Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe
This year has been a nonstop, last minute, traveling roller coaster; chasing swells, snow storms, competing, training and working with sponsors. It has been one of those dream years with endless swell for the last 5 months with no end in sight.
Sometimes you get so immersed in the moment and forget to slow down and spend quality time with family, loved ones and old friends. So I decided to take some time and go to Lake Tahoe to visit my mother for her 73rd birthday and see my sister’s 8 week old son William and of course spend some time on the ski slopes with old friends.
I packed my truck like a boy scout, ready for anything; skis for the snow, tow boards incase the swell got big on the way home, kites and kite board if it got windy and of course my SUP board. As usual, I started driving just before midnight because I can’t stand wasting daylight driving when I could be doing something athletic outside. I arrived in the parking lot of Squaw Valley just as the mountain opened Monday morning. I totally miss this place and it’s great to be back at my old stomping grounds. I grabbed my skis and took a couple runs to warm up to my new ski boots and eased into the ski state of mind. Mid afternoon, I met up with long time friend and ski photographer Hank DeVre and Tom Wayes to get some fun afternoon, late light ski shots in.
“It’s funny, no matter how long you’ve been away from a sport, your memories and mind set are like you never left, but your muscles and confidence are telling you a different story. Sure enough, the reality of new boots and not skiing every day like in the past, took it’s toll and I couldn’t get to the bottom fast enough to get them off. “slipping on a pair of running shoes after that nightmare was sheer ecstasy”.
Off to my sister, Janet’s house on the lake to see my new 8 week old nephew William and visit for a while. It’s so awesome to see my little sister all grown up. I would just get lost staring at William’s eyes and watching him squirm and make funny faces. It’s amazing how perfect his fingernails and eyes were and how jealous I was of his new ligaments and joints; what I could do if I had those again….. ha ha … My sister and her husband cooked a nice dinner and shortly after I was left snoring on the floor next to the fireplace.
I woke up early the next morning to work on the computer and had a nice breakfast with the family. Shortly after, I called to wish my mother a Happy birthday and told her I was still in Hawaii and would not be able to see her for another week. I could tell she was a little bummed out, but happy to hear my voice; which went exactly as I had planned. An hour later I met my sister and surprised her at her house. She was soo happy and completely beside herself. We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and plenty of good laughs. I am so lucky to have such a great loving family.
By mid day the sunny blue sky milked over with the new arriving snow storm. Mom was content to finish some work at home and I raced back to Squaw for a couple hours of free skiing as the snow started to fall. Nothing like storm skiing in the trees. That evening my sister prepared an awesome birthday dinner for mom at the house. My mother still blows my mind how well she skis, windsurfs and stand up paddles at seventy three years young. I hope to follow in her footsteps for as long as possible.
The snow dumped all night and by morning we had 8″ at the house and 18″ on the mountain. I hooked up with Hank deVre and free skier Myles Clark for a morning of shooting. It was a game of peak-a-boo sun light, where the sun would pop out of the clouds for about a minute to shoot and then it would start to snow and then clear up again and so on etc. It’s very trying on your patience as you watch all your friends do laps around you in the fresh powder all morning, but in the end you get the goods.
Around lunch time the clouds made it challenging to get a good shot and we decided to free ski for the rest of the day. Myles and I took the KT22 chair up and hiked up to a steep peak called the Eagles Nest which is a 120 ft vertical rock wall that needs to be caked with a Sierra cement snow pack (wet snow) that sticks to the steep rock walls to be skiable. At the top of the peak, you will see a beautiful black, welded steel Eagle that was put up there last year in honor of Squaw valley’s Shane McConkey; (worlds best free skier and base jumper that was killed in a ski/base jump accident in Italy March 26th 2009)
Shortly after a couple laps on the KT chair, I ventured over to the Headwall chair that was closed all morning do to avalanche control. The snow was pretty insane and after a couple laps down the face and and the Bell Towers, I was lucky to make it on the chair one last time as they closed it behind us because of a major ski accident. We were pretty shocked as we looked to our left off the chair to see about 15 people huddled around someone that had fallen through the jagged cliffs on the lower Bell Tower section. Growing up skiing in Squaw Valley, you always see injuries, but when it’s in an area that only the best usually ski; you hope and pray that it’s not anyone you know. The ski patrol closed off all sections leading to that side of the mountain, so we skied down the face and decided to pack it in for the day. I met up with Hank at the corporate office to see about the next days shooting plans and got word that the injured skier was CR Johnson who had died in the accident up on the hill. We were completely shocked and sick to our stomachs because we had just seen them in the lift line the run before. How could that be? Why? Does not make any sense; all these questions pop into your head and there are no right answers. Another fallen Squaw Valley ski hero who had pushed his slope style aerial skiing into the back country free skiing world. It was and is a sad day for the ski world.
That night was a tough one, good to be with friends and family. Live life to the fullest because life is very precious and you never know what will happen. Be happy, make a difference and make sure to stay close with friends and family.
After a long night of deep thought and prayers for his friends and family, I awoke to sunny, clear blue skies. It was a perfect day to ski powder with CR and enjoy Gods wonderful gift of life. This was a perfect day for shooting at Squaw Valley because there were still a couple parts of the upper mountain that had not opened the day before do to avalanche control. Hank deVre and I met Myles Clark at the top of Squaw at the Silverado chair, where he was scoping a couple cliff drops in the canyon. There was plenty of untracked powder everywhere, so we each picked a couple zones and went to work. Myles stomped a beautiful landing in the trees off a nice 40 ft fall away cliff wall and shortly after, I carved a long drifting turn down a spine drop off into the valley floor. It’s a humbling trip to get back on your skis after a 2 year break and just send it off a rock and hold your composer in the air and stick your landing safely. It was great to ski with Myles and watch him work lines in the cliffs and it also gave me a good act to follow which boosted my confidence back to the way it was when I was skiing every day.
It’s always a pleasure to work with photographers like Hank because we both know each others style and what it takes to get the best shot and in turn he brings the best out in me. We take the chairlift back up and scout a couple more lines on the high traverse where we find a variety of powder turns and rock drop offs. Time passes so quickly when your having fun and sure enough we had milked this run for all it’s worth. It was 3:30, “quiten time” and I still had an 8 hour drive home to tackle; so I said my goodbyes and went to my sister’s to pack up and meet my mother for a quick bite.
After a great steak dinner with mom, I downed a large coffee and started my 8 hour drive back home to Dana Point. Talk radio mixed with Rap music and a couple Monster energy drinks and I was home by 4 am.
As I reflect back on these past few days; I am so thankful to have such great friends and family that have enriched my life. Life is short, be happy and make a difference.
Stay tuned for my last minute trip to Makaha for the Kui Kaika big wave SUP surf event.