Adventures up the gondola

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Nov 08, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

So for the very first time, Amanda and Ben did separate activities! They have been separated *counts* 4 times (Arequipa, Cusco, Lima and Chicago) when Ben has been sick/tired and Amanda went exploring, but have never actively done different things. So this blog is from both of us! Amanda is going to write like this.

And Ben is going to write like this.

And therefore you can have the complete story, and sometimes even the same story from two different perspectives, which we know is what your little hearts desire more than anything. At the very least, it will allow you to procrastinate whatever you are supposed to be doing for a little longer. Yes, I am watching you. Or you are just predictable, either way.

Day 0

We left the Napa at 10:30, i organized with someone at Collotype in Napa to stop by on the way to Tahoe, just to see the differences between the Aussie and American factories. It was also cool because i got to catch up with a bloke i have known since i started work there Jon Davies, but apart from that it was very similar to the Adelaide factory, just a lot bigger (like everything in the USA). So after thanking Mike from Collo for the quick tour (Amanda finally got to see the machines i ran) we headed off down the highway.

The drive for the most part was a lot more uneventful than the one from LA to San Fran. Most of it was flat highway with not much to look at. Then it started to get interesting. We started up what seemed a small hill, the speed limit slowed down and we could see the mountains in the distance. I started getting really excited, anyone that loves skiing\snowboarding knows the feeling, its when the air starts getting crisper, the roads start getting windier, and you begin to see small patches of snow. As we began to ascend to the top of the mountain, the views were breathtaking. It had been snowing that weekend, so there was fresh snow on everything but it was a really clear day and you could see the beautiful Lake Tahoe. We stopped by the side of the road and took some really nice photos, then continued on our way. From what seemed the top of the mountain highway, it took less than 30 minutes to get onto the main street of South Lake Tahoe. We ended up getting a bit confused, our hotel stated their address as Lake Tahoe Boulevard (which turned out to be the main street, meters from the gondola) but we didn't find out until we asked someone that the road is also still Highway 50. After finally checking in to our hotel room (turned out to be great) we settled in for the night and tried to mentally prepare for the next day. The first day of riding!

And while we were checking in, Ben got a phone call from our last hotel. Guess who left their passport and international driver's license behind? The maid found them and kindly handed them in, and the hotel was also kind enough to mail them on to us. Careless boy! Bet he will be more careful from now on.

On a side note, Amanda forgets to mention that we both have a policy we put in place in Miami, we double check that both of us have everything before we leave a hotel room (look under beds, in bedside tables\drawers, etc) and yet we both managed to miss it. Hooray for honest hotels!

I also like hotels where things work... since on our first day in Tahoe the tap in the bathroom didn't work (turned out to be very stiff, you were supposed to pull up and then turn, and I need 2 hands to pull it up!) and the TV wasn't tuned. And a few days later the Internet broke down, and the hot water in the shower was erratic.

Day 1

For future reference, the gondola is a giant cable car that takes you from heavenly village to the middle\top of the mountain.

After Ben went to a lot of trouble yesterday to get our lift tickets before they closed, we discovered that it would be cheaper to do the ski school deal - where you get a beginner lift ticket, rental and a full day of lessons in a package. So we (read: I) grumpily got up early to fix this. We got to the lift as it opened, at 8:30, when Ben realises he forgot his proof of purchase ticket and his wallet. Clever boy. So he had to run back to the room to get those and return to his grumpy girlfriend who is always irritated when he forgets things, which he does quite frequently. Anyway, we then go and sign up for two days of ski school, get fitted for boots and skis/snowboards and secure the rental for the day, and I am getting quite edgy by the end because we have to be at ski school by 10 and the rental line took quite a while, and we still have to get up the mountain. And Ben had to go back to the room again because he didn't have his parka. But finally - to the gondola!

The gondola is very convenient, and we made it to ski school on time. I said goodbye to Ben (it is quite strange without him there all the time actually. I keep thinking of things to tell him and he's not there!) and he went off to snowboard school and I went to ski school! They put me in the green runs group since I have skied before (once, seven years ago, but it still counts!). There were 6 people in my group and an instructor who looked like a skinny Santa Claus - he had frost all through his beard. The group was actually very good for me, we did lots of skill building on turning... and by the end of the day I was parallel turning almost all the time! The group was pretty good, two people vanished straight after lunch so there were only four of us - me, Mike, Minerva and Monish. Confusing much? But we were doing well so we got to go down some easy blue runs, including a mixed blue/green four and a half mile long run! So good to have giant mountains to play all over. I really enjoyed the skiing, and I did much better than I thought considering I wasn't that great last time. It snowed all day, not too heavily, but visibility wasn't the best. But it wasn't crowded :).

So after all the shenanigans of organizing ski school, tickets, hiring gear, etc, we managed to get to the top of the gondola just before 10, when ski school was supposed to start. So we rushed down the steps (or tried, Amanda was having trouble with her ski boots and who would blame her, ski boots are like 5 kilo high heels) and got to the meeting point for ski school. The weather was forecast to blow hard and snow, so it seemed to scare people away from skiing\boarding that day, in my group there were 5 of us and 2 instructors, so we split up into a group of 3 newbies, and it was almost like a private lesson. Cool!  My instructor for the day was Eric, who had his level 3 (highest) instructors qualification and had been snowboarding since he could walk. I felt pretty lucky with the company i had as well, one girl was from Virginia  and she worked at Hooters, and the other was a young girl from Brazil.  Yeah. After finding out what stance we were (normal or goofy, i was normal) (I'm pretty sure he is goofy) he took us through the basics, gliding down heel-side. This means your front foot forward and leaning on your heels to dig the board into the snow to manage your speed.

After getting that down we waited for what looked like a giant moving carpet to start running that takes people in ski school to the top of a beginner slope (not even a trail). After a few runs down that, we tried going down the opposite way, Toe side. This is the opposite, where you look dictates where you go, and lean on your toes to manage your speed. I was having an absolute blast, it felt so much more natural to me than skiing ever did, and before we knew it, it was time to hit Big Easy, the closest green slope to the gondola. It went really well, i only had one really big fall, and with our stomach rumbling, we stopped for lunch. At lunch i ran into Amanda in the line, and we went to the big green ski school tent to get out of the weather. The normal one was full, so we snuck into the kids tent and somehow the tiny seat managed to support me for half an hour. We headed back out to the slopes and began linking turns, apparently we were coming a long way for our first day. At about 1:30 the weather that was forecast to come in finally made it, and the wind really picked up. The girls called it a day but i was keen to keep going, but i needed some decent facial gear, and Eric thought there was a spare pair in the green tent.

So after donning some very girly looking goggles, we headed out for some more runs where things were going backwards and forwards, because i was learning new techniques but because of tired, sore muscles was also picking up some bad habits. Happy with my first day of snowboarding, we thought it would be best to rest up for tomorrow, and we headed in around 30 minutes early. I returned back to the hotel, got rid of all the snowy equipment and collapsed on the bed, feeling tired but not too sore, and feeling amazing. It had gone better than i had hoped, and i couldn't wait until tomorrow to get out on the slopes again. Amanda arrived home soon after, and we exchanged stories about how we had both done (she had done really well too!) and then relaxed in front of the TV for the rest of the night, eating and especially healthy meal of Burger King for dinner. We were tired OK!

Ben was kind enough to fetch dinner for me, since I was immersed in a TV marathon. I asked for some kind of cheeseburger with bacon. What I got had neither cheese nor bacon. Ben blames Burger King. I am suspicious.

Day 2

Freshly pumped from a promising first day, we eventually kicked off at around 7:30, and after a quick breakfast of muffins and OJ, we headed back. Thankfully the bad weather reports had scared a lot of the crowds away and we managed to get to ski school on time, only to wait 20 minutes for everyone else to arrive.

My instructor was an Aussie, we had met the day before at lunch time and her name was Red. She was unashamedly a red head, and had the nickname since she was very young, and so she was allowed to have 'Red' on her name tag. I could never understand why people insisted on asking why her name was red. Her instant reaction was to say because she has green hair. Americans just dont get sarcasm.

Our group that day had expanded on the day before and we had about 8 people. After one run down the Big Easy to scale where everyone was up to, we were split up and we had 3 in our group. Before we knew it we were ready to do some blue runs, and with some good encouragement we managed to do pretty well. My main goal at the end of the trip was to do any blue at heavenly confidently, so I was happy to be progressing well.

The weather was pretty rough after about 11am, and even although I had brought my sunnies that day, I was still struggling to see through the snow and wind. It got pretty frustrating to go down runs that you dont know when you cant see where big piles of fresh powder have landed. When you try and do a turn and you catch and edge, it gets painful and annoying very quickly. At the end of the day we had done some fun blue runs, learnt some new techniques but I had decided I really needed a decent pair of goggles. I ran into Amanda at the bottom of the Gondola and found she had the same problem, so we both got a pair of goggles and decided it would be best for our learning to go the day after to hone our skills before a much needed day off. So with our gear valeted, we set off home and settled in for the night.

On a side note, while a small annoyance at the time (on top of all the other small annoyances of the hotel, I was actually annoyed quite a lot), this was the first day that our internet went down. It didn't come back for the rest of our stay, which happened to be 5 more days. How annoying. We even ended up taking the laptop to Starbucks to use their internet to book our hotels in Yosemite, Death Valley and Las Vegas, but the hotel did give us back their 7$ a day hotel fee so I guess it wasn't too bad.

Slightly feeling the effects of using muscles that had been happily asleep for years the previous day, we set off for our second and last day of ski school. I was annoyed because I didn't realise the ski place had a valet service, or that you could keep your skis overnight, and had returned my stuff the day before, and so had to re-hire it. They made it sound like you had to return it every day when I hired it originally! Ben skipped off to his snowboarding crew, and I skied up to the blue sign, since Santa Claus told me yesterday I could move up to the blue group.

There were lots of people at the blue sign, and they all seemed to be much more advanced than I was, discussing easy black runs and advanced techniques. The instructors sent the entire giant group on a couple of runs and then split us up – I got put in the lowest group with one other person because we were slower than the rest. My luck couldn't hold after the nice people I was with yesterday – this woman, hereafter referred to as SCB (self-centred bitch) was completely awful. She spent the first half hour, when we were in the big group, ranting to the instructors about how terrible yesterday's lesson was, how the instructor had pushed her in ways she wasn't comfortable with, how nobody listened to her, how terrible the park is because there aren't many green runs, how expensive it was so she couldn't just walk out, etc, etc. The poor instructors tried to explain about the government rules on the park, how the instructors try to push people to help teach them and how they couldn't really address most of her concerns, and she yelled at them, saying she didn't want to hear all that, she just wanted them to agree with her! So they asked why she was complaining to them if she didn't want anything fixed, and she told them they were the face of the organisation and who else should she complain to? The complaints department, maybe? I detected much suppressed eye-rolling and grimaces among the instructors... bet they all tried to escape teaching her. Anyway, excuse my rant, but SCB was honestly just the worst kind of idiot human being to be stuck with. She went on later about how she has sacrificed so much for her husband and children... you know those people who like to shove how selfless they are down other people's throats.

Anyway, she ended up at my level because the instructors obviously didn't want to suffer through another rant of how they were pushing her too hard. And Andy, our instructor for the day, was very patient with her but you could see him biting his tongue at certain points. He got us to give him our goals for the day – SCB went into a predictably long and involved complaint, but her goal at the end of said long story was improving her edging – and mine was to have fun! Sure I tried to build up my skills too, but I think fun is important. Andy was a Brit - and thought I was too! Nobody can recognise an Australian accent, I get asked if I am English so often. Now even the English think I'm English :(.

We went down lots of easier and some harder blue runs, working on more advanced turning techniques. I cannot turn my body properly before the turn, but I can balance my weight much better and make much prettier S's down steeper slopes. We went all the way down to Stagecoach lodge for lunch on a gorgeously long run of several miles, so I didn't see Ben. I saw him going down a green run in the morning while I was on a chairlift, but I was nice enough not to yell out in case he fell over. Although it was tempting. SCB left soon after lunch, yippee!(not without a lengthy complaint about how old she was getting and how difficult it was for her to keep going for so long.) So I got a nice private lesson for over an hour, and Andy fulfilled my fun goal, by taking me into the woods a little bit and over little bumps and jumps. My technique was awful, but I did have lots of fun! I fell down the most of any day though – 5 times. Large clumps of sneaky powder are my worst downfall, but then I land in the nice soft powder, so it isn't so bad :). Andy offered me one final run at 3:20, but I couldn't do it. It was freezing that day, snowing quite heavily, and visibility was terrible. My sunglasses were icing over no matter how many times I cleaned it off, which meant I couldn't see a thing by that point, so I had to refuse. I ran into Ben at the base of the mountain (he had already been down and been back to our room and returned, the lazy bum!), and we put our gear into valet and decided to go again the next day – together! And we agreed that even though it was expensive, we absolutely needed to buy goggles, because otherwise we just couldn't see. And skiing without seeing is quite difficult, as I'm sure you can imagine. It involves lots of crashing into powder and/or bumps you didn't see coming.

Day 3

Amanda and I woke up at the same time as we had the last two days, but it was much harder to drag ourselves out of bed. It wasn't for lack of interest – we were still very keen on getting on the slopes. We were just extremely sore. The good and bad part about learning to ski and snowboard is that the better you get, the less sore you get. If you invest time and money into it, like many things, it gets a lot less painful. If I had the goggles for the two previous days for instance, I would have fallen over a lot less. If I had hired a helmet like everyone had suggested, that would have helped also. But that's another story.

We got up the mountain a little earlier than the two previous days, we had our gear ready and waiting, but we found out that we had some competition on the slopes. The reason Tahoe is such a desired place is because the snow there tends to fall in the afternoon and at night, and the mornings are very clear. We hadn't experienced how clear Tahoe can be until that day, and it was a magnificent sight. Everything was crystal clear. Going up the Gondola and looking behind you, was a spectacular view of the lake and the mountain range in the background. When we got up the top we also saw that more snow had fallen after we left the day before and had now settled on the slopes. Powder! Powder that seemed more like sand from the Whitsundays than snow. As the snow was squeaking beneath our feet, we knew that as sore as we were, it was worth it to ski in such an incredible place.

We started off on green runs and quickly went to blue's, we decided to take the trail that leads to the Californian side of the mountain. Unfortunately the part of the trail that we started on is very flat – a massive pain for a snowboarder. On flat trails, if its not part of a run and you have no momentum, you have to unbuckle one of your feet and push your board along like your on a skateboard. Normally not too bad, something you have to get used to, but after 3 days of falling over and learning to ride, it takes a lot out of you very quickly. We managed to get to the Californian side and took the chair lift all the day to the top. There was a blue run that took you all the way down, so we did that then took the shuttle bus back to the village we were staying at.

Lunch was a struggle. It was hard for Amanda to walk in her ski boots (it's the worst, especially with all the added pressure on already bruised shins!), and I wasn't going to well myself. After downing a foot long sub in under 3 seconds, and getting used to the heating inside, it was extremely hard to get going again. We knew we would regret it if we didn't at least try a few more runs before calling it a day, so we finally made a move but ended up heading back when I noticed the bindings on my board were loose. I let them know when I returned the board and we headed back to the hotel room looking a pretty sorry sight – we were exhausted.

It was fun to go together, but Ben is much slower at the top, flats and bottom because he has to clip in and out of the board, and I am much slower on steep slopes because I like to do nice big curves to control my speed. It was a gorgeous day though, clear and sunny, and we finally got to see the views from the top of the mountains that the instructors kept saying were amazing. It is strange to see blue Lake Tahoe surrounded by mountains, and then just on the other side the much lower, snow-free flats of Nevada. We cross the state border (not that you can tell, there's no mark) several times every day, because it runs through the middle of the ski park.

We got back a bit early, and returned all our ski gear. Due to the fact that nobody picked up Ben's rental ticket from ski school the day before, and nobody checked the date when he handed it in, he got a free day of rental! Win. We decided to hire The Hangover since every time we mentioned going to Vegas, somebody would say we needed to see it. And our local supermarket happened to have a redbox – which is basically a self-service DVD machine that costs $1 per movie for one-night rental. So we also got Julie & Julia, Surrogates and drinks and had a movie night.

Day 4

I woke up glad. Glad I was in Tahoe, but more glad this was a rest day. I definitely needed a rest, you can work out all you want but nothing prepares you for snowboarding if you haven't done it before. Unlike skiing, its all in the legs (I'm not sure what he thinks skiing is in exactly) and my quads were burning. We had a nice lazy morning and managed to get out of the hotel room around lunchtime in hunt of some food and a much needed laundromat (read: serious emergency washing). We found one that was next to a KFC and all thoughts of a nice salad went out the window. Fully belly and clean clothes, we went back to our room and hung everything up (Amanda hung everything up), and then went out for a walk to find a cinema to see Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland was all the way in Nevada – a full 4 blocks away, and through a casino. It's quite funny to see where Nevada starts, because there's suddenly all these casinos and high-rises that California doesn't have. After the movies, we hired I Love You, Man from the redbox and alternately cringed and laughed all the way through.

Day 5

Day 5 was good fun. The visibility wasnt that great, but with our shiny new goggles, it wasnt that big of a deal. Because of the day break, we started off slow again, but 3 runs in I had an epiphany about how to improve my riding and everything came together. The problem with epiphanies is that when they come 3 days after you first learn to do something, they can give you false confidence. I was watching guys that had been riding for ages, and tried to mimic what they were doing. These smart snowboarders were also wearing helmets. While cockily gliding down the mountain and a fast speed toe edge (facing up the mountain.. pretty much going down backwards) I caught the back edge of my board on a nice pile of powder.
What happened next felt more spectacular than it would have looked, but I back flipped and hit my head on the snow very hard on the way down. (Actually, it looked pretty spectacular. He flipped upside down and threw up a whole cloud of powder that obscured his landing, but it cleared into him in a little heap clutching his head.) It took the wind out of my sails in more ways than one, I lost some confidence and was very sore – and learned why you should always wear a helmet while boarding. I woke up the next day with a bad case of whiplash, I struggled lean my head forward or sit up.

I lasted a few more runs after my head stopped ringing, but we headed in early because the bindings on my board had become loose again. It turned out had got the same board I returned 2 days before and they hadn't tightened the bindings so one of the screws had snapped off which meant I couldnt ride anymore without fixing it. So I found a tool bench, did some emergency work on it to make it semi-ride able again and then delicately rode it down to the gondola so I could swap it for a new one.

Ben and I went skiing/snowboarding together again. It was overcast, and the clouds hung low – which meant that for the top of every run visibility was shocking until you skied below the cloud about halfway down and it became clear again. We were really glad we had bought the goggles!

(Ben, talking about his numb butt)
Ben: See, when I fall, I usually fall on my back, which pulls my jacket up. The snow goes up my back, and then down my pants when I get up. It's smart snow. Devious snow. *glares*

Ben: You know what's sad?

Amanda: What?

Ben: I've been sitting on this toilet for only a minute and the seat is already warmer than my butt.

I left Ben to nap when we returned, which he needed after his nasty fall, and went to Starbucks to research hotels and driving directions for our next week. This turned out to be much more trouble than it needed to be, since so many places in Yosemite were completely booked! I didn't definitely book anything as I needed to consult with the sleeping one, but I got good directions (not easy when some of the highways are closed for winter, and some need snow chains) and managed to find a couple of ok hotels.

Day 6

Our last day on the mountain had some ups and downs for me, bording for 5 out of 6 days really started to catch up to me, I was struggling with my neck and my quads were burning, but I was also making some progress again after my spectacular crash. There were people absolutely everywhere because it was a really clear day on the weekend, and it wasnt as enjoyable with so many people around. We found a run that was off the beaten track a little, and so was less crowded, long and fun.

As the day dragged on I was getting more sore, we decided to stop along one of the runs for a rest. One thing lead to another and the next thing we knew, we were knee deep in powder, throwing snowballs at each other and trying in vain to make snow angels. I got thirsty so decided to snack on some snow, which Amanda found hilarious and took a photo of, even although it looks more like im shoving snow up my nose. It was nice to forget about learning to ski\snowboard and just muck about in the snow, we had a great time.

We didn't stay until the end of the afternoon (the gondola closes at about 4), we were both sore and tired, so we headed down and returned our gear. After that I fed my Starbucks addiction, we organized our accommodation for the next 2 weeks and we retired to our room with a bottle of wine and some Dorito's.

(on the way up the mountain in the gondola)
Ben: Argh! Cold drops are going down my back. I'm melting! (pause) It's the gondola! The gondola is dripping on me. Bad gondola. Naughty gondola.
Amanda: You could move out of the corner.
Ben: No, I'm leaning.

Our last day of skiing was beautiful again – sunny with great visibility. We got up early to try and do a really full day, but Ben struggled with his soreness from his fall the day before and several new falls along the first few runs. So we slipped off to the side of the intersection of Orion and Orion's Belt in a heap of untouched powder and played in the snow. I made a snow angel. Ben ate snow. We threw snowballs (which are not easy to make out of powder!) and Ben pushed me into the snow every time I tried to get up! We attempted a snowman but were defeated by powder. We rubbed each other's faces and heads in snow, and generally acted like children seeing snow for the first time. It was hilarious and incredibly fun.

Eventually we continued on, skiing very low down on the mountain on a new run that had very few people. We figured out why when we got to the bottom – the only chairlift going back up was very old and very slow! But the run itself was lovely and very long, so we did it again after lunch. We stopped near the gondola to play in the snow again for a while when Ben got too sore, and managed to scrape enough money from the depths of our pockets to afford one lunch up on the mountain rather than go down. Despite all the nice resting, Ben was not having as much fun and was struggling, so we went down an hour and a half before the park shut.
We returned all our gear, and Ben managed to drag himself to Starbucks so we could use the Internet and book the next week's worth of accommodation. Really the thought of mocha frappacino lured him there. Afterward, we bought a bottle of wine and a packet of doritos to celebrate our last day in the snow. After the resulting nap that comes with half a bottle of wine each on very little food, we sadly packed up all our stuff and had an extremely awful, pieced-together dinner after arriving at the supermarket too late for the salad/soup bar.

Day 7

We actually managed to make a reasonable start! We checked out and set off before 9am. I drove, because Ben's neck was still very stiff and sore, and I have never driven in worse conditions than that first hour and a half. The road was icy, and the weather was first windy and blew snow all over the road, and then became impossibly foggy. We went though rock slide and avalanche territory, all on the wrong side of the road! When the fog was so bad you could barely see metres in front of you, and it was snowing lightly, I thought it couldn't get any worse – and quite suddenly we dropped below the clouds. It wasn't fog! As soon as we reached that magical altitude, the snow stopped, the trees became green instead of frosted white, and the snow on the ground got patchier and patchier until it was barely there. Although the road became much windier, driving was heaven compared to above the cloud line.

We managed to make it to our hotel without getting lost (we thought we were lost at a couple of points, but it's ok, we weren't), without hitting the deer that watched us go past quite casually, and in less time than we thought it would take, and so had a lazy half-afternoon in preparation for Yosemite!

Love, frozen water and numb butts,
Amanda and Ben

P.S. This entry was almost not named due to creative differences. He thinks my blog titles are stupid. I think his are boring. Apparently 'unnamed due to creative differences' is still stupid.

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Mum/Ruth on

This blod is a marathon effort guys. Sounds great, except for the fall Ben!

Sue(mum) on

If I didn't love you so much I'd hate you, I am so.o.o.o.o jealous.

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