Mark: I’m really excited to go skiing again! How are you not excited about going skiing again? And the whole thing’s so cheap!
Me: They’ve got one hill, right?
Mark (laughing): Two. They’re supposed to be good ones. Are you sure you don’t want to go?
Me: No, thanks. Totally in for the sledding, but I’ll read my book while you’re skiing. It’s been awhile since I had the time to just read by a fireplace.
Here’s the thing. I ski. Badly, but I ski. I could probably be really good if I took a lesson. But after the ‘Tahoe incident’ a few years earlier, I don’t ski with Mark.
We were at Squaw Valley, a premier Ski Resort on Lake Tahoe, just after a fresh snowfall. Conditions were perfect for a great mountain run. I wanted a lesson because it had been years since either of us had touched a ski, never-mind actually ridden on one (… or two).
But we were with Mark’s family friends who were far too bad-ass for something lame like lessons. One of them had spent the previous night telling us how he almost became a Navy Seal, but he couldn’t, because he doesn’t like the water.
They were a tough crew. They were also experienced skiers, happy to throw us to the Black-Diamond wolves for entertainment.
In short, they were assholes.
Mark and I were too young and stupid to really push the point, so up the Squaw Valley Gondola we went. Past the normal hills with their friendly looking instructors and un-sheer cliffs, past the lodge and hot cocoa, and to the top of the tallest mountains we went, my eyes getting wider as the wind whirled the fresh snow and created near white-out conditions.
Almost-Navy-Man laughed at me. “Pull your scarf tight, it’s windy up here!”
Contemplating accidentally smacking him with a pole, I gingerly stepped from the Gondola and was immediately blown back in.
By sheer force of will I managed to join the group in a “sheltered” area where I could almost stand up straight. No one asked if they could help. I was half the body weight of the lightest one. They were busy wetting themselves from laughter.
These were the days before Mark and I were serious, and had the trip not taken a much more romantic turn the next day, it likely would’ve marked new adventures in singledom for us both. But it was just an ‘off’ day. Young and stupid.
This weekend also marked the death of any joy I might have gotten from the movie Swingers. Objectively, I get that it’s a classic for many people, but there are only so many times someone can be “money” before they’re just tapped and dead-ass broke. To this day, if I hear someone called “money”, my hands unwittingly clench in preparation for battle. It’s a shame, I know.
Mark agreed to try one of the lower cliffs first – sort of like agreeing to lick the less poisonous frog from the terrarium – so we parted ways from the rest of the crew for a bit.
We gathered our skis, poles and gear and slid/fell/tripped into the lift line. Twenty minutes later the chair arrived to take us up the hill. We sat down easily. The guy operating the lift gave great instructions.
It was incredible. White, rolling waves of hills and snow spread out before us in all directions. The wind lessened. The air was like an invigorating cold drink. Everything quieted but the windy rush and our muffled small talk through scarves, jackets and partially frozen lips.
We reached the top and it was time to de-chair. Ideally, you place your skies level with the ground, and the chair’s momentum gently pushes you off and around a turn carved into the snow bank. You stop upright and out of the way of oncoming chairs.
I’ve seen it executed perfectly. It looks like fun. I’ve only successfully been lifted by a T-bar, a metal bar in the shape of a “T” that you desperately cling to as it drags you up the hill.
It’s probably helpful to mention the height difference at this point. Mark is 6’4. I am 5’3. He has at least a 6 foot wingspan without poles. I could use his everyday shoes as skis, or small boats.
And when you get someone of those dimensions excited, and he starts to flail around a little bit in an enclosed space, it creates shockwaves for anyone who happens to be nearby. Say, someone next to him in a ski-lift chair.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I have vague recollections of flying poles and skies, and a distinct feeling of surprise at being on my back, looking up at the pink underbelly of our chair. I guess they only paint the tops of the chairs…
A lift operator pulled me out of the way of swiftly approaching chairs, where patrons sat, gaping at my one ski still stuck in the snow bank.
Eyes watering, nose running, snow, cold and increasing anxiety mixing in my blood, I was somehow righted. I slid on my skis, in semi-shock, next to Mark.
He was standing five feet away, filled with adrenaline and completely oblivious to having just plowed me into a snow bank into the path of oncoming mechanical traffic.
“Isn’t this great?!!!”
A little girl, about ten, in a pink puffy jacket glided by us with ease and grace. I fell down the hill and went straight for the lodge.
So when Wrightwood came up, I was excited about the sledding. Growing up in Buffalo and moving west for college leaves you yearning for a good sled and steep hills.
We got in town after dark. If you’ve stayed in a rented cabin, you know that the “map” to the house-key usually requires Magellan-like skills. I get lost in the mall.
But this was an adventure of sorts – it was fun. I felt like a pirate looking for buried treasure in UGG boots and the tiniest flashlight known to man. We followed the directions in the cold and dark, opening rusty latches and avoiding nasty looking spiders along the way.
Forty-five minutes later, my hands were too cold to feel the key as we made our way inside the 1960’s haven that was our cabin. It made me feel like I was in Boogie Nights, but without the cocaine, group sex or cameras. In short, it was viscerally creepy.
Yellowing laminate kitchen floors, fake stone fireplace, fake wood paneling, purple velveteen couches, hard green carpet, floral curtains. And a deer head. Sorry, two heads, carefully arranged to follow you around the living room.
But the heat worked, the cable was on and the water almost got to lukewarm. Roughing it, California-style.
We went to the town’s main bar for fun that first night, and fun we got. It was only five blocks away. The cabin’s location was fantastic, just minutes from eating, drinking, skiing & sledding.
Karaoke night was in full swing. Beer was $3 a cup (not a ‘glass’, a ‘cup’), and the place was packed with locals, tourists and various wall-heads alike. If you could avoid looking Bambi in the eyes it was a great time.
White guys in their 20’s were belting Lady Gaga and the bartender made us pizza in a toaster oven after a fuse blew out and killed the electric stove. He handed it to us with a guilty look. The edges drooped and the cheese curled unnaturally to the left. $3 beer. We ate it and were happy.
At one point I went to use the bathroom and a woman, about $24 in, grabbed my shirt, reversing my momentum and causing me to skid slightly on the beer coated floor.
“You’re really pretty.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not gay or anything.”
Smile and nod, just smile and nod…
She snapped her hand back, visibly perturbed by her own outburst and, possibly, the questioning of her sexuality. I walked away, confused in a different way. Moving on…
We had a great time for about $30. Even though Mark wouldn’t sing Lady Gaga. About 2am we stumbled back to the cabin, giggling like schoolgirls and praying that no horror movie characters had moved into the closets in our absence.
Nothing was to be found in the closets except hangovers the next morning (I HAD THREE BEERS. THREE. The beer gods have never been fond of me), and a vacuum cleaner that must have been the hottest new thing in 1962.
Ever made eggs on a heated Frisbee? No? Of course not. The Frisbee would melt. But that, for all intents and purposes, was our stovetop burner. So we had a hearty breakfast of Lean Pockets that only took 30 minutes to make in the microwave.
Like I said. Roughing it, California-style.
Mark took off skiing and I read my book. Heaven. About midday I left for fresh air and Lean Pocket replenishments. It was one of those perfect winter days – 30 degrees, the lightest of winds ruffling your jacket and hair, and cold, crisp air that smells like a mountain.
After an early night, it was time for sledding the next day and--oh my. So many hills, so many heights, so many families seeing snow for the first time.
Some of the highlights:
* A nice Mexican family brought their Chihuahua with them for their very first snow sighting. It was zipped into a Miami Dolphina parka donned by a teenage son, with only the ears and eyes popping out just below his chin. I thought the soon to be Mrs. Ex-Wife had actually done something to the Juice for a second, but, no. There was indeed a Chihuahua in his parka. He let me pet her.
* A man scolding his cute, chubby-cheeked nine year old for failing to stay on an awesome looking but phenomenally impractical sled that looked like a canoe with no sides. It had striking green racing stripes and looked aerodynamic, but the kid didn’t have a chance. It was a foot wide at most and he was a novice. You’d need experience and balance to get that thing down a hill of ice.
* Me giving the kid my saucer before we left. His eyes lit up and he immediately ran up the nearest hill before dad could steal the prize.
* Dad’s look of death in my general direction.
* The 75 degree hill the size of a building with three different outlets – one onto a frozen lake. It was like the Polar Bear version of Plinko. Sometimes you bounced left, sometimes you bounced off a tree and rebounded onto the ice. It held.
* Mark deciding, against advice, to ride down a hill shaped like a sharp ‘V’. He was either going to slide face first into the other side or catch on something and get tossed – it wasn’t wide enough for him to just slide up the other side like he envisioned. Physics. FAIL. It was a catch and a face plant that left the right side of his face bright red and I’m pretty sure gave him a concussion.
* Mark finding a pinecone after his accident and naming it the ‘Pinecone of Trust’ as a symbol of the strength of our relationship. I have it on our dresser to this day.
* Driving above the cloud line.
Wrightwood’s not for everyone.