By Ryan Dunfee
For weeks, we’ve been biting our lips, drinking every happy hour, and feigning interests in hiking, lake surfing, and bulletproof groomers here in this snowless paradise known as Lake Tahoe. Like the Greek Olympics, we’ve been edging farther and farther past the point of no return, wondering if we were every going to pull off our signature event.
All eyes around the lake have been checking Tahoeweatherdiscussion.com with obsessive regularity, hoping to God Bryan would see a massive low pressure system explode out of nowhere over Sacramento and puke all over the golf courses, hiking trails, and bike paths that have stayed open into January in this great test of irony for the west-bound ski bum who left New Hampshire in hopes of finding storms that had before only been known in legend.
We held our breaths this past week, as after over two months without any meaningful precipitation, the winds howled across the lake and clouds, a completely unknown phenomenon this season, worked their way east across the hills. After going to sleep Thursday with the first sign of white on the ground, we woke up Friday to see the rain pounding that snow into the gutter.
As Lel Tone, Squaw Valley’s head avalanche forecaster, took the mic that night to get the season’s first avalanche awareness clinic underway, quarter-sized rain drops pounded the tin roof overhead. As the videos of avalanche scenarios played, people were in as much awe of the strange off-white frozen substance on the screen as they were of Daron Rahlves tomahawking down some absurd Chugach face.
People almost made a point of sleeping in Saturday, so discouraged by the dismal weather. Yet for those of us who didn’t get the e-mail about ski school being cancelled, we were up and at ‘em, eagerly checking snowfall totals. When Mt. Rose was calling a fresh coating of 21 inches of fine white cheddar cheese cream from the summit, it was a no-brainer. While no one ultimately took me up on my offer of free skiing and free photos of them skiing the first powder of the entire season, it was up to me to investigate whether or not powder, so often referred to as “the elusive” this season, did indeed exist after all this misery.
After 40 minutes of driving through slop, white-outs, people sledding, yelling at their dogs to get out of the road, or ski touring, over and through the parking lot and up a slow triple, there it was: the elusive, freshly cut below me with a neat stack of figure 8s. What the rest of the afternoon of shredding every fresh turn of silky smooth I could get my SkiLogiks on was not so much the elation-inducing, howl-pumping stokefest you might expect after such a lengthy drought, but rather the slow departure from a fog of gloom.
Each hip drop accompanied by the field of white shooting wide from the ski bottoms, each little air to a soft landing, each weightless surf turn lowered the blood pressure, calmed down building anxieties, and returned the brain to its healthy, happy, functioning state. If this keeps up, I might just be able to build up enough momentum for a public exclamation of joy come April.