Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 5: Alpine Meadows

As you may recall from my post about Squaw Valley, the weather was less than optimal for skiing.  We even considered heading back to the car and driving over to Squaw’s sister resort, Alpine Meadows.  As it turns out, we didn’t end up doing that, but a couple of days later, we decided to go give the Meadows a shot.

I fully anticipated Alpine Meadows to be Squaw’s ugly sister.  Sure, she’d have her fun moments, but you’d always find yourself gazing over at her superior sibling.  I was wrong.  It’s a great ski mountain, and while it lacks the sheer scale of Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows should definitely be on your list of Tahoe resorts to try.

In truth, I’m writing this post about 3 months after I visited, so my recollection is not as sharp as it could be.  I’m a victim of my own procrastination.  But looking at some of the pictures has brought parts of it back.  Including the fact that it was a ridiculously warm day.  Enough that most of us dropped off our jackets at lunch because it was just too darn hot.  It was like early April conditions…in the beginning of February!

Anyway, the front side of the mountain is full of cruisers.  Nice slopes that let you lazily carve your way from top to bottom.  And of course, the lack of crowds made that part even more enjoyable.  We also ventured off skier’s left to some of the more challenging terrain, and to reiterate the mantra, it really could be fun with some more snow.  In fact, when it had softened up a little, it was pretty fun, but you would still hit patches of ice and that would throw off your whole groove.

After a few run on the front, we dropped over to the backside, which reminds me of a smaller version of the back bowls at Vail.  We traversed over to the bowl area, and just did laps through Sherwood and South Face.  With our legs burning, and sweating under our jackets, we headed for lunch at the base.

Alpine Meadows - BaseDidn’t I say it was a nice day?

After lunch, we skied by the “Hey, we haven’t tried that lift yet” mantra.  The front side, with all the cruisers, is reminiscent of Purgatory, although a bit more open.  Not the most technically challenging area, but just a lot of fun to go bombing around for a day.

Alpine Meadows - Alpine Bowl IMG_0035_2Looking down over Alpine Bowl with Lake Tahoe in the background.  Yeah, getting really sick of that view.

This was the last of the five different resorts we visited.  The next day we returned to Squaw so we could experience some of what it had to offer without the 60 mph winds.  Turned out to be another great day, and also rather memorable as my sister got engaged on the mountain.  Of course, being the younger brother, I had to complain about how long it took for her to say yes, take her pictures, and then get down to the lift so we could get some more runs in.  Some people are just so selfish.

That visit to Lake Tahoe certainly shook some of the “Colorado Ski Snob” out of me.  Not entirely, but I now realize that there is some world-class skiing outside of the Centennial State.  And now that I’ve gotten a taste, I want more.  I’d certainly go back to Tahoe, but I’d also like to visit Wyoming and British Columbia.  I also hear that Montana can be pretty epic, but that one might take a bit more planning.  It’s a very big state.  But I can say that this definitely will not be my last ski trip, and I hope to write about a new one next season.

 

 

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Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 4: Sugar Bowl

One of the many great things about skiing around Lake Tahoe is the number of smaller (all things being relative) resorts that are scattered around the area.  I generally consider myself well versed in ski knowledge (by no means an expert, but more knowledgeable than your average bear), but there are some areas that I had never heard of.  One such area is Sugar Bowl.  We heard about it from our waiter at Fireside Pizza when we had lunch at Squaw Valley.  By the way, excellent pizza!  We split their Mediterranean and Big Mountain pizzas along with a pitcher of a local IPA whose name escapes me.  A nice hearty meal for a long day of skiing.

Anyway, in talking with our waiter, he recommended that since we were staying on the north side of the lake that we try out Sugar Bowl.  We’d never heard of it, but thanks to the miracle of smart phones, we were able to find out the basics of it quickly,  and made plans for the next day.

Sugar Bowl was pleasant surprise.  While it lacked the scale of Squaw Valley, and didn’t have quite the scenery of Heavenly, it was still a very solid mountain.  It certainly didn’t hurt that we had the mountain almost to ourselves.  You really get a lot more out of a place when you don’t spend half the day waiting in line.  It doesn’t offer too much in the way of super difficult terrain, but it does offer a nice range of cruisers that is reminiscent of Purgatory (aka Durango Mountain Resort).  But it does have an ace up its sleeve that I’ve never seen elsewhere.

Included in the price of your ticket, and by that I mean EVERY ticket is a half day lesson and equipment rentals.  That’s a deal I don’t think you can beat.  So after spending the morning exploring, I decided to trade in my teles for a snowboard.  See how the enemy sees the slopes.

I’m just kidding about snowboarders being the enemy (mostly).  Truth be told, there are nice people and jerks aplenty to be found on both one board and two.  Sadly, I would have to say that the majority of the jerks fall into my demographic: the 15-29 year old male.  Of course, a friend of mine likes to point out that a lot of the reckless behavior can be linked to that group trying to impress the 15-29 year old female.  Perhaps not really an excuse, but I’d believe that if it was even proven true.

Anyway, I’ve only been snowboarding once before when I was about 12 years old.  I remember it being fun, but also a lot harder than I thought.  Also, the constant falling is pretty hard on the knees and butt.  That part hasn’t changed.  So we went up and I managed to get off the chairlift without falling, which I take as a major accomplishment.  After a strapped in, I confronted my first challenge: getting up.  It’s not as easy as you might think.  When you’re so used to being able to independently move your feet, having them locked together is very off-putting.  And it makes it a lot harder to keep your balance.  Nevertheless, I did get to my feet and set off…for about 50 feet.  Then came my first attempt at turning.  I think that one of the most difficult things about going to snowboarding from skiing is the fact that all your inputs to steer are turned 90 degrees.  Leaning your body forward back controls your left and right turning, while leaning your body side to side dictates your weight distribution up and down the hill.  For those of you who play video games, it’d be like pushing the stick left and right controlled your up/down view.  I honestly think it would be easier if they were reversed rather than turned 90 degrees, but that’s not up to me.

Anyway, I crashed.  And I would continue to crash while going down the hill.  I could feel that I was getting my weight back, but I couldn’t seem to change it.  Also, turning from toe edge to heel edge was much better than heel to toe.  I think it has to do with turning in such a way that you’re view of the hill opens up.  Snowboarding is a good experience for all skiers, as it let’s them experience the quasi-blind spot that snowboarding give you.  Yes, you can always turn your head, but given the way your body is twisted, it’s always going to be harder to look over your lead shoulder.  Something to keep in mind if you’re passing a boarder on a cat walk.  However, you borders still need to look before veering back and forth in crowded conditions.  Skiers don’t like being cut off any more than you.

I did manage to link some turns, but to be honest, after one run, I was sweating voluminously, and I really hurt from some of the crashes.  So I happily returned to my teles. It might have been a different story if the snow had been a lot softer, but I think I’ll always be a skier.  It’s just more fun.

Anyway, if you’re just going to be in Lake Tahoe for a weekend, I’d probably recommend you stick to some of the better known resorts.  They have more to offer.  But if you have more time, come on out to Sugar Bowl.  It’s fun, relaxed, and a great place to try out a new winter discipline.  So give it a shot!

 

Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 3: Squaw Valley

Home of the 1960s Olympics, and one HELL of a mountain, Squaw Valley is just awesome.  Seriously.  Go there as soon as you can.

Our third day did not get off to a good start.  Upon arrival, we were informed that 60-70% of the mountain was not accessible because high winds had forced the shut down of the lifts.  Always a good start.  And the staff informed us that there was a better than 50% chance that they would remain closed for the rest of the day.  Better and better.  Particularly when you’re staring at an almost $100 ticket.  Unless your active duty military, in which case it’s free.  Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no problem with that, I’m merely jealous.  But we rolled the dice and headed up the KT-22 Express.

We were greeted by howling 40-50 mph winds, which were doing a nice job of picking up the frozen granules of snow and flinging them into our faces.  Splendid.  As fast as we could, we slipped down “Saddle” and onto “Mountain Run”.  It was still pretty early in the day, and as they hadn’t received any new snow (sounding familiar?) the trails were pretty hard and fast.  About the only good thing about that was it gave my friend a good opportunity to test out his new Garmin watch and see how fast he could get.  I’d left my Garmin at home, so I was relying on the Squaw Valley app.  Pretty cool app actually.  I liked how you can open up your camera and it will put in data about what you’re looking at.  But I imagine you’re reading this for the skiing, not the app reviews.  In any event, we were getting upwards of 40 mph.  Disclaimer: NEVER NEVER NEVER go that fast if there are people on the slope below you.  If you want to hurt yourself by crashing at high velocity, that’s your choice.  But other’s shouldn’t pay for your choices.  Luckily, the high winds and weekday crowds made the slopes almost empty.  Having no crowds is awesome.

Not looking for another bout with the horizontally flying icicles, we headed skiers right towards the “Squaw Creek” lift.  Not that we had a lot of choice with the lift situation, but there you go.

Squaw Valley - 1

Here’s a view from the lift looking down the valley.  Good naming choice.

IMG_0026_2The “Squaw Creek” lift is pretty high.IMG_0028_2…but it would be even higher if you were downloading.

The area serviced by that lift is more intermediate, but there’s some fun slopes to be found.  We did a few laps here before headed back to the main part of the mountain.  We were planning on hopping back in the car to drive to “Aspen Meadows” which is Sqaw Valley’s sister resort a few miles down the road to see if the weather was any better there.  But wouldn’t you know it?  The winds died down and we got to explore more of the mountain.

And what a mountain it is!  It just goes on, and on, and on.  And on.  Seriously.  You just seem to keep linking lifts without end.  Because of the conditions, we didn’t explore most of the really steep terrain, but oh boy did it look like fun.  We spent most of the afternoon doing long cruisers and hitting mogul patches when they looked to be slightly softer than rock.  Squaw had a different feel than the other resorts we visited.  Less tree cover and more exposed rock.  But I think that just adds to the epic feel of the place.  Monoliths of stone jut out around you as you carve down the mountain, and there’s just so much sky above you.  And it’s nice to have runs long enough that when you get to the bottom, you’re not too offended that you have to get on the lift again.  Again, the lack of crowds really helped us log the miles that day.

Anyway, Squaw is a mountain that could take 3 or 4 days to really explore, and if it had some good snow, I think you could easily spend a week there.  I will definitely be back.

Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 2: Heavenly

(Written 1/28/13.  Yes, I’m a little behind)

The adventure continues!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with skiing in the Lake Tahoe area (which included me until about the last week), the resorts can be roughly split into North and South areas.  Staying on the north side, we were looking mostly at the north areas as a matter of convenience, but we knew there were some great resorts on the south side.  Of course, that means going around Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is quite large.  It’s got around 72 miles of shore line, and Heavenly, the area we were going to, is squarely on the opposite corner of the lake.  So it was going to be about a 90 minute drive to get there.  That is in part the distance, but also due to the fact that the speed limit on NV-28 (the highway on the east side of the lake) doesn’t go above 45 mph.  All that is annoying, but honestly, as long as you can see the lake, you don’t care.

Lake Tahoe is stunning.  There are so many other words to describe it, but I found myself always coming back to just gaping at the beauty and scale of it.  It reminded me of southeast Alaska, where you have the mountains coming right down to the water.  And the water!  So many shades of blue and so unbelievably clear!  I need to come back in the summer so I can go swimming.  Maybe that will end up being a blog post in the future.

But back to Heavenly…  The route we took lead us into Nevada, but the base of the gondola is just back in California.  You can tell because there’s a veritable wall of casinos marking the end of Nevada.  We parked in a garage a short walk from the base of the gondola, got our tickets (unless you’ve got a Vail resort pass, because this is another Vail resort), and headed up.

As you step off the gondola, you are faced with an immediate decision: do you want to ski in California or Nevada?  There are literally signs pointing you to different states.  While that doesn’t really have that much of an effect on the skiing experience, I’ve never encountered something like that.  And maybe they set that up to distract you from the hike that you’re about to take.  Whoever designed the layout of the gondola drop off either has no idea how to ski, or never bothered to look at a topographical map.  You’re going to be in for about a 200 yard hike if you plan on skiing in California.  Sure, 200 yards isn’t that far, but when you’ve gotten yourself all geared up and up the first lift, you’re expecting to step into you skis and be off, not slogging through the snow with your skis on your shoulder.  But eventually you end up on “California Trail” and your day begins.

Our day started a bit cloudy, with a dusting of new snow.  Nothing to write home about, but better conditions than we had found at Northstar.  Heading east, we took the “Sky Express” lift up to 10,040 feet.  I imagine the view from there on a clear day is pretty amazing, but alas, we had clouds.  We took a few runs through this area, a mix of blue cruisers with some mogul covered blacks.  The grooming crews really did a good job keeping the snow from icing up, as the temperatures were probably in the high 20s or low 30s.

Heavenly - Iced Tree

This picture would really benefit from having a skier near the base to provide a sense of scale.  The trees here are just absurdly large.  I think it helps make the glades a bit more open, and as someone who is a little intimidated by tight glades, I realllly like that.

From here, we headed east into Nevada, taking “Skyline Trail” into “Dipper Woods”.  “Dipper Woods” was the best skiing to found the whole day.  A nice loose glade, that while a bit tracked out, still had some soft snow that you could really enjoy as you went whipping through the trees.  We ended up on “Big Dipper”, but my friend and I managed to get separated from the rest of our party.  But that’s ok.  That’s why you make a “missing skier plan”, where everyone in your group meets up at a certain time.  You might think that this isn’t necessary in a world with cell phones, but trust me, it’s well worth the 30 seconds it takes to put it in place.  As it turned out, cell phone reception was pretty poor on the part of the mountain we ended up on, and besides, it can be really hard to hear your phone if you’ve got it buried under several layers of clothes.  But we ended up meeting at the East Peak Lodge for lunch.  The food at Heavenly, much like at Northstar was good, plentiful, and expensive.

After lunch, we headed up the “Dipper Express”, and down through “Dipper Woods” into “Mott Canyon”.  “Mott Canyon” would be great… if it had some more snow.  You’ll find that for this trip, that line comes up a lot.  While the Tahoe area got some good storms early in the season to build up the base, they haven’t been receiving a lot fresh snow.  Still, it’s better than the main resorts in Colorado have been experiencing.

Heavenly - Lake from Lift

 

 

Here’s a shot of the lake from one of the lifts.  I can only imagine how spectacular it would be coming down the mountain towards the lake on a bluebird day.

At the end of the day, we headed south and then up the west side of the lake, stopping at the overlook at Emerald Bay.  Definitely worth the stop.

Lake Tahoe - Emerald BayApparently there is a little castle of some sort on the island.  Holy crap that would be a sweet place to live.  A little inconvenient if you had to run to the store, but what a view!

A long day with all the driving, but totally worth it.  I’d love to see more of south Tahoe, but that will need to wait for another trip.

 

Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 1: Northstar

Hi folks, I’m sorry for the lonnnnng delay in posts.  It’s been a little busy.  I actually drafted these while I was on my ski trip awhile back, so I hope you enjoy.

As you might have read in some previous posts, I was getting ready for a ski trip to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday.  Well, we looked into going a few places, but ended up settling on Lake Tahoe, CA.  Now I had read about the resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe in skiing magazines and online articles, but I have to be honest, I was a complete Colorado snob.  There was just no way that these resorts were going to stack up to my beloved Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Telluride.  You’ll notice that I use the past tense, because I am a convert.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my Colorado mountains, and they are truly world class, but so is the stuff here in Tahoe.

We are staying outside of Truckee, which is on the north side of the lake.  It’s a fairly easy drive from the airport in Reno, and there are plenty of option for accomodations.  My sister arranged for us to stay at a nice rental house complete with hot tub, which has been AMAZING after long days of skiing.

Our first ski day lead us to Northstar.  Northstar is one of the Vail resorts, and the base certainly has that familiar upscale feel to it (complete with very upscale parking costs of $25).  But I don’t go skiing to sit in the lodge and drink hot coaco, I’m there to hit the slopes.  And Northstar does not dissapoint.  It took us a gondola and two chairlifts to get us to the top, but from there, you can reach anywhere on the mountain.  Because the weather had been unfortunately lacking in snow, we started off on some cruisers in the area known as “The Backside”.  I’d insert my own joke here, but I’m sure you’ve come up with some already.  We warmed up on “Castle Peak” and “The Islands”, which are both nice, long cruisers.  From there, we started venturing into some of the more gladed areas.

I am not a big glade skier.  Quite frankly, I think I’m just too big for it.  Also, with telemark turns requiring (generally) a bit more room than normal turns, it’s just not a lot of fun lunging from one side to the other in the desperate hope of not wrapping myself around a tree.  But here in Tahoe, it’s a bit different.  I can’t put my finger on the exact cause, but the glades here are a little bit looser.  I think it might have to do with the positively enourmous trees.  Whatever the reason, I found myself venturing into the glades where the snow was a bit softer.  And it was a blast!  You still need to be heads up to not hit a tree, but there is enough time to react.  And it brought back some of the memories of being 6 or 7 years old when I used to head into the trees every time I could.  Of course back then I was about 1/3 the size am now, and weaving around the trees was a lot easier.

We spent most of the morning skiing “The Backside” (snicker snicker) and took our lunch at the Zephyr Lodge.  The food is your typical Vail fare, pretty good, but mighty exspensive.  But the accomdations are nice, and they give you plenty to eat.

After lunch, we decended to the portion of the resort called “Lookout Mountain”.  It’s mostly blacks, with one blue (“Washoe”) that’s a lot of fun.  All of it suffered from lack of good snow, but there were a few groomed runs that allowed you to rip top to bottom with some real speed.  But remember kids, always stay in control.  They even had signs reminding people that trees dont move, but they do hurt.  Good advice.  Also in this area is the summit of Lookout Mountain where you can take in the epic scenery of north Tahoe.

After we had skied our fill, which wasn’t hard given the almost complete lack of lines despite being a Sunday, we decended to the base around 3:00 pm.  And there we got to take advantage of the fact that Northstar is a Vail resort.  Freshly made smores were being circulated, and let me tell you, that tastes good after a long day of skiing.

After that, we piled back in the car and headed for home, tired, sore, and with great big smiles.

Pros: Vail-quality ammenities, decent variety of terrain, great scenery, glades, smores
Cons: Smaller resort, not a lot of real challenging terrain, expensive

Bottom Line: Worth a trip if you’re staying in Tahoe, particularly if you’ve got a Vail resort pass.  And did I mention free post-skiing smores?

Training With a Purpose: Ski Season is Upon Us!

Hi folks,

I think I may have touched on this idea before in a previous post, but I am a big believer in having something to train for.  Generalized goals like “get in shape” or “lose weight” have admirable objectives, but without more concrete milestones, I think it’s too easy to either a) fall into a training rut, or b) stop training alltogether.  If you’ve got a race or some other activity to train for, you can see how sweating today is going to help you tomorrow.

Right now, I’m sort of without a goal.  The Tough Mudder has come and gone, and the next one on my radar is a ways out (Las Vegas 2013 perhaps?).  A friend has talked to me about doing a trail race sometime this winter, and I may actually do that, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of running in the dark and cold, which is what my post-work/commute schedule leaves me with currently.  So I’ve decided to focus on my favorite past time: skiing.

I love skiing.  Probably more than any other activity.  Growing up in Colorado completely spoiled me in terms of snow, terrain and availability, but I’ve tried to keep up with it out here.  My take on East-coast resorts will have to wait for a later post, but there’s potential for a pretty serious ski trip in a couple months, so that’s what I’m prepping for.

Skiing is actually a pretty good sport to train for.  It works a lot of different areas of the body, and works on both strength and cardio.  Admittedly, it’s light on the upper body, but I think you can work some of that into workouts.  Now me, I’m a telemark skier.  If you don’t know what that is, go hit up YouTube, because directing you there is a lot easier than trying to explain it.  But basically, every time I make a turn, I do a lunge.  You can imagine that when you get into the moguls up around 12,500 feet in Breckenridge, it’s a pretty good workout.

So obviously the legs are a primary focus of any ski-centric training, but I think it’s more useful to do more functional lifts than just load up the leg-press sled with half the weights in the gym.  Because you’re never static while you ski, you need to activate your stabilization muscles and work on your balance.  Remember that when you’re selecting your weight.

Here’s one workout I did recently.  It comes courtosy of “Outside” magazine.  It’s a CrossFit-inspired workout nicknamed the “Slump Killer”.  You do the following exercises back-to-back as fast as you can:

  • 5 Handstand Push-ups
  • 10 Dead Lifts
  • 15 Toes to Bar
  • 20 Box Jumps
  • 25 Kettlebell Swings
  • 30 Wall Balls
  • 25 Kettlebell Swings
  • 20 Box Jumps
  • 15 Toes to Bar
  • 10 Dead Lifts
  • 5 Handstand Push-ups

I can’t do a headstand pushup.  And even if I could, I’d look like a lunatic doing them at the gym, so I substituted pullups.  Also, I didn’t have a place to do the wall balls, so I did squat presses with a 45 lb plate.  The above workout took me 12:37.  I think I probably could have increased the weight on the deadlift (I was only pulling 185 lbs, and you should be aiming for your body weight), but still, this left me gasping.  I guess you could do muliples of this, but make sure you are keeping your form.  Deadlifts and box jumps provide a lot of opportunity to hurt yourself.  The toes-to-bar move is my new nemisis.  I think it’s a great exercise to work on abs, grip strength and shoulders, but I’m truly terrible at it.  Something to work on.

Some other exercises I’ve incorporated into my workouts are:

  • overhead squat
  • overhead lunge
  • unbalanced overhead lunge (choose two dumbells with a 10-20 lb difference in weight)
  • single leg squats
  • cleans (this one needs a LOT of work)

Yes, it’s very heavy on the legs, but I’ve tried to choose exercises that also require a lot of core strength and balance.  And of course you can add a BOSU ball to any of these to make them harder.  Throw in some cardio (and some yoga probably wouldn’t hurt), and hopefully when you hit the slopes, you’ll be ripping fresh powder instead of nursing sore muscles.  Of course, based on personal experience, if you’re not sore after a day of skiing, you didn’t go hard enough.

I’d love to hear any advice/opinions on training for skiing from you readers, so feel free to comment.  In the meantime, pray for snow.