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White January
December 31, 2019 - January 31, 2020
Spoilt fireworks • great views at Heavenly • mini-competition • Lucy learns to ski
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Awesome conditions for cross-country skiing.
Awesome conditions for cross-country skiing.
Carson River.
Carson River.
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.
Visibility was sometimes spotty at Kirkwood.
Heavenly.
Heavenly.
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 one's room.

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.
Kirkwood had noticeably more snow than Heavenly.
But even Kirkwood was full of ice.
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.
12 in of hair for charity.
Putting on a Ritz.
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.
 
Mandatories.
Mandatories.
A yurt at Picketts Junction.
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 better spirits.
 
Lisa, Lucy and Tom cross-country skiing.
Lisa, Lucy and Tom cross-country skiing.
Snow fell even east of the Sierra.
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.
Lucy had paid for a beginner's class.
Kirkwood is empty on weekdays.
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 minutes!
 
January was beautifully covered in snow.
January was beautifully covered in snow.
Sunset on our way home.
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 (), instead of traditional fish (). 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...


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