Tahoe or bust: Tale of a first timer

I created a “life list” ten years ago, and although I’ve checked off quite a few items (graduate college, ride in a hot-air balloon, get married, party in Las Vegas with girlfriends, etc.), I had yet to try the art of skiing.

While it seems like an everyday occurrence for most people out west and in the Northeast, when you grow up in Florida, skiing/snowboarding isn’t something that everyone gets a chance to do.

I’d never really seen snow.  I’d never tried a single winter sport.  I’d never experienced a ski town or even seen a real winter wonderland. Until this past weekend.

While nearing dangerously close to the end of ski season, (which typically runs from Thanksgiving to mid-April), Dave and I finally ventured to Tahoe.

We left around lunchtime on Friday to beat the traffic, and after a stop at a grocery store to pick up some snacks for the room, arrived at our destination in about four hours.  We chose Northstar Mountain for our adventure and stayed in style at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe.

The hotel was absolutely gorgeous.  With a dark wood lodge feeling and tons of comfortable seating in the lobby for guests to enjoy the mountain vistas, as soon as we arrived we knew our first Tahoe experience would be extraordinary.  It got even better once we saw our room, which had its own fireplace and welcomed us with champagne, s’mores and a personal card.

As a first-timer who has wanted to ski or snowboard for so many years, I have endless thoughts and observations on the entire experience after-the-fact.

Here is a snapshot:

  • Ski towns are a little bit magical.  Having worked at Disney and lived in the tourism capital of Florida for so many years, I am very accustomed to pristine recreated environments staged to provide an immersive experience of a far off location.  What does that mean?  Disney had a way of recreating ski towns and lodges, winter areas, beach towns, African jungle safaris and so much more.  I have experienced what it would be like to be in a ski town.  (Not to mention, I had written websites and magazine articles for countless world-class ski resort areas as a writer for Starwood hotels, and knew how to describe everything to a tee, but had never set foot on snow.)  All I kept thinking as I walked around the Northstar Village was that I was in an actual ski town.  There was nothing created for show, because people really were walking around in ski boots, eating s’mores and drinking hot chocolate after coming off the slopes.  There really were snow-covered mountains in the distance and real ski racks being used.  I loved the ski town atmosphere.  I loved driving up the mountain and seeing snow covering the hills.  I loved seeing every car on the road with a luggage rack on top toting skis or snowboards.  I loved the whole idea of physically challenging yourself during the day on the snow, then taking off some layers, kicking back for an après ski beverage, retiring to your room and going to bed early.  It presents a combination of work and relaxation, all set to the backdrop of beautiful vistas. 
  • Tahoe is worth leaving the City for. There are many devoted skiiers/snowboarders in San Francisco who purchase annual lift tickets and drive the three-to-four hour trek to Tahoe nearly every weekend during ski season.  They give up a weekend at home to take in as much time as they can in this beautiful winter resort area.  I learned this fact early on in my tenure in the City and figured that the whole “Tahoe thing” must be pretty good to pull people away from everything wonderful there is to do in San Francisco.  I assume these people get very good at either skiing or snowboarding and become addicted to the rush, and live for the next chance to do it again.
  • Looking the part is hard.  Walking around in snowboard boots without evening putting on the board is hard.  Your legs feel heavy.  You are covered in several thick layers of clothing, which is completely foreign to this Florida Lady.  You likely have a helmet on, and are carrying a heavy board with you, so you have to be careful you don’t run into anyone or anything.  I was quite surprised that just the basic maneuvering around the ski village and onto the gondola is a challenge for someone new to the scene.  We rented helmets, boots and boards, and the entire suiting up process seemed to take half an hour.   Luckily I was outfitted in brand new The North Face pants and my go-to jacket, so I looked quite stylish even though I was completely a fish-out-of-water.
  • One short lesson might not be enough.  Dave and I took a two-and-a-half-hour group lesson to learn how to snowboard.  Dave had grown up skiing in Maine, but hadn’t been in ten years and had never put on a snowboard before.  That’s why we chose to start with snowboarding, so we could be on an even playing field.  Yet, armed with so much experience on a mountain, he was much more equipped than me to pick up this new sport.  During our lesson we learned how to place the snowboard in the snow (always with the brackets down so the snowboard doesn’t slide down the mountain and get away from you … believe me, those things pick up speed and several times during our lesson we heard “BOARD!!”, which meant some novice snowboarder had made the mistake of putting his/her board down wrong and it sailed away).  We also learned how to strap ourselves in and out and begin to traverse down the slopes.  We learned the heel-side move, the toe-side move and how to turn.  Each time we went down the practice slope, our kind instructor from Cornwall, England walked us down the first run to help us get a feel for the move.  Quite honestly, I picked up the initial moves very quickly and impressed myself and Dave.  However, when it came time to turn, I began getting a little scared.  I couldn’t quite make my feet do what they needed to do and never grasped the full move.  I’m pretty strong, pretty physically active and pretty capable, but I was scared to go too fast and the feeling of the board was just a little foreign to me.  By the end of the lesson, I wasn’t quite sure how much I had learned.
  • Young children have mad skills.  I couldn’t believe how small some of the skiiers and snowboarders were.  I mean, possibly as young as two, moving around with complete ease on the lifts, snow and slopes.  I did see a couple of parents coaching their kids along, but most of these children looked like regulars.  Perhaps if you start them young, they never get scared and can learn to maneuver and go fast from the very beginning.  Little toddlers in puffy ski outfits are super cute.
  • The ski lodge is the place to be.   After our lesson Dave and I went into the ski lodge for some sustenance.  We took off our helmets, sat back and rested our heavy legs.  We also had a huge lunch and took in as much water as possible.  Everyone was doing the same.  You feel a bit of camaraderie with your fellow lodge-goers, who have just come off the mountain at all different levels.  Noses are running, faces are red, and everyone’s hair is a total mess.  Good thing I brought my trusty The North Face knit hat to put on to cover my helmet hair while we dined.
  • Snowboarding is hard.  One lesson wasn’t enough for me.  I couldn’t really get control of the snowboard, and that’s why our first run down the green-level Village Run was a bit of a disaster.  When I stood up, I picked up far too much speed and seemed to forget everything I learned.  I kept falling on my butt, and even hit my head so hard I cried.  True story.  I honestly will never forget this one particular run, because I just didn’t get the hang of it.  Dave was as nice as could be staying near me while I screamed and fought to make it down.  But, it showed me I need a little more professional help before I get back out there.  I did finally make it to the bottom, after countless children zipped past me while I was crawling on my knees with the board still strapped to my feet.  During the run, I thought I might never do it again.  However, a few minutes later I laughed off the whole experience and felt like it was pretty cathartic.  I haven’t learned a new physical skill or sport in a long time and there was something enriching about trying so hard and essentially failing.  I was sure I would have picked it up faster, but I guess I should have listened to everyone around me who said “don’t expect to be good your first day out.”  SO true.
  • Day two = hurt bodies.  When Dave and I woke up on Sunday our bodies were in quite a bit of pain.  My butt was bruised and shoulders incredibly sore from all of my falls.  Dave’s legs and hips were tight from the most physical activity he has gotten since his last hard soccer match more than a year ago.  While we could have gotten back out there, the prospect of me taking another lesson alone while Dave went off to snowboard without me didn’t seem very awesome.  

One day of snow fun was a sufficient first experience, so on day two, we packed up our stuff and headed off to learn one more thing on the trip. 

  • If there is a long line outside, the place must be good.  Just outside Northstar Village is a little place called Truckee, which is an historic town named one of the “World’s Best 25 Ski Towns” by NationalGeographic.com for its charm, heritage and culture.  Sunday morning before beginning our lengthy drive back to the City, Dave and I explored Truckee and dined at the Squeeze In.  With tons of people waiting outside, we knew this was the spot to eat.  The restaurant had a huge menu and more than 60 omelettes to choose from.  This little place had been visited by celebrity chefs and even trademarked the saying “Best Omelettes on the Planet.”  After putting our name in on the list, we explored the railroad tracks and looked in the windows of the historic stores down the main road.  Finally, forty minutes later, it was our turn to sit.  The service was great, the food was great, and the atmosphere excellent.  We’ve noticed a lot of “tri-tip” steak on the menus here in California, which is not very prevalent in Florida.  Dave ordered the daily special, which was a Spanish omelette with tri-tip.  Delicious.  I had a veggie scramble, fruit and some excellent honeyberry toast.  During this fabulous dining experience, Dave and I decided that from here on out while on our weekend adventures out of town, we will always stop at one local hole-in-the-wall for a meal when we can.  We dined at a sushi place in the Northstar Village the first night that was average, and then dined at the Ritz the night before, and quite honestly, were not overjoyed with either experience, so Squeeze In was a breath of fresh air.

In addition to being listed on my coveted “life list”, since moving to San Francisco in October, we had a weekend in Tahoe on our joint “must-do” list.

It certainly didn’t disappoint.

This weekend was one of the best weekends I have had in forever, and it was very memorable.  We had so much fun together, and I really feel like I saw a new part of the world.  I laughed.  I cried.  I fell.  I got hurt.  And, I finally tried to snowboard.  I’m excited to go back to Tahoe during the next ski season, take another lesson and try again.

If I can’t get a hang of it, just look for me in the lodge — hair brushed nicely, cozied up with a s’more and a cocktail.

Enjoying the in-room fireplace at The Ritz..
Enjoying the in-room fireplace at The Ritz.
Champagne and s'mores welcomed us to The Ritz.
Champagne and s’mores welcomed us to The Ritz.
Bundled up at The Ritz firepit for s'mores.
Bundled up at The Ritz firepit for s’mores.
Official lesson pass for the Northstar Ski and Snowboard school.
Official lesson pass for the Northstar Ski and Snowboard school.
Trying to look the part before actually hitting the slopes.
Trying to look the part before actually hitting the slopes.
The face of a future snowboard champion.
The face of a future snowboard champion.
Taking a breather between runs during our lesson.
Taking a breather between runs during our lesson.
Amtrak comes through Truckee twice a day.
Amtrak comes through Truckee twice a day.
Best Omelettes on the Planet.  Line outside the door.
Best Omelettes on the Planet. Line outside the door.

So, does anyone else have a good first-time ski or snowboard story?



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