A lovely day in January 1999 on top of Mount Pluto at Northstar at Tahoe, as I stand on my old 207cm Rossignol 4S skis, chatting on my cell phone with someone who called me with good news; my friend Bill decided this scene was worthy of preservation for the ages. Click on it for the full 1024x768.
Mostly, I'm a night owl - stay up late, sleep late. One of my favorite quotes from the UNIX "fortune" file is
"Dawn - a time when men of reason go to bed."Skiing is one of the few things that I will get up early (even before the sun!) to go and do, because there is something about the clean mountain air, the incredible scenery, the vigorous exercise at hypoxia-inducing altitudes that is just compelling for me. Or perhaps this is an excuse to get completely away from the frantic life in the Silicon Valley for brief periods of time.
In short, I love to snow ski.
I'm certain that this is my parents' doing, both genetically (she's Norwegian - they invented the sport; he was a California ski bum in his youth) and by indoctrination (my siblings and I were put on skis before we were ten years old). One of their "hot dates" while they were courting was the 1960 Winter Olympics, held at Squaw Valley, California.
I have some idea what that must have been like, because I attended the last week of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway while I was on sabbatical from work (I had a blast! The Winter Olympics should be held in Norway at least every decade).
I've been skiing since I was eight or nine years old. I'm even moderately good at it, though it gets harder every year because I fall into a sedentary pattern in the summertime. I've got to fix that one of these days...
Well, I'm not entirely sedentary during the summer - I go water skiing when the opportunity presents itself.
Key to the business of skiing is the weather, which I track carefully because a bad storm in the Sierra Nevada (or in any mountain range) can be a killer. It also helps that there are web cameras mounted in strategic places, so you can double-check the weatherman with a look out the virtual window.
Always carry tire chains, even for that 4x4 SUV you've got, and remember: 4WD SUVs don't stop any quicker on the snow than any other vehicle.
Some year I will rent a cabin up at Lake Tahoe for the entire ski season, move there, and hook up with the local Internet Service Provider, so I can ski by day and work by night.
Here is a peek at a whole lot of ski resorts all on one page.
(Lake Tahoe stayed hidden under that fog all day, despite a high of 50F on this January day in 1997).
I'm more familiar with North Lake Tahoe than any other area; partly that's because it's close to the bay area, but it's also quieter and less garish than the area around South Lake Tahoe (California) and Stateline (Nevada).
Site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, this is a terrific place to ski. The lift ticket prices, alas, are lofty as well. However, if you're a good skier, even the Lake Tahoe "weekend crowds" can be avoided at Squaw because they have more than enough upper intermediate and expert terrain to scare away the hordes from the lifts which serve that terrain. They've also been quite aggressive about upgrading their chair lifts to the latest in quad-express technology (the new KT-22 lift is terrific!).
However, this is not the place to go on a windy or snowy day - there's not very much tree cover, and that can make for easy white-out. If that's what the weather is threatening, then Alpine Meadows is the place to be.
I think of Alpine as "cruiser mountain" - they groom what I believe is a larger fraction of the slopes than Squaw. Alpine also has more shade from trees; a better place to go on a windy day, plus that helps their snow (and thus their season) last well into spring, and sometimes early summer. They're right next to Squaw; you can see one from the other's highest peaks, and vice versa. There is an exquisite view of Lake Tahoe from the top of the aptly named "Lakeview" chair lift, with a picnic table, or you can lunch down at The Chalet, a family-owned restaurant on the slopes that has been there for decades.
Sugar Bowl was the first ski area near Lake Tahoe, partly developed by Walt Disney. Since it's on the western side of Donner Pass, this is the best place to ski on a Sunday, so that when you leave to drive home on I-80, you have the jump on the rest of the throng that skis on weekends up around north Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, despite recent development on Mount Judah, they have an old, long, slow lift to the top of Mount Lincoln that cries out for replacement with a quad-express chair lift.
Northstar is another place that grooms its slopes carefully, save for their "backside" which they let go to moguls for those with better knees than I have to bash themselves against. I like going here at least once a year, maybe twice.
Boreal is right on Donner Pass next to I-80. The base elevation means that it's often the first area to open in the early winter, however, there's not much vertical drop, which is why it is often referred to as "boring hill." At least the lift ticket is cheap, and it's very accessible.
Stateline, Nevada is where the famous casinos are. Clearly many people enjoy gambling in casinos, but I always wonder why they don't just speculate on the stock market instead? Higher probability of winning there than against a one-armed bandit.
The casinos in Stateline are good for one thing though: you can get really good food for cheap (a fringe benefit of all the gambling - they'd like to keep you indoors all day long, and even gamblers have to eat sometime).
Heavenly straddles the California/Nevada border, and is huge. I've only skied there a few times, and I have yet to hit it on a really outstanding day.
I like Kirkwood - it has one of the highest base elevations in California, which translates to a longer season, on better snow. Now, if they'd just improve highway 88...
This area merged with its nearest neighbor not too long ago. The one day I was there in January 1996 the weather was so terrible (wet snow falling sufficiently thickly that it was near white-out) that I couldn't really get a decent impression of the place.
It's been so many years since I skied at Bear that I hardly remember it.
Diamond Peak is also known as "Ski Incline" - it's in Incline Village, right on Lake Tahoe. A smaller, quieter ski area, with some challenging runs, excellent views of the lake, and proximity to Reno.
Aspen is just amazing. Excellent snow, and over 50% upper intermediate and expert terrain on Colorado's famous snow, and the main lift leaves right from the center of town. I can't imagine a more ideal arrangement. Pricey, though.
Another excellent day at Squaw Valley in early December 1997. High was 20F (slightly windy),with superior snow (snow elevation for the storm that came through two days earlier was 1,500 feet), and the view to the west from the top of the Siberia Express chairlift was so clear that I could see all the way across California to Mount Diablo and the Trinity Alps!
Unfortunately, the cheesy disposable camera I brought with me that day (a stocking stuffer from the previous Christmas) didn't do it justice, or there would be more pictures here.
Of course, there's also Europe and South America to consider...
I visited Chamonix (France) in April '85, betting on a late season, and that year it just wasn't to be. The town is picturesque, Mont Blanc amazing, and the train trip from Paris on the TGV was something.
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