Heavenly, Alpine, Homewood: Tahoe Heaven

The long drive and the terrible accident didn’t deter me—I woke early and spent the next two days at Heavenly. The Worldmark South Lake Tahoe is perfectly located to get to the Stagecoach and Boulder lodges.  Day 1 I parked at the Stagecoach lot and road the high speed quad up and the day began. Usually I am bewitched by the views of Lake Tahoe from the top of Dipper chair. This trip I realized how spectacular and how close the Carson and Washoe valleys are to the backside of Heavenly.

The resort straddles the Nevada-California state lines, and it is easy to ski both sides in a day. I tend to like the Nevada side now that I have had the chance to ski Heavenly frequently. It is less busy, more short blues and blacks. On the Nevada side the only green runs are at the base of Boulder, which is where their learn to ski area is. That may be why there are fewer people on the Nevada side, there are no green runs down from the top.

I skied the entire mountain these two days, all except for Motts Canyon. The snow conditions were poor—the very steep runs were icy and hard as nails. I chose not to beat myself up, so I stayed on the groomed blues and blacks. Heavenly is a resort skier’s heaven—they cater to the weekend visitor, which means they have to keep runs groomed and cared for. Even with as little snow as they had, they prepped the mountain impressively.

So what does a person do when familiar with a mountain and ridden virtually every chair save Motts Canyon chair? What I do is hunt for good food! I got in good miles and vertical feet, so at the end of Day 1 I stopped at Boulder Lodge to sit in the sun, have a late lunch, and a glass of wine. It was unseasonably warm, so it felt like a spring day. I sat outside and had their salmon cakes, which were delectable. I wish I had saved room because the best deal on the menu are their seasoned garlic fries—and since I travel alone there would be no one to object. To know the best value on the menus at the lodges, follow young employees. They always know where to go and what to buy.

On Day 2 I parked in the Boulder lot steps away from the lift. I thought to myself that I had found a jewel, but then I realized that the chair out of the bowl is a slow fixed chair. No worries, it was a warm day again, and I skied both states again. This time my goal was to have lunch at the Lakeview Lodge at the top of the Aerial Tram and Gunbarrel Express on the California Lodge side of the mountain. I had the restaurant to myself, and took my pulled pork sandwich and wine to a table with a view of the lake.

The Heavenly trail map has a suggested navigate your day map in the upper right corner that is a great guide to getting the most out of the mountain.

Every time I ski Heavenly I think of the trip I took with my daughter Maiya. It was a stormy day, and we drove my sister’s Prius over the pass. We were lucky they didn’t require chains, and I think the drive freaked Maiya out, even though she didn’t say anything. Maybe she was speechless because she was gripping the door handle so tightly as we hugged the curves and avoided the drop offs.

She was skiing, I was still snowboarding. Heavenly isn’t the best for boarders, there are many flat areas and traversing to get from point to point, a killer for snowboarders. One of those problematic areas is the Round-A-Bout trail that circumvents The Face and Gunbarrel, both double blacks. Round-A-Bout is a snowboarder’s nightmare—flat and long, an access road that takes forever with lots of skating involved. She and I took the Round-A-Bout out of the area and an older woman on a board stopped beside me to make sure I was OK. That made me mad. I was sweating heavily by the end. I think Maiya thought I was going to keel over on her.

She and I skied on the California side—it was windy and snow was blowing—as the approach to Nevada was obscured by the blowing snow. She was so worried about me, and didn’t want to go into the blowing snow into the unknown Nevada side. But it was so fun to be with my daughter, sharing the sport that I love. We took one of my favorite pictures on that trip—me with my snowboard on, flinging my arms wide, with the Lake behind me. It was on Ridge Run, a long, easy blue square.

Heavenly is on the Epic pass, as it is one of the Vail Resorts. But I had the Ikon pass, also. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows back up to each other. Last year I skied Squaw in an epic snowstorm. This year I decided to hit Alpine Meadows, one of the resorts I had skied 42 years ago. Ouch, my age is showing!

Alpine Meadows

The drive from South Lake Tahoe to Alpine Meadows via Emerald Bay is a two lane, 35-45 MPH windy road. Another one of those. Of course we are in the mountains, and in the mountains few roads are straight. The route skirts Lake Tahoe and in the winter it is often closed due to avalanche issues around Emerald Bay. The route was closed last year, and I figured this year it was open primarily because there was so little snow. There is one stretch near the bay where the two-lane road is literally on the top of a ridge, with drop offs on both sides, straight down.

Emerald Bay is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Really. It is home to the only island in Lake Tahoe. The Emerald Bay State Park is home to Vikingsholm, a hand crafted Scandinavian house that I had hoped to tour, but the park is closed from September to May, so I missed the window.

Alpine consists of a frontside and a backside. The back mountain is served by Lakeview chair and Sherwood. Lakeview has exactly that: a spectacular Lake Tahoe view. Photo opportunity, for sure. It took me two tries to get to Sherwood—the first time I couldn’t believe the little cat-track lead to the lift! But it did.

I was motivated to get to Sherwood because they promoted an Ice Bar. I was thinking Uley’s Cabin and Ice Bar in Crested Butte, a bar when, during the coldest times, they pour water on the bar, it freezes and drinks are served on it. I didn’t see it live while I was there, but the talk was big.

The Ice Bar at the Sherwood lift was hilarious. It was a little glass shed that served canned beer, wine, and chips. I’m not sure exactly where the name Ice Bar came from…It was a sunny day, it was warm, the snow was softening, I was ready for that canned wine. So in the early afternoon I kicked off my skis, doffed my helmet, pulled out my cap and sunglasses, and sunned on this early February day.

Chillin’ at the Alpine Meadows Ice Bar

I liked the terrain on this Sherwood side, and Lakeview was ok, too. I road the Scott lift a couple times, partly to get to terrain I wanted to ski, partly because it made me think of my husband Scot. It made me sad to think of Scot, now gone for not quite two years. I thought of how in life, if you think it is short, it is important to plan, prioritize, make sure it all gets done. If you think life is long, there’s time to do more, to lengthen the time that priorities happen. Scot’s life seemed short. We had so much we wanted to do, yet we did so much! But now my life feels long, I have time beyond Scot’s short life for whatever comes next.

I skied the front side from the top of Summit to the bottom, a couple of times. I had no recollection of being here 40 years ago, except in one corner of my mind I remember thinking this was a favorite area. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Alpine was hurting for more snow, too. But we make the best of the time we have, don’t we?

Homewood—Bound

My niece and her husband, Karolyn and Tom, joined me at my second Worldmark home in Tahoe, Worldmark South Shore. This Worldmark was within walking distance to the shores of Lake Tahoe, which I did with pleasure. I was looking forward to the company. We had skied together last year and had a great time. Our plan was to ski Homewood, possibly Heavenly, and hit Sierra Ski Ranch (now known as Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort) on the way back to Sacramento.

Homewood is a smallish resort right on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It is about 20 minutes closer than Alpine Meadows, but the route is the same. Tom was an Olympic hopeful and Karolyn and I loved to watch him strut his stuff. Tom and I are the same age so there’s a comfort in that.

Tom & Karolyn, skiing into Lake Tahoe in the background

Homewood’s Ellis Chair connects the two sides of the resort, and it happens to be broke down this season. The equipment, aging as old resorts do, and the parts have to be machined. One season gone. But we rode Madden Triple, Old Homewood Express to the top of the mountain. Then we went down the south side of the mountain. We took High Grade run to Ego Alley—the views of the lake from these runs are truly spectacular! The lake is in-your-face.  We ended up at the South Base, where we were told the old log lodge had burned down in the last couple of years. At the South Base we took the shuttle back to the North Lodge and stopped for a break, a glass of wine, and a chat.

Karolyn and I needed to visit more, so we sent Tom out to ski the runs that we didn’t want to try. It was, like all of Tahoe, lacking snow, and the black runs were icy and hardpacked.

As we chatted, I saw Tom take the chair twice. He was getting in a few tough runs. Karolyn and I decided to join him for a “last run” and as we were going up the chair, I saw Tom enter the Black Diamond Face beneath the chair.

I was thinking we were going to be in for a great show—Tom is such an excellent skier—of a mogul master, when I saw one ski heading down the face. Tom went down, and I didn’t think it was so bad, but then I saw his second ski stick in the snow, and Tom went sliding down, racing after his wayward ski. The Face was icy, hardpacked. There was nothing to stop either Tom or his ski. Karolyn and I watched horrified. I pulled my phone out and took a picture of Tom’s right ski, stuck in the hardpack. When he stopped, Karolyn cried out, “Are you OK?”

Tom’s ski stuck into the hard pack

Tom replied, “I’m fine! I’m fine!”  I wondered if that were true. I know our natural first reaction is to check moving parts, and if they are all still moving, we think we’re OK.

Karolyn and I were trapped on the chair. We were about halfway to the unload area. I can’t imagine how she must have felt, seeing her husband of less than two years crash and burn. She had to be worried sick.

We got to the unload, and told the lifty to notify Ski Patrol. We waited for Ski Patrol and directed the guy down. Then we began our way down, not down the black diamond Face, but the green circle route back.

It took us to the wrong base, so we had to ride the shuttle to the North Lodge. We went to Ski Patrol, but Tom wasn’t there. He was icing his knee at the lodge.

We loaded him up—I wonder still how he made it down that black diamond on one good leg, one leg in excruciating pain with the ski hanging from it. Getting him in the truck was painful for me watching him lift his leg and cram it into the front seat. Luckily the Ford F-150 is huge, and he had plenty of leg room, but watching him navigate his leg made my teeth hurt. He insisted we proceed as planned, so we went to dinner, but there was definitely a pall over the group. We went to the local Goodwill and Karolyn got a walker and crutches, both for $20 total. That woman can always find a deal. They left the next day since there was no way Tom was skiing anymore, and frankly Karolyn and I weren’t so hot to ski the ice. I decided to stay one more day.

I figured it was time to move on. I had a little break in the action, so I plugged the gap by shortening my visit with my sister, adding a side trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, and I thought maybe I’d hit Snow Basin in Utah. I have a good friend who is a ski instructor at Grand Targhee, and I sent him a text, “I’m headed to Sun Valley! Join me!”

He replied, “Sounds like fun. Can’t come. I just had a heart stent put in.”

OMG, we’re falling apart!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s