Tahoe and Lemons

Leaving Driggs, Idaho, early in the morning felt dream-like and mystical. The fog that the area is famous for appeared in top form, making the road out of town feel like it was rising from the ocean. The road winds through potato fields. I looked back and saw the Tetons were woven through clouds of pink and blue as the sun was rising. How could I hold that vision forever? No, some things are not meant to be forever. Some things are meant to be as precious as they are fleeting. That’s how it felt driving away from Driggs to my next destination—precious and fleeting, not forever.

Lake Tahoe. That was the next dot on the map. But not before stopping at Minidoka Internment Camp outside of Twin Falls. To a farmgirl like me, the first time I saw the Japanese American Internment camps of Minidoka and Heart Mountain, I thought they were in the middle of rich farmland which didn’t fit the stereotype of camps in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know that when the Japanese were first imprisoned at these camps, the land was semi-arid, and not yet arable. At Heart Mountain the Japanese finished digging the irrigation canals by hand, turning the sagebrush into sugar beets.  Minidoka visitor’s center wasn’t finished the last time I was there, and I had looked forward to touring the facility, but they had been hit hard by winter storms, and the center was closed indefinitely when I passed through.

That first day I got as far as Winnemucca, Nevada, and decided to spend the night. It made the next day short, as I drove the two hours to Reno and stayed overnight. From Reno, it is only an hour from Palisades Tahoe, the old Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows renamed. Skiing at Palisades/Squaw reminded me of being a sophomore in college, the first time I ever skied Tahoe. I could almost say I felt the same, only because I was such a poor skier back then, and my skills have improved to compensate for the aching bones and muscles of old age.

I had planned on meeting my niece and her husband, both avid skiers at Tahoe, but Karolyn lost her smell and taste…a sure sign of Covid. Test kits were virtually impossible to get. I had a Yeti ice chest with 12 rapid test kits I had bought in Minnesota, thinking I didn’t want to contend with trying to source them along the way. But I was at Tahoe, they were in Elk Grove near Sacramento. So our reunion was stayed for the time being. I was back to skiing solo.

The Olympic Rings greet guests as they turn up the road to Palisades Tahoe.

The first thing I did when I arrived at Palisades was to ask about a mountain host tour. I learned a few years ago about these tours, and they are the BEST way to ski an unfamiliar mountain. They weren’t holding tours, but since I had skied Palisades Squaw before, I had a good idea what to do. I took the Gold Coast Funitel, a small gondola type lift, and every lift that was running, except for the tram. Skiing was touted as one of the “safer” activities during the Covid pandemic. The activities are outdoors, most of the chairs I rode alone or with one or two people, depending on the size of the chair. The exception to this was the gondolas and trams. The resorts were cramming people into these enclosed cabins designed to transport 6 to 100 people! At Jackson Hole I refused to be one of the last six people on the 100 person tram. When I did ride it, I was one of the first and holed up in a corner facing out. Even the smaller gondolas filled with 4 to 6 people feels crowded, and the ride is normally at least ten minutes long. I wasn’t comfortable being in such close proximity with strangers, but I rode them nonetheless.

I skied Palisades from top to bottom. At the top of Granite Chief lift, looking west is the Sacramento valley and east is Lake Tahoe. Amazing. And it’s all black diamond down. It sounds scary, but I have found (so far) there’s usually an “easier” black to take down that isn’t life threatening. That applied to Silverado, an all-black diamond area that I found the easiest way down, just to check it off my list.

At the end of the day around 3 pm—when I start early, I end early—I called a Stanford friend that I met just this past October at our 45th class reunion. Janet was staying at Incline Village for the week, a fortuitous coincidence. We met up for snacks and drinks on her condo deck that had a heart-stopping view of Lake Tahoe.

My Worldmark resort was in South Lake Tahoe, a stone’s throw from Heavenly Valley. Heavenly is one of my all-time favorite resorts, having many happy memories skiing there with old beaux, family, friends, daughter, alone. But my Ikon ski pass didn’t cover Heavenly, it covered Palisades, so I had an hour’s drive to ski my pass. I also had some reduced-price passes to Homewood Ski Resort.

Over the course of the next four days I skied Palisades Squaw, Palisades Alpine and Homewood twice. I had a mountain host when I skied Alpine which sped up my learning curve, and he had insights and information on the Palisades expansion that will be linking the Squaw and Alpine areas. Similar to the Whistler-Blackcomb tram that spans a valley to link the two mountains, the pillars for a tram over a mountain are in place and will link Alpine and Squaw next year. It will be easier to refer to the whole area as Palisades after the link is completed.

View from Hidden Vein run, Homewood Ski area.

The temperatures were so warm for January, my skis were beginning to stick in the soft wet snow. I was able to put my wax and tune kit to work as I scraped old wax off and put warm weather wax on my skis. It saved me the fourth day when I skied Homewood for the second time, exploring the entire area and enjoying the 40 degree temperatures at the Big Blue tent midway with sunglasses, a canned Moscow Mule, and endless views of Lake Tahoe at my fingertips.

Spring Skiing in January. Only in California. Best views–Homewood.

I had planned on skiing a fifth day, but woke feeling tired, and daunted by the prospect of loading up my truck for the drive out of town. Karolyn, Tom and I had agreed we would all test before getting together for our second leg of the ski trip. They had a condo rented near China Peak and Bear Mountain in the Sierras for the three of us. I loaded up my truck to drive to Elk Grove where we were going to meet up. I took my Covid test before starting out, and to my surprise I tested positive! I had Covid!

I had been so careful—eating in my condo, packing sandwiches and eating out on the decks for lunch, not going to bars or restaurants. But someplace—in a gondola, in a grocery store—I picked up the virus. I had been fighting a cold since Driggs, but had tested negative. I figured it was just a cold hanging on. But as I reflect, I had noticed the day before I was breathless carrying my skis up from the truck to the lodge and up some stairs. I had what I thought was TMJ jaw pain. Now I wonder if it was a severe ear ache from the virus. I did have lots of phlegm, coughing, but the breathlessness could have been attributed to altitude and the activities I was doing.

Oh, well. We planned on quarantining together, three sickies together, but when Karolyn and Tom took their tests, they were negative. Dang. I mean, I didn’t want them to be sick, but it would have been nice to have company…So I am isolating for five days, and they are going skiing. 

I figured I would get Covid sooner or later and if I had to get it, isolating here in Elk Grove isn’t all bad—it’s like my home away from home. My sister Carol lives here but now that I’m positive, I can’t see her–but at least we are within 3 miles of each other! And Karolyn and Tom are loaning me their house once they leave to ski so I can spend the last three days of my quarantine in the comforts of their home.

When life gives you lemons…

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