From the sidelines: To hill and back at Heavenly
Living in South Lake Tahoe has offered many unique outdoor opportunities in the four-month span since I moved here. Having visited the area once before during the summer, the opportunity I most looked forward to was getting out on the mountains with skis or a snowboard.
As the winter months crept closer, I settled on snowboarding — little by little I bought the necessary gear and a season pass. It took months before I got out on the mountain for the first time — and when it happened last Saturday I nearly immediately wondered if I had made the wrong decision.
As a San Diego native that has never skateboarded, I knew the odds of initial success were not in my favor. That plus a warning from my younger brother (also not a skateboarder) about his one-time experience snowboarding helped me lower my expectations even further — but it was still a rough ride.
Before I even got on the mountain to embark on this unknown frontier, the terror began in the form of the chair lift. With one foot connected to the snowboard and the other out of the binding, I watched as chair after chair after chair swung by at what felt like a rocketlike pace on the aptly named Gunbarrel Express.
The chairs stop to allow time to get on, right?
That question was quickly answered, setting in motion a terrifying handful of seconds. Fortunately I made it to the red line and let the chair do the work — I sat back as hard as I could in the chair, a seated position that would become familiar throughout the morning.
After my hopes of not falling off the lift were realized, it dropped my friend-coach Brad and I off at Patsy’s — that momentary relief vanished four seconds later as I fell down for the first of many times. At a snail’s pace, I made it down that hill — short bursts, followed by falling, stumbling and more falling.
Eventually I arrived at the bottom, already spent from repeatedly having to get back up. As a result, I sat in the snow for several minutes, wondering how I would become unseated and contemplating my life in general — this also happened many times throughout the morning.
Finally I was back up, and it was off to Powderbowl Express. We were headed to Maggie’s, which I later discovered was labeled on the trail map as “easy” — that is not exactly how I would describe it.
I handled the second chair lift with less fear, but again tripped on the way out. Signs said “KEEP MOVING” — I tried, but failed to skate successfully.
Slowly trudging along, the benches at the top of the run finally arrived where I took a seat to put my other boot in the binding. Without prior lessons or anything that would have inspired confidence in the last half-hour, I was deemed ready.
I started slowly at the top of the run, and veered slightly left — the only direction I would be able to reliably go as I went down the mountain. Going at about as slow a speed as possible to still be considered moving, I crept closer and closer to the rope that set the boundary for the trail — and got to a point where it was impossible to get back up.
After taking my bindings off, moving across the hill and putting them back on, I was ready again. Brad had already taken a run and come back up when he found me sitting on the snow, likely dejected.
Nonetheless, I gathered myself and prepared for Maggie’s first major slope. “Here goes nothing,” I thought as started to build up speed — and then something wonderful happened.
I didn’t fall for about 30 seconds.
I made it down the hill and to a plateau when I realized I didn’t have any idea of how to stop. That resulted in a fall — but one that didn’t hurt too badly.
The next fall followed shortly — and that one did hurt, akin to landing backside first on a sheet of ice. So did most of the rest of them — some more than others, but all involving a relative degree of pain.
The most memorable spills still linger today in the form of bruises — on my right hip and left chest. The second bruise resulted from an improbable sequence in which I fell on my chest facing uphill — I’m not sure how it happened either.
The rest of the run down Maggie’s was a slow give and take with the mountain, with the mountain doing most of both — giving me pain while taking me to the ground along with my pride and dignity. When I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to complete the run, I took something — I rode for about 45 seconds, kept upright by the sense of relief from seeing familiar terrain that signified the end of the run.
There were people in that area, so I stopped hundreds of feet away more than ready to take off my board. I still put the crowd in danger, however, when I let my board slide down the hill then had to plod after it — one last bruise, this time to my ego.
By the numbers: one run, three-and-a-half hours, at least 12 bruises, and hundreds of falls. And I’m still not quite at 100 percent.
I have memories of my first-ever run and lone run last Saturday on Maggie’s that may never fade — and then the select bruises that I’m confident will never go away. In terms of percentage, it was much more bad than good — but the few good moments ensure I will be back out on the hill sooner rather than later, starting with a lesson.
A much-needed lesson.
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