Why Heavenly is Heavenly

Tom and Karolyn made it up to the condo from Sacramento late Sunday night. You know people are serious when they drive up a narrow canyon after a Sacramento Kings basketball game to ski. It took extra long as Tom had to put chains on the Prius’ front wheels. I had luckily escaped having to put chains on, but I had them for the truck, just in case.

California chain policy is that when conditions merit, chains are REQUIRED, unless you have a truck with snow tires and four-wheel drive. Thank you, Little Blue Truck, we met the requirements. It may seem exorbitant to us Minnesotans who live in snow and ice, but Californians don’t have the kind of weather we have. And their cars are not equipped for snow and ice. Even most of the pickup trucks are rear-wheel drive only. It’s a very good policy.

Tom is a skiing enthusiast. He grew up in upstate New York, near a ski area, and had skied all his life. I had gone skiing with Karolyn and her dad many times when she was growing up. We were all looking forward to the next day.

We left early to get a jump on the day, but already the lines were forming. We parked near where I had the first day I skied Stagecoach. And it was a great day! Bluebird skies, a day after three feet of snow, temps in the mid-20’s and much of the mountain open for business.

Waiting for the Stagecoach, Heavenly Valley Nevada Side
Waiting for the Stagecoach, Heavenly Valley Nevada Side

But what makes it really great is the people we’re with. Tom is an excellent skier who at one time aspired to the Olympic team. Karolyn is a trouper and she and I were together while Tom ventured into the harder stuff. Every once in a while I would follow Tom, and then bail out to the main trail. Tom pushed us to do more. It was great fun.

Skiing with Tom made me realize that when I was alone I was skiing too cautiously. I told myself that it was because I was alone and couldn’t afford to get hurt, but truthfully it was because I was afraid. I had skied with people during this trip that challenged me to do more—the PSIA ladies who led me through the trees; Andrea and Tanya leading me through the steeps; Bill who led me through untracked powder for the first time; and now Tom, who led by example. Tom was a polished skier, great technique and fearless. All of these people became my role models and inspirations.

I don’t think we ever got to Mott Canyon, where Tom wanted to take us. But we had plenty of skiing and an overall heavenly day at Heavenly.

We barely caught our breath when another storm was headed our way. Tom and Karolyn had planned on staying, but they had commitments in Sacramento and didn’t want to risk getting caught in another storm. They left the next day. There were reports of road closures around the Lake Tahoe, but I decided to take the long way around to Squaw Valley. I had skied Squaw and Alpine back in college, but frankly, nothing looked vaguely familiar. I will say Squaw has a nice large parking lot, but the threatening weather and the high winds kept people at bay. I took four runs at Squaw. Only a few of the lower lifts were open—I took Squaw One Express, Red Dog, Squaw Creek, and Exhibition lifts. It was Squaw One that made me doubt my sanity. The top of that lift, even though not even close to the top of the mountain, had fierce winds and near white out conditions. I took the one groomed trail down since I figured a groomed trail had to go to the base. I hit 5296 vertical feet and called it a day. Conditions make such a difference for whether an area is perceived as “good” or not. What a person really judges is whether the weather and snow conditions are good. The mountain is almost secondary at that point.

I drove back to South Lake Tahoe, but my resolve had weakened. Weather conditions were not predicted to get better, but worse. I had driven that Highway 50 canyon from Tahoe to Sacramento before and I knew avalanches were a real threat. Another 2-3 feet of snow was on its way. I decided to bail and beat the storm so that I could visit my sister in Elk Grove.

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