Skiing in Squaw Valley

Grandparents and grandchildren brave a blizzard together

By Ludmilla Alexander

The weather reports sounded ominous. Five feet of snow was falling on the Sierras and vehicles required chains to drive over Donner Summit. Should we cancel our first family ski trip to Squaw Valley USA near Lake Tahoe?

With six grandchildren — ages 1 to 6 — anxious to play in the snow or show off their skiing skills, the answer was obviously “no.” So Grandfather Jim and I threw caution to the wind and caravanned behind our three sons and their families from the San Francisco Bay area to the famous ski resort that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.

[photo magiccarpet align=right max-width=150]We chose Squaw Valley USA because its six peaks, ranging from 7,550 feet to 9,050 feet, provide runs for all types of skiers. Thirty percent of the terrain is for experts, perfect for our sons, whereas 45 percent is intermediate, which our daughters-in-law enjoy skiing. More importantly, there are classes at Squaw Kids Children’s Center and beginner runs at High Camp for our littlest skiers.

Wheeling through a whiteout

Highway 80 through the Sierra Nevada mountain range turned out to be as treacherous as news reports warned. For the first time in his life, Jim grudgingly paid $30 to highway workers to put chains on our rear wheels. “It’s too miserable out there to lay under the car,” he muttered. Meanwhile, our sons’ SUVs with four-wheel drive rolled easily over the mountains without chains.

After we descended at a snail’s pace into Truckee in whiteout conditions, the young parents and their children turned off the highway for the large house they rented. We continued onward to our two-bedroom condo at Squaw Valley Lodge, located underneath the Cable Car tram. We purposely rented a condo at the resort, figuring the ski-in, ski-out location would be ideal for naps, snack time, and as a gathering place.

[photo lodge align=left max-width=150] The next morning after the snowstorm subsided, the mountains glistened with powder snow. As our family descended on us, an avalanche of parkas, boots, mittens, hats, skis, gloves and poles overwhelmed our tidy condo. Not one item stayed together. For the next four days, the most repeated question was, “Did you see my other mitten/glove/boot/ski pole?”

Figuring out which children were taking ski lessons, which adults were skiing together, who needed to go down for a nap (no, not grandfather) and where to meet for lunch was as complicated as organizing overseas military maneuvers. What saved us from completely losing one another were cell phones. Fortunately, they all worked on the mountains, on the chairlifts, and in the condo, so only one person was misplaced: me.

Fast food skiing

Jim and I wanted to ski with those grandchildren who could shush down beginner slopes under control. Alex, age 6, chose Jim, while Kara, 5, was my partner. Off we went to High Camp at an elevation of 6,200 feet where several chair lifts carried skiers to gentle beginner runs. Because Alex had already taken a number of lessons, he was more proficient than Kara. Zipping along five feet behind Jim, Alex made controlled snowplow turns and seldom fell.

[photo alex align=right max-width=150] “Let’s go down Shirley Lake run,” he suggested to his grandfather, getting bored with the slow pace on the beginner slopes.

“That’s an intermediate slope,” gulped Jim. “Besides, this is my first time on skis this season.”

“You can do it,” giggled Alex.

As we watched them go off by themselves, I asked Kara, “Can you handle a chairlift?” Kara nodded enthusiastically.

We rode the Links Chair to the top of the slope without a problem, but once she saw the run from above, she tensed up. Again and again, she fell down.

“Remember what your ski instructor said?” I called out. “First, you do french fries with your skis while going across the hill, then a pizza slice when you are turning.”

[photo kara align=right max-width=150] Kara nodded, but was no longer smiling. “French fries, french fries! Pizza, pizza!” I yelled to her as she attempted to come down the slope. It did no good. She would ski a few feet and fall down again and again. By this time, Kara was getting tired and discouraged. It was a long way down the hill.

Meanwhile, at the condo, Kara’s mother was telephoning me to see why we were taking so long to get down the mountain. No answer. I, who take pride in anticipating problems beforehand, forgot to take the cell phone with me! For several panicky moments, everyone’s cell phone was ringing and no one could determine where we were located.

Kara and I finally did make it down the slope, onto the Cable Car tram, and into our warm condo, much to everyone’s relief. The little girl made such a valiant attempt to ski down the Links run, rather than slide the whole way on her bottom, that I reneged on my first rule of skiing — everyone carries his own skis!

As we trudged the short distance to the condo, two sets of heavy skis on my shoulders, I decided that renting the ski-in/ski-out accommodation on the first floor was the best idea I ever had.

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