Sunday, January 6, 2008

saved by a blizzard

So, we had this ski trip planned. Erin was going to be out of school, holidays were over, just after new year's was the perfect time to go skiing for a few days. Trouble was, there hadn't been a whole of a lot of snow so far this winter and just as I considered cancelling our reservations, I learned that a large, multi-day snow storm would hit during the time we were going to be in the mountains.

Some people, other people, crazy people, wimpy california "I felt a raindrop! Are we stocked up on our emergency food supplies?" people, think it's a bad idea to go to the mountains during a storm. I don't get that. I like to ski, I prefer to ski on snow. Fresh snow is the best and the storms bring the snow. So.....what exactly is the problem? You might have to put chains on? With a SUV that's really unlikely anyway. I ALWAYS used to go to the mountains when I knew a storm was coming and I've had so, so many fantastic days skiing on uncrowded slopes in those conditions while most people stayed home. So we went.

The storm was predicted to start on wednesday night, the night we arrived, but that got pushed back to thursday morning and then thursday night. Here were the conditions right outside our condo on weds night: not a lot of snow to be had, but the kids were still happy to see it and enjoyed playing for a while before dinner.

Thursday the twins went to snow play daycare at the ski resort and Erin did a full day of ski school, and John and I got to hit the slopes together. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but there were some strong winds at the top of the mountain, closing a couple of lifts and therefore limiting the amount of the mountain that was open. And the thin snow cover made the skiing conditions, well, really less than stellar. At one point John went over a rock that took a huge chunk from the bottom of one ski and having to travel through some gravelly snow near the bottom took all the wax off of mine.

Still, some beautiful views up there, and Erin had a great day in school. She was all smiles and said she had a fantastic time and she was so proud of herself because her teacher reported that she would be moved up to the next skill level when she returned the next day.

Especially after experiencing the conditions on thursday (John and I dropped off our skis at the repair shop that night) I was really, really looking forward to this storm. Everyone on the mountain was talking about it and we saw the dark clouds roll in from the west later in the afternoon. I was looking forward to hitting the slopes early and enjoying all of that fresh wonderful powder on friday morning.

When we got up and looked outside instead of tons of fresh snow on the ground, it was raining. I called the ski resort (a critical 2-3 miles uphill from the condo) and they reported that it was snowing there and they would be open for business. So we got everyone fed and dressed and got there bright and early and witnessed the snow just dumping down. It was fantastic! But when we got inside we learned that the whole resort was closed for the entire day due to the weather--the winds made using the lifts too dangerous. Never, ever, ever, ever in 30 years of skiing have I seen a whole ski resort close during a storm. It was no longer a "storm" by the way, it was officially a blizzard with winds gusting at 90 - 100 miles an hour over the mountain ridges, and all the resorts in the area closed.

So we went back to the condo to find it still raining there. And there we were...couldn't ski, couldn't even go out and play in the snow since there wasn't any near us, and the kids were getting a horrible case of cabin fever. Periodically the rain turned to snow but it didn't stick and it usually quickly went back to raining again. Ok, coming up here was a really bad call on my part. Maybe we should have stayed home. After all, no one knew if the ski resorts were going to be open the following day either.

Then at about 4pm, just as it was getting dark, it began snowing, HARD. We went out to dinner at about 6 and by that time there was a good 4-5 inches on the ground. The kids loved it.

Kate spent a lot of time just watching where her totally submerged in powder feet should be, as she trudged along. Allison loved knocking all the snow off a bench or ledge. Everyone loved throwing it up in the air, and tasting it.

Saturday morning it was still snowing but the winds had died down and the ski resort was open again with FOUR FEET of new snow! We took the twins back to daycare and Erin opted to ski the day with us and though it was snowing, hard, all day, she was well bundled up and had a great time, spending the whole day out with us and gaining confidence. She can turn, she can stop, she can get up by herself when she falls. She did great and we were really, really proud of her.

The snow was FANTASTIC--I can't emphasize that enough. When John and Erin headed in for lunch I took a couple of runs down one of my favorites, the double black diamond mountain face. This cracks me up--the sign at the top of that run and the cluster of skiers that collected there contemplating their fate as they looked down the slope:

I want a job making smart-assed signs at a ski resort, I've just decided.

On my first run down the face I saw a ski patrol woman, pulling one of those sleds used for taking injured skiers down the hill. Her partner was a good 100 yards down below her and as she was making her way down and turned one way her sled slid down to the side of her which caused her to loose her balance, her skis dug into the powder and the sled swung around and now rested over the snow which was over her skis. I stopped and thought "Damn. If that was me, I don't know how I'd get out of that." And she reached for her radio to call her partner. She didn't know I was there and no one else was on the slope with us.

"Need some help?" I called out. "Oh, thank god, YES!" she said. "Get below me, dig in hard and catch this thing!" Below her I laid against the mountain and held the bottom of her sled as she disconnected from it. Then I had to slowly slide down the hill about four feet, while holding this thing that felt like it was made from concrete, to allow her to get her skis out. And somehow I did and she did. All connected again, she was thankful and told me she was training to ski with a sled and still needed some practice.

Later in the day my final run was down this same hill and the visibility became horrible. I couldn't see 5 feet in front of me but could see to my right for quite a distance. But there were trees to the right and skiing alone, in deep powder, in the trees can be dangerous. I could get trapped in a tree well and John would be left alone to potty train the twins. He'd be pretty upset. So I quickly traversed through the trees and onto another slope.

A shot of Erin jamming down the hill, and Kate after we picked up the twins at the end of the day.

This is my car in the center of the photo. We hadn't moved it at all since arriving because the condos had a shuttle to run us back and forth to skiing and out to dinner. Poor John dug it out sunday morning. He tried to bribe a guy with a snow blower to come do it, but his snow blower "broke" and he'd "be right back". Uh huh.

On the way back home we stopped at a clearing to let the kids play in the snow one last time. We were at about 3700 feet here. Our condo was at 7000+ feet. Did I mention there was a TON of snow?

Notice Erin tearing down someone else's snowman in the video background. Allison was VERY serious about snowman-making and stuck with that project for most of our stop. Kate really loved trudging around and making new footprints.

And so, instead of this huge! monster! collossal! blizzard ruining our trip, it actually made our trip totally worthwhile. And I maintain that stormy days are the best days for ski trips.


MommaWriter said...

I was thinking of you guys up there. Glad it all worked out so great!

Queen Bee said...

If you need a partner in your smart assed sign making venture, I'm *totally* your girl. :)

I love your writing, and I'm glad you guys had such a good time!

Noemi said...

You're making me, and my boys, jealous. They keep asking me: "When are we going to see snow?" Poor darn CA kids -- I like *water* sports!

An awesome time and awesome writeup; I knew you had a trip planned right around when the storms hit, but I completely assumed that made the trip perfect. I know you wouldn't let a little *snow* stop you!!