Close call – I nearly slid over the icy precipice onto the debris of health care reform this morning, but a healthy sense of denial pulled me back. Anyway, I’ve got mine–medical coverage, that is. Medicare and the state health plan will cover any broken bones, so back to the snow-covered slopes! After surviving the Blizzard of ’73, the ride down to the ski area the next morning was a piece of cake.
Homewood Ski Resort is a little gem about halfway down the west side of Lake Tahoe. Away from the icy grandeur and pseudo-European sophistication of Squaw and Heavenly Valley, it has remained family-friendly. The mostly intermediate slopes still have a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains.
The parking lot was filling up quickly when we arrived. Pulling in to the first open slot, we stepped out into a new world of adventure – and new trials and horrors! A credit card got us quickly through the lift ticket and equipment rental lines. Wrestling loose skies and poles over to an icy bench, the first trial was buckling on the stiff plastic boots. These instruments of torture have improved some over the last 30-40 years, but there is still room for improvement.
The boots provide a rigid point of attachment to metal and plastics bindings on the skis. These high-tech and adjustable clamps will hopefully release the skis in case of a very likely fall before your lower extremity separates from your body. I won’t get into all the various types of falls at this point, but one of the most dramatic occurs when a snow snake entangles the boot of an unsuspecting skier mid-slope. These unseen but vicious vipers are the bane of every wannabe hot-dogger.
Buckled up, we slipped, slid and stumbled over to the beginner area for our first ski lessons. Stumbling several times just putting my skis on, the first real trial came after I toppled over attached to them. No lighter then than I am now, it took two instructors and a lot of razzing from the peanut gallery to get me back up on unsteady legs.
Exhausted and frozen by late afternoon, even I had mastered enough of a snowplow to navigate the beginner slopes. Millie and Christy were well on their way, but Greg, age 7, would have none of it. Wet gloves, a runny nose and a couple of falls did him in and into the lodge he went for the rest of the season. He was a prodigy at the foozball table, the prevailing indoor sport of the ski lodge, holding his own with the high school and college kids until a year or two later, when he finally decided to go up the mountain and become a skier, better than us all.
By the end of that first weekend, we had worked up enough courage to attempt a first ride on the small chairlift to the top of the beginner slope. Chairlift is a misnomer, a euphemism for a narrow hard bench hanging from a rapidly moving cable whirling around a huge bull-wheel. The main purpose of this bench is to come up behind you at a high rate of speed and throw you sprawling onto the snow in front of the whole world. If you’re lucky and hang on, it drags you screaming to the top of the mountain, ski hanging by a strap, to dump you in front of the rest of the watching world.
We survived the terrors and indignities of that weekend and many more our first year on the slopes. By spring melt, we were comfortable, maybe not accomplished intermediate skiers. We were taking the larger chair lifts to the very top of the mountain and making our way to the bottom over all the easier slopes and trails. We discovered moguls, ice patches and snow snakes galore.
Duncan, the elfin Scotsman, a mentor in the hospital and on the slopes, and later a partner in private practice, got me signed up with the medic ski patrol. Thanks to this, a potentially very expensive family activity became much more affordable and rewarding, and we were back on the mountain every succeeding winter until we left California.
After our move back home to South Carolina, opportunities to get back on the slopes have been more limited. The kids, and now the grand kids, have maintained their enthusiasm and participation in the sport, making it up to the mountains of North Carolina and West Virginia nearly every winter recently. Millie and I chaperoned a couple of youth groups in the ’80′s and have made a couple of limited trips since then, but muscles and joints are stiffer, and bones more brittle.
The week after Christmas this year the whole family – Nana, Papa, all the kids and grand kids (see photo)– met at Snowshoe for a real winter vacation. Nana and I were going to stick to wine, cheese and reading by the fire, but the sun came out mid-week, the conditions were fresh packed powder and the devil made us do it, three generations on the slopes. We didn’t encounter a single snow snake and old bones held together, one more time.
Next adventure – down to the sea, or the Bay.