Spring skiing - life at the top

Lake Tahoe is an expanse of blue seen from the top of the usually  popular Ridge Trial, here with only four snowboarders enjoying the deep spring snow.         photos by Sam Bauman/Nevada Appeal

Lake Tahoe is an expanse of blue seen from the top of the usually popular Ridge Trial, here with only four snowboarders enjoying the deep spring snow. photos by Sam Bauman/Nevada Appeal

Nearing the end of the ski season is a sad time for some, but for those who know the pleasures of spring skiing and snowboarding, it's a sign that the best time has arrived.

This is the weekend when the mountain resorts start shutting down. Heavenly closes today as do Sierra-at-Tahoe, Northstar-at-Tahoe among other mountain resorts.

But last week was spring skiing and boarding at its very best. No heavy parkas, light gloves, plenty of sun block - maybe even a bottle of wine and cheese in the backpack.

As everyone knows, the Sierra Nevada has received record-breaking snow dumps, leaving resort bases that are usually muddy and snowless still blanketed in white.

So Tuesday, when a break in the regular routine permitted, we headed for Heavenly (marking its 50th year of operation) for a morning of spring skiing.

If you're not a skier or boarder, you'll have to take our word for the finer pleasures in both sports. Some claim the lure is being totally in control of your own fate; Others credit the opportunity to hurtle at high speeds (racers hit 50 or 60 mph). Still others say it's the opportunity to traverse white-capped mountains, to mingle with the trees at speed, to embrace life at its fullest.

For this writer, it's all of the above - although in recent years the speeds for me have slowed a little.

But Tuesday was here. Arriving at Heavenly's California base, the parking lot was half empty. Jamming on ski boots in the lodge was almost lonely, looking at the empty tables everywhere. And the line at the Gun Barrel lift wasn't even a line, just a sporter or two and the lifties.

From the top of Gun Barrel down Patsy's run was a taste of what was to come. The snow was firm, good for slick speed. At the new Powder Bowl six-seat lift, it was just glide up and sit down. Then we went down to the Sky Express, up and then on the crossover to the Nevada side - all on snow deeper than at mid-season - snow that showed no signs of getting soft.

So far, it was all about getting there. Once in Nevada where the snow was deep, both Comet and Dipper chairs were spinning but barely carrying riders.

At the top of Comet, the snow was brilliantly white, the runs practically empty. So it was time to enjoy. Point the skis down the hill, get some speed, lead with the inside shoulder and life was as rich as a cherry pie a la mode.

This was a kind of dancing snow, the sun highlighting every ridge, the small moguls just enough to help get some air on some turns. It was freedom amid Lake Tahoe beauty.

Then to the longer Dipper chair, a smile crinkling the face and a "thanks" to the liftie. We hit the Orion run after stopping to look at the blue lake stretching 22 magnificent miles amid the mountains.

Letting the skis roll again on this simple blue run; back to Dipper for the run on the other side. Longer, faster, the snow along the edges of the trail still powdery.

Again and again. Down the new Meteor run, Dipper Knob, the Dipper Trees. You can ski alone and feel like you're with all your old skiing buddies from Japan and Europe. A knee operation keeps one off the bumps and bowls.

So what does it all add up to? Not much, for most people who never step onto ski bindings or snowboards. They can't know the joy of controlling your own destiny with your own strength, skills.

But for those who have learned to sport on the snow, it's the reason we live here.

• Contact Sam Bauman at sbauman@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1236.


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