Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ski Time!

Above: From our first ski trip of the season.
After a relatively mild winter, some "real weather" arrived in Southern California in the form of storms this past January. And rain in SoCal means snow in the mountains.

There must have been a lot of pent up demand, because on the first weekend of the storm, (January 23–24) traffic was so bad in the local mountains that it made the news. Some people spent six hours or more driving only to find roads closed or the ski resorts sold out. Though I'm an avid skier, this puzzled me because the snow was still going to be there later in the season, and the ski resorts keep their runs groomed and can add man-made snow to the base when the weather conditions are right. But I guess people wanted to be the first to experience the fresh powder. (Many years ago, I got to ski in a blizzard at Mammoth—a longtime dream come true! Talk about fresh snow—I remember visibility being no more than 10 feet at times due to the snow and fog!)

This past week, my 8-year-old's elementary school was closed Friday for an administrative day, so my wife and I used it as an opportunity to take a one-day family ski trip to Snow Valley. As I have mentioned in a past blog, we have started going to Snow Valley because it's less than halfway up the mountain that leads to Big Bear Lake where some of the larger ski resorts are located. And while the runs at Snow Valley are a bit less challenging for me, because the focus right now is to acclimate our kids to the sport, it's been a great alternative that's less of a production to get to and ski at.

We actually had visited Snow Valley just two weeks prior for a two-night trip. Though there was no snow in the mountains at the time, there had been enough of a base earlier in the season for adding man-made snow, which made skiing fine—coverage was actually very good on the trails that were open. Over the years, I've skied late in the season when coverage and conditions were iffy due to melting snow, so I was impressed by the coverage.

We left West L.A. at 6 a.m. and, accounting for the time we got momentarily turned around and then got caught behind a very slow-moving snow plow going up the mountain, we made it to our ski-rental place about 5 miles out of Snow Valley at 8:30 a.m. Because of the minor delays, the wait to purchase our lift tickets turned out to be surprisingly long, so we didn't actually start skiing until around 10:15 a.m. (It helped that we had a coupon to purchase our tickets at half price!)

Above: An overcast day at Snow Valley—great ski weather!
But it turned out to be great skiing! As I mentioned, there was fresh snow from the week before, and it was nicely packed and groomed. It also was overcast much of the day and reached a high of only about 49 degrees—the first time in years I got to wear my ski jacket and goggles! (My daughter wore one of my old pair of goggles as well.) Though we learned later in the day that the ski resort had sold out partly due to promotions—which resulted in people reportedly taking as long as three hours to purchase their tickets and rent equipment, I was surprised at how relatively short the lines were for the chair lifts and how uncrowded the slopes were!

Obviously, one reason we wanted to take the trip was to get the children more ski time. As mentioned here last year, my daughter learned to ski last season and she has improved every trip. Last year, she easily made the leap from the bunny slope to the beginner's-to-intermediate trail. On this trip, seeing her growing capabilities, I took her down a short, steeper run that she quickly mastered—which was helped by the fact that she had somehow instinctively figured out how to turn and change direction on the slope. After seeing this, I told her she was good enough to ski down from the top of the mountain which I had done earlier in the day on my own, finding a way down using fairly intermediate trails and avoiding harder black diamond runs. At first she said she wasn't interested, but near the end of the day as twilight approached, she suddenly said she wanted to give it a try. (Of course, I suddenly got cold feet and, after making sure she felt truly ready, as we rode the long lift up to the top, I kept going over some pointers and reminding her to take it in easy stages.)

Below: A ski bunny in the making.

Well, it was clear my assessment was on the money—my daughter ended up taking the run from the top so easily that when we got down to the bottom and I noticed there was no line for the lift, we did it again before calling it a day! I can now truly say my daughter is a "real" skier!

What's funny is that my daughter takes the runs pretty fast. When we ski with her, my wife and I constantly shout after her to slow down—not merely for safety reasons, but also so that she can enjoy the run and the view. But she just likes to tear down the slope!

We signed up our 4-year-old for his first ski lesson—just a half day—during our trip a couple weeks earlier. This was partly to give my wife a chance to hit the slopes herself for the first time since the kids were born (I started up again about three years ago.) He always has been more cautious than his older sister and, to be fair, she did not start until she was 6. But though we had given him a feel for what it was like to have skis on before he went to the class, he sat out the lessons and refused to participate for more than an hour-and-a-half until his mom finally persuaded him to give it a whirl. So he really only got the basics.

Once he got on the bunny slope after the class, however, he refused to get on a lift—we suspect he was too scared to ride the chair. So my wife and I took turns hiking partway up the bunny slope with him (while the other skied with our daughter) and then, while holding hands, skiing down with him. Although it was pretty tiring to have to constantly hike up the slope in the snow carrying our skis, what's important at this stage is that he enjoys and finds it fun. Next year we plan to put him in a class again to reinforce his basic skills so that he can begin skiing on his own.

We left the ski resort at about 5:30 p.m. Although we were driving home 90 miles across the length of L.A. in the middle of rush hour on a Friday night, it took us only two hours to get home! Anyone who knows L.A. will know that this is very impressive—it helped that we were going against rush hour traffic and took the carpool express lanes almost the entire way! By that time, the kids were pretty tired and slept much of the way home—I actually had a lot of ski in me left and could easily have gone another day.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable trip and it's nice to know now that a one-day trip with the whole family is doable! My wife and I are very happy to be passing along our enjoyment of this activity to the kids at such a young age.

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