Curtis Fong

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March 23, 2012
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AS THE BULL WHEEL TURNS: Winter has sprung ... or is it spring?

With the arrival of spring, Lake Tahoe resorts are lining up their spring events and promotions for a final push toward the end of the winter season. I can't believe that it has gone so quickly, although I did miss half the season recovering from hip surgery. I've been playing catch-up and have logged 16 days on the slopes so far, and hope to double that before the lifts close for the 2011-12 winter season.

Heavenly will host its annual "Spring Loaded" from March 31 through April 15, with its Unbuckle Apres Ski Parties at Tamarack Lodge. If you haven't attended Unbuckle, you will be blown away by the live deejay, go-go dancers and drink specials. The place will be packed, and riding the gondola down after 5:30 p.m., when the party shuts down, provides a nice sunset view of the lake.

April 7 is the Gunbarrel 25, hosted by legendary ski hall of famer Glen Plake. How many runs can you make down Gunbarrel? Join in this grueling but fun event at the base of the Gunbarrel Express Chair and cheer on your favorite skier or snowboarder. Online registration is open till April 4. I will emcee this event, so come out and join me in the fun.

Heavenly will celebrate its final weekend, April 14-15, with the Heavenly Lake Tahoe Pond Skimming Championships at Adventure Peak at the top of the gondola. Winter Snow Blast weekend will take place April 14, with rock band Little Feat performing in the South Shore Room at Harrah's. The Heavenly Pro Ski Patrol will also host its annual fundraising party with live music and libations on the top of the Heavenly Village parking garage on April 14. Tickets can be purchased from any Heavenly Ski Patroller or at the door.

Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort has kicked in its Spring Fiesta with the Vans & Pro-Tec Hi-Standard Double Big Air event this Saturday with the GNU Women's Camp on Sunday. On March 31, join snowboarding's top female athlete, three-time X-Games gold medalist and South Shore local Jamie Anderson, for the "Billabong Flaunt It" Finals. The 9th Annual Telegrass Festival returns to Sierra on April 9 and, on April 15, Sierra will host its 5th Annual Salsa Showdown. For information and details, visit sierraattahoe.com.

Kirkwood is hosting the West Coast Rookie Fest - Kidwell Classic through Sunday and the High-Up Fest today with live reggae music. From Thursday through April 1, Kirkwood will host the rescheduled North Face Masters of Snowboarding, followed up by the Freeskiing World Tour in the Cirque, April 4-8. Kirkwood's 18th Annual Banked Slalom will take place on April 21. For details, visit kirkwood.com.

This past week's storms revitalized Tahoe skiers and riders with a chance to enjoy some deep powder with most resorts receiving substantial snow. Heavenly reported 64 inches; Sierra-at-Tahoe with 50 inches and 90-109 inches total from the storm was reported at Kirkwood. I got to the slopes of Heavenly both days last weekend. This year, any report of fresh snow seems to draw the crowds out of the woodwork and they all showed up St. Patty's Day as most of the accumulation and colder snow fell overnight. Stagecoach parking lot was full before the lifts opened at 8:30 a.m. and I had to park at Boulder Lodge and ride up the mountain from that base.

Most of their major upper-mountain runs had one or two swathes from the grooming machines, leaving plenty of powder for all. The problem was that the folks who can't ski powder were crammed on these 35-foot-wide groomed sections and, when the open powder sections on the side were tracked up, it became increasingly challenging for skiers to negotiate the broken powder. The good thing was that everyone was enjoying the fresh powder, despite the surface conditions. Everyone was dressed in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a fun spirit and green beer flowing out of the tap of the Star Bar at East Peak Lodge. It still amazes to me to see how quickly the powder gets skied out. Within an hour it was all tracked up.

Sunday, I celebrated my birthday on the slopes of Heavenly. Traditionally, I ski in the morning and ride my bike in the afternoon on my birthday, but it looked like bike riding would be out as continued cold temperatures and snow showers with gusty winds were still in the forecast. The crowds had subsided on Sunday as Heavenly opened Killebrew Canyon for the first time this season. My doctor advised me to stay on groomed runs for the remainder of the season, so Killebrew Canyon and any off-piste or tree-skiing was totally off the radar for me, but I heard from plenty of friends that it was all good. It remained cold with snow flurries falling later in the afternoon and conditions improved toward the end of the day.

I went out to Kirkwood on Monday, thinking that there would be no one there - but I was wrong. The parking lots were full and I had to park on Kirkwood Meadows Drive, but it was worth it. More than 3 feet of untracked powder was on the upper-mountain and backside. I was skiing off Chair 11 as the crowd gathered at the base of Chair 10, "The Wall," anticipating its opening after snow safety blasting. When Chair 10 started loading, I was riding up No. 11 and there were five tracks on the wall left by patrol after blasting. Two rides up later, it was entirely tracked out from the Thimble to Wagon Wheel Bowl. Lots of powder hounds hoopin' and hollarin' and taking advantage of this rare opportunity to ski light dry, thigh-deep powder. The charges were going off continuously as the Kirkwood Pro Patrol performed snow safety on the backside and Thunder Saddle and I kept an eye out on when Chair 2 to the backside was loading.

I made a beeline to the base of Chair 4 and waited with the crowd for about 20 minutes until it opened. It was my first time this season making it to Kirkwood's backside. It was totally untracked with the exception of "Elevator Shaft" being groomed. I rode up the tenth chair to the top and had to ski the powder to get to the groomed section. To my surprise, the powder was so light and dry that I was able to ski through it like it wasn't there. This encouraged me to try making turns on the sides of the run and the greatest feeling was returning to my soul; the slow-motion floating of cutting turns in fresh powder with snow flowing up over my thighs - no face-shot deep-powder, but truly what most skiers and riders live for. I was really enthused on my second ride up as I could see more lines still open. Chair 4 is not a high-speed lift so, from the Wave to past Thunder Saddle, there were still plenty of lines to be had. I skied down the gully of "Happiness Is" and got into drifts that were waist-deep, forcing me to sit back more and ski with more pronounced un-weighting motion. This action did put a little more stress on my new hip, so about three-quarters of the way down, I moved over to the groomed run, not looking to twist or stress my hip too much more. I can't wait till next ski season when I can ski all mountain again.

Talking about next season, resorts are starting to promote and sell their 2012-13 season passes and I must admit that the Heavenly/Northstar/Kirkwood "Tahoe Local Pass" will be hard to beat. This pass allows access to all three resorts every day, with some blackout holiday dates for $419. The Tahoe Value Pass allows every day at Heavenly and no Saturdays at Northstar and Kirkwood, with some blackout holiday dates for $379. The Epic Pass, good for unlimited skiing and riding at all eight Vail Resorts to include Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin for $659. All prices are good if purchased by April 15. Check out their variety of season pass options at skiheavenly.com. You can put down $49 to reserve your pass for next year. No matter what the winter will be next year, you can't afford not to take advantage of these great season pass offers. It will be epic!


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Mar 23, 2012 09:38PM Published Mar 23, 2012 09:05PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.