Thankfully, Squaw has covered lifts, for cowards such as myself. I have endured too many open chair lifts, exposed to biting cold and driving snow. What a pleasure to first be able to take the Gold Coast Funitel and later take the much larger High Camp Cable Car. Both would have incredible, panaromic views in clear weather. Both lifts get to about the 8,200 feet mark; chairlifts go to Squaw Peak at 8,900 feet. There are dramatic runs, chutes, and bowls from the top, including KT 22, which is called by some “the best chairlift in North America.”
Squaw has 11 lifts, and numerous long trails, including the 3.2-mile Mountain Run. 45% of the terrain is listed for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, 25% for beginners, and 30% expert. The trails vary, of course, according to the weather. When you are part of a snow system that has not stopped since the 28th of December, and you can’t see where you are, all the runs are a matter of survival.
I want to talk about some people who made the experience at Squaw memorable. The first is the media/public relations director Katja Dahl. She was extremely helpful, as are all the media people in each resort. But, she also pulled off one of the coups of the year. Katja invited the CNN meteorologist to fly up from Atlanta. He was so impressed by the record amounts of snow, he did a number of live remotes. This gave worldwide publicity to Squaw, and brought in more crowds when the snow stopped. It added to the drama - everytime I called someone back home they couldn’t believe we were moving around and functioning in that atmosphere. It is hard to measure the snow, but in some places the mounds were up to the roofs of homes. The snow came to the top of street signs. Twenty feet? Higher? Who knows? But, it will be in the High Sierras for a long time!
The second person probably saved our lives, and enabled us to ski at Squaw. He is champion ski instructor Leroy Hill. Leroy was the former executive manager and ski school director. His wife is also a nationally-famous ski instructor - pretty good for a gal originally from Brooklyn. Both are senior skiers, and highly inspirational. Leroy knew where to take us, and kept us out of the wind as much as possible. He also led us to the lifts. In the morning, we had some visibility, and I had a blast - got my rhythm back and was able to sing my way down the mountain. But, in the afternoon the snow got heavier, and I gave up. Decided to live to ski and see another day.
Among the things Leroy taught us were steps to take in case of an avalanche. This is timely, because - as I write - some skiers are caught in a backcountry avalanche in Utah. We don’t have to worry about such things in the East. But, more Eastern skiers come out West, and should learn a few things.
First of all, wear an avalanche beacon when you go in the backcountry. Second of all - why would you ever go there? There are tons of great, challenging slopes around the world. Most are blasted by the ski patrol experts beforehand which, hopefully, causes a controlled avalanche and makes the trail safe. It does not always work - a 13-year old boy was killed in an avalanche near Las Vegas during our trip. But, at least, give youself a chance!
If you are in avalanche country, Leroy advised us not to use the wriststraps on the ski poles. Keep free so you can throw them away if the snow hits you. Then try to swim, and keep one hand high so it could, possibly, stick out about the snow. Shelter your face with the other hand, and keep wiping the snow from you, so you can try to breathe. Don’t let an icy “death mask” form around your face. Hopefully, someone will also spot your abandoned poles, and that might give a clue to your location, if you are buried. Not pleasant to think about, but I want to keep my friends alive if they find themselves in this situation.
Finally, our exciting day at Squaw ended, and we took a city shuttle bus back to Reno. The round trip ticket was only $10 - a terrific deal. Then the fun began - we were dropped off at the casino underneath our Hotel complex (we were in the Silver Legacy; there are two other hotels connected to it). What a sight we were - our bedragged group of skiers walking through the ornate, gaudy casino. Most people were dressed to the nines - we were wearing boots, helmets, and carrying skis through the casino floor. This went on for over five minutes. But, casinos can be so strange, the guests probably thought we were part of the show. No one tried to stick quarters into us, but they probably wondered how we fit into the gambling scene!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.