There comes a time in a pandemic era after getting all of the requisite shots, playing it safer than most, still getting sick twice, and watching everyone else carry on like nothing is the matter that one throws one’s hands in the air and books a trip to the south of France. I actually have to give Britt full credit for being the one to say eff it and book the flights. It was our first real vacation since the outset of all of this virus madness. We flew into Nice via Stockholm. Both airports were really clean and modern. There is a tram line in Nice that goes right to the airport, so we were able to just walk out of the terminal and hop on the tram to our hotel. Continue reading
In early July, I was fortunate enough to cut loose from the desk for several days and explore some of the back roads of New England. Thanks to Backcountry Discovery Routes, several of such roads had already been mapped out for me. I was able to attend an event at Union Garage (at some pre-pandemic date) where the BDR guys basically unveiled the North East route. After watching the promotional film at the event, I was super stoked about trying it out someday. As it turns out, the route runs right through my neighborhood in the Catskills, and I now have a bike that goes off road. My plan was to ride sections 2, 3 and 4 as far as the top of Mt. Washington (then turn around and come back) in the space of 4 days. Long story short, I learned early on in my trip that it was unwise (borderline idiotic) to attempt some of the tougher parts of this route alone with no cell service. I made it as far as Chester VT, when the forecast turned to rain for the foreseeable future. As a result, I opted to turn around and spend a full day riding back to the Catskills instead of spending multiple more miserable days riding in the rain. As it was, I saw some very beautiful country. I had some very anxiety inducing moments in the deep back country, but ultimately made it out the other side. The ride back was insanely wet and dreary, but better one day than multiple. Here are some photos from the excursion. Most of them were unfortunately cell phone shots (taken in portrait orientation). But here they are anyway-
The photo above is the first section of really gnarly terrain that I encountered. This was on the downhill side, which I found much more difficult than the uphill. It was so rough that it shook my water bottle loose from its moorings. It is a lot of work wrestling a 600 LB bike through this stuff, especially when wearing full gear in 80+ degree (and humidity) weather. I had a moment when I stopped to take this photo where I wondered to myself exactly what I had gotten into.
The section above was another one where I almost got stuck/dropped the bike a few times. It had rained all night, and there was very slippery mud in the rutted out trail. You can see from the haze in the air how humid it was that morning.
Overall, it was an awesome experience. I highly recommend it, if you are into dual sport riding. Hoping to give it another shot next summer when I have (a) a proper luggage solution and, (b) some company.
Continued from Part 3… Monday morning we woke up to a thick blanket of fog socking in South Lake Tahoe. We threw all of our gear into the Jeep and headed toward Kirkwood, which was about a 30 minute drive away. As we turned off of the main highway and started to head up the windy canyon road, we quickly broke through the cloud barrier. Above the fog, it was another bluebird day with the sun blazing overhead. Since it was a Monday, and we showed up on the early side, we were able to get an amazing parking spot right at the base of the lift. It was so warm that we took our time suiting up, before meeting our Expedition Kirkwood mountain guide for the day, Chris.
Our first run was off of chair number 5, “Solitude.” We felt the stoke settling in as it became apparent that we were going to have this mountain mostly to ourselves, with tons of snow and virtually spring weather. Chris lead us down a couple of groomers to get a sense of our riding ability before taking us to a back bowl that was capped in a giant cornice famously called “the wave.” We rode the “Sunrise” lift for two or three runs, each time stopping to take in the view from the shoulder of Thimble Peak. Thank you to mountain guide Chris for the photo directly below.
Chris took us back to Mountain Village from the back bowl, where we caught chair number 6, “Cornice Express.” From there we traversed a massive cliff section to Sentinel Bowl. We alternated between tree runs and cat track switchbacks. I could tell that this zone would be insanely fun with a couple of inches of fresh. Even with the sun softening up the top layer of 5 day old snow, it was some really good riding.
At lunch time, we soaked in some sun and enjoyed a locally brewed beer at Mountain Village. As the afternoon waxed on, we explored various runs off Wagon Wheel Bowl, and a few other spots on the main mountain. When it came time to call it a day, we were totally spent. This was the first time in recent history that either of us had spent four days in a row riding all day long. It was pretty amazing.
After going through the longstanding ritual of changing clothes in the ski resort parking lot (at least it was sunny and nice out), we packed up the Jeep and headed back toward Reno. The drive was pretty quick and painless. One suggestion that I have for anyone taking the Jetblue red-eye to NYC out of Reno: eat before you get to the airport. Every restaurant and bar shuts down at 8:30. One more pointer, the Jetlbue desk at the Reno airport is not open until 8:45. So, take your time getting to the airport.
When B and I boarded the plane, we saw a familiar face. One of our NYC based friends was working the flight. She hooked us up with neck pillows and blankets, which is the last thing I remember before landing at JFK. This was the soundest that I have ever slept on an airplane. Once on the ground, we picked up our board bags and grabbed an UBER home. The flight landed early enough to miss rush hour for the most part. We were back in Manhattan in less than an hour, in time to shower and head to the office. And that… is how, from NYC to Reno, we rode four Tahoe resorts in four days.
Continued from Part 2… Sunday morning we woke up at the crack of dawn, walked across the street and met up with a legend. I don’t use that word lightly. Along with “extreme” and “epic,” I feel like “legend” has become a little bit diluted from overuse. This dude, however, is the real deal. His name is Kevin Cooper. Everyone knows him as “Coop.” As we came to find out during the course of the rest of the weekend, he is the type of guy who should have his own Wikipedia page. If he ever writes an autobiography, I would stand in line to buy it. Anyway, we had some breakfast burritos at Heaven’s Little Cafe, which is literally a snowball’s throw from the entrance to the gondola in Heavenly Village. The burritos were legit. As we fueled up, Coop gave us the lowdown for the day of riding that lay ahead of us.
Our first taste of the surreal scenery that Heavenly offers was riding the gondola from Heavenly Village to the Tamarack Lodge. I tried to snap a couple of shots through the gondola window with my celly (top photo), but it really doesn’t do it justice. The gondola deposited us at the base of Tamarack Express, which provides access to the California side of the resort, as well as the rest of the Nevada side. We spent most of the morning hitting groomers on the California side of the hill, just carving up corduroy. Before lunch, Coop took us through some nice tree runs off of Sky Express. We also took a quick lap through the terrain park, which was still being built out for the season.
After lunch we headed back to the NV side of the resort via Skyline Trail. One lap down this thing pays for your lift ticket. It is a slow narrow cat track that feels like an amusement park ride. I say that because there is so much scenery going on in every direction it is difficult to know which way to look. The experience is akin to being on the observation deck of at 30 Rock (better than the Empire State Building) or the top of the Eiffel Tower. Sadly I did not get any photos from Skyline. Honestly, they would been insufficient to convey what being up there is like. There is no lens wide enough to accurately capture that experience.
Coop had another engagement for the afternoon, so B and I spent the latter half of the day exploring different tree runs on the Nevada side of the resort. The afternoon sun had softened up the snow considerably, and it was quite forgiving even in the dense pines. After 3 full days of riding, it was a nice reward to be able to take in lake views once again, riding the gondola back to Heavenly Village. I should add that there were two lovely ladies handing out warm cookies and hot chocolate at Tamarack Lodge. B shot me a look as she collected her free cup of hot chocolate as if to say “now I see why they call it Heavenly.”
B and I headed back to the Becket for a little apres ski, before meeting up with Coop for dinner at Kalani’s. We drank local wine, ate some amazing fish and had some great conversation. The highlight was Coop telling us stories about his father-in-law Dick Reuter from the days he was enlisted to develop the terrain at Kirkwood Mountain. Listening to him recount all of the close calls that Dick and his crew had with dynamite, had my abs sore from laughing. It was an awesome day from start to finish. B and I both slept like rocks that night, dreaming about what our last day in Tahoe would have in store for us.
Continued from Part 1…. Saturday morning we ventured to the highest altitude resort in Tahoe, Mount Rose. Most resorts were reporting 23 feet of fresh snow in January. Mount Rose got 30 feet. It was apparent from when we first pulled into the lot that this resort was a “local” mountain. They still have the hang-tag lift tickets and everything. The traditional crowd and vibe was just the icing on the cake (the cake being the conditions and terrain). Most of the locals that we met were from Reno, which made sense, since Reno was entirely visible from the top of the “Northwest” lift. Mount Rose is like the Two Face character from Batman. On one side of the resort there are a series of gnarly chutes that stay buttery soft from being in the shade all day long. On the other side of the mountain, you have Slide Bowl, which is wide open groomers with a party at the bottom.
Yeah, there was a full blown biergarten at the bottom of Slide Bowl with $2 beers and $2 brats. In New York prices that is basically negative 10 dollars for all you can eat and drink. The DJ was alternating between polka and trap tunes. As if the high altitude beers and jams weren’t enough, Mount Rose held a stein race open to all of those bold enough to compete. As far as midday ski breaks go, it was basically heaven. Our boy Mike Pierce was the master of ceremony; rocking lederhosen, filling steins and calling out the races. Vibe was so nice and family friendly that we almost felt like Tahoe adoptees.
After two solid days of riding north lake, we packed up our board bags and headed to south lake. The scenery along the way was bananas. It was all I could do to keep my eyes on the road. We hit a nice horseshoe bend right before dusk and pulled off to take a couple of snaps. Mind you, we had to climb over a 10 foot bank of snow to get these images. Worth it. Also try not to judge base layer outfits too much.
Saturday evening we arrived in south lake. We checked into Hotel Becket. This recently reno’ed boutique gem was exactly what we were looking for after two straight days shredding the gnar. For those seeking a raucous nightclubby scene, it is probably not the spot to choose. If you are looking for mellow lodging that is uber-proximate to the Heavenly gondola, you can’t do much better. After checking in we wandered around Heavenly Village for a bit before ultimately dining at the new pub-restaurant at the Becket. When I say new, I mean it was literally the first night that they were actually open since the renovation. The staff were a handful of locals that looked like agency models wearing flannel. For apps, we had the wings and the fried pickles. Both were delicious. Hard to mess up fried food. But very good, just the same. Main course-wise I went for the chicken sando and a locally brewed IPA that was on tap. I was not disappointed. With food in our bellies and smiles on our faces, we retired for some much needed sleep.
To a lot of people it probably seems silly to leave NYC in the dead of winter to visit somewhere that is possibly just as cold, if not colder. Most of my friends here in the city go somewhere warm to take a break from the cold during the winter months. Those are my friends who: all winter long wear Canada Goose jackets (even when it is like 40+ degrees) and only go to bars that have fireplaces. Don’t get me wrong, I like bars with fireplaces too. But I also think that there are better ways to enjoy the winter than holing up and ordering Seamless between the months of October and April. I like winter sports. Maybe it is because I grew up in Salt Lake, where the outdoors are very accessible. Whatever the reason, I enjoy flying down a mountain on a piece laminated wood just as much now as when I was a youngster in SLC. It is just my luck that my lady friend does too.
Snowboarding trips can pose some challenging logistics for New Yorkers. There are no “real” mountains (sorry, Appalachians/Catskills) for a couple of thousand miles. Even for those riders who don’t necessarily care about riding big mountains, Vermont is still a 5 hour drive, only to deal with the prevalent “east coast hard pack” snow conditions (AKA, ice).
Ever since Jetblue added a direct flight from JFK to Reno, I have been jonesing to book a Tahoe trip. Flying for 5 hours to real mountains and good snow > driving for 5 hours to ride small icy hills. “Why not just do Denver?” you may ask. Because depending on when you land and which resort you are going to, you may end up doing 4+ in the air and then another 4 in the car. If you want to go to more than one resort.. forget about it. Not the ideal way to spend a long weekend, IMO. Then there is Salt Lake. It is awesome and will most likely always be my “home” mountain. But because of that, it rarely seems like much of a getaway. So last weekend B and I finally made the Tahoe trip happen. This is the story.
I guess that I should actually start with day -1. Thursday evening after work I took the E train from midtown to the Airtrain and met B at JFK. B works from home a lot of the time, so she was able to grab an UBER XL and meet me at Terminal 5 with all of our gear. She is gangster. I watched a couple of movies on the flight, she mostly worked. Free in-flight WiFi is a gift and a curse. When we landed in Reno, we picked up a rental jeep at the airport and drove for about 30 minutes to North Lake Tahoe’s Hyatt Regency at Incline Village, where we would stay for the first two nights.
After checking in, we sipped our complimentary glasses of champs while chatting up the weather to David, the bell hop on duty. In this case, “weather” meant the 20+ day snow storm that had just come through the Sierra Nevada range leaving a very deep blanket of fresh snow for us to explore over the next four days. Even though the Hyatt isn’t ski in/ski out, it made sense for us to stay there since we would be riding two different resorts at north lake. Both were a quick drive from Incline Village.
It wasn’t difficult to wake up before the sun on Friday, since we were still on New York time. In the daylight we caught our first breathtaking glimpses of the lake in the winter. The sun was just cresting the eastern ridge as we made our way to Squaw Valley. We rolled into the parking lot about 30 minutes before the lifts started running. The meadow at the base of the mountain was still socked in with overnight river fog. It felt otherworldly.
B and I picked up our lift tickets and met up with our North Face Mountain Guide, Karl near the base of Squaw’s funitel. We were lucky enough to grab one of the first cars and arrived at the mid-mountain lifts before anyone else. Powder was abundant and the corduroy groomers squeaked against the ptex. All of this, plus bluebird skies to boot got my blood going. Conditions were dreamy and so was the terrain.
Having Karl to show us the mountain was a game changer. Squaw is huge. Trying to learn this mountain on my own would have taken 3 or 4 days of riding. We ended up riding all of the mid-mountain lifts, the funitel and the tram. My favorite terrain was the Headwall zone. There were wide open steep turns and pow in the trees, all packed into a single run.
We rode until the lifts closed, then hit Le Chamois for apres. It has basically everything you need after a long day of riding: pizza, beer, fire pit, classic rock. We made our way back to the Hyatt in time for sundown and went straight into the outdoor hot tub. As we watched the steam rise up toward the stars at the end of our first day, B and I were already questioning to each other what exactly it was that we loved so much about NYC.
With each passing year, it becomes more difficult to be “off the grid.” It seems like there are new cell towers going up in every last remote region of the industrialized world. Last weekend I found myself in an area so remote that there was no cell service, and the nearest land line was a 4 hour hike away. It was refreshing. We spent 5 days in a Utah mountain range called the Uintas. My family vacationed there during the summer when I was young. Nestled between the dense lodge-pole pine trees on the edge of Moon Lake, there is a rustic ‘resort’ comprised of log cabins and a lodge dating back to the 1920s. Last weekend my family had a reunion in those same cabins. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to take B on an overnight backpacking trek for the first time in her life (something that I have enjoyed doing since I was a youngster). B and I arrived in Salt Lake a couple of days before the reunion started, met up with our good friend Sam Adams who came in from Portland (OR, not ME), and headed into the woods. We left the car at Moon Lake (which is where the road ends), and proceeded to hike to a remote glacier-melt called Brown Duck Lake. Even though the hike was only about 7 miles, there is roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain (starting from over 8000 feet). All three of us are in relatively good shape, and it still took us a little over 4 hours to complete. Our ginger pace may have also been partially attributable to the fact that I was carrying about 30 lbs in camera gear (which I broke out and used often along the way) in addition to the tent, sleeping bag, etc.. My shoulders are still a bit sore from the endeavor.
We arrived at Brown Duck Lake about an hour before sunset, in time to set up camp, build a fire and catch some fish for dinner. The lake is loaded with native trout. We caught a few different varieties, keeping only a brown trout and a cutthroat for dinner. After swapping Sasquatch stories and shooting about 300 frames of the night sky (mostly film and on Sam’s camera), we hung our packs in trees in an effort not to attract any bears, then hit the sack. We broke camp early the next AM and made it back down to Moon Lake just as some of my family was beginning to arrive. We spent the rest of our time in the mountains catching up with family, laughing, eating, fishing, hiking, playing horseshoes, and sitting around the fire. Sometimes it is really nice to be completely disconnected from the real world, especially when surrounded by amazing company.