It’s Not a Ski Vacation, it’s an Adventure

skiing Lake Tahoe

Kirkwood Ski Resort

I just arrived back in North Carolina from spending 2 1/2 weeks in Nevada and California.

I go to Lake Tahoe for 2 weeks, then head down to Napa Valley for 2 days, then fly home to North Carolina.  I take this same trip every year in the second half of March.

This is a very important trip to me.  I take it seriously.  Yes, I go off and visit some of the most beautiful places in the world, but I don’t treat it like a vacation.  I treat it like an adventure.  And all good adventures take a fair amount of work and preparation.

You might disagree and think that an extended trip to visit world class ski areas and vineyards is a the definition of an epic vacation.  But, it’s really just me visiting my old homes.

You see, I lived for 3 years in South Lake Tahoe, specifically, I lived on the Nevada side of South Lake in Zephyr Cove, Nevada.  And I also lived in the town of Napa for 6 years.  During my time in Napa, I’d drive up to Tahoe every weekend for 6 months of the winter and spring to go skiing.

I’ve been fortunate to have lived in some of the world’s great vacation destinations.

Because I’ve so much history in these areas, I put in the proper amount of work in preparation for this trip.  Since most of my time on this trip is dedicated to snow skiing, I start training for the trip as soon as it ends.  For this years trip, I started weight training the day after I left in 2018.

Here’s my first deadlift session after last years trip:

Why do I work so hard for a vacation? 

Well, it’s not a vacation, it’s adventure, and if you want to have a great adventure, you need to be prepared.  I have a lifetime ski pass to Kirkwood, CA.  It is a big crazy mountain with challenging and potentially dangerous terrain.  I also like to climb up and ski down mountains in the Lake Tahoe area, as well as other mountains on the East Side of the Sierra Nevada.  These mountains are not ski areas, they are just big mountains.  It takes a lot of work to get up and ski down these mountains, safely.

To navigate these mountains takes skill, muscle, and endurance.  So I train all-year-long.  Seriously.

You might ask, “Why?”  Good question.

I’m drawn to skiing in a  way that is out of my control.  I think about skiing everyday of my life, even those hot sticky days in the middle of the North Carolina summer.  And not just any type of skiing, I dream about the fun, adventurous, challenging type of skiing.

I work to build and maintain strength all year long.  I also have the challenge of living at sea level.  It’s much harder to perform athletically at 6,000 – 11,000 feet, where most of my skiing happens.

Also, I like to ski with friends, for both enjoyment and safety.  All my friends are better riders than I am.  And all of them live at altitude and ski regularly.  I also have many friends on the Kirkwood Ski Patrol (I highly recommend following @kirkwoodrescueavalanchedogs on Instagram).  As you can imagine, the Kirkwood Ski Patrol is filled with talented skiers.  If I want to keep up with these folks and not seem like a complete tourist, then I have to work extra hard, just to have somewhat acceptable “on mountain” abilities.

So for 11 1/2 months of the year, I put in the work.  This is a way of life for me now.  I’m grateful for this trip.  I value this experience so much, that I’m willing to put in the work to make sure my body can handle it.  This is also how I want to live for the rest of my life.  Constantly putting in the work, to be ready at any moment for adventure.

But, there is only so much that I can do.  There is no substitute for “mountain fitness”.  There is nothing I’ve ever found that can replicate how your muscles are strained and activated from the odd bumps, angles, and accelerating and decelerating that comes from snow skiing.

The first 2 days of my trip are always the same.  I struggle.

The first day on skis I focus on not getting hurt.  I usually try to get as many runs and turns in as I can.  This wakes up my muscles or activates my muscle memory, and lets my body know what will be required of it for the next 2 weeks.  I end the day tired and in desperate need of a couch and a beer.

The second day on skis is usually similar to the first, except I try to work harder.  This year, I hiked up the 99 Steps on the backside of Kirkwood.  It’s about a 20 minute hike to the top of the mountain.  I do this hike, not because of the awesome skiing or the views.  The views are great, the skiing is ok.  The real reason I do this hike is for fitness and exercise.  And again to let my body know that there will be more of this work in the coming days. strength

K2 backcountry snow skis

Hiking 99 Steps at Kirkwood

On this trip, on the second day, I randomly found my friend Isaac, and his fiance Geneva, at the top of Chair 10, also known as The Wall, at the top of Kirkwood.  It was great to see Isaac and Geneva.  I stay in touch with him and try to visit on every single one of these trips.

Isaac and Greg were the first ski patrolers (after Chewy the avalanche rescue dog) to find me when I was caught in the avalanche.  It’s important to me to spend time with folks like Isaac and Greg when I’m in town.

I ran into Isaac and Geneva on what I thought was going to be my last run of the day.  But, since I ran into my friends, I wanted to ski some runs with them.  Both Isaac and Geneva are better skiers than I am.  It was difficult to keep up with them.  After 3 runs, my legs were weak and my turns were wobbly.  This is a good recipe for injury.

I told Isaac and Geneva, “My legs are so tired I can’t see straight.”  We said our goodbyes and I headed for the car.

Again, I end the day tired and in desperate need of a couch and a beer and as many calories as I can stuff in my face before passing out.

By the 3rd day, I’m pretty much good to go.  The first 2 days are about getting acclimated to the altitude, drinking tons of water, and waking up my muscles.  Then, I’m ready as I’ll get.

I skied for all 16 days I was in Tahoe.

At the beginning of my trip, one of the Kirkwood patrolers asked me what I was I was going to do for my 2 weeks in town.  I said I was going to ski, everyday.

Ski everyday if the weather permits.  I’m there for the skiing.

I was having dinner at bbq joint in South Lake with my buddy Brandon.  I told him about the skiing conditions at Kirkwood and he asked me if I’d been chasing any Cougars.

“Ha! No.”, I replied.

I wake up early, ski till I’m tired, and then go back to my buddy Mike’s house, open a beer, and start stuffing calories.  There are no women in that routine.

I’m all for chasing women, but I can do that anywhere.  I can only ski the goods, when I’m in Tahoe.  So no, there were no Cougars.  In the mountains where I hangout, you mostly see sweaty hairy dudes.  Not pretty.

Then, as always, my time was up.  I’d skied 16 days in a row.  No injuries thank goodness.  But, I never know.  Injuries have happened before and will likely happen again.

This is another reason for the continuous strength training.  The muscle will protect you, and help you recover faster from injury.  It gives you a “margin of safety.”

Skiing, and Adventure, motivate me to push myself all year long.  If I want to have a good time in the mountains, I need to train and build strength to travel in the mountains.

If I want to spend time with my friends who are all great riders, then I need to put in the work to keep up with them.

If I don’t, then I’m just like any tourist that flies in, skies an hour or so, goes to the bar to get a few drinks and just looks at the mountains.  Then they get off work and look for a good apres ski scene.  Then they look for a party at night.  Then they wake up hung over and still don’t have energy to ski anything fun.

Fuck that shit.  That’s not what I’m into.  That’s not what I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid.  NO.

I’ve been dreaming about ski adventures.  I’ve been dreaming about skiing what I’d look at the posters on my wall of Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake, and Doug Coombs skiing.

If I want to follow in the footstep of my heroes, if I want to ski the dream, then I have to put in the work.  I’m willing to put in the work all year round just for a short 2 week window of adventure.

It is always worth it.