Breaking trail on another ski season

Lisa Nigon kicks off the ski season in style.

Like most people, I enjoy summer. I like warm days on the beach, after-work bike rides and wearing sundresses with flip-flops. However, after a couple beach days and a few nights sleeping under the stars, I begin to pine for the first signs of winter.

Sure the weather will turn cold and bitter, simple tasks like driving to the store are complicated with icy roads and whiteout conditions and flip-flops are replaced with stinky, snow boots, but I’m a skier at heart and the thought of a powder day makes most inconveniences seem minor. So, when a few early season storms brought enough snow to create a solid base on the taller peaks in the Tahoe Basin, I couldn’t wait to join Lisa Nigon and Alyssa Ganong for a day of skiing in the Mount Rose back country.

The pouring rain at lake level was a bit disheartening as we gathered in my living room early in the morning. Puddles rapidly formed in the yard as we sipped coffee and discussed the latest report from Sierra Avalanche Center. Nevertheless, we decided to head for the hills and hope for the best. Our doubts turned to excitement as we watched the temperature drop in the dashboard display of Lisa’s car and soon heavy raindrops turned to fat snowflakes just before we reached the trailhead. My stomach fluttered with nervous anticipation as we checked each other’s gear in the parking lot and prepared to hit the trail.


Jenn Sheridan earns the first turns of the season.

I felt rusty and stiff as I made the first few turns from the parking area to the trailhead. The snow had a rough, crusty surface probably from recent rain during warm, early season storms. My feet protested at being reacquainted with stiff, plastic boots and my muscles struggled to remember how to balance over my skis and, yet, I couldn’t help but smile.


Alyssa Ganong shows the proper technique for a creek crossing on skis.

It seems that I have made a bad habit of remembering the first day of each season by associating it with whatever piece of gear I have forgotten and this year was no different. I pulled out my skins to prepare for the ascent and remembered that I had not replaced the missing tail clip that helps hold the skin to the base of the ski. As I searched my pack for a solution, another group of skiers approached with a silver roll of problem solving, commonly known as Duct tape. Special thanks to the gal who let me keep the last of her tape; you made for a day of happy skinning.

Minor equipment repairs aside, we hit the trail beginning our ascent through snow-covered trees. As we climbed, the snow pack began to change. The crusty, snow surface gave way to what locals affectionately call Sierra cement and light flakes continued to fall. Although the recent storm had provided a decent snow pack, it was not enough to adequately cover many rocks and logs that lay hidden just inches beneath fresh snow, so it was important to keep an eye out for obstacles during the decent.


Jenn Sheridan and Lisa Nigon reach the summit and prepare for the descent.

As I crested the ridge, the wind howled and blowing snow stung my cheeks. It was my first reminder of winter weather, and despite the discomfort I was excited for the months to come.


Alyssa Ganong carves through snow-covered trees near Incline Peak.

Alyssa, Lisa and I gathered in a flat spot where we could switch our gear into downhill mode and discuss our options for the descent. We chose a route that would snake through the trees and take us back to the base of our skin track. Lisa dropped in first and her hoots and hollers told Alyssa and me that the snow was as good as it looked. We took turns watching each other pick lines through the glades as awkward movements gave way to smooth, carved turns. After a roughly 1,000-foot descent we reached the base and skinned back to the car feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Who says you need a beach day to relax?


Jenn Sheridan enjoys her first turns in fresh snow.
Jenn Sheridan skins back to the parking lot after a great run.


Jenn Sheridan, Alyssa Ganong and Lisa Nigon celebrate the first day of ski season.