South Lake Tahoe - week 4

Published: March 7th 2018
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Wednesday – Tuesday, 28 February – 6 March

Skied Northstar on Wednesday. It’s a great mountain for beginners and intermediates but unfortunately Dale and I skied like a putz, thanks to the tuning done on our skis overnight. It’s amazing how a simple wax and edge can affect the performance of the skis. The hard-packed powder also didn’t help, compared to the softer stuff we’ve encountered at Heavenly and Kirkwood. As a result, Dale and I didn’t really enjoy the mountain to the fullest. We’ll come back one more time when the skis have had some wear and the conditions are better after the snow storm.

On Thursday we went up for 2 hours to Heavenly to get a couple of turns in before the full brunt of snow storm Quinn arrived. Most of the lifts were on wind hold due to the 85mph gusts, but the runs off the two chairs were in fantastic condition with new snow and since the temp was only -1C, it wasn’t too cold to stay out as long as possible. We finished at 1pm and by 3pm the storm was howling.

By Friday we woke to over 1m of new snow but with high winds still going on at Heavenly and Kirkwood, we settled on another day at Northstar. We weren’t sure if we were making the right decision when we started driving, as the road conditions were horrendous, but we were so glad we did. It was phenomenal! Every run had fresh snow whether it was groomed or not, and it was up to our waists in some areas. We tackled every run regardless of its colour and gave our knees another workout. We got stuck in powder simply because the skis stopped moving, and we all fell over a couple of times but no injuries. It continued to bucket snow all day from when we got up to when we went to bed. Dale said it was better than his time in Japan. With all the amazing days we’ve had, I think this day has been the best.

What capped the night off was a video call with the parents, and another video chat with Carlie and the girls. So blessed.

Sabbath dawned as a bluebird day with snow up to the picnic tables and snow-laden firs, dropping their diamond ice crystals at the slightest puff of wind. We said our final farewells to South Lake Tahoe SDA Church. They’ve been so welcoming and inclusive over the past month and they will have a permanent place in our hearts as our California family. We also got a good look at a racoon and that was very cool. As the self-nominated greeter at church, I greeted a visitor - Sean from Jacksonville, Florida – who was out here for a couple of days skiing on his own, so we invited him to ride with us.

Sunday we said “see ya later” to our sanity and skied Mott Canyon at Heavenly, which is a double black. Dwayne and I have never done a double before, but we figured if we were ever going to try it, doing it with 1.5m of powder was the day to do it. It was steep with lots of trees and the amount of powder was ridiculous! Half the people coming down were falling over, as were we, so we didn’t feel so bad. One boarder fell just below me disappearing under the snow, popped up and said “I have been humbled!” The biggest problem with falling over is that it took 10 minutes to get back on the skis. At one point, Dwayne thought he’d lost a ski but he raked his pole through the snow and eventually found it. It took us a while to work our way down as there were narrow chutes and rock drops. Trying to direct skis under that sort of powder is almost useless. You can’t jump turn nor carve. You have to lean back so the skis stay moving and don’t sink, but you can’t lean back too much or you’ll pick up speed and launch into a tree or off a boulder. 30 minutes later we made it safely down and were more traumatised at the lift queue than the run we’d just completed! Literally a 30 minute wait.

We hooked up at 12pm with Sean and since he is only an early intermediate boarder, we stuck to the easy runs with Dale giving him tips. By 3pm he was knackered so we said our goodbyes and went to our snow cat tour.

The resort shut at 4pm and once all the crowds were gone, our groomer bought the machine up. It’s essentially a snow tractor with a heated cabin, where the driver sits in the centre with two seats either side. There is an array of buttons above and below, like an airline cockpit, and an instrument screen similar to a car dashboard (fuel, speed etc). He controls the beast with a joystick. We drove up Ridge Run on the California side to the top of Sky Express chair, which sits at 3010m elevation. We ski down this run every time we come to Heavenly, so to go up it and see the corduroy happening behind us, was very cool. We watched the sunset over the snow-capped mountains and lake and chatted to Ty about his job, soaking up the solitude of the scenery, the cat and us. The whole thing was only 1.5hrs but it was free and such a privilege to see the lengths the guys go to after dark, to make the runs fun for us the next morning. It’s a trip highlight for sure!

The last highlight for the week was returning to Kirkwood on Monday and conquering The Wall. Dale already did this two weeks ago but this time Dwayne and I decided to brave it. Having done Mott Canyon the day before, we figured “how hard can it be?” Double black – no worries! At least this slope didn’t have trees. We maniacally laughed at the skull and crossbones sign at the top, shimmied our way down to the cornice drop in point, surveyed the mogul entry and picked our traverse point for starting the descent. Turns out, it was way easier than Mott Canyon. Yes, it had bumps at the top but they were soft powder bumps rather than rigid ice moguls, so we could just push through them. If there was ever a day to try it, it was today. We dropped in, we traversed, we started our descent with quick turns and before we knew it, we were half way down! It was a good workout and an even better view.

No one fell over on The Wall and the only injury came later in the day when Dwayne caught an edge on a groomed intermediate run and stacked it at 70kph. No lasting injury but his knee was sore enough to take a day off on Tuesday. It turns out that we’re more prone to accidents on intermediates run than on advanced and expert slopes. The body tally for this trip includes a sore hip, arm, knee, shoulder, neck and thumb. Dale was injury free, I had the sore arm for a couple of days and Dwayne had the rest.

I really love skiing, but I can’t say I’ll miss the pre and post preparation rituals associated with it. Getting up at 7am, packing our lunches, getting all the gear on, walking to the lifts and then doing it all in reverse at the end of the day. It’s such a bother every day but when we get on the snow, the reward is all worth it.

And so we come to the end of our ski trip. This month in Tahoe has been fantastic. So many memorable experiences and views that are etched into the memory forever. Everyone we’ve met has been friendly and helpful. I love these mountains, the lake, the wooded suburbs of residential living. There is a tinge of sadness to leave our temporary home but we depart with the knowledge that it has become be a part of us and will never be far away in our mind’s eye.

On Friday, we drive to San Francisco and say goodbye to Dale as he departs for Sydney, and we fly to Chicago for the weekend to stay with my dear school buddy, Tracy. I haven’t seen her in 15 years so we’re stoked to be transiting through Chicago on our way to Morocco.

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