I left Park City a day early to beat another storm that was headed our way from the West Coast. It was beginning to be a pattern of storms coming in from the Pacific, dumping not inches, but FEET of snow in the Sierras and Rockies. I didn’t want to get snowed in at Park or out of Tahoe as I was meeting my niece and her husband to ski Tahoe. And since I had arrived in Park City a day early, I was still on schedule ski-days-wise.
As I headed out to Stateline, NV, I figured I would take two days to make the drive. It is a nine-hour drive from Park City to Tahoe under good road conditions, and I knew I was possibly heading into another snowstorm.
Around 1979 I worked for Leslie Salt Company which had been purchased by Cargill Salt. My first assignment was training at the regional office in Salt Lake City. We purchased salt from a company that had a salt harvesting facility on the Great Salt Lake. So this drive through Salt Lake brought back memories of my time with Leslie Salt. This was also one of the routes we would take driving from Montana to California where I went to college, so a wave of nostalgia washed over me.
I had left Kris’ AirBnB before light, so I passed through Salt Lake City in the dark but dawn was breaking as I drove across the salt flats. I was listening to the audio book The Lilac Girls a I drove, and the eerie morning light as the sun rose and the somber topic of WWII made for the miles and time to pass quickly.
I decided to break for breakfast in Wendover a couple hours out of Salt Lake City. I pulled off the interstate and drove slowly through town. Economy looks tough out there, the main drag was pretty bare except for a casino here and there. I drove to the McDonalds and saw a familiar yet strange sight. I had been stopping at Mountain Trails Art Galleries to see my brother’s works displayed and in Jackson Hole I had taken my picture with a sculpture of Albert Einstein sitting on a bench. Imagine my surprise to see that same sculpture along with Mark Twain on a bench facing Albert—on the back of a pickup! I walked into McDonalds and asked aloud who the owner of the pickup was. I met Isaiah Price, the artist’s son, and his family having pancakes and egg sandwiches. They were on their way delivering the artwork to the San Francisco Bay area. We had a great chat. Gary Lee Price creates life-sized bronze sculptures that adds humor, conversation and beauty to anyone’s collection.
Elko was the next planned stop on my way to Tahoe. When I was a little kid, my parents would stop at the Commercial Hotel in Elko to stay, to have lunch, to do a little gambling. The lure for me was the giant white polar bear in the lobby! It was noted to be the largest polar bear at the time, and to a six year old it looked 20 feet tall.
Things had taken a turn for the worse for Elko. The freeway diverted traffic from the main thoroughfare, and the Commercial Hotel looked shuttered. There was a big white concrete cast bear on the front and side entrances, but the poor guy’s paint was flaking and he looked more shabby than what I wanted to remember. I shudder to imagine what the real stuffed bear looked like now, 60 years later.
I was making good time across Nevada so when I hit Reno/Carson City I decided I’d tough it out and drive the last leg to the WorldMark Resort in Stateline, NV. I took Interstate 580 south out of Reno, then Hwy 50 across the Sierras into the Tahoe Basin. I had timed it right—the pass was a little wet, but not snow packed or icy. They had my room available and though it made for a long day, I got settled a day early and could ski the next day.
I had a lovely dinner at the Chart House just down the road from my condo, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my WorldMark resort was less than 2 miles up the road from the Heavenly Stagecoach Lot. A storm was brewing, so I went to bed thinking about new snow.
The next day I hit it early, and it was a good thing. The Heavenly Stagecoach lot was close, but small. I got there at 8:00 and the lot was full by 9 am. Lifts opened at 8:30 on weekends. I had skied Heavenly many times, but it was always on the California side. The day was busy with Californians, on holiday, up from the Bay Area or points in between. There were quite a few from Reno and Carson City. I got familiar with the Nevada side, and ventured to the California side, but just briefly. I got my 10,000 vertical and called it a day. A storm was brewing… again.
The next morning, Sunday, I woke to over 30 inches of snow. My truck was buried, as was the resort overall. I went downstairs to the front desk. I told them I was going to head out to catch the first chair at Stagecoach, but wondered if Heavenly was going to open. The front desk lady, and the snowplow guy just looked at me incredulously. I had heard the snowplow working all night, and he just shook his head. We were only a couple miles from the lot, but the road was impassible. I went back up to my room.
I got the sweetest suite at WorldMark South Lake Tahoe. It was right above the office, had two bedrooms, three baths, and views of the ski runs and Lake Tahoe. My niece Karolyn and her husband, Tom were going to join me, so I ended up getting a larger room. They were driving up Sunday night. With 30 inches of snow, I knew getting over the California Highway 50 pass from Sacramento was going to be a tough one. I poured myself another cup of coffee, and waited.
The snowplow guy got the main area cleared, so I ventured out to my truck. I had backed into the parking spot, but was snowed in. Some young guys from LA were shoveling their own car out next to me, and they helped me dig out. Having the 4-wheel drive really came in handy, as I just shoveled wheel paths and gunned it in 4Lo. I got out no problem.
But the new issue was that the Stagecoach and Boulder lots were already FULL!! While I was waiting for the resort to get us dug out, serious skiers were looking for first tracks. I had found out that there was a Heavenly snow report available by texting Heavenly to 99-000. I began getting texts constantly. Their recommendation was to go to the California side and park.
I fired up the Little Blue Truck and started towards South Lake Tahoe. The boys that had helped me shovel out earlier were stuck off the road, and the one guy had cut his hand. I gave them some band aids, and they asked me about towing. I knew the resort plow had a chain, so I recommended they go back to the resort and see if they could get them to help. They had a big 4-wheel drive FJ Cruiser type vehicle, but even they were stuck tight. We all could have walked faster to the Heavenly resort.
Travel was slow and slippery. I drove cautiously, and passed the downtown square in South Lake Tahoe where the Gondola picks up. Google told me “You have arrived.” I proceeded towards the California parking lot further up the mountainside.
Along with every other person wanting to hit the fresh powder. It was bumper to bumper traffic going up to the parking lot. I was trapped. As we inched along, I knew deep down that there wasn’t enough parking for all these cars. And I was right. After an hour in that futile attempt, I figured I’d go back to the condo and get some writing work done. On my way, I decided to park at the town square and see if the gondola was running.
The town parking ramp had plenty of spaces, and plenty of people just like me, gearing up, hauling skis to the square. The Gondola wasn’t running, but the rumor was it was scheduled to start in an hour. I waited and people watched. The square is on the California side, but the casinos on the Nevada side are less than a block away. The line waiting for the Gondola wrapped around the building, so it looked grim. Then I heard a cheer go up, and the first in line were beginning to load. I stood off to the side and waited for a while, and gradually the line began to shrink. I rode up with a group of locals guys, who were filling me in on the local lore. “The hotel right over there,” the one guy said, “is the one where Trump had his fling with Stormy Daniels.”
We parted ways, and I skied on the California side. Most of the lifts weren’t open, and I was glad I had skied the day before so I had a sense of the mountain. The powder was deep, and even the easiest runs were challenging to the crowd. My take on the situation was that these were recreational skiers, up for the weekend from California. Not hard core, seasoned skiers or boarders. I had to dodge several people who were totally out of control. A normal powder day would be maybe six inches, or a foot of new snow. This was THREE FEET. There was minimal grooming done. On my second run, a snowboarder (of course) went flying by me. It was a big blob of a guy, a selfie stick in one hand, his other hand flailing. I was sure he was going to hit someone.
He crashed with a thud when his body hit the snow. I figure the only thing that saved him was that there was a pillow of three feet of snow to cushion him. His selfie stick went flying, he had a GoPro on his helmet that also went ballistic, as did his goggles. I was watching him off to the side. I figured he had the wind knocked out of him. When the snow settled, he bobbed up and said, “I’m ok, I’m ok.”
As an ex-ski patroller and a ski/snowboard instructor, my first instinct was to go help him. I watched for a minute. He appeared dazed and drunk. Other skiers and boarders were coming down not as recklessly, but borderline out of control. It was still scary to me. I decided to wend my way down. I told the lift attendants where the guy was, and that he might need help. And then I called it a day. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to make tracks, it was that there were too many people on too few runs. None of the upper mountain was open, and only a handful of the lower runs. And they were pumping people up the mountain as fast as the lifts could take them. It was too crazy for me.
So I rode the Gondola down, and asked a lift attendant where I should go for a drink and an app. He told me that the Base Camp Pizza Company was hot, and to have the Happy Camper drink. The Happy Camper was a foofoo drink with mango and pineapple puree with a bunch of rum. It was consolation for a bad ski day.