Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Just back from HEAVEN(ly)

James in HEAVEN(ly)
James in HEAVEN(ly),
originally uploaded by

The weather forecast was right, a storm had pass through on Saturday and Sunday woke to clearing blue skies. I had 6 hours of travel ahead, starting with the train from Mountain View to San Jose, then train San Jose to Sacramento, and finally bus from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe, home to Heavenly Ski Resort. The sun was just disappearing when I arrived in S L Tahoe.

The journey up had passed quickly, I had never traveled through the east bay area before and Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe was a constant climb, wave after wave until we started to hit the snow level. There is one pass that clings to the side of the mountain. Just think, Lord of the Rings snowy cliff scene. Spring has arrived a Lake level, lots of dirtied hard pack snow piled up from the winters falls. I found my accommodation no problem, 2 mins from the bus station and ski hire was across the road so by 9pm I had checked in and got my ski equipment and had been out for half chicken dinner.

Lifts opened at 9am that day due to filming but I was ready at 7.30. Got breakfast in and I joined the queue for the gondola. Conversation in the queue(I should say Line) soon started. The gondola quickly consumes the queue and I am at the top of the mountain. I had my back to the view on the way up but what a view it is.

I have studied the piste map so I have the basic geography worked out. From talking to locals I decide to head to the Nevada side for a start and then work my way back across the mountains to the California side. I'd be tired by later in the day and thus I would have less miles to get back to the gondola. The skis are put on and boots tightened up. I am skiing on the new, well, not so new now but new to me, wide ski's. Instead of 195cm, I am reduced to 166cm and they look short and dumpy but I soon settle in and turning with fun. I stick to the piste, fresh corduroy has been laid over night but I have my eye on the trees and the off piste sections. The views from the top of the chair lifts are magical. You could take photos for ages but there is skiing to be done and new parts of the mountain to explore. The snow conditions are squeaky powder on piste and crusty tracked powder snow off piste. So, it is tricky going off piste but the sun soon soften up things and by the end of the day the snow at the bottom of the hills is spring like.

Higher up the mountain and in the shade of the sun were the two main off piste areas, the Milky Way and Mott and Kilbrew Canyons. The Milky way was comparable to the black run at Glas Maol, Glenshee, Scotland and the Canyons were like the back corries at Anoch Mhor, Nevis Range except the gullies were tree lined. Not much sun gets in, so the snow was hard moguls, not much fun but a thrill to get down and out in one piece, I never entered Kilbrew, it's a hike out and given its name, maybe some don't make it out?

Trees are present to all altitudes and you are free to make your way done through them any way you can. Being more confident in my new skis and shaken off most of my 12 month skiing rust I headed in to the trees. The shorter length skis certainly gave more control and confidence in turning in short notice and the snow while crusty was a touch lighter given the shade from the branches. You start to stitch together a few turns and feel in control, then with a twitch, an unexpected tree and plop, a nose dive into the snow is required to put a brake on proceedings. Refreshing cool bath of powder encapsulates.

Dusted down it time to head for some lunch. An excellent wooden lodge with in door and out door dining options does nicely. I opt for the BBQ option and a seat in the shade. It's been a great morning. I have 3 hours left and so I start my journey back to the California side and sure in enough an hour or so later I am at the other side of the resort. I am in ski touring mode rather in pursuit of the most turns, the legs tell me they require a rest but I am skiing more in harmony with the mountain as my eye and motion are now completely sinc. The snow is slippy in the strong sun light and I take in a black run, now problems and good fun. Then it is back into the trees, the snow similar to piste conditions so turning is much easier and keeping out of the way of the next tree becomes more daring as you try out tighter and tighter routes. Good fun.

The legs are just about dead beat by this time and sure enough 3pm is approaching. So, it is up the chair lift and across the mountain and down to the top of the gondola. A safe end to a great day.

Dinner is in Nevada, just across the road from my motel. Casinos galore and that is where I have my dinner but no time for gambling as I needed my sleep.

8am bus the next day does not arrive to 2pm but I team up with a couple of Australians lads for the morning and time soon passes. By 8pm I am back in Mountain View, at the coast.

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