|Awesome conditions for cross-country skiing.
A blackout remained imposed on our skiing season passes even on New Year's Eve
— we would have to pay extra half of a daily price for them to let us
use the lift that day, hence we turned our backs on Kirkwood and went straight
to Hope Valley to do cross-country. I own my own skis; the rest of our family
rented theirs in a yurt, and we took the car down to the meadow past the
intersection. It was a beautiful day, with sparkly snow and a shy winter sun,
but otherwise, things were not that great. First, Sid slipped and fell right
next to the parking lot, resulting in a lot of his cursing. Subsequently we
agreed that it made no sense adjusting our pace to a beginner (Sid), and we
split up — kids and I headed farther across the meadow, Sid made
a somewhat smaller loop. But when we all met back at the car, Lisa declared that
she must have lost on glove. And since she had outgrown her old gloves and had
been issued my spare pair (i.e. we had no more spares along), we had no choice
but to go look for it.
Tom promptly offered his services and started running along the track in the
reverse direction. I followed our original track, all of us hoping the the
glove would be either at the start or at the end of our loop. Naturally it was
at the farthest turn, which meant that both Tom and I each made the whole loop
again, only this time really running — as four o'clock was rapidly
approaching and with it the closing of the rental place. Its owner had implored
us that she really needed to leave by closing time for she was to cook a New
Year's Eve dinner for many people; we tried to oblige. It was a success, except
my being sweat-soaked all over.
|Visibility was sometimes spotty at Kirkwood.
This time we had reserved a different hotel in Minden, Quality Inn, for their
price includes a breakfast. Motor Lodge was booked full on New Year's Eve, and
besides: it's a part of a casino, where we expect it to be impractical for
skiers on such a day — we had no plans to party and frolic, quite contrary
to it and noisy revelers would interfere with our sleep. A new hotel produced
another plus — a good Chinese restaurant across the parking lot, meaning
that one does not need to drive anywhere for dinner and can just walk out of
According to Kirkwood information, torch parade was planned for six-thirty; by
seven o'clock there was to be a traditional fireworks show. By six-thirty we
were getting close to the resort, giving ourselves time to find a parking place
before the fireworks' start; Lisa claimed that she saw light flashes over the
hills. And so — having parked at six-forty, we managed to see the last few
minutes of the show from the parking lot. Given that we were by far not the only
vehicle whose crew covered many tens of miles so see the fireworks, and on our
way we passed by many people walking in the snow to see the fireworks, my head
just does not process it — why would Kirkwood start it a half hour
earlier? When I subsequently discussed it with some dude on the lift, he stated
that they started fireworks even before the torch parade had finished,
completely nonsensically. So the result was that instead of a celebration they
just pissed off a whole lot of people. We had driven extra eighty miles, and
paid extra for a hotel just to work the fireworks into our schedule.
|Kirkwood had noticeably more snow than Heavenly.
|But even Kirkwood was full of ice.
Our preliminary plan was to get together with Vendula and Pavel on the first
at Kirkwood, but those wrote us from the fireworks (since they came ten minutes
earlier and managed to see a longer part) that it was supposed to rain on the
first and that they were leaving for home. I was shaking my head, disbelieving;
there was no online forecast mentioning rain. Yet Vendula had been correct,
for it really rained on the first, and snowed a bit on the top of the mountain.
It was not so bad, the snow was nice and it really drizzled rather than rained.
Fog and clouds on the top were worse — moments when one finds self in
a whiteness and goes de-facto blind.
For the following day we had planned a trip to Heavenly. This popular ski resort
above Lake Tahoe finds itself even closer to Minden than Kirkwood —
and I had personally not been there before. When I asked around, what people
think about Heavenly, I usually got a hesitant answer that "views are
really pretty there". Our season pass is valid for Heavenly, and so we told
ourselves — why not try it? Our first disenchantment came with parking.
Although we had arrived rather early, we gave it two rounds through a one-way,
before we managed to find a spot on a less popular lot. It's less popular
apparently because one has to peruse at least two ski lifts out of there to
to arrive outside a beginners' terrain. Lifts are long and slow, the whole
process takes considerable time. When we finally reached a mildly passable
area near East Peak Lodge, where according to the map were moderate (blue) runs,
it was plagued by long waiting lines. Groomers were processed into Californian
Icy Concrete&tm; (predicated by rain on the previous day and a sharp drop of
temperature), un-groomed terrain offered California Concrete on moguls —
making it practically impassable. And thus we grated the ice sheets, and I kept
waiting for an opportunity to actually SKI. Heavenly brazenly over-rates its
run difficulty markings, so their blue runs approach beginners' meadows of
Kirkwood, only they go on and on and on — the resulting impression is
that one rides endless traverses that all look alike, only to get back in
a fifteen minute line for a lift, and subsequently sitting fifteen more minutes
on the chair.
|12 in of hair for charity.
|Freestyle — Putting on a Ritz.
When I resolved to push through (a line, for a change) to the bathroom, Sid
stroke a chat with a local orderly, who assured him that we would not be better
off on the California side of the mountain, for there'd be more people (since
the resort lift drops down to the very city) and instead had sent use to a
run named Galaxy tucked to the side. And since kiosks were already packed with
crowds by eleven o'clock and there was no available seating, we decided to
follow his recommendation and vacate such over-crowded area — hoping to
find some food at the unattractive beginner's Boulder Lodge.
That had eventually paid off, we had even found space around a table, where
we could (while sitting!) eat our own brought snacks. Sid and I had each a beer
— priced fifteen dollars (each one), which was fifty percent more than
what Kirkwood asks. Cafeteria staff (whom we surprised by asking for miracles
called "fries") was moving at the pace of hibernating snails.
Simply a horror show. Tom and I wanted to try SKIING after lunch, but it all
fell back into traversing back and forth while looking for any decent terrain.
No one can blame the resort for the icy surfaces, but devious rocks and worn-out
spots could be at least marked. Heavenly is at a slightly lower altitude than
Kirkwood, on the eastern side of the Sierra — i.e. in the precipitation
shadow — and the difference in snow coverage was quite noticeable.
|A yurt at Picketts Junction.
Crowds on runs mean not only lines to the lifts (and the restrooms and kiosks
and everything else), but mainly a certain disregard and disrespect. Only at
Heavenly I realized why some people consider a spinal protector a good idea
— you never know on an over-crowded run, when somebody hits you, or when
a reveling party blocks your path, or when heedless snowboarders decided that
the best place to sit down on their butts and check their fakebooks is behind
and under a terrain break, where no one can see them from the top. By the end
of the day I still had no impression of having actually SKIED, and I could wait
no longer to back at our small, miserly, unpopular Kirkwood. For the only
positive thing about Heavenly are the views. And the proximity of Minden, as
we had appreciated a restaurant across from our hotel, where Sid and I could
order a glass of wine and send the kids back to our room.
Miserly Kirkwood, on the following day, was icy too, but we enjoyed riding it
much more. It was an awesome feeling to BE on a slope and not on a city square,
where everybody drifts in a slow motion. We were leaving for home with in much
|Lisa, Lucy and Tom cross-country skiing.
|Snow fell even east of the Sierra.
New Year then started very briskly — kids were facing two weeks of final
tests and half-year grading, and they worked frenetically.
Sid, too, had no time to dawdle, as he was getting ready for a business trip to
Texas. We rejoiced at being able to fly in the afternoon and from our closest
airport. Well, I dropped him off by one o'clock, and he called me by two that
their flight was delayed till seven in the evening, and asked to be taken back
home. So I loaded Sid and his colleague Petr (who's wife Blanka meanwhile left
with their kids to an afternoon trip), we dropped Petr at his home, drove to
ours, spent two hours there, and here I went again, driving Sid back to the
airport. We had actually spent more time by driving up and down than Sid did
on the plane. But at least it all happened close to home; were he flying out
of San Francisco or Oakland, it would make no sense to go back for him, and he
would have just stayed stuck for many extra hours at the airport.
While Sid was on his trip, Lisa made an abrupt decision to get her hair cut.
I have been urging her for quite some time, for hair down to her butt is
difficult to maintain, it dries for hours after washing, ends are always split
— and could you imagine all the time I spent braiding two foot braids
into a vaulting bun? Fortunately, there's an organization called
Locks of Love
, which collects true hair
to make wigs for kids suffering alopecia or cancer, so Lisa's twelve inches
went to charity. Locks of Love want 25 centimeters, but the hairdresser said
that it was better to send them hair a bit longer, as they would have to cut
the ends and such. Lisa ended up with her hair being shoulder-long, which is
a little shorter than I had expected, but they would grow again. At least her
hair could be still wrapped into a vaulting bun for the next competition. It
was a great relief for me, as we were done with the hairdo in ten minutes.
|Lucy had paid for a beginner's class.
|Kirkwood is empty on weekdays.
The competition was of the fun variety, barrel only, no horse. Still, it was
a real competition, for which Lisa was preparing, we put together a costume,
music and so on. The roster was miniature — four girls from Lisa's club
and two from the organizing one, but the whole affair was done very
professionally, with official judge, announcer, decorations, the works.
It was freezing when we arrived by eight in the morning, and it required extra
courage (to change into the costumes), but the girls managed. I had discovered,
during the more boring sections of the competition (such as warm-ups) that there
were three goaties at these stables — and also Nigerian Dwarfs like mine,
so I asked permission to go and swaddle them. By eleven it was all done and
we could go home to get warm — and start packing.
You see, we were leaving for the mountains on Sunday. As it happens, Lisa's best
friend Lucy had never been downhill skiing, and we decided to take her up to
try it. Our children's winter break just began, Lucy's school at least held
a holiday Monday, and we could stretch it to two days. We went cross-country
skiing in Hope Valley on Sunday, for Lucy had some experience with that and
we wanted her to practice some elementary skiing. Snow was fresh and beautiful,
one would fall in it like into pillows, we could make our own tracks in places,
sun was shining, simply awesome. Lucy skied bravely and nicely kept up with the
rest of us; she even tried to ski down from a small hill (which is not a simple
thing in cross-country).
I picked Quality Inn in Minden again, to have a chance after driving 230 miles,
and not have to deal with looking for dinner and breakfast for three teenagers.
We ate dinner by five already, which was the reason Tom did not finish his
noodles. And since I know him and it was obvious he'd be hungry again in two
hours, I recommended that he takes the reset up on our hotel room —
naturally, by eight the noodles disappeared in him. We took turns having
breakfast — Tom and I went first, giving the girls room to change in
peace in the morning and do their things. Then we changed places — girls
went to eat and Tom and I finished packing our stuff. It does not look so
complicated, but the whole process from alarm to departure took us ninety
|January was beautifully covered in snow.
|Sunset on our way home.
I pulled Lucy through sign-up process at Kirkwood (she had everything paid
and filled-out ahead of time, online), and through boot and ski rentals.
Poor Lucy was completely subdued, in a strange environment, not knowing what
to expect. I handed her over to her instructors, and then I finally set out
to catch up with my kids and ski a bit. After three hours we got Lucy back,
had a lunch, and took her to ski together. I was a bit taken aback that after
a half day the instructors taught her only to ride in a plough, which isn't
of much use on steeper slopes — but when I later consulted it with
my associates, they all confirmed that getting on and off the lift and a plough
is about the maximum one can expect. Hence we spent the afternoon teaching Lucy
to use her edges and ride with skis parallel to each other. As it was rather
cold and snow was fast, she was at a disadvantage, for her skis rode like
crazy even of relative flat spots. Yet she was very brave and it all ended well,
without injury or trouble.
On our way back we had planned to stop at Giant Burger, but there was such
a line in front of our favorite "hole in the wall" (which lacks
proper seating), so I ordered retreat and we had dinner later, in Tracy's
Vietnamese place. At least it was warm there and we could sit down. And I had
discovered another favorite food of mine, canh chua
, a sour soup, which
they, without resistance, made for me with chicken (gà
), instead of
traditional fish (cá
). So we hope Lucy liked it with us and that we
would get out together again sometimes.
We liked skiing an proper supply of fresh snow, and thus we repeated our trip
anew. On Wednesday I too Tom out, who was still on break from school, and on
Thursday, Sid and I went — although it was no powder anymore, the slopes
were quite empty and it was a very beautiful day. And we were lucky, for it
would seem that with the end of January, winter ended, too, and not a single
snowflake fell in February...