Monday, April 17, 2017

USA 2015 - Day 17-20: Snow Play at Squaw Valley

We're ready to go skiing!
On Day 16, we travelled yet another long distance to get to another family adventure. This time the snowy mountains were calling for us. This skiing trip was first for the family and we couldn't wait!

From Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley, we drove along US-395N, stopping by Lone Pine, California to grab lunch at Carl's Jr, then continued all the way to South Lake Tahoe (315 miles for about 6 hours), not to visit the sights (unfortunately, we have to reserve that for another trip) but to pick up groceries/snacks to bring all the way up to Squaw Valley which was another 50 miles via US-50E and NV-28.

We had been monitoring the road conditions via During winter some parts of the hway may be blocked with rocks/debris from landslides or are closed due to heavy snow. I've read in one blog that US-395 is "the best road trip in the country" so we were all too excited to drive through this stretch which is also the road that leads to Yosemite National Park. Our other option, in case of road closures, was the not-so-happening US-90. As you can see, we did take some calculated risk going through US-395 and we're glad we did. There were no landslides, thank goodness, but the 300 miles or so took a toll on our creative juices. We've done the "I spy with my little eye....", jeopardy, guess that tune, continue the song based on the last word uttered, until we arrived at the "are we there yet" question. The view from this hway was fascinating with mountains and flat lands alternating. We passed by the area of Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite National Park and we were tempted to stop by if the road wasn't closed at that time. Anyway, we had a schedule to follow if we wanted to get to Squaw Valley early evening.

We were at Lake Tahoe for a quick stop at the groceries and then we hit the road again. We weren't sure if the way up to Olympic Village Inn was already icy and we didn't want to take the chance of being stuck on the road or outside in the cold. By the time we reached Olympic Village Inn it was already dark and very cold. I had to take extra caution walking from the parking lot to the reception area as the lot was icy. I checked us in and we unloaded our stuff for our stay in the village for the next 4 days.

Olympic Village Inn 
1909 Chamonix Place 
Olympic Valley 96146 USA

Aside from the affordable price, another deciding factor in booking this accommodation for our family was its history. It would be nice to stay in this historical village inn which was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics athletes. Maybe their snow sports skills would rub in on us :) Just maybe.....

The pictures in were also quite convincing and when we walked into our room it did not disappoint. We liked that it has one bedroom for me and my husband and the separate sofabed in the living room area for the boys. The was a small bathroom with a functioning heater. There was a kitchenette and all kitchen items were provided. We realized we should have bought more food from the grocery to cook for several days worth of breakfasts and suppers! 

After showering and eating and watching TV we were ready to sleep. The boys fixed their sofabed and made themselves comfortable and even wanted to stay up late. We reminded them that we need a good night's sleep to prepare ourselves for an activity-filled day ahead.  

Day 17 - Skiing!

The following day, no one seems to be ready to get up. The weather was really nice and cozy. When I looked out the window it was snowing! Kids from the other rooms were already out and about playing with the snow. We woke the boys up to get some piece of the action. We tried to open the door to get a better look, improperly dressed without our winter clothes, and it was freezing cold we almost instantly slammed the door shut. We decided to have some hot coco and eat our donuts first, then shower then go out and do some snow playing.

testing the weather and snow before the rest of us came out

our little one making his snow angel

here were the boys all geared-up for the day at the snow
and look who's found an icicle by the front door of the reception area.
Icicles were hanging from the tree just outside the main reception area of Olympic Village Inn.
We wonder what may have happened to the bottled water we left in the car.....

Left in the car overnight, this bottled water was found half frozen!

you'd guess we were the last ones to get here last night. Our car was the least covered in snow in the parking area! Lucky us. We just had to carefully bring the car out of its parking spot as the icy road was too slippery.

We could actually just walk to the Squaw Valley village center. I would have taken us just about 10 minutes but we decided we'd drive. Just in case it rained or we needed to carry something heavy around or it got too cold.

We headed to the beginners skiing area at First Venture SnoVentures. Looking at the not so steep slopes and not so high mountain we thought we could probably try to learn to ski by ourselves first. There were other beginner skiers in the slopes and all were skiing without instructors so we said we'd give it a try alright.

We did research on the cost of taking ski lessons and it was not cheap. We were prepared to take the (financial) plunge but we wanted to see if we could get somewhere without a ski instructor first. My cousin and her boyfriend told us it was possible since we had a few days at Squaw Valley anyway. So we asked the First Venture attendants what we should do to get ourselves into the ski slopes.

Rent Skiing gear. For this we had to drive back to the heart of the village. There were free shuttles that ferry skiers around the village but it may take some time if you miss it's pick up time.

We rented our skiing gears (ski boots, ski poles) at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. There were computer terminals wherein skiers who want to rent fill out an online form. After this, we queued up at the counter to pay for our ski gear rentals. A 1 day ski package inclusive of ski boots and gears cost USD56 for adults and USD35 for kids. 1 day beginner lift pass cost USD39 per person.

Funny thing was that I asked if we should get an insurance - in case we break any of the gears we rented. We were asked if it was the first time we were skiing. We said yes, of course. The shop crew smiled and said there was no need for one then. Oh well...

Then we were assisted to the benches for our shoe sizes to be taken. This was sort of like a self-pampering experience as our need were carefully attended by the shop crew. We sat down as our feet sizes were taken and were given ski boots to try on. It was quite difficult to wear the ski boots. They have to fit snugly (tight but not too tight) and fastened securely. But it was actually more difficult to take them off, we realized, when we tried to remove it afterwards. We had to help each other out - someone pulling on the boots while the wearer yank his/her foot out. It was kind of funny and a bit awkward at first to walk wearing ski boots. Aside from the weight, there was a specific way of walking with it. Heel, toe. Heel, toe. I was thinking it will take us a long time to walk from the place where we rented the gear to the parking lot, into the car, out of the car, and to the slopes. We sort of got the hang of it (or else, we weren't going anywhere at all).

Ira with his cute ski boots

After finally getting ski boots that fit perfectly, we were ushered to the ski size fitting area. Remembering the proper technique to walk on the ski boots - Heel, toe.... heel, toe - we made our way to the next stage. I thought it was just a grab-the-skis-and-go process but it was a lot more complicated than that. We were each asked to step up into the ski fitting area where another set of attendants checked out forms, brought out some skis for us to try and made some final tweaks/adjustments to the skis before being given a go signal to proceed to the next the next stage.

Kelvin and I, back to back, as these ski experts do their thing to personalize the specifications of our skis
Carrying our skis along, our next stop was the ski poles section. This was more straight forward. Not too long, not too short. When you hold the poles your arms should be at 45 degree angles. And we're good to go! 

Walking on our newly rented ski boots, we lugged our ski poles and skis to the parking lot and drove back to First Venture for our first ever skiing experience. We were all excited!

Ski the slopesOur approach was like this - watch the others do it first then follow what they were doing. Sounds easy. Not! Well, at least not for me... nor Kelvin. Let's get to that part later on. Let me share with you how we started to "learn" how to ski first.

This photo was the view from the upper part of the slop looking down to the starting point. Let me orient you...

Center of the photo is the huge parking lot leading to the center of the village where the taller buildings and restaurants and the ski rental area are. On the right side of the photo is the First Venture reception area with a small eating place where skiers can have hot coco. On the lower left side of the photo is the special travelator which brings skiers to the middle part of the slope. 

We started by looking at the skiers going down the slope. Shuffle, shuffle. And down they went. So we practised shuffling at the bottom of the hill (lower center of the photo where a group of people are gathered). It was a bit funny shuffling and not getting anywhere. When we were able to move a few feet we looked for a small bump/slope so we could try to slide down without causing any accidents. Balance was the key. Ira got the hang of it quite fast. My cousin and her boyfriend did say he'd probably do well because he was smaller and his center of gravity was lower = easier to balance. They were right! Kelvin and I were struggling a bit and lost our balance several times. 
looking like a skier... smiling while I still could :)
When we were confident enough, we decided to hit the slopes. On to the travelator we went. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. This was another tricky one because we had to keep our balance while transitioning from the "launching pad" to the travelator until we got to the top where we had to quickly find our balance again as we stepped off the travelator and into the landing and get out of the way of the skiers coming up. 

Standing there at the middle of the slopes I felt really nervous. I think I was more scared to ski down with the probability of falling or rolling on the slopes than hiking up Angels Landing holding onto chains to prevent me from falling or without chains but with the view of the long drop below. First try for us was a bit ok. We had several runs. Some were quite successful. Others were a total failure. We stumbled and rolled, got our skis detached at some point.  I even got a minor injury - fingers got scraped when I fell and I still have the scar to prove it....There were also times when I felt my knees were going to break from the fall! The only consolation I guess was that my ankles felt secure - the boots were protective alright.

Every time I went down the slopes I kept repeating to myself, "You've got this. You can do this." I've never motivated myself this much in my entire life. I was always the last to ski down the slopes watching how my boys did first, making sure they were ok and they made it safely down. Mark would try to wait for me to ensure I had someone beside me while skiing down but often I would wait, wait, wait until, because it took me a long time to get the courage to ski down, Ira was back up to the slopes again.

we got this!
we're hanging in there...

Ira and Mark were the ones who got the technique quite fast. Mark was doing the "triangle", learning how to break and could steer intentionally left and right. Ira worked on his speed and maneuvering techniques. That's after falling and almost giving up when he hit the orange safety barrier at the bottom of the slopes and got his skis tangled in it. He was furious but after some convincing he got back up to the slopes and got better and better. 

Here is a video of one of his runs:

It was amazing just looking at him enjoying the slopes and making it look so easy while I was still struggling to keep my balance and not fall on my behind. Mark's tip was for me to not be scared while skiing down. Well.... you be the judge.

Here's my best run:


The boys decided to go on the ski lift to get to the higher part of the slope. I wasn't too confident of my skills (or lack there of) so I stayed and practised my shuffling and balance. Then watched as they skied down the slopes, hoping and praying they would safely make it down. But as the saying goes, "When you're skiing, if you're not falling you're not trying." They fell, got stuck somewhere in the middle, struggling to put snap their skis back on. Then they were down.

Kelvin decided to throw in the towel and said we should just sign up for a lesson and get an instructor to guide us properly. He was so frustrated because he always fell. And it was not that easy to go back up when you do fall while still in the slopes. Trying to wear your skis again is a big challenge. Sometimes we just carry the skis down and put them on while standing on flat surface.

After a few hours, we were running out of energy but someone was running from pure adrenaline and was going up and down the slopes until closing time. Yes, he was the last one to ski down the slopes and the last one to use the travelator. He didn't want to go home yet. He really enjoyed his day at the slopes. We may have an Olympic skier in the making :)

this was me conquering the slopes

snow angel of success
We made our way back to the village center to return the rentals. Skis boots off. Skis and poles out. I didn't get to ride the ski lift so I tried my luck on getting a refund for it. Although it did say in the ticket that there was no refund, I insisted I didn't use it and was hoping I could get the money back. They probably took pity on me cause well, I got a refund :)

It was a very memorable day for us - skiing success or not. And we were thinking we could do this again. Maybe next time we'd take up lessons with instructor to really be able to ski and enjoy skiing.

We still had time to wander around the village so we did as we were also on the look our for a place to eat. Here we tried to imagine how it was like during the 1960s Winter Olympics. It was probably so crowded and busy and you could feel the competition in the atmosphere.

we understood then why there was a need for sunglasses. The snowy slopes are blinding. White, white, white everywhere.

-9 degrees and we're still smiling
Christmas was just around the corner and we found a giant Christmas tree in the heart of the village. Another photo op for the family.

well, what do you know? There's a giant chair behind the giant tree.
Just right for our family of four :)
Of the choices of eating places/restaurants in the village, this place appealed to us. Fireside Pizza. It looked cozy and there's PIZZA! Good enough for our picky eater.
we were all so tired but enjoyed the slopes that we realized we didn't even have proper lunch!
So it's one giant pizza to nourish us for the night and some soup to keep us warm.
That's it for our first day in Squaw Valley. Sun burnt and bruised but we did have a lot of fun.

Day 18 - Winter Wonderland
The original plan was to go on the aerial tram and visit the Olympic Museum way up high the mountains. Unfortunately, the weather was that bad that the ski lifts and the aerial tram were not operating that day. There was no snow storm but the wind speed made it not safe for the operation of the ski lifts and aerial tram. Bummer!

We headed to First Venture again and decided we could try out luck snow tubing and riding the ski mobile. Unfortunately, the snow tubing lane was closed. So we were left with snowmobile ride. Too bad not all of us could try it.

Mini Snowmobiles could only accommodate kids ages 6 to 12, must be 40 inches tall and 110 pounds. I was definitely within the 110lb weight limit and I thought some 12 year olds there were taller than me. If only I was 12.... 

photo op will do
let's get going!

Ira was excited to get all geared up and start racing. Yes, he did race with 2 other kids who signed up in the same time slot as him. And he was raring to go and win the race.

ready.... get set..... go!

First few laps the race was close. The kids were getting the hang of driving the mini snowmobiles. One stalled in the middle of the track. The other started slow. Ira, on the other hand, put the pedal to the metal.

passing the other racer

and now leading the pack. It was a big lead to the finish and he was so happy about it.
victory wave

the victory walk
One final pose before we looked for other things to do at the village
I read that Resort at Squaw Creek has a skating rink and we thought maybe we could try that instead. It was just a short drive from the village. 
stopped by the hotel lobby for a game of chess
Then we headed out to where the skating rink was. The Resort has an outdoor lounge with a fire pit - perfect for a cold night by the skating rink. Our skating plan was derailed by the inviting snow-covered wilderness surrounding us. Once we stepped out into the snow, the boys were hooked!

and what else could be more fun when you're out in the snow that snow fight?!

this was me preparing for the snow fight....
and this was me being the center of the snow fight 
sliding with a sled

Ira having fun going up and down the slopes with this sled until it broke into half!

yeah, i know.... we were not on the beach where we usually do this pose... but we did it anyway!

family photo before we ended our visit to Resorts at Squaw Creek
We didn't get to skate at the rink because it was already dark.

Day 19 - Farewell, Squaw Valley! Till we ski again!
Four days had passed so fast. We still wanted to do more and explore the area but all good things must come to an end (or a continuation some other time, that is).

We loved and enjoyed our stay at the Olympic Village Inn and we would consider coming back some time soon. Before leaving, we came out into the snow again for our winter wonderland family photo ops. These were all taken just a few steps outside of our room.

We chose this one from our selection of family photos, printed several copies
and sent to family and friends for the holidays.
Hope everyone had a great 2015 holiday season, too!

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