My trip out to Tahoe started with high hopes. And how could it not? The forecast called for ridiculous amounts of snow most of the week; not to mention that it would be my first time visiting the region.
My first few days were spent at Northstar. I was looking forward to riding Northstar’s famous parks, but the snow buried all but a handful of the mountain’s park features, so right away I was looking for something else to huck my carcass off. I cruised through the spacious glades of the Backside and Lookout Mountain where deep powder was abundant. However, my pursuit for air, so far, yielded almost nothing. From there, I headed to the Whit Rabbit sidecountry area, where I had spotted multitudes of rock outcroppings from the Backside chair. I found the cliffs I had been looking for after hiking, traversing and billy-goating over rocks, trees and bushes. The first two drops, relatively small, had gone smoothly. The last two hurt my knees just thinking about them. I planned to launch off of a small, snow-covered fin, into a drop of around twelve feet. The landing, I would soon find out, was flatter than anticipated. I popped, sucked up my knees, impacted, and tumbled head over heels. This was a maneuver I would perfect over the upcoming days.
While the sun had shone almost all of day one, it withdrew into hiding for the rest of the week. Storm after storm pummeled the region, with some spots recording over 90 inches in one week! After two days riding Flatstar, my thirst for steeps and airtime had only been partially quenched, with my brother and friends raving about the cliffs, steeps, and snow at Squaw Valley, we packed up and moved the show to Squallywood.
For those who don’t know, Squaw is a freerider’s paradise with enough steeps, spines, and cliffs to send you home crying to your mommy. We arrived at KT-22 fifteen minutes prior to first chair to find an almost full lift line. Our friends had arrived at 6:30 to gain first chair rights. Going up KT-22, I was blown away by the steepness of Squaw. Blue runs here would rival double blacks of my home mountains in Colorado. I could spot cliffs in all directions from the chair, ranging from 10 to over 100 feet. It’s obvious why so many pros call Squaw home. Strapping in at the top, sun nonexistent, gale force winds slapping my face, I was scared my next few turns would send me tumbling off an unseen cliff. The lure of two feet of fresh powder couldn’t stop me though, and I rolled, slowly, into the white abyss below.
Squaw has a way of humbling the gung-ho. Our friends brought us to a cliff band next to the, then closed, Olympic Lady lift. The cliff offered 70 foot and 20 foot options. We, of course, took the latter. I inched my way to the edge of the cliff, screamed a mental “Fuck it!” and dropped. I had the good foresight to take the exact same line as my friend who dropped right before me, so I enjoyed landing directly in his bomb hole. On the next chair up, my newly gained confidence was completely dashed. My friend James informed me that skier Mike Wilson took the 70 ft cliff, as if that didn’t hurt my ego enough, and had double backflipped it. Double backflipping a 70 foot cliff? Most resorts don’t offer that kind of inspiration, let alone terrain burly enough to try it on. All in all, Squaw worked me. It humbled me, tumbled me, scared me, and had me coming back for more. The two days at Squaw were the highlight of the trip, despite nonexistent visibility, and winds that kept the upper mountain closed. Even after KT-22 had to close due to winds, I found terrain at Squaw that was on a completely different level than most resorts.
When my friend James wasn’t whacking his pole, or telling people he was the best skier on the mountain (if you didn’t laugh watch the movie G.N.A.R.), he was saying that Squaw breeds champions. Squaw’s steepness and litany of natural terrain features, combined with dangerous doses of inspiration, will transform the average snow rider into an extraordinary one…or maybe it will just have them coming back for more.