SVV and I went in on a cabin share this winter, a first for the both of us. And what we’re paying collectively is what you might pay for two nights at a ski resort in the area—if you’re lucky. It was one of those no-brainers: How could we not take advantage of the opportunity? And even though I’m famously not the best skier in the world, I’m certainly not the worst either and am definitely improving and enjoying it more and more each trip. To the point of jumping for joy when it’s time to hit the slopes.
Our share allows you one designated week, which we’re taking over my birthday in February, and any open weekend that no one’s already claimed. When the rainy season hit Northern California at the turn of the month, the weather gods dumped snow throughout Tahoe by the bucketful. So we quickly booked the cabin for the following weekend and talked our pals Alison and Scott into joining us (it didn’t take much convincing). But when we got to South Lake late on Friday night, the streets were so clear, there was no evidence that it had snowed in a week, maybe more. There were piles of snow hastily discarded in fields and at points along the road, but you could tell it had been lingering for days. It didn’t bode well for our first morning skiing. Though it definitely wasn’t painful on the eyes.
SVV and I caved and bought season passes to Heavenly, which due to a recent merger are also good at Northstar and Sierra, but went out to Kirkwood for the day instead for two reasons: I was finishing up the Frommer’s California 2012 book and had never been to the resort, and it’s one of the highest in the area so we figured, given the disappointment in the town below, our one shot at decent conditions would be there.
And it wasn’t bad per se. Overall, I was a big fan of the resort. And because it was two weeks before Christmas, before peak season and didn’t have fresh powder, it oftentimes felt like we had the resort to ourselves. We deposited Alison and Other Scott at snowboard school and jumped on the first lift we saw. The resort was so vacant, we didn’t have to wait in a single lift line that was more than 10 people. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to go down so many runs in one day.
That said, there was no powder. Nowhere. None to be found. And it was pretty warm, too, in the 40’s—so warm, I left my ski jacket at home and survived in just a waterproof shell atop thermals and Under Armour. You’d think it was late in the spring ski season, maybe end of March or so, but definitely not December. By midday, the lack of fresh snow paired with the temps meant what was on the slopes was runny slush. Still, I’ll take that over ice any day.
By late morning, however, we’d conquered all the blues. Early in the day, we’d ask a Kirkwood employee for an easy-ish black diamond (for me…I’m not a fan of steep slopes) for when I felt up to that point, and he told us Sentinel was a good one to attempt for intermediate skiers like myself. Let me tell all you intermediates out there: Don’t listen to ski resort employees. We got to the top and saw this:
…followed by this:
That’s when I really started to sweat. But it wasn’t until I got to the ledge of what seemed like a near-vertical drop where the run began that I really felt like losing it. You see, I don’t do steep. I’m not afraid of heights, not by a long shot, but I am afraid of losing control on an icy patch, hitting an unavoidable obstacle and popping my ACL, thus ending my running “career” and putting a halt to all semblance of an active life.
I’m that trepidatious, little white dot in the left of the frame, lest you be confused.
When I peered over the mountain’s edge, my fate flashed before my eyes—severed limbs, a concussion, the whole nine yards. Honestly, what I visualized was Ella when she’s sitting atop the stairs in our third-story San Francisco apartment, SVV and I trying to coax her down. She trembles, her eyes filled with worry, and I can tell she’s wondering why on Earth we’re asking so much of her. I knew I didn’t look much differently; I was even dressed in all white. Ella, from now on I’ll simply carry you, no questions asked. The worst part of my predicament was that the lack of fresh snow meant the top of the mountain was ridiculously icy. Now I’ve become pretty confident when it comes to skiing powder, but ice I do not, will not do. Unless, of course, I’m stuck atop a mountain and there’s no other way down. Oh, how I wished they let you take the lift chair back down the way you came up. Because aside from a run entitled The Wall (no thanks), there was no other way to the bottom but to slide down Sentinel. And slide I did.
SVV coached me from his snowboard, telling me to do a few quick turns and in 200 feet or so the slope would level out to a more manageable level. So I turned twice, then skidded on the ice, flipped around against my will, landed smack on my face with my bum pointed toward the bottom of the mountain and slid a good 100 feet, maybe more—leaving my skis high above in my tracks and continuing to slide until I dug my gloves into the ground and stopped myseld. At this point, I had long passed SVV, who stopped on the ice to regain my skis but lost his own control, fell smack on his face, too, and slid way beyond me. I went from crying to laughing to crying again, as our equipment was strewn about the mountain and I had no idea how we were going to reach the bottom.
Sadly, the camera was long tucked away at this point, so I have no entertaining video footage of our individual spills.
Due to the grade of the mountain and the overwhelming presence of ice, there would be no way to step back into my skis and strap on SVV’s board, so we half-slid, half-side-stepped our way down to the first part of the mountain where it leveled off before attempting to do so. At which point, I’m pretty sure I punched SVV a few times in the stomach and screamed more than a few choice four-letter words at him for tricking me into going on this particular run (which he did, oh yes he did…I had told him I needed a lot more practice on our first day back on the slopes before being presented with such challenged). The nice thing about SVV is that he’s a very patient—not to mention, forgiving—individual, and he usually brushes off my little spells like they aren’t any big deal.
But one thing’s for certain: I’ll be sticking to the upper-level blues for the remainder of the season. I like adventure, but not one that threatens to detach vital limbs from my body. I prefer two arms, two legs and a head properly screwed on my torso, thank you very much, if for nothing else aesthetic purposes.