Posts Tagged 'Mammoth Lakes'

Snow Story

If I only knew how much fun downhill skiing could be I’d have started it years ago, long before my 81st birthday.

But let me start at the beginning when Jackie said “Let’s go to Big Bear and play in the snow, drink hot toddies, sit in front of the fireplace, and cuddle.”

The cuddling thing was enough to sell me. Jackie took over and made reservations for three nights at a moderately priced hotel in Big Bear, about a four-hour drive to Southern California’s skiing mecca. 

Aware of the fashionably responsible thing to do, we dialed up Amazon and bought ski pants, funny hats, insulated underwear and amazingly inexpensive gloves that looked thick enough to work next to a Bessemer furnace.

Amazon delivered the next day, a feat that continues to amaze me. My ski pants were wonderfully warm and heavy. If the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had these Chinese-made pants in 1928, he would not have died in the Barents Sea after eating his sled dogs. I was confident we would survive Big Bear, a destination undoubtedly populated with multiple Starbucks and chichi pet stores offering a myriad of dog food products.

Jackie also selected a rather effeminate set of bright yellow tire chains. Living in Chicago gave me some familiarity with tire chains. They are supremely obedient when lying at ease in the dark bowels of your garage. Applying them in the midst of a snowstorm on Highway 18 is another matter best left to the local chain jockeys along the road who offer their services at a price that is non-negotiable. I decided to rely on the hired help if needed, and to practice an ancient Jewish incantation that has been known to ward off bad weather.

Things were moving along smoothly until I told Jackie about a friend who said, “Ya know, if you’re willing to drive four hours to Big Bear you might as well go to Mammoth Lakes, only another two hours away and 2,000 feet higher. A much cooler place that makes Big Bear look like a Girl Scout camp.”

Hearing this, Jackie did her own investigation and pronounced Mammoth “the place to be.” She set her sights on the Westin. Directly across the street from the gondolas that ferry skiers to the chair lifts, the Westin is considerably more expensive than other alternatives; a product of its location and the fact that there was only one room remaining. “Must be really good” she concluded and booked it.

Three days later we began the odyssey. Our plan was to devote our full attention to cross country skiing. Downhill, with its reputation for broken bones and instant paralysis brought about by head-on collisions with trees that fool you into thinking they are your friends, was out of the question.

On the first morning of our stay, we grabbed seats on a bus and headed to the Tamarack Lodge which was rumored to have all the equipment we needed. They provide groomed trails that are easy and others that are to be rigorously avoided by those who wish to survive the experience.

Cross country is what Amundsen would have done if he had more dogs to eat and a way to walk home on packed snow instead of water. You hop up on thin skis, grab a couple of ski poles and shove yourself forward on level ground until you find a downward slope. If you do it well, you look very competent and sure of yourself. If you do it poorly, you look like me.

There are no gondolas or ski lifts. You do everything under your own power. If you prolong the adventure, you breathe ever harder and become overheated. You remove most of your clothing and leave it on the trail in order to avoid a heat produced stroke. If you’re like me, you feel like you’ve been cross country…California to New York.

My second rocket-propelled fall of the morning found me flat on my back. I was sure I had cracked my skull but was strangely encouraged by the thought since it would be an acceptable excuse with which to end my misery.

Jackie had fallen only once and, while I decided to judiciously remove and carry my skis back to the lodge, she pushed on taking tiny steps that seemed to move her backwards at a glacial pace. I urged her on hoping to get our money’s worth.

We finished our sojourn about one o’clock and were able to get some very thin, taste-free lentil soup at the lodge. Eating it was a challenge as there was no indoor dining nor any outside tables or chairs. I did not complain in light of what Amundsen must have endured.

We were determined to get back on the trail and snowshoes seemed a viable option. The lodge kindly supplied them; we strapped them on and began a walk on packed snow. Looking more like a waddle than a walk, we found them of no practical use that consumed more energy than simply walking in our street shoes. We wrote off the adventure and went back to the Westin for more appropriate winter snow events, drinking hot toddies.

Having conquered cross country and snowshoe challenges, only downhill skiing remained to complete a successful trifecta. The next day we grabbed the free gondola across the street from our hotel and took the five-minute trip up the hill. It was early afternoon, and hundreds of skiers were taking the chair lifts and whooshing down the runs.

The sun was intense, and the temperature was mild. The absence of wind allowed us to bask in the warmth of mid-day. We had found the place we had been seeking.

Jackie grabbed two unoccupied chairs that we dragged to the end of a run near the common area. We bought two cans of alcoholic beverages, mine a surprisingly delicious White Russian. Sitting and sipping produced a euphoria that allowed me to feel like I was the one on those skis. Sliding effortlessly downhill, snowplowing to a stop and congratulating myself.

I should have started this sport sooner.


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