Sunday, February 25, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

Perhaps unfairly, the stereotype of cartoonists and comic-book fans is that we're a rather sedentary lot. This is not helped by the fact that cartooning is a rather solitary occupation, with the cartoonist stuck behind a drawing board for hours on end. Though having children certainly has made leading an active life challenging in recent years, I actually played many sports from an early age.

These included baseball, football (both touch and tackle), ice hockey, volleyball, and even a little golf (actually, among classic cartoonists, golf was actually quite a popular pastime!)

My favorite sport for the past 12 or so years has been skiing. My wife taught me back in the 1990s, and I actually quickly became more proficient at it than she!

For my birthday, my wife generously let me go on an overnight ski trip to Big Bear in Southern California with a buddy. (I last went two years ago. Before we had children, my wife and I used to go once or twice a season. Since then, however, we've gone twice in the last five years. We hope that will change once the kids learn!)

It turned out to be a terrific trip, with everything falling perfectly into place for us. Big Bear experienced snow storms and fresh snow last Monday (President's Day) and the following Thursday and Friday morning, but by Saturday when we actually hit the slopes, it was about as clear, sunny and beautiful as one could ask for!

We got a late start Friday, and though traffic was heavy at the outset (particularly as our route briefly put us on the same freeway taking people to Las Vegas), we were pleasantly surprised to find the road up the mountain to be fairly open and not very busy. My main concern was that we would need snow chains which I was carrying in the trunk; in fact, at the base of the mountain, a sign warned drivers that chains were required, confirming what I had read on the ski resort's real-time website just before hitting the road. But I guess the crews cleared the roads in time, because we were able to make it all the way up the mountain without needing the chains. Though we ended up driving up the mountain in the dark, I know Big Bear well enough that we got to the top and to the hotel without much incident or problem. There was quite a bit of snow around Big Bear City, but the roads were fairly free of snow and ice.

Although we got an early start the next morning (we also had to rent our equipment first), the traffic and the slopes were already busy by the time we arrived at about 8 am (which was when the mountain opened). But again, good luck and timing were on our side. Just before we turned up the main road that led up to the base of the resort, the parking spots on the road had filled up and we were redirected to a an overflow parking lot off the main road. This was fortunate because we ended up parking right by the shuttle stop; had we parked on the road, we would have had to hike up the main road carrying all our equipment, which is an uphill walk of about 200 yards--not pleasant when you are wearing ski boots and carrying your equipment. Instead, we got to ride the shuttle and get car-to-ticketbooth service!

As you can see in the pictures, it was a pristine and clear day. Since I had not skied for a couple years, I wondered how rusty I would be, but I got my ski legs back almost immediately! My friend and I were fairly comparable as skiers (he has skied much longer than me), and it was nice to have a companion to both pace me and push me a bit. In fact, we ended up taking three runs down a slope called "The Wall"--so named because when you first look down the run from the top of its perch, it looks like nearly a vertical drop!! (For those of you who are familiar with skiing, it is rated a "double-diamond" run--diamond runs are considered the most difficult and are for advanced skiers only.) However, once I started down, the hill turned out to be less intimidating than it looked, so it was rather exciting and exhilarating to conquer it. I'm fairly certain I've taken the run once before in the past, but because of my improved confidence and skill level, it was not difficult or intimidating.

A first for me was that once we got to the top of the mountain, we just stayed there the entire day, and avoided the crowds at the bottom where all the beginning and intermediate skiers tend to congregate. As a result, the advanced runs remained fairly open, and there were times when we literally skied onto the chairlift to take us back up to the top of the mountain at the end of a run! My friend and I skied from about 9:30 a.m. to 4:20 p.m., with two one-hour breaks (one for lunch). After that, we returned our rented equipment and headed home.

I must say, this was one of my best experiences skiing, both because of the conditions and because it was some of my best skiing technically.

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