In addition to good snow and good terrain there is another key ingredient that can turn a fun ski day into a fantastic ski day - good company. My 22-year old son Vince and I spent a day at Sierra at Tahoe ski area on Route 50 near South Lake Tahoe, California in early January 2013. Thanks to Mother Nature and the generosity of two friendly locals we hit the jackpot on all three counts.
We had driven to Sierra at Tahoe from some distance and arrived at mid-morning. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot I took one look around and told Vince, “grab a quick snack out of the car, this is going to be one of those days when there’s no stopping for lunch.” The ski area had received a good 12” of fresh powder overnight.
While the crowds were moderate at Sierra at Tahoe (it was a Friday), most powder days tend to be a little chaotic, especially when it’s your first day ever at a ski area. Everybody’s trying to make their mark before the fluffy stuff gets all tracked out. Vince and I jumped right into the fray by riding the Grandview Express Quad Chair (~1550’ vertical) to the highest lift served point of the ski area, 8852’ Huckleberry Mountain. But from there we weren’t sure where to go next and wandered down a low angle green circle run called Snowshoe. It was pretty, but not the place to be in a foot of new snow. Soon we moved on to the trails served by the West Bowl Express Quad Chair (~1400’ vertical). This area had more pitch and normally smooth intermediate runs like Dogwood were loaded with loosely cut up clumps of powder that exploded in fluff as we skied through them.
Cruising the cushy groomers was great fun, but after a few laps we headed back to Huckleberry Mountain to look for whiter pastures. Part way down a black diamond run called Castle we veered skier’s right into Castle Creek Trees. It was a really pretty glade featuring huge boulders covered with pillows of deep snow to the right and a sizeable frozen creek bed to the left. The wildly undulating terrain in between was very user-friendly due to the layer of soft new snow. On the run-out from Castle Creek Trees we met Gordon “The Kid” Goddard from nearby Placerville, CA. I was babbling on about what a cool glade we’d just skied and he said something to the effect, “if you like that, follow me.” And so we began our introduction to Sierra at Tahoe’s remarkable world of offpiste skiing.
On the next lift ride Gordon suggested we try North Bowl and use a bumpy black diamond run called Eastabout to get there. He even coached us when it was time to let our skis run to glide over a few terrain rises as we headed off trail to North Bowl. Although Gordon was doing a fine job as an impromptu ambassador for his home hill, in the trees of North Bowl he spotted a friend and introduced us to Ed Dillon. Ed was an official, uniformed Sierra at Tahoe mountain host and now the fun really began. These two gents from Placerville knew stashes where the best of the old snowpack was covered with still largely untracked new snow.
For the next few hours very little of the great stuff we skied was specifically marked on the trail map, although Ed always kept us safely inbounds in areas that were patrolled. Sierra at Tahoe’s glades and tree sheltered runs are the place to be on a Tahoe storm day. We took advantage of this characteristic of the mountain and had no problems with visibility even though we experienced a few heavy snow squalls mixed with sunshine during the day.
Conditions were only getting better when Ed led us on an excursion through Huckleberry Bowl. It’s a large canyon with spectacular all natural expert terrain near the northeast boundary of the ski area. It didn’t seem like we traversed that far into the canyon, yet when we came to a short, steep face it was loaded with the deepest untracked snow Vince and I had seen on our two week ski trip. This visit to Sierra at Tahoe was the last of 11 ski days at 7 different mountains during that span of time. What a finale!
With Ed in the lead I relaxed and just had fun. The runs kind of blurred together, but I know we skied more trees over in the direction of the Nob Hill double chair. Also, somewhere in the middle of Sierra at Tahoe’s 2000 acres of skiable terrain we sampled a steep, but frequently fairly open glade run Ed called “A” Bowl. It wasn’t on the trail map, but it sure was good.
Something besides the skiing was really good about Sierra at Tahoe. It was the friendly, unpretentious vibe of the place and the instant camaraderie Vince and I felt hanging out with Gordon and Ed, our Huckleberry Bowl Buddies. In our lift ride discussions it came out that Ed was age 66 and Gordon was 70. I’m pushing 60. I may be delusional, but for one unreal day it seemed like the clock turned back and everybody was a contemporary of 22 year old Vince.
The tour Ed and Gordon gave us was priceless, yet they never asked for a thing in return. Around 3:15 p.m. we had to pull the plug on our great day and connect with my wife and daughter. They had been sightseeing in South Lake Tahoe and now we all needed to make the drive back to San Francisco. There was that little thing called “the real world” waiting for us and a 6 a.m. flight to be caught back home the next morning. I regretted not even being able to buy Ed and Gordon a drink. After our last run together all we had time for was a quick fist bump, but the smiles all around spoke volumes of the bond we’d made through the brotherhood of skiing.
Two minute powder day video from Sierra at Tahoe ski area by Vince Kenney
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.
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