Monday, March 29, 2010

Bluebird Skiing and Stars & Stripes

Alpine Meadows is our weekend Mecca. We spend considerable time and money to get there for two days of “bluebird” skiing, accurately forecasted by Michelle’s bluebird sightings at breakfast time each morning.

An unpretentious mountain, people come from near and far – The Bay or France, for instance – to ski, nothing more. With a deliberate lack of fussy to-do, of shopping or ritzy restaurants, its raison d’être, its no-frills vision is clear. “Skeezy” snowboarders, skiing purists, and families of four are all waiting to mount the main lift, called Summit, to take advantage of the bounty from the previous night’s blizzard: powder. A lift attendant, using her pink, plastic toy wands, directs the medley of enthusiasts to the “chair” when their turn is up, and a mother assures her daughter, who is concerned about the upcoming seating arrangement on the five-person chair, that is doesn’t matter who sits where.

Atop Alpine, on top of the world, the sun and relatively warm weather are somewhat negated by the blasts of 45mph wind. But we tuck our heads, dismount from our skis, and hike up further to the out-of-bounds terrain – away from the crowds, the “pizza-french fries” novices, the week’s residual stresses, and perhaps life itself, which we’ve seemingly ascended above in euphoric states and high altitudes. Back on our skis, we traverse a looming cornice, careful to avoid what the ski patrol (wearing his distinguishable red jacket and his mountain-man mustache) calls a “snow creep,” which is the petrifying, 20-foot deep hollow that has formed between the ridge and the gargantuan snowdrift that sits next to it. It’s beneath the surface, but it’s top-of-mind as I stand, ungrounded, on the snowdrift; that is until I neglect it to fully absorb the view of untracked wilderness to my right and bluer-than-blue Lake Tahoe to my left.

We take the plunge, a leap of faith. We plunge down the cornice through blissful puffs of white powder, softening moguls, funnily named gullies, and patches of pine tree obstacles, which are a lot more fun to navigate than city traffic and daunting chore lists. But the traffic and chores are so far from the threshold of the mind because these gratifying days at Alpine leave you giddy and carefree, with a “raccoon face” (the result of wearing goggles combined with sun and wind burn) that beams uncontrollably.

What makes the Alpine Meadows experience even more savory is its après-ski gathering on the large, inviting deck at the bottom of the lift. (Okay, maybe there is a little more to Alpine than the skiing, but why not loosen your ski boots and bask in all of the day’s glory on the deck, in the sun, margarita in-hand, with your friends who recap the highlights?) Making the excitement on the deck even more palpable is the young, cavalier gentleman who seems to be somewhat of an American hero. He stands atop the cliffs that are within view of the people on the deck (and we are within his earshot), and he is wearing an American flag tee shirt and carrying a pole bearing the Stars and Stripes. “That can’t be safe, skiing with that pole,” I say, and a gentleman at the table next to me simply replies, “Darwinism”. The hero waves the flag proudly and then, having heard our yells of approval and cheer, takes the plunge over the jagged rocks. He does not land the jump smoothly and is roughed up just a bit, but he is back on his feet a second later, waving that flag even higher.

Long live the hero! Long live America!
Long live Alpine Meadows!

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