White Peaks

Go Skiing they said! It will be fun they said!

Even though I am from Scotland, a land known for it’s breathtaking mountains and snowy white peaks in winter, I had never ventured onto white powder before. It was January in Nevada and the Heavenly slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains were calling. Not to me, but to my fiance an avid skier. The trip, hurriedly arranged, took us from Tampa airport to Las Vegas, to Reno, where we packed into our rental four-wheeler and headed south. There were four of us, my fiance and I, his son and his buddy, both in their mid-twenties. Part way, we stopped and the men got out to wrap chains around the wheels, to keep the vehicle from sliding on snow-packed and steep roadways, as we wound our way through the foothills. This was a serious snow trip!

Lake Tahoe resides partly inside the great state of Nevada, but also edges the California state border. I had never been to either one before and got pretty excited. When we waited in town at the light, snow started falling. I glanced to my right where a sign read, ‘Welcome to California!’ It was a magical moment and my inner child delighted at the sight of pretty snow flakes falling, not seen since my childhood in West Central Scotland. I was in California, the land of Hollywood, make believe, and the place where dreams come true! This was going to be epic.

We parked at the Lodge and got all checked in. People were running in the snow wearing only white robes and slippers. I remember looking on in awe as they dropped their robes and, with only bathing suits in frosty temperatures, slipped into an outdoor hot tub. Steam rose up like a veil. I thought, OK it’s California and people here are a bit different, right? You will never catch me doing anything like that – ever! Fools!

Our accommodations were cramped, for four people, but manageable. The boys slept on the couches in the living area while the ‘older couple’ luxuriated in the small bedroom, with closet space and a tiny bathroom attached. Outside the swimming pool had been covered with a thick blue tarp, it’s winter coat I imagined. No-one was in the hot tub so we stuck our fingertips in! Boy, it felt good compared to the biting wind chill that evening.

All gussied up in our glad rags, we ventured out and down into the underground tunnels linking the Casinos to the town. We strutted through spectacular playgrounds of the rich and famous like we owned the place. Everything sparkled and exhilaration hung in the air. I felt like I was experiencing my fifteen minutes of fame, which everyone is supposed to get in their life, in a world I had only ever seen on television. Enthralled by the absolute luxury of the interior design palate, the visual explosion of perfection and ambiance exposed me to new levels of possibility. I was captivated. The others headed for the bar and gambling tables. We all had a go at both. Inside a dinner theater we saw the Pointer Sister perform. The live show was nothing short of sensational.

Over dinner, my fiance, a double black diamond skier, suggested I should attend the beginners class for a few days to get used to the moves etc, on real snow. I had taken lessons at a local sports shop in Florida before our trip, however, striking the poses, with straight back and bent knees, on a plush white carpet rolling upward on a slope toward you, while you are adorned in all the designer gear, does not in any way prepare you for the real thing. Terrified at the prospect of ever going up the mountain, I acknowledged my lack of skill and agreed. To my horror, I found out, rather quickly, that the toes together snow-plough position, to stop you, is in no way helpful when you are going backwards, at a good clip, downhill toward the other beginners who don’t yet have the skill to even get out of the way. Disaster!

Then the scariest part surfaced, having to grab onto a rope, conveyor belt of sorts, while standing with poles under my arm, to be pulled back up the hill without falling! What had I done to deserve this! The beginner’s course had been set out like a Westminster Dog Show for adults in skis on the side of the hill. We were in small groups, each with a personal instructor who took us in turn to ask safety questions and run us through the bends and twists. In conversation with the group instructor assigned to me I discovered he worked at a local hospital as a Nursing Assistant. In an attempt to bargain with him, and manage my assignment, I told him I was a Nurse, but not just a Nurse, a Charge Nurse, and also working on a Baccalaureate Nursing Degree! It was no good though, I didn’t get a shred of mercy for that. Neither he nor the mountain cared what I did for a living! So what if I saved a couple of lives here and there, this mountain posed a tangible threat to mine. Afraid of everything, I continued to try and pass the beginners class as the formidable white peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains loomed above me. After four days of that, I was let loose to do or die!

Meanwhile, the guys were having the time of their lives on snow boards and skis up on the caps, hurtling down through moguls and telling outrageous tales of victory, dares, and disasters over dinner. I had nothing to add. Soon after I joined the others and became one of the white robe/white slipper people hurrying to the hot tub at the end of a day on the slopes. Soaking in the hot water soothed many pulls and strains to my muscles and joints, but mostly to my pride. Funny thing was we didn’t feel the cold afterward.

The next morning it happened. Up on the mountain I confronted my deepest fears. The chairlift tipped us out onto a slippery mound and I just kept going. Let me tell you people, there is no feeling in this world worse than the ground moving under you feet and you have no control over it! In a standing position, my body moved forward and downward with the momentum of a snowball rolling down a hill, with two long sticks clicked onto heavy rental boots strapped to my legs. What was I thinking!

My soul fled up into the great blue yonder for protection. People were there chatting, on a flatter surface between the mound and the ski-slope, and I was headed straight for them! Oh! No! Higher up on the mountain, it seemed, was where the elite gathered to compete in conversation about personal bests and skill level. I heard my voice yelling “Nice place to stand people!” as I shot through the gathering without crashing. Oh!God! Bridget Jones, in the movie The Edge of Reason, in that ski scene, had nothing on me.

Thankfully, my fiance waited a bit further along and out of earshot of that cringing squeal. Terrified, I summoned every drop of courage in my body and started down the slope behind him. He had suggested I get my skis in behind his and hold onto his belt and he would take it slow. He yelled out left! right! left!, when we had to lean in and make a turn. The air was thin and crisp. As we descended, I think there were birds singing, but all I heard was my heart banging in my chest, my ears under a thick hat and muffs. Somehow we made it down. Hoping to live long enough to keep all my promises to God for that, I headed back to the chair lift with him and repeated this endeavor a few times over. On the last run he continued to yell out to me, left! right! left!, as we made turns in together, but somehow I didn’t have enough strength or something and my skis didn’t pull the same way they had before. Next thing I remember he yelled in desperation, “left … left … left …” Crash!

My head hit the snow and his head hit mine. We were on our backs, inches from a deadly drop on the edge of the mountain! After a minute or two of stunned realization he pulled me up and we checked each other out for obvious damage. There was none. I truly loved this man and trusted my life to him. One time, on the edge of a mountain, we both did exactly that.

On another day we decided to have lunch in a restaurant up in the heady heights. Fear of the decent kept me from enjoying one bite or one sip. I didn’t want to leave the fireplace it felt so cozy and romantic inside, but leave we did. The views outside took my breath. Quiet peaks adorned in white mantles rose up into this celestial place as far as the eye could see. A bright blue sky above us seemed to mark the entrance to heaven, that’s why the resort is called Heavenly, I guess. I will never forget the stunning beauty of it with Lake Tahoe far below us like a sapphire in the snow. But wait! What! My skis were gone, someone had taken the wrong ones! Oh God! Even my fiance looked concerned by this. Skis are personally fitted and determined by the height and weight of the renter. What now!

We contacted the Ski Resort by land-line inside the restaurant and a guide was sent up to meet us and escort us safely down! The young man arrived and assured us it would be alright. He would help us scramble up onto the top of the chairlift mound, which is not designed for arrivals, only departures. Luckily we were all three of us able to position ourselves to get onto the next empty arriving chair and off we went. Wait a minute, we had to face the other way! I hadn’t felt vertigo going up because we were facing into the mountain. Oh God! I didn’t have much fight left in me, but I mustered enough to stifle the sheer panic rising in my chest. The guide told us, when we got to the bottom, he would motion to the controller to slow the lift down so it would be easy for us to get off. I had no skis, just the heavy boots while the men both had skis on. This sounded like a good idea, only the young woman operating the lift was happily chatting, with her back to the window, to someone inside the booth and didn’t see any of the hand signals sent her way. Oh God!

Next thing I know, the two men scooped me up under my arms placing me in front of the chair on solid, but slippery ground. The chair caught up with us and hit me on the bottom, then again, and again, and again. Slipping, and struggling to escape on ice, we continued this pantomime for several more feet until we were clear. In the hot tub that night, we laughed about many things. I said that probably the Florida shop with the plush white rug should place a couple of bags of potatoes and unopened bags of flour underneath the carpet to simulate the real thing for first time skiers like me.

I have not been back on powder since that January trip, and doubt if I will ever do it again, but I cherish the memory of it dearly. It was scary, wild, strenuous, and very beautiful. Most of all it was fun. Some memories of it still scare me or make me shudder, other aspects make me laugh out loud, even to this day. Sometimes in winter when I close my eyes, I can see those White Peaks piercing the bright blue ceiling above Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

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