***RUMBLE*** The house shakes like a freight train. Is that lightning? Avalanche guns? Looking up to the skylights, you notice snow sliding over the glass at a fantastic speed. It’s a mini-avalanche! As the noise comes to a halt, you walk outside to the backyard. Standing in front of you is a six foot pile of debris! The weight of the snow collapsed the innocent garbage cans and plastic lawn chairs that were sitting there minding their own business. Looking at the snow mound, you are transported to the backcountry. You drop in… making one single turn on a pitch as steep as your roof, kicking off a massive avalanche. Joy transitions to fear. Shaking your head quickly, you snap yourself out of the terrible image of being buried underneath the heavy snow staring back at you. You now understand why most of the the ski resorts in Lake Tahoe remained closed during the biggest storm to hit since the legendary 2010-11 season. Once the storm does clear, you know it will be the greatest days of your life.
‘Twas the night before the Powder Day at Heavenly
Day after day after day the snow continues to stack up in front of the house. The small mole hills of snow transition to large mountains that are as high as your shoulders. The storm began with heavy, soupy slush that weighed-a-ton, but tonight, it’s deep, feathery and light. Six day totals at Heavenly Ski Resort are hitting over 130+ inches and counting. Is tomorrow the day that Stagecoach will open? Your friends working at the resort are saying that it’s all-hands-on-deck to shovel out the resort. In their words… “there’s a possibility but you never know.” With boards freshly waxed, gear stationed at the front door, you make the decision to attempt to get first chair. As you begin to drift off, you fall asleep to the thundering avalanche guns blasting Echo Summit.
The Bell tolls for the Powder Hound
If Christmas is for kids, powder days are for skiers & snowboarders. The alarm blares at a godawful time. Rolling over, you look at the clock with the bright red lights reading 5:00 am. You suddenly realize… today’s the day! Game on! Looking at the weather forecast, there’s still a 40% chance of snow but it’s supposed to clear. You make a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, and a pot of coffee. Gearing up, you walk outside to see what’s going on. It feels warmer today due to the humidity in the air. A light dusting sits over the car, but Heavenly Ski Resort is reporting another 6 inches.
It’s 16 miles to Stagecoach, we’ve got a full tank, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!
Cranking the key, the truck roars awake. As your ride warms up, you throw the boards into the box, boots & outerwear go into the back. Reversing out of the short driveway, you head onto the street. The roads are icy & snowpacked so like Coop always says, “Slow yer roll.” Taking your time, you turn onto Pioneer Trail and drive through Stateline, NV. Looking around, the only ones up in the darkness are around the casinos… it feels like a ghost town.
Oh no! The sign says “Road Closed!”
Making a right onto Kingsbury Grade, about a mile down the road there are lights flashing and a sign reading “Road Closed. No Thru Traffic.” Uh oh! Is there avalanche debris? You suddenly remember that past the entrance to the Stagecoach lodge there was a sink hole. You assume the road must be closed past that so you’ll be fine. At the same time, the low lying clouds become a deeper fog making it difficult to see only a couple of hundred feet in front of you. You continue driving hoping your right and you’ll make it to the entrance. Summitting you realize you are! The road is closed fifty feet past where you make the turn. Whew. Immediately, the road conditions deteriorate the closer you get to the parking lot. You slowly make the last switchback looking for the pull-in. The entrance appears and you can only see a few cars inside the lot and it looks like all employees. You’re the first one! Putting the truck in park, you step out to see what’s going on with the current weather conditions.
Freezing rain & fog…
The humid air and freezing rain plaster your face, making it feel colder than it is. Is the snow going to sour? Your faith begins to waiver, but you’re the first car so who cares! Lacing up your boots, putting on a fleece, and zipping up your coat, you’re ready. You check the Heavenly ski phone and they confirm that they’re going to open Stagecoach. Aw yeah, it’s gonna happen! Ready for the weather, you step out and hear one of the managers grumble that she doesn’t want them to open Stagecoach due to some issues. You ask another employee if they are going to open? They don’t know, but if they do, the earliest would be 10:00 am.
Neither snow nor rain nor cold nor gloom of night stops this lift
Instead of waiting in the terrible freezing rain, you sit in the car blasting some tunes. The clock inches toward 8:00 am and you make the decision to grab the boards and head to the lift. Walking over, doubt begins to creep in your head. Standing in line, you wait like a couple of patient popsicles. Your goggles begin to glaze over from the freezing rain hitting them. You do your best to block the precip, but it still happens. Looking over at the lift you can see ski patrol loading up. Is it really going to open at 10 am? From the crew arguing about the conditions, you get a bit concerned again. You push the negativity out of your head and think if nothing else, at least you get a story out of this day.
It’s go time!
At 8:45 am, the lift crew gets the green light and the crowd roars! The chair scoops you up and you begin ascending. Looking down, the snow is a blank canvas… not a single track can be found ANYWHERE. AW YEAH!!! Did the freezing rain encapsulate that beautiful luscious pow? You’ll find out quickly.
The Chairlift slams to a complete halt
Suddenly out of nowhere, the chairlift slams to a complete stop. The chair swings forward, backward, up, and then down. Your stomach drops from it plunging 7 feet like a bungee cord. What happened? After a few minutes, your mind drifts to the last time you were evacuated by ski patrol by rope. You hope this isn’t the case again. As abruptly as it stopped, the chair begins again. This happens three more times until you finally make it to the top. Your friend says she’s NOT getting on the lift again, period! Visions of sitting on the lift for hours again is too much for her to process.
Blank canvas for your riding pleasure
With a ZIIIIIPPPP, snap, click, your boots are ratcheted into the bindings. The first bit of snow is hard and firm from the groomer but as soon as you get 50 feet past the lift, you point your board and go. Taking massive turns on the blank canvas, the worries and doubt about the day drift away. Did the freezing rain ruin the snow? Nope! Your board picks up speed and you float your way down the mountain leaving huge plumes of snow behind you. Turn after turn comes so easy, even in the fog. Making a quick right turn, you pull into the trees and stop for a moment. Looking around, you hear nothing and see no one. THIS is why you came out early. All first turns in peace and quiet. You continue your way down to the bottom giddy like a child.
Today was a good day and I didn’t even have to use my AK
Coming up to the chairlift, there’s still no one there. Looking over towards your friend she says, “LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!!!!” (Clearly she let go of her terrifying chair ride up.) A big smile comes over your face. Standing there, you realize it isn’t about the powder or the deep snow. It’s about the adventure, the story, and most of all, time with people you care about. Like Ice Cube says, “Today was a good day and I didn’t even have to use my AK…”