Faire du Ski

Friend AJ departs California in May to move with his wife and son back to Massachusetts and away from Silicon Valley craziness. I will miss our weekly lunches, occasional San Francisco jaunts, and winter skiing. For decades, he and I would try to ski together around Lake Tahoe. If I had a lucky year, I could get in five ski days in a season, dwindling recently to two days, or even none for the year.

Decades ago, for ski mornings, I would bang pots on the staircase to rouse slumberers to get ready for the 9am first lift ride. We pay not for each ascent, but for the whole day of shushing. In the evenings, the tired would recuperate in a hot tub or explore the living-room bar.

This year heralds our last hurrah on the slopes. Due to difficulties with childcare, only AJ and I traveled midweek up over Echo Summit to the wee mountain town of Kyburz. With the pandemic still raging, we had planned to cook our dinners, put together our breakfasts, and forage for lunch at the Sierra ski resort where we would slalom for Thursday and Friday.

I had just one request: I wanted to ski all the trails. Over a long day on Thursday, we covered three-quarters of the mountain ranging from the lower West Bowl to the upper back side. Oh, ski tales can be tedious. Nonetheless, as the crowds disappeared mid-morning, we had the mountain to ourselves.

I’m surprised that I’m nearing fifty—an old man—and I can still swivel side-to-side down the black-diamond crags. I do like to push my abilities, even if my form is terrible. I learned way-back quite slowly and late whilst a Stanford graduate student in my early twenties, over a quarter-century ago. I still check out the snow bunnies and the latest in ski fashions (upholstery fabric is now out; electric blue is back).

Mid-Thursday afternoon, clouds covered the sun as a snowstorm picked up. When visibility dropped, we departed at 3:30 just before the lifts closed. Back at our rented house, we put together a rudimentary taco dinner, drank a couple Modelos, and watched a bizarre South Korean science-fiction film. I’m glad that neither AJ nor I want to stay up much later than 10pm anymore.

This was a trip to deal with unexpected mishaps. In the morning with the pass a bit slushy, California highway patrol enforced chain control except for vehicles with four-wheel drive, which must include the SUV we rented. Unfortunately, not, as our SUV did not have 4WD, so the orange-clad crew turned us back down the mountain road. We panicked, bought tired chains at a friendly shop, threw more money at the problem to get the shop to install the chains, returned to chain control to find that chains were no longer required, and then had to figure out how to take off the tire chains.

A long morning, perhaps, but we still got to the mountain by 11am for a glorious five hours of skiing. I’m working on patience and flexibility. That afternoon, we caught the remaining trails, including the fearsome Upper Dynamite. I may not ski again for a long time and likely not with friend AJ, but for one weekend, I was glad to be away, somewhere safe, with a good friend, shushing down the slopes.