Wrightwood, CA, is a ski town just 1–10 hours away from L.A., depending on traffic.
Mark and I were excited for our fully stocked rented weekend cabin. It belonged to a friend’s soon-to-be ex-wife. We were on our way from L.A. and I was hoping she hadn’t slipped dog pee in the orange juice.
Mark: "I’m really excited to go skiing again! How are you not excited about going skiing again?"
Me: "They’ve got one hill, right?"
Mark (laughing): "Two. They’re supposed to be good ones. Are you sure you don’t want to go?"
(*Sidenote: they have more than two hills.)
Me: "No, thanks. Totally in for the sledding, but I’ll read while you’re skiing."
Here’s the thing. I ski. Badly, but I ski. I could probably be good if I took a lesson. But after the “Tahoe incident” a few years ago, I don’t ski with Mark.
We were at Squaw Valley, a premier resort on Lake Tahoe, just after a fresh snowfall. Conditions were perfect for a great mountain run. I wanted a lesson since it had been years since either of us had touched a ski – never mind actually ridden on one (or two).
But we were with Mark’s family friends, who were far too badass for something lame like lessons. One of them had spent the previous night telling us how he almost became a Navy Seal, but he couldn’t, because he doesn’t like the water.
They were a tough crew. They were also experienced skiers, happy to throw us to the black-diamond wolves for entertainment.
In short, they were assholes.
Mark and I were too young and stupid to really push the point, so up the Squaw Valley gondola we went. Past the normal hills with their friendly looking instructors and un-sheer cliffs. Past the lodge and hot cocoa to the top of the tallest mountains, my eyes getting wider as the wind whirled the fresh snow and created whiteout conditions.
Almost-Seal-Man laughed at me. “Pull your scarf tight, it’s windy up here!”
Contemplating accidentally smacking him with a pole, I gingerly stepped from the gondola and was immediately blown right back in.
By sheer force of will I managed to join the group in a “sheltered” area where I could almost stand upright. No one asked if they could help. I was half the body weight of the lightest one. They were busy wetting themselves from laughter.
This weekend also marks the death of any joy I might have gotten from the movie Swingers. There are only so many times someone can be “money” before they’re just tapped and dead-ass broke. To this day, if I hear someone called “money”, my hands unwittingly clench in preparation for battle. It’s a shame, I know.
Mark agreed to try one of the lower cliffs first – sort of like agreeing to lick the less poisonous frog in the terrarium – so we parted ways from the rest of the crew for a bit.
We gathered our skis, poles and gear and slid/fell/tripped into the lift line. Twenty minutes later the chair arrived to take us up the hill. We sat down easily; the guy operating the lift gave great instructions.
It was incredible. White, rolling waves of hills and snow spread out before us in all directions. The wind lessened. The air was like an invigorating cold drink. Everything quieted but the windy rush and our muffled small talk through scarves, jackets and partially frozen lips.
We reached the top and it was time to de-chair. A primer: Ideally, you place your skies level with the ground, and the chair’s momentum gently pushes you off and around a turn in the snow bank. You stop upright and out of the way of oncoming chairs.
I’ve seen it executed perfectly. It looks like fun. I’ve only successfully been lifted by a T-bar, a metal bar in the shape of a “T” that you desperately cling to as it drags you up the hill.
It’s probably helpful to mention the height difference at this point. Mark is 6’4". I am 5’3". He has at least a six-foot wingspan without poles.
I could use his everyday shoes as skis, or small boats.
And when you get someone of those dimensions excited, and he starts to flail around a little bit in an enclosed space, it creates shockwaves for anyone who happens to be nearby. Say, someone next to him in a ski lift chair.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I have vague recollections of flying poles and skis, then surprise at being on my back, looking up at the pink Styrofoam underbelly of our chair. A lift operator pulled me out of the way of swiftly approaching traffic, where chairlift riders sat gaping at my one ski still stuck in the snow bank.
Eyes watering, nose running, snow, cold and anxiety mixing in my blood, I was somehow righted. I slid on my skis in semi-shock up to Mark. He was standing five feet away, filled with adrenaline and completely oblivious to having just plowed me into a snow bank.
“Isn’t this great?!!!”
A little girl of about ten in a pink puffy jacket glided by with grace and ease. I fell down the hill and went straight for the lodge.
So when Wrightwood came up, I was excited. About the sledding.
We got in town after dark. If you’ve ever stayed in a rented cabin before, you know that the “map” to the house key usually requires Magellan-like skills. I get lost in the mall. But this was an adventure of sorts – I felt like a pirate looking for buried treasure in UGG boots and the tiniest flashlight known to man. We followed directions in the cold and dark, opening rusty latches and avoiding nasty spiders.
Forty-five minutes later, my hands were too cold to feel the key as we made our way inside the 1960s haven that was our cabin. Yellowing laminated kitchen floors, fake stone fireplace, fake wood paneling, velvetine couches, hard green carpet, floral curtains. And two deer heads, carefully arranged to follow you around the living room.