Kirkwood draws a different breed
KIRKWOOD – The race from South Lake Tahoe to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, dubbed by some as the “Kirkwood 500,” begins most days a little past 8 a.m.
The procession of cars comes in waves on highways 89 and 88. Often a wily driver feels the urge to get an early adrenaline rush by passing other motorists on the two lane highways through Alpine County.
Whether it be the terrain, the snow, lack of overwhelming crowds or the overall mood of Kirkwood, people can’t seem to wait to get there.
“This is one mountain where you can still get scared,” said Jack Reinhardt, coach of the Carson High School Ski Team who was at Kirkwood on Wednesday. “They have a lot of cliffs, chutes, steeps and drains.”
The rough-and-tumble image of Kirkwood is one the resort seems to relish. Thirty-five percent of its runs are catered to advanced or expert riders as opposed to 15 percent for beginners.
General Manager and President Tim Cohee said a different breed of skiers and snowboarders, “more athletic, more adventurous,” are attracted to Kirkwood. Those snow enthusiasts, Cohee said, forego an emphasis on amenities such as restaurants and shopping found at other resorts.
“The fact of the matter is (Kirkwood) will be a little bit counterculture,” Cohee said.
The “counterculture” can be seen in several ways. The building where employees live is dubbed “Animal House” and is known to match the atmosphere of the movie with the same title. A watering hole near Red Cliffs Lodge was named The Battered Beaver but was renamed The Coyote’s Den this year.
There are at least two caves on the mountain where skiers and snowboarders congregate. Most riders wear helmets. During powder days they can be seen standing on cornices, waiting to drop in.
Despite, or maybe because of this atmosphere, million dollar homes have sprouted around the valley that insulates Kirkwood along Highway 88. More are to come as Kirkwood aims to model itself as a destination resort with patrons staying two to five nights.
Although he and friends were staying near Heavenly Mountain Resort, 27-year-old New Yorker Brendan Lanahan was at Kirkwood on Wednesday morning.
“We want steep hills and that’s why we’re here,” he said.
Kirkwood is not without its faults or detractors. It’s location, about a 40-minute desolate drive from South Lake Tahoe and farther for those coming from the Sacramento area, can be seen as a hindrance or benefit.
Tom D’Loughy, owner of Rip ‘N Willies ski shop on Ski Run Boulevard, remarked Kirkwood’s location impedes those who can get only a few hours of skiing in their day.
D’Loughy said past Kirkwood complaints focused on antiquated chairlifts. The gripes subsided when the chairlifts improved, D’Loughy said.
The powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders who wait for lifts to open after large storms at Kirkwood irks skier Bud Amorfini.
“The culture is ‘Let’s line up for half an hour to get fresh tracks,'” Amorfini said moments before heading up Heavenly Mountain Resort.
“You’re there to ski, not wait,” he added.
Bob Breedlove and the rest of the “Geezer Skiers,” which is the name given to his loose-knit band of teacher friends, prepared for skiing Wednesday at Kirkwood. The group has been skiing the mountain since it opened roughly three decades ago, said Breedlove, who prefers the lack of frills at Kirkwood.
“We’re skiers,” he said. “We’re not interested in the condos, restaurants and all that stuff.”
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