First Day Shredding in the New Year
It’s hard to believe that we’re almost halfway through January already - time flies when you’re having fun, staying busy, and hitting the slopes. Last weekend, we went up to South Lake Tahoe to squeeze in some time on the mountain, our first time up here since the 2019-2020 season kicked off last November! We were supposed to spend a weekend at Heavenly back in December, but a storm forecast kept us home and then an unexpected vet emergency made it impossible to travel over the holidays (kitty is fine now!)
I’ve never had the best luck with Heavenly. My first visit was back in early 2018, and a wind hold resulted in quite a bit of chaos trying to make it to the right place for my snowboarding lesson. Once that was sorted, the lesson was enjoyable and I was able to make it down a few runs awkwardly, but the aforementioned wind brought a storm and the resulting whiteout proved too intimidating for my novice skills so we called it a day early. Last season, we had season passes to Squaw Alpine, so that was our resort-of-choice for our weekends away. This year, we got Epic Local passes, which means that we’re choosing between Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood.
Our usual routine is to drive up on Friday nights, ski/board on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and then drive back Sunday afternoon (although to be honest, I’ve never made it through back-to-back days on the slopes). This weekend, we woke up on Saturday morning to find that the gondola at Heavenly was on wind hold again, so we looked at our options and decided to try out Kirkwood, a new-to-us resort that is located about an hour south of Heavenly.
The drive down to Kirkwood was absolutely beautiful. The resort is situated at a higher elevation than Heavenly, so the trip takes you up through the mountains and fields of unbroken stretches of snow. It wasn’t heavily trafficked - we had been worried that there would be a mass exodus from Heavenly - and we made good time, arriving about an hour after the lifts at Kirkwood opened. We were a little uncertain about parking, but the resort staff helped us find a place not far from the base and we were off!
This is only my second season snowboarding, but we decided to dive right in by riding up the Solitude lift and making our way down a blue run. I fell immediately after getting off the lift (an event that would repeat itself a few times throughout the day) and picked my way down the run carefully, albeit somewhat grumpily, frustrated with my feelings of fear and hesitation. When we reached the bottom, Zach and I had a quick sync and I decided I’d feel a little more comfortable doing a few green runs to warm up more comfortably.
We headed up Snowkirk and started down a couple of easier runs, which helped immensely in getting back into the swing of things. I’m still quite easily spooked by speed, and having some shallower terrain encouraged me to return to better form. In just a couple of runs, we started venturing further up the mountain and hitting longer, steeper blues. Turns out, I’m starting to get it!
Some of the best things about Kirkwood was how wide the trails were, the variety of terrain for me to ride on, and the lack of crowds. The views were absolutely spectacular, too, especially at the top of Sunrise. We did this twice before I caved to the cold, but I wish I had been better geared so I could have kept going. The blue runs we did were shorter compared to the ones that I got used to at Squaw Alpine, but the green runs were longer and I felt far more confident at Kirkwood over this trip than I had in the whole last season! Zach tells me that’s how things are supposed to be - personally, I’m really looking forward to developing more control at higher speeds.
Just in the first day of this season, I’ve already hit some personal records - last year, my top speed was 17mph. At Kirkwood, I made it up to 27.6 mph on one of my last runs of the day, and I know my form was better across the board. Last season, my last day of the season was a private lesson where my instructor started breaking down some of my bad habits, and while I’m still far from perfect, I know that I’m leaps and bounds better than I was back in March. In fact, with the exception of the first run that I did, all of my runs this trip were faster than all of the runs I did last season!
However, one thing that I’m still struggling with is gear - my snow pants were a cheap impulse buy on Amazon, and it turns out that they don’t quite button over multiple layers of leggings and sweat pants. Over the course of the morning, I got increasingly damp, and I had to call it around 1:30 when I started shivering intensely. As I’ve now discovered, the materials matter just as much as the number of layers!
All in all, we really liked Kirkwood, but there’s something about the whole village experience of Heavenly that I really love. There are plenty of places to sit with a boozy hot chocolate and write - this post is brought to you by one such place, Azul Kitchen, where I sit with an Avalanche by the fire. This is a place that Kirkwood doesn’t match, but some weekends, you go up to the mountain to maximize your shred times, and sometimes you go up for the whole resort experience. The combination of staying near Heavenly and skiing at Kirkwood offers the best of both, and I’m definitely excited to spend a little more time at both resorts as the rest of the 2020 season unfolds! That said, I’ve still never been to Northstar, so I expect that you’ll see a post from me in a few weeks when that happens.
Photos in this post were taken by Zach - check out his other work!