and boots and Dora helmet, and didn't object at all to all-day ski school.

The kids' ski school is right across from our hotel, where I'd left the boys while dropping off Katrina, so these logistics lived up to advertising, and were indeed easy. I so needed that!

I got back to our condo and found the boys not ready, and the world was spinning around me -- I was just too tired to function. I needed more sleep. I let them boys watch TV while I snagged another crucial hour of sleep, popping awake at 10:45 and thinking, "Time to go SKI!" I texted my friend that we were suiting up and we'd hit the Funitel (a gondola that brings you up to the upper half of the mountain) in about 10 minutes.

As the boys and I were trudging toward the Funitel, I felt my phone buzz, but couldn't check the text. No matter, there was my friend was, right at the bottom -- with one of her daughters in a ski patrol toboggan! Uh-oh. But my friend was very relaxed and said, "yeah, she hit a sign, we're checking her out."

So the boys and I went up the Funitel, and then did the tourist-thing of pondering maps and trying to figure out where to go. We aimed for another lift that would give us a decent variety of moderate blue-intermediate runs, and started to learn the "Siberia Bowl" area of Squaw.

This included a simple but pretty fun terrain park with large features (that speck on the 2nd hump is Julian). I had a great time with these, and couldn't help yelling a little.

A new ski place is filled with navigational challenges, and one short mogul-y hill we weren't sure was legit, but Julian loved it and we named it "Julian's Run."

The top of Siberia has a run with a designation we'd never seen before: a "double-blue," which is supposed to be skiied like a black diamond in low snow conditions. Er, I have no idea if these are low snow conditions, but it was nicely challenging at the top. Julian did fine the first time, had trouble the second, and didn't want to do it again. Gabriel and his new longer skis, and his pride, either had no trouble or wouldn't admit it.

I had some trouble, mostly in my head -- I've had so much instruction, this should be no problem for me now. I can do it safely, but style suffers.

Another game the boys and I have now is to "hockey-stop" each other, which means the stopper barrels point-blank straight toward the victim, then at the last minute does a hockey-stop and sprays as much snow as possible on the victim. Julian could use a little work on his control; he tends to run into you. Gabriel, never, but boy it's close sometimes, and I have a hard time not flinching. Sometimes the boys team up and do it to me together. I got Julian good today and completely coated him with snow once.

Another game we made up is for one of us to suddenly call out in a challenge, "BOMB IT!" and then go straight down in a tuck, racing each other. This works great here at Squaw, there are some nice long runs that aren't SO steep that I lose my nerve, at least where we were. The boys love it when I suddenly call that out and take off! It always ends in laughter and more hockey-stop spraying.

But early in this fun, I got a text from my friend, who I'd only briefly glimpsed at the bottom when her daughter was in a ski-patrol toboggan -- the poor girl (8yo) is actually quite injured -- a broken leg, and might need surgery. They took her to a nearby hospital, who then referred her to more capable hospital outside Sacramento, and she's in for surgery and will have a nasty recovery. The whole family packed up and left today. Worry and fear and sympathy and "oh my goodness how awful" -- is there a word for that?? -- overran disappointment at not being able to ski with my friend and her family. We're all very worried about this horrible injury and her upcoming surgery and recovery, though the prognosis is excellent as far as we know right now. But my goodness. Julian especially was so psyched to show off to the girls (three of them).

Reaching deep for a way to feel better, I suggested to the boys that we send a photo of them dis'ing the sign that she'd run into, and they gladly agreed.

Actually, we weren't sure which sign it was, so just to be safe, took this one too (it was the red one though).

Gabriel had a spectacular crash too, he says -- hit some ice, landed hard on his back, tumbled about 100 feet down a slope, according to the witness who retrieved his ski. I had gone on ahead a bit to see if I could meet up with Julian, then was concerned when Gabriel didn't show up right away. He was fine about it, but his wide eyes told me this was no minor slip-out (Julian has those all the time, half on purpose). As tough as he is, he's not indestructible, he's had his incident with ski patrol too.

Most kids -- people -- never get injured, but that's "most," not "all." It's going to happen. The fun and challenge and experiences outweigh the risks for us, for now, but having a good friend's daughter so badly injured is a reminder of the downside. I wonder if the calculus will change for my friend's family.

We were all pretty tired by 3:15 when we had to go pick up Katrina -- and unlike at Sugarbowl, I don't know this mountain well enough yet to tell the boys "do two more runs on XYZ lift, then meet me here," and know that they'll be mostly safe, and that I can find them. So we picked up Katrina from ski school, and called it a day.

She had a great day apparently, with a class of just one other girl about her age, and about her level. No problems here with getting stuck on the magic carpet this time, partly because there are plenty of kids to fill out every level. Her teacher said that Katrina's got all the basics covered, but now it's time to learn to ski parallel all the time, and she just needs more practice. Her best asset is a great attitude, she really likes it. They spent the day on greens and moderate blues, and a lot of time at Squaw's half-pipe.

Naturally the boys wouldn't make the transition from skiing to slugging stuff around easy; we had another incident with Julian kicking Gabriel in the knee with a ski boot. I was furious, he could seriously injure someone doing that, and end our trip too. I just can't get across to that kid what is really really unacceptable. Once in our room though, everyone was too tired to do much else, and I let them watch TV. Being on the 4th floor of a condo/hotel in a developed "village" makes it a lot harder for the kids to just pop out the door and play in the snow anyway.

But there are benefits -- I can see the lifts right from the balcony of our condo.

And it was still warm enough to hang outside for a while and enjoy that view (reflected in the windows behind me.)

This whole week has been really challenging getting ready for this trip, then the day of departure was brutal. All that would be easily reclassified as amusing stories -- but not my friend's daughter being injured. That's cast a big cloud over the whole trip, I can't stop thinking about them and how worried they must be.

I think in their honor we have to have a great injury-free rest-of-trip -- and with all 3 kids in bed early tonight, it bodes well for tomorrow!