The Friday after Thanksgiving promised to be a decent ski day, so Mary and
I invited ourselves to my sister's house for Thanksgiving. She and her
husband Kenny live in Granite Bay, about an hour's drive from Tahoe. Kenny
happens to like the same type of terrain as I do, so we were anticipating
a fun day on the slopes.
Mary, Kenny and I arrived at the California base lodge Friday morning at
8:30, just as the lifts started running. The parking lot was almost empty,
and there was virtually no wait for the new Gunbarrel quad chair. The sky
was cloudy, and the temperature was hovering around freezing.
The bad news was that the Sky Chair to the summit was on weather hold,
apparently because of wind at the summit. That left two fixed grip chairs,
Canyon and Ridge, to access the upper mountain. More significantly, it
meant that the Nevada side would be unreachable. Signs at the top of all
lifts said "NO TREE SKIING", so we were going to have to watch for
patrollers when looking for places to dip off the trail.
The groomed runs had plenty of coverage, and the snow quality was
excellent. No signs of hardpack anywhere, and a dusting of powder on top.
Ridge Trail was a little crowded with beginners, but Canyon run was pretty
After a few runs on the groomed and a stop for refreshment at Sky Deck
($25.50), we headed back to the Canyon lift. A sign at the bottom of the
lift said that the Nevada side was open, and snowmobiles were taking
people up to the summit from the top of Ridge Chair. Knowing that the
Nevada side usually has better conditions, we made plans to get there
ASAP. I recommended we hike up to the top of Ridge Chair, but Mary would
have none of that. She decided to call it a day, so we went with her to
the lodge at the top of the tram, made use of the facilities, and headed
straight for Ridge Chair.
At the top of Ridge Chair, there was a disorganized bunch of about 20
tentative skiers and boarders waiting for snowmobile rides. Taking
advantage of the disorder, we moved forward and grabbed the next
snowmobile. There was a long rope attached to the back of the snowmobile,
with knots about every 10 feet. I grabbed the knot right behind the
snowmobile, so I got to enjoy the smell of engine exhaust and feel the
flying snow pelt my face. If you've never had a chance to be towed by a
snowmobile up a ski trail, I highly recommend it. We were zooming uphill
in a rounded groove dug by successive trips up the winding trail. It was
hard to hang onto the rope with one hand on the bouncy ride, but we made
it to the top before my arm gave out.
The trail over the the Nevada side was pretty flat, so we tucked the whole
way and made it without having to skate. I felt sorry for the boarders we
passed along the way, since they couldn't get up much speed. The trail
opened up onto Big Dipper, a wide run with a moderate pitch. There were no
obstacles to be found on this run, and the snow quality was excellent.
Even better, there was practically nobody there. We dropped into Little
Dipper Bowl between the closed signs. To our amazement, the coverage was
decent, and the powder was soft. All we had to do was watch for obstacles
(and the ski patrol), and we'd have untracked snow for the rest of the
day. We hooted and hollered at this stroke of good fortune.
Two express quad lifts were running on the Nevada side, but there was
never more than a 3-chair wait. Since the only way over to Nevada was
behind a snowmobile, there would be no way for crowds to form. For the
next two hours, we rode the nearly empty chairs, skied past the "NO TREE
SKIING" signs at the top of the lifts, then ducked into the trees after
were were out of sight.
I couldn't understand why they weren't allowing tree skiing. Being careful
to avoid rocks and stumps, we had no problems all day. Other than a
handful of boarders picking their way slowly along, we had the trees to
ourselves. To keep from bottoming out on hidden rocks, we developed a
soft-skiing technique with very light-footed, easy turns to keep from
digging too deeply into the powder. Except for two or three small base
gouges, the Snow Rangers came through the experience unscathed.
On our last run before the lift closed, we were caught by the ski patrol
as we came out of the trees onto the groomed near the lift. The patroler
was quite agitated. I was very polite and apologized for not realizing we
were doing something wrong (Sign? Gosh, i didn't notice.). He said it was
so dangerous in the trees that even the Ski Patrol wouldn't go there. I
wanted to tell him we'd skied in the trees all day without more than a
couple base scratches, but I thought it better just to keep quiet.
With our lift tickets still firmly attached to our clothes, we headed up
the Clipper lift and back to California. The crowds on the California side
were unbelievable! We skied past the Canyon lift line and headed down the
mountain. Heavenly's California terrain has a dip in it that requires you
to take one of two short lifts to continue down the mountain. When we got
to these lifts, both were packed with well over 1,000 people in line. We
took one look and decided to hike out. After about 15 minutes, we made it
to the top of Gunbarrel lift. There was no way to ski down from there, so
we rode the lift back down to the base. It was 4:00 when we got to the
bottom. We met up with Mary, bought some P-Tex for our abused Snow
Rangers, and headed for the bar to wait for the traffic to die down. After
a couple of drinks, we noticed the Gunbarrel lift was still unloading
people in the dark at 5:30. I'm glad we decided to hike instead of wait
for those chair lifts.
All in all, a great day of skiing:
We'll be back next Saturday (12/5), when hopefully there will be more snow to
cover the obstacles and make the Ski Patrol less nervous.