Alpine Meadows skiing

So, skiing. Friday morning our plans changed – James, whom works at Loopt, was able to get their corporate cabin for the weekend, which is up somewhere just north of Tahoe City. So we cancelled the motel in South Lake Tahoe (pfft, $160 cancellation fee… arses) and planned to hit Alpine Meadows instead. The name makes it seem like a beginner mountain, which I guess it is by the standard of the others around it – lots of nice blues. It’s also the cheapest one to ski up there, which was a pleasant bonus. And it’s right next to Squaw, too, if you get bored and want something different (though Squaw is one of the most expensive up there, so… we didn’t bother with it this time, for skiing).

So, we drove up Friday night… we were delayed leaving for reasons unknown to me; I played through a good portion of Portal while waiting with Greg, in his apartment in S.F., for Tom & James to rock up. We finally set off around 8:30 or something… but luckily James’ little Subaru WRX is AWD – with all-weather tires – and the conditions were very clear and clean all the way to Tahoe City, so we arrived at the cabin not long after 1am, even with a stop for dinner along the way in Sacramento somewhere (in that strip where there’s every fast food joint you could ever name, all huddled together), and a flat tire.

The flat tire was annoyingly predictable; the trip had been going far too smoothly, even counting the delay departing, for my luck. It went flat while we were eating, and given the tires were low profile anyway, we didn’t make it much beyond the next exit off 80. The first servo we stopped at had an air pump, as they do, but it a) cost money (WTF?) and b) was broken (which could only be discovered after putting in your quarter, naturally). They did however sell that spray-in goo stuff for repairing punctures, so we tried that out. James then did a brief run to get the stuff distributed and set, then stopped at another servo across the road to inflate the tire fully (the goo can couldn’t inflate the tires very much, even given they were low profile, which seems contrary to my memory of it previously :/ ).

Luckily the goo worked perfectly well, and although the wheel was slightly off-weight as a result, we made it without further worries.

It was a very pleasant surprise when we got there – I expected what I assume is a more typical ski lodge affair; essentially a big open lounge/kitchen and a bunch of bunkrooms. Instead, we had four individual bedrooms – the master of which had its own ensuite, fireplace, couch, etc… very swanky. So this really was more of a “cabin” than a lodge, despite being the size of a decent house.

So we hit the hay more or less straight away. We awoke around 7:30 to get ready and head off. We stopped by a rental shop on the way, in Tahoe City, to grab breakfast and our gear. I decided to go with skis; only Greg was snowboarding, and although it was his first time snowboarding (and thus we’d likely be good partners), I was still worried about my toes. They were pretty mangled after the Northstar trip, and although they’d stopped hurting after ‘only’ a week or so, they were still dodgy looking. So anyway, I figured skiing would put less pressure on my toes overall. Plus, I kinda wanted to ski again so I could chill a bit more and enjoy some more challenging runs. [[ in hindsight there was so much powder that I was leaning back pretty much all the time, so there didn’t end up being that much difference ]]

We got up to the mountain in reasonable time. James dropped us all off and then headed to Truckee to see about having the tire repaired. It turned out that Truckee didn’t have suitable facilities and/or replacement tires, so he ended up having to go all the way to Reno – and buy a whole new set of four tires, though his old ones were approaching their expected end of life anyway. Luckily conditions in the morning were still good, so that wasn’t too bad – he got back not too long after lunch and did at least get in a half day. It really sucks, though – we all felt pretty awful that he had to spend half the day just fixing the car, while we were able to ski around in blissful ignorance.

So initially I wasn’t sure what kind of state my skiing abilities would be in – it’s been two years since I did downhill skiing proper, and still eighteen months or so since I even did cross-country, so… all three of us started on Meadow, the basic newbie green. Tom quickly grew bored of that, after two runs, while Greg of course was still mastering the art of falling every fifty feet. :)

He did very well, actually. He also had the problem that his bindings were wrong-footed for him; he went with natural assuming that was him, but it turned out he was more comfortable goofy. I sympathised heavily. :)

Anyway, after two runs on Meadow, Tom & I left him to do his thing, having imparted our meagre collective wisdom. Unfortunately we hit the slopes just after 10am, so we just missed the morning lessons which Greg would have benefited from.

So Tom & I headed up Hot Wheels, which is all blues. At first I was unsteady and had little confidence, but I got better pretty quick as it came back to me. There was a bit of powder about – half to a foot, maybe – and it started snowing around midday, so it built up more and more… Greg met up with me at one point and I took him down one of the blues, except he ended up going off randomly down a different run that I hadn’t planned, and we ended up in a solid foot or more of powder, on flats, and he discovered the first inescapable truism of snowboarding – powder sucks. He persisted for quite some time in trying to sort of shuffle and jump his way along, but just kept falling and taking the exhaustive hit of trying to get back up out of powder… eventually he gave up and hoofed it.

So, after that he went off to his afternoon lesson, anyway, and I continued on my blues.

At some point while going up Hot Wheels I noticed a nice looking gully running along below it, which looked like a lot of fun. So I found my way down into it, part way down, and had a bit of fun – it was quite steep and tricky, and I fell a lot, but it was good fun, and much more the kind of skiing I like – winding runs through trees, as opposed to the barren, wide, linear runs that are so common here. There were some other places where I’d run off through the trees as well, and had great fun.

There was also, at the bottom of Hot Wheels, a beginners’ terrain park with a few snowboarder thingies and some small jumps. I couldn’t resist trying those a few times, and was somewhat surprised to find they weren’t that tricky – though I didn’t really get much air, as I wasn’t [intentionally] bouncing off the tops and couldn’t really get up the speed anyway to do any better. But it was fun.

I realised later that the gully I’d been having fun in was Hot Wheels Gully, which is actually a black diamond. So by the end of the day I was pretty happy with myself – not only had I met my weekend goal of doing some jumps in a terrain park, but I’d even done a black diamond, which I’d been hoping to get to but hadn’t concreted as a goal.

The weather got a bit nasty in the afternoon, though – the wind picked up a lot, and the snow was pretty heavy. I made the mistake of heading up to the summit at one point, and was nearly blown completely over at the top as I came off the chairlift. It turns out the wind was gusting up to 160kph up there and on the other high ridges, so… it was pretty nuts. And I’d thought, for whatever reason, that there were some nice blues down from the summit… but when I got up there, all I could see was this giant steep expanse going straight down – Alpine Bowl, I later found out – which looked scary as hell, so I skied along the top looking for a better way. I gave up on that when I reached the black diamond signs (and looking at the trail map, that area’s all double-black diamond too… glad I didn’t randomly try that). So I had to go down the Alpine Bowl. It wouldn’t have been bad at all, actually, if it weren’t a complete white-out… I just rocketed across the face of it, in absolute flat greyness – I couldn’t tell where I was going, where the sky was, how fast I was going, even just which way was up. It was kinda weird but cool, and strangely calm, until I hit some random unseen bumps, and then suddenly hit the other side of the bowl and felt the incline change… I managed to slalom down, and further down things did clear up enough that you could make out the run against the trees… it was kinda fun in a challenging way, but I prefer challenges where I can see where I’m going and need to rely on my skill, rather than challenges where I just wait to hit randomly something.

So I didn’t try the summit again. At some point Tom & I played around on the runs from the Lakeview chair, on both sides of the mountain – it’s one of the good things about Alpine Meadows; it has runs facing all directions, so there’s always somewhere that’s relatively out of the weather.

Anyway, much fun was had, all in all. By the end of the day I was a little tired – though not nearly as much as snowboarding – and my toes seemed okay (though my right big toe did ‘pop’ and bleed a bit, which actually relieved the pressure a bit such that it didn’t hurt at all, all day). We returned to the cabin and cranked on every heater in the place – unfortunately the boiler was broken, and the plumber was a <censored> who refused to fix it because there was supposedly too much snow, which just… grr… anyway, we defrosted for a bit, then went up to Squaw for sushi there. We also dropped by the bar there before & after dinner, but the others didn’t seem too into that, so we didn’t stay long afterwards. We returned to the cabin and shortly went to bed.

I forgot to mention that I’d slept okay that first night, Friday, but woke up at 6:30am freezing – there was no heating on at that point, in my room, and the single-glazed window ensured the room stayed at the same temperature as outside… *rolls eyes* I cranked on the electric heater there, but by the time it actually took the edge off, it was 7:30 and we got up anyway.

So anyway, this second night I had the heater in my room fully cranked right from the time we first got home, in the afternoon, so it was nice and warm. However, with the door shut while I slept, it got way too hot, and I woke up feeling heat-exhausted at 6:30 or so again. I turned the heater off and went back to bed, which seemed enough to save me; once we were up and about and on our way to the mountain, I felt fine again.

The weather that day, Sunday, was pretty awful – it had been snowing all night, adding another two foot or so to the higher areas of the mountain, and it was already windy-as even in the morning. But, I knew the upside on that – it meant the slopes would be empty. James disbelieved my assertion as such; he’s from Washington, as I understand it, where people appreciate fresh powder, even if the prevailing conditions are a bit miserable. I, on the other hand, had experience with these conditions twice before already, and knew that Californians and Nevadians are pussies, and couldn’t hack actual weather with their skiing. This should have been proven by the fact that we only got the cabin because the women who had it booked previously had cancelled after hearing it was going to snow. That’s right, cancel a snow trip because it was snowing…

Anyway… although there was a queue to get up to the mountain and it took us a while, when we did finally get there we found it was indeed virtually deserted; only the carpark in front of the main building was in use.

Greg went off for breakfast there first, but by then I was eager to get out onto the slopes again, so we did that. Only Meadow & Hot Wheels were open at this point, which suited me just fine, though James was a bit miffed – he’s a diamond skier, and was bored by the blues off Hot Wheels. But I had access to Hot Wheels Gully from there, so I was set. The wind was annoying, especially on the chairlift up – it was so slow, it was infuriating; it fully took ten minutes – at least – to get up to the top of the chairlift, and less than two to ski down, so… that sucked. But the gully was fun, and I explored around a bit more as well – there was virtually no-one else about, so I just went wherever the heck I felt like, and that was great.

I was really enjoying the powder; it slowed me down enough that I felt much more comfortable on the blues, even the steepest ones there, although it was tiring. But it did have the pleasant benefit – from my point of view – of evening out the difference between Tom & myself; the day before he’d been leaving me behind most of the time, as he went flying off confidently down the hill while I carefully and slowly slalomed… but Sunday he had more trouble than I with the powder, so we skied together a bit more, which was good – I like the challenge of skiing for skiing’s sake, but going down the slopes with friends is more fun than alone.

Anyway, Hot Wheels Gully was much more powdery and I was now able to do it from top to bottom without falling, which was good fun.

It was cold, though. Tom & I were both freezing our fingers & toes off, so we were pretty happy, actually, when lunch time came around and we could find respite from the cold in the dining hall. And after eating and chillin’ briefly, Roundhouse opened, which pleased James particularly, and gave us some new runs to check out. So we did that, Tom & I – and James went off and did his own thing, for the most part. It was mostly white-out at the very top of Roundhouse, on all the runs, but they weren’t too tricky and you quickly got below it and were able to enjoy it more.

Greg, by that time, was also using Roundhouse, so we skied down with him a few times. I laughed so much when he and Tom collided and both fell over – we were the only three people on that entire side of the mountain, and those two managed to hit each other. :D

I was super impressed by Greg, though – by that time he was handling the snowboard way better than I had been even after three days, let alone one and a half… he did really really well.

So anyway, we pretty much did that – going via the beginners’ terrain park where possible for the jumps, at the bottom of the slopes, but otherwise just exploring the various blues. There was one other black diamond accessible from there (beyond Hot Wheels Gully), which was Symphony Face. It looked pretty bloody steep in spots from the chairlift; it basically runs under it. James was all over it most of the time, but Tom & I alternated in our hesitance to try it, for most of the day… but eventually, as 3pm or so came and went, we decided to try it out. It turned out to be pretty good fun – challenging, given the steepness and the presence of random trees and rocks – but nothing we couldn’t handle. (though Tom had two good stacks, one of which left him lying on his back, head down hill, skis spread eagled… Greg was riding over in the chairlift right at that moment, too, and laughed at us :) ).

Tom had the problem that he’d had a ski come off in the powder the day before, and it took him an hour to find it – even though he’d only slid a few metres when he’d fallen, and it hadn’t really gone anywhere – so he was pretty crazy paranoid about losing the skis again… he’d made the mistake of calling the rental place when he first lost the ski, and they’d told him it would be $500 if he couldn’t return it, so… yeah, every time he fell after that he immediately freaked about where his skis were. And they did seem to come off really easily – I lost a ski only once, the very first time we hit deep powder on Saturday and both stacked in it, being unused to it – so… yeah, he wasn’t having so much fun with that.

But things went fine – we both clipped rocks, we think, on that run down Symphony Face; Tom on one that stuck out ever so slightly, and I on one that was hidden just below the powder. I managed to recover and stop gracefully after hitting it, Tom not so much, but neither of us suffered any visible damage to our skis, so that was all good.

We ended up coming in relatively early – 3:30 at the latest; we had just one more run down Blue after Symphony Face. James had already headed in, Greg told us, and he himself was doing one last blue (while we did Symphony) before going in himself… I was eager to keep going ’till the lifts closed at 4, but Tom was tired and wanting to head in, and I realised after Symphony that I too was completely buggered in the legs, so I relented – not wanting to keep everyone waiting solely on my account, anyway – and joined the others at the bar. We hung there for a bit, chatting with the bartender and enjoying the fact that there was, by then, all of about ten other people in the whole place still – excluding the staff, for which there were more than one per actual skier… it was there that we first heard that 80 might be closed. We didn’t really rush, but we did head off not long after 4 or so, to get back to the cabin, get our stuff, drop off the rentals, etc.

We did all that, then headed off towards Truckee.

And we made it all the way to the roundabout at 80 and 89. And there, in the roundabout, was one solitary cop. Whom informed us that 80 was closed going west, and we could either go to Reno for the night, or go back to Tahoe City. So, we went back to Tahoe City… we had dinner there anyway. Tom & James seemed particularly keen to get out that night – Tom particularly couldn’t believe 80 was really closed, and kept trying to plan ways around. We also weren’t sure how accurate any of the road reports were – in Tahoe City you can’t get the AM radio station that covers the road conditions, which is the most authoritative source (aside from the cop, I guess), so we were constantly pinging various websites and whatnot… but nothing changed. 80 was closed, westbound, all the way from the border to Applegate – 130km. And it was probably closed eastbound at least from Applegate to Truckee, too…. the cop reckoned we could go east from Truckee to Reno, though the snow reports all said that was closed too… :(

I was neither surprised that 80 was closed – I remember very well the conditions last time I was up there – nor was I particularly bothered; so we had to stay another night, big deal. And heck, we might be able to ski Monday as well, being stuck there anyway, and the weather was expected to be perfect for Monday – warm, with all that fresh powder, and relatively few tourists given the weekend was over.

Tom did get word from Chuck, a friend of his that had been down in South Lake Tahoe for the weekend, that they had gotten out just fine. They said they’d gone out via 89 to 80, but of course they were just retarded and/or drunk, and actually meant they went down to 50. I was extremely surprised that 89 down to 50 was open when 80 itself was closed… I’ve been under the impression ever since I was first up there, two years ago, that if any road in that whole area was going to close, it would be 89 through the south mountains. But, apparently not this time.

Unfortunately 28 was closed at Emerald Bay, so we didn’t have a direct route down to there… we weren’t sure, but it seemed like 28 might be open all the way around the other side… however, that would have taken two hours just to get to South Lake anyway, and there’d be no guarantee 89 would be open still at that point, let alone the four or five hours further driving after that – it was already well into the evening as it was – so, we didn’t really seriously consider that option.

Anyway, we were stuck for the night. I would have been all for hanging out in a bar or something, but, I don’t really recall seeing any in Tahoe City… it’s a fairly quiet little town, like all those – South Lake Tahoe aside – that ring Lake Tahoe. But we ended up just grabbing a DVD – Die Hard 4 :D – and watching that on Greg’s MacBook back in the cabin. That was pretty cool.

And the girl in the video store amused me, at least – it came up that we were from S.F. and stuck for the night, and she mentioned that she didn’t like S.F. – that it’s dirty and has a bad vibe. I completely understand what she means. But Tom is chronically in love with S.F., and James quite likes it too (Greg was in the car still, so, his opinion is unknown :) ). Anyway, I knew what she meant, and was very happy that someone else – even albeit some random – agreed with me exactly on S.F.; I’d been deflecting positive assertions of S.F. from the others all weekend.

Through the whole weekend I was somewhat missing the true lodge atmosphere I’m used to – where you have a dozen or more people, in various groups, all hanging out together at night, playing cards or games or just chatting, whatever. With the four of us in that relatively large cabin, it was a little quiet. Alas, we never chanced upon four random hot girls in our travels. ;)

I had to laugh at myself at one point, though, on Sunday – two rather attractive girls had gone past us from the top of Roundhouse, just doing blues like us at that point, and they’d ended up behind us in the lift queue at the bottom. I was just pointing them out to Tom, as subtlety as I could – though given how sound travels over snow, I’m almost certain they heard me – and while I was sort of just day dreaming as we waited for the lift, I completely forgot about the lift chair coming up behind, and got whacked on the head real nice. Only my self-esteem was critically injured, though… and we didn’t see those two girls again anyway, for better or worse. :)

So anyway… the movie killed time before bed. I set the heater to something more reasonable this time around, but still had the same problem – I woke up at 5:30 or something, completely dry and heat-exhausted. Though I turned the heater down, opened the door, and drank some water, it was too little too late – when I reawoke a few hours later I felt like crap, and that never really lifted all day. The drive back was relatively quiet – though I’d been planning ‘shotgun’ all morning, so I scored the front seat the entire way. [[ we’d all been surprisingly good at playing by the shotgun rules all weekend, but I was still surprised that Tom & Greg accepted my stake without appeal ]]

We made reasonable time coming back… we left around 9:30 or so, maybe, and made it back to S.F. by about 1:30 or so, perhaps. The conditions were fine; it was just the traffic that sucked. All the trucks that had gotten stuck in Reno – along with the cars, too – were heading through all at once, so it was even more congested than normal. In fact, the road all the way to Squaw was barely moving; every man and his dog in all of Lake Tahoe appeared to be going there, and I can’t blame them… it felt almost criminal to be leaving rather than skiing; after all, the day was virtually a wash anyway, work-wise, so it wouldn’t really matter if we got home in the afternoon or midnight… but James did want to go to work, even late, and I was very tired, as were the others… Greg was at that “I can barely move” stage, thanks to two days of heavy crashes… so we all kinda didn’t like not skiing, but no-one really complained audibly about skipping it. :)

Anyway… we dropped off Tom & Greg at their respective homes in S.F., then went down to the valley (via James’ places, briefly, so he could shower and change). James actually dropped me right at home – though he works in Mountain View – which was super cool of him.

I felt like crap, as noted – not really dead-to-the-world crap, just generally “I couldn’t be bothered doing anything” crap… I had hoped I’d be able to work a bit in the afternoon, once I got home, but after showering, eating lunch and drinking a lot, I cranked up Hayley Westenra and just lay on my bed… I ended up dozing on and off for a few hours. Then I had more to drink… then slept more solidly until I awoke into the mid-evening dark.

At about 10pm I finally gave in to my hunger and put dinner on, and got out of bed and started going through the backlog of email, RSS feeds and whatnot. I think by then whatever fever-type-thing I had had broken – I awoke in a pool of sweat – and I started feeling better. Which more or less brings me up to the present moment; it’s now 1:30am, and after a mere hour and a half my photos of the trip have finally finished uploading – thanks Comcast; you and your shaping can rot in hell – so I’m winding this up and going to bed. :)

[[ note that I took a bunch of photos from the top of Lakeview, of the lake, for a panorama, but I haven’t had a chance to stitch that together yet… I’ll make a note when it’s added ]]

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