Monday, March 3, 2008

Western Wanderings - Lake Tahoe, Alpine Meadows & Diamond Peak

Lake Tahoe has had some of its best snow in decades, and my husband Charles and I did a weekend add-on to the adaptive ski tour of Utah that we will report on next week.

As in the East, the areas here can get crowded on weekends, and we could not get accommodations in Incline Village, Nevada. The area is well known for expensive homes, but there are lakeside casino hotels on the Nevada side which are relatively inexpensive and have free shuttle service to many of the ski areas. But, they were full. In Reno, there is ample lodging in casino hotels and many motels; you could get luxury accommodations and good rates. It is about an hour drive or less to the mountains, depending upon the resort and snow conditions.

We returned to a sumptuous suite in the new Tuscan Towers of the Peppermill. Thanks to our friend Michelle Hackman, we also enjoyed a hilarious show with the comedian Howie Mandel in the new Tuscan auditorium. The Peppermill hotel has a casino (the gaming is everywhere in Nevada, even in supermarkets) but Charles and I were not tempted. Nor did I allow him a tour of the Mustang pleasure ranch advertised on billboards on the roof of the taxis!

Our flights out West were complicated but fortunately, we missed the bad weather of the week before. That weather system translated into massive amounts of snow by the time we arrived. Our flights took us from BWI to Cincinnati on a Delta connection plane which held 50; then we changed to a larger one for a smooth flight to Salt Lake City. Next, a long walk through terminals and transfer to SW Airlines, a flight to Boise and finally into Reno. The casino hotels in Reno have free airport shuttles, and were relieved to be back at the Peppermill and promptly crawled into bed. Pity the poor political candidates and reporters – they are making such hops all the time!

Alpine Meadows, California

The next morning we shuttled back to the airport, rented a car, and took a glorious drive over the mountains to Alpine Meadows. We went over Donner Pass and past huge mounds of snow everywhere. Off the highways, there were places set aside for cars to safely park, and hundreds of people climbed over the mounds of snow to cross- country ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, and sleigh ride. The West has truly been blessed this year.

Alpine Meadows is a magnificent resort, not far from Squaw Valley. It is very steep, and can be prone to avalanches (as are many of the areas). The steepness and increasing wind made me very nervous, but everything was terrific when we were there. Thanks to media rep Rachel Woods and ski manager Mike Allred for helping with lifts and equipment. I used Volkl R1 skis and Tecnica boots. They were good and worked well on the fast, groomed trails, but heavier than the usual equipment I use in the East. Charles thought his equipment was also good, but the heavy Tecnica boots gave him a bruise on his shin.

Still, I highly recommend renting equipment on trips involving planes, and I will report on the skis and boots from now on. It is much less hassle to rent than to carry. And, now more airlines are imposing one piece limits on luggage, so bringing your own equipment could cost much more than rental fees.

At Alpine, we took several fast, fairly steep blue trails with magnificent vistas of the high Sierras and Lake Tahoe in the distance. The weather was in the high fifties, and the snow in the upper mountain was listed as 157 inches, with 103 inches in the lower mountain. There are numerous trails and bowls, and the highest point, Ward Peak, is 8,637 feet.

In addition to the incredible beauty and conditions, Alpine has one of the finest and oldest adaptive ski schools in the country. In fact, director Haakon Lang-Ree says it was one of the founding chapters of Disabled Sports USA. When we were there, there was a large group of adaptive teen skiers who were bused up from the San Francisco Bay area. We watched as they went through their instructions and boarding or skiing. These teens showed so much pride in their accomplishments, as they conquered new maneuvers or went over obstacles in the terrain parks.

Not only children enjoyed the mountain. There were several hundred guests from the Rotary Clubs there, skiing, meeting, and sharing friendship. Many appeared to be in the older skiing range. I enjoyed one man’s shirt which read, “Seniors rule.”

You can tell a resort is a family area when there are dogs around. I saw about 20 dogs cavorting in the snow at different times (but not in the trails where they could endanger to skiers). There were also numerous, sleek, friendly Golden Retrievers, who wore jackets identifying them as avalanche rescue dogs. Fortunately, their skills were not called upon at this time.

Diamond Peak, Incline Village, Nevada

On Sunday, March 2, we had several fast runs at Diamond Peak, which is adjacent to Incline Village. It boasts some of the best views of Lake Tahoe, and is not exaggerating! The sparkling aqua lake could be seen from several of the trails. It is 27 miles from Reno, and the winding mountain highway takes you past the Mt. Rose Ski area; one of our favorites. I’m glad Charles is a skilled driver – I would not want to handle those mountains and curves on my own; especially during snow and ice storms. There are alternative highways, which can be wider and faster, but are a bit longer.

Diamond is considered a family resort, and there were many young children whizzing down the mountains. 31 runs were open and the 65 inches of snow was listed as groomed. That translates to fast and hard packed. As the wind picked up at the top, we had to fight hard to gain control and keep from being blown off the mountain. But, we had a fast day skiing and snow boarding with our friends Michelle Hackman and her husband Colin. He arranged a surprise birthday party for her at the Snowflake Lodge at the top of the mountain. The view is worth many more birthdays!

On the way down, Charles and I were able to show off our Eastern skills. The slopes became harder and faster as the afternoon wore on. On the lower parts, they were a bit slushy in the 40 degree temperatures.

The highest point at Diamond Peak is 8,540 feet, with a vertical drop of 1,840 feet and the longest run of 2.5 miles. Most of the trails are blues and easy blacks. Diamond Peak has many fun events, such as a Last Tracks wine tasting and appetizers, at the end of some evenings. Skiers and boarders can watch the spectacular sunset over Lake Tahoe, as they journey down the mountain.

Our rental equipment held up well, and I suppose I do better on the heavier skis and boots, but I have to get used to them. This time I used Volkl Unlimited 156’s and Salomon boots. Thanks to Kayla Anderson, Marketing Coordinator, and Walter Guasch, Rental Manager, for arranging passes and equipment. We plan to re-visit Alpine Meadows and Diamond Peak many times.

Make sure to take advantage of the lift ticket discounta available from the Mountain Sports Club on your lift tickets the next time you ski at Diamond Peak. Members save $9 daily of lift tickets when using the discount coupons.
Western Wanderings -Tahoe – Feb 29 Mar 2, 2008 By Connie Lawn