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Up and Down the West Coast: Seeking Fresh Powder Edition

2014-03-23 35 min read Snow Updates marco

I mentioned in a previous post how I went to Mammoth on a Mountain Collective Pass. My friend Michael and I now decided to go crazy and drive all the way to Whistler, BC, Canada and hit the three resorts on the way that offer the pass.

Executive summary: Driving from San Diego to Whistler and back in a week is crazy. But it’s still better than flying. Thanks, airlines!

I picked up M at the Carlsbad Airport. For some reason, the ticket to CBad (as we affectionately call it) through Los Angeles was cheaper than a flight to LA. Made no sense, but airlines love doing their very weird thing.

It was a Saturday (which gave me hope driving through LA wouldn’t be all that crazy). It was a beautiful, sunny day. It really didn’t feel like snowboarding. But that’s the thing with a planned trip: you can’t control for weather conditions.

We drove up the same way as usual: crossing over to the 15, then 215, then back to the 15, then on the 395. A brief stop at Randsburg, a mining town that mysteriously managed to survive the end of mining in the area.

By the time we hit Bishop (the San Francisco of the Eastern Sierra!) it was starting to get dark. We stopped at the Valuesports there to check if they had boots for me. They did, although the discounts were slightly laughable. But i needed new boots, as the old one were coming (literally) unglued.

In Mammoth Lakes, the town I affectionately call Mammy, we headed for the hotel. A condo at the Juniper Springs Resort. Sweet! Especially since I got it on Hotwire, so it cost less than a hotel room.

The Juniper Springs Resort, basically, is a giant hotel owned by Mammoth Resorts, right by the most clockwise base (Eagle Lodge). The hotel entrance is fascinatingly closer to the lift than the lodge’s parking lot. They also have underground parking, which meant we could leave all the gear in the car at the end of the day.

In the hotel, everything was fine. Except the microwave oven, whose only functioning button was the one for Potato. You could select 1 Potato, 2 Potato – up to 4 Potato!! Unfortunately, even if we’d had been in the mood for Potato, the Start button didn’t work. The waiting TV dinners were not happy.

I should mention that this is starting to be the one constant of booking on Hotwire: you get really good rates, but there is always something stupidly wrong with the room. Something that is really embarrassing for the hotel and makes you give them a substandard rating for no good reason.

I recall the first time I stayed at the Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe: they upgraded my cheapo room to a luxurious mini-suite with hot tub and marble everything. The result: I recommend the Harrah’s to everybody. They lost no money, and they got an excited customer.

The malfunctioning microwave, as was the case with the incredibly loud condo at the Village Lodge and will be the case later at Squaw, is something the hotel would have known ahead of time. I really don’t understand the point of mistreating a customer that is paying the advertised price even with a half-empty hotel. That seems pretty short-sighted and stupid. If you don’t want Hotwire customers, just don’t advertise Hotwire rates. Don’t make the experience of staying at your hotel such a needlessly painful one.

Staff, by the way, was incredibly helpful. The microwave could not be repaired, so they simply brought us one from the break room. Their break room, I suppose, the employees’.

M had never been at Mammoth, so the first thing was to get his Mountain Collective Pass. From there we zipped up Eagle Express, from the slush at the bottom to the decent snow at the top. I was picky and felt we could do better, so we went up Chair 25. From there, we started exploring the entire mountain like mad banshees getting drunk and high on snow. Not that kind of snow.

Since I hadn’t had any chance to go up to the top of the mountain with the one exception of the gondola ride, we explored the crazy chairs the lift you up to the ridge. First was Chair 23, which has one of the strangest contraptions as top terminal I’ve ever seen: you enter a funnel that dumps you into an enclosed hangar. It’s perfect for those crazy windy days, but looks really odd.

Incidentally, that lift is rated No. 2 on the Examiner’s list of the Top Ten Ski Lifts in the Western United States (No. 1 is… we’ll get to that later!)

Our first descent from Chair 23 was on the Back Side. It looked so beautiful, with nary a person touching the immense expanse of fresh powder! The old tracks were rare and there was plenty of powder in between!

So we thought. The expanse of powder turned out to be a giant ice sheet, and the sound of the snowboards rasping against it felt like an hour of chalkboard scratching. We managed to get down in one piece, and I discovered there that my old and trusted Custom X is not making it anymore. It has no grip, no stability, and no flex left. Sigh!

Fortunately, farther down we got the snow we wanted. A quick jaunt down to the base, from there then up Chair 14, for and endless repeat of powder. Then M got restless and wanted tougher runs, so we marched over the annoyingly uphill ridge.

On the other side, and endless expanse of the purest powder. There had been a storm rushing through just before we got in, and the weather conditions had kept it perfect for us. We zipped down like mad monkeys on a banana shopping spree and decided that’s what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives.

Well, really, we didn’t. Because by then it was lunch time. Quick run over to Canyon Lodge, where I had my usual French Fries. Then plotting for the overthrow of the monarchy, a.k.a. what to do with the rest of the day. We ended up not following a script, trying the snow pretty much everywhere, with the lone exception of Cloud 9 Express. By the end of the day (and it was a long day), we had covered every single lift that was open.

The next day was not as pleasant. It was overcast and very windy, and it got cold at times. We stayed until 2p, thankful for the need to hop over to the resort from the lodge, because I am not sure we would have gone up a lift if we hadn’t had to after lunch.

(I should note that the Juniper Springs Resort, like all other places we stayed at, graciously allowed us to leave the car parked after we checked out. We could put all our belonging in there, hopeful and confident that everything would still be there when we got down the mountain.)

At the end of the day, we knew we had an easy ride ahead of us. It was just following the 395 (which I had done several times by then) to Carson City, then over the mountains on the 50. Around the Lake, into the Truckee Valley, then into Squaw Valley.

This season has been particularly harsh for the ski resorts. Mammoth really didn’t suffer at all, and the snow was wonderful. But Squaw was hit pretty hard by the drought. We had a fantastic drive, with the gorgeous views of the Lake, and the marvels of the area in perfect setting. But as we got into the valley, it was hard not to notice that the floor was completely dry, where all other years it was covered in snow. Even on the worst years.

The hotel was the Squaw Valley Lodge. Again Hotwire rate, again a condo. The place was virtually empty, and the underground garage had plenty room even at 10p.

They warned us at the front desk that the heat might take a little to get the room warm (why?), so we just went to the pizza place (Fireside Pizza). Poor choice: the pizza was outlandishly expensive, didn’t taste particularly good, and the place didn’t even feel like a restaurant. More like a Domino’s with random snow kitsch.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that the heat didn’t work. Like, at all. It was at an annoying 63 degrees: too low to be comfortable, too high to really get upset. We called maintenance, who showed up shortly thereafter. The guy said he didn’t know how that particular thermostat worked, but that the other guy did. Then he wriggled the box and said the temperature was rising, so he declared his good deed of the day was done, and to get in touch with maintenance again if that hadn’t really done the trick.

Of course it didn’t. And of course we didn’t want to spend the entire night chasing maintenance people. So we turned on the fireplace, which unfortunately was on a timer, and had to crank it up whenever someone got too cold. Even at the Hotwire rate, that was not OK.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the place. Squaw is an old ski resort, built in the 60s. It is also where I learned to snowboard, thanks to two crazy friends of mine that were incredibly gracious to invite me to stay with them.

There are two problems with Squaw: terrain and attitude. The problem with the terrain is that the mountain is too low. The base is at 6,200 ft, and the whole place tops out at 9,000. Even on a good year that makes for sketchy conditions, but on a drought year like this one, the place is downright scary. Also, the attitude is a little too glitzy and ritzy, and there are still old resentments against snowboarders you encounter everywhere.

Regardless, it was a sunny but very windy day. We took the gondola (the tram was closed) and were unimpressed. Admittedly, M continued staring at the terrain to the right, which is the giant “beach” for beginners. We got a few runs off Big Red, he did a few jumps at the medium terrain park (and did very well). Then I decided it was time for Granite Chief.

There, despite the atrocious wind, we found some really sweet snow right on the lift line. Sadly, the top of the Chief was off limits, but the descent was fun and challenging, nonetheless. Then we tried the outer rim into the bowl, but the wind was punishing and fierce. It was a rare East wind, which had the unfortunate side effect of blowing all the snow out of the resort.

We did our best. Everything below mid-base was a frozen wasteland where even grooming didn’t make the slightest difference.

The most famed lifts at Squaw are KT22 Express and Headwall Express. The lead to side peaks that are not particularly high, and especially the former is a favorite of a lot of people. In particular, it won the best lift in the West from the article above.

Sad thing, when we got up KT22 (we should have been tipped off by the absolute lack of other skiers/boarders), it was a frozen waste. The undulating terrain, usually perfect for the adventure seeker, had turned into an ice skating rink glued to a mountainside. It was completely unboardable (although M had much more fun than I did).

We decided to go for Headwall, which was a little higher. I mean, the snow at the top of Red Dog wasn’t bad, so it stood to reason that Headwall shouldn’t be much worse.

What do you know, when we got off the lift, we just slid on our asses down the trough that is the terminus. It took me a while to get strapped on, since I use Flows and that requires me to stand up to pop up the backing.

After the ice bowl, we hit a sweet spot along the headwall. The powder had been blown there all day long, and there was quite a mound of freshies. But that didn’t last long, and as soon as we got out of the shadow, it was scratch-scratch-scratch on these really ugly and wide ice skates.

We were ready to give up. The car was packed, the next stop (Klamath Falls) far, and none of us had ever traveled on that route. But as we drove off, I decided it made no sense to not at least try Alpine Meadows. We had stopped there the evening before (after the lifts closed), and it looked interesting. Surely not as big as Squaw (not the biggest resort, either), but not as bad as not wanting to go there for free.

We drove down the short distance and parked. The weather was already much better: the sun was shining, and there was no sign of the nasty winds that had been dominating Squaw. Admittedly, the fierce East wind is very unusual for Northern California, and Squaw is not protected against it at all. It faces East, so that wind blew all the good snow over the ridges.

Alpine is oriented North, mostly (at least the final part of the valley). It was calm and warm, and we already felt much better. We got up on the lift, hopeful though not expecting much.

What do you know, the snow was wonderful. There were patches of thin cover, but all in all it was a pleasure. The top of the mountain was closed, but it looked more like a money-saving measure on an uncrowded day than an attempt to protect from danger.

At first, we went up The Face. That was pretty fun, and we had some good runs. Then we decided to try Scott, which was not accessible from the lodge.

Scott is a pretty slow lift, but it goes quite steep along a face that didn’t look very safe. Up on top, we realized there was a whole new side of the mountain to explore. And it was fun! The snow was soft and delicious. There were plenty runs, plenty trees, plenty challenges. And there was another lift at the far end, Lakeview, that shot us up to the top of this side in no time.

No lines, perfect snow, lots of choice. I loved Alpine Meadows. I would go there again and again, any time there is yet another ice day at Squaw.

On the way out, we stopped at the little shop (that hadn’t shuttered its door yet) and had coffee and a cinnamon roll. Everything at Alpine is smaller than at the more famous resorts, but it’s charming and very functional.

Now we had to dash off to Klamath Falls. I chose that place because it was about the right distance from Squaw, so that we’d get there in time for dinner-ish. Also, it allowed us to choose the route to take the next day. We’ll see the options later.

Since it was a sunny (if windy) day, getting to the Interstate from Alpine was a breeze. It got a little busy there, as well as on the 395 through Reno. Once we got back into California, though, things got more rural and quieter. It got also very, very scenic in stretches, and we continued imagining which movie should have been shot in this and that locale.

Things were very nice until we hit picturesque Susanville. Not that there is anything wrong with this charming little town. It’s just that, after it, we were on a somewhat sketchy rural road (State highway 139) and night was rapidly approaching. There were ICY signs everywhere, the road surface looked strangely wet, and the thermometer in the car was dipping fast toward 32. I got cautious.

We hit the sunset at beautiful Eagle Lake, and from then on proceeded in the dark. Lucky us, there was no problem on the road, and we hit the hotel in Klamath Falls in no time. Right next to it: a McDonald’s, famous purveyor of meals for travelers.

The hotel was really nice. It was the Shiloh Inn Suites. Great place, friendly people, it well deserves the excellent reputation it got on Kayak/Tripadvisor.

According to Google Maps, there were several options to consider when going from Klamath Falls to Whistler. Each of them took roughly 12 hours, and they would all get us safely into town in time to check in. So we thought.

The main difference between the routes was the amount of weather abuse we were willing to take. I had been watching the forecast like a hawk, looking for any signs of turbulence. Apparently, we were the luckiest people on the planet, and we were going to have a perfect travel day, followed by plenty snow in the days to come. Hate us!

The routes were:

  1. KF to Oregon 66 to Ashland, from there on the I-5 all the way to Vancouver. The most Southerly route, in case a storm was waiting for us
  2. KF to US 97, then West on Oregon 58 to Eugene, then the I-5. The route Google suggested as the shortest drive time
  3. KF to US 97 until Madras, then West on US 26 to Portland, from there on the I-5. My favorite route, since it got me to Bend and Mt. Bachelor (about whom I had written in my novel), and the to Portland where I had lived for a year and a half
  4. KF to US 97 until The Dalles, then West on Interstate 84 to Porland. This was an alternate route in case of bad weather, and would have probably been the most dramatic one, since we’d have passed the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most astonishing natural wonders of the West Coast. Also, it’s famous for the kiteboarding and windsurfing in the gorge.
  5. KF to US 97 all the way to Ellensburg, WA. From there then on the I-90 into Seattle and North on the I-5. An alternate route that would have allowed us to cross the mountains as far North as possible, just in case there was a Southerly heading storm.

Since the weather was fine, and I heard no objection, I got to get my waffle for breakfast (every hotel should have a waffle maker for breakfast! Try waffles with scrambled eggs and smoked turkey!). Then we were heading North.

The scenery of Eastern Oregon is magnificent. I had managed never to drive out there, because they had all told me it was “the desert.” But it’s incredibly beautiful. We also had the perfect weather, and as we drove up North, the majestic volcanoes of the North came into view, one after the other. First, there was Mt. Scott (Crater Lake), then the four peaks of Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters. Those were so impressive, I just had to stop the car and take a picture – the only time I did so on the entire trip!

After those, we got to see Mt. Jefferson and the identical looking (but much taller) Mt. Hood in the distance. We stopped in Bend for coffee (the place must have more coffee shops than inhabitants!) and gas, and off we were.

US 26 is even more impressive than US 97 when it comes to sights. The landscape is riddled with scenic canyons, beautiful views, diverse ecosystems. It’s just gorgeous.

Then the mountain started looming, and I confess I had never seen Mt. Hood that amazing. It was breathtaking in the most literal of senses, and it looked like a mass of pure snow that had decided to defy gravity. I had lived in town for over a year, and I had never had the faintest idea that the mountain was so beautiful.

Then we reached Government Camp, which is where the ski resorts are. I didn’t snowboard when I lived in Portland, which is probably the stupidest thing I will ever do (or not do, as it were). That’s because getting down the mountain into Portland was such a short pleasure, especially compared with the grueling four day trip we were undertaking.

Nobody wanted to see Portland proper, so we decided to stop at a VONS (supermarket) to buy food and crossed the mighty Columbia River on the 205 bridge. I had been looking forward: the bridge reveals a river so wide and slow, it looks like a really long lake most of the time.

Crossing Washington was not an issue. We got to see (first time for me, too!) the Olympic Mountains, as well as Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. Then we got to Mt. Rainier, which I continue to find less impressive looking than Mt. Hood or Mt. Shasta. It is, though, by quite a large margin taller than either, and it rises from sea level, pretty much. What I am saying is that I am an idiot.

Seattle thanked me for my thought on Mt. Ranier with a marvelous lunchtime traffic jam. We were allowed to use commuter lanes, which helped a little, but Seattle is incredibly confusing, and we got confused. In particular, if you cross the town, get into the single express lane line on the far left when you get to it. It seems to be leading to a really wide tunnel through something.

Now, I don’t know the local traffic situation, but I’d think Google Maps should really suggest Interstate 405, which goes to the East of Downtown and seems to have been built specifically to alleviate traffic around the densest part of the city. (A quick check on Google Traffic tells me that I am full of crap.)

From there on, it was smooth sailing. The only kink in the armor was that Google Maps decided to abandon us in Canada, and we missed the connection to Canada Highway 1. Instead of driving around Vancouver, we were steered right through it. I am not understanding why the Canadians would like that, though.

If you drive through Vancouver, note that they don’t have left-turn signals or left-turn lanes. Driving through town is a major nightmare, because you always risk, at every single intersection, that the guy in front of you simply stops and block your lane. If you are in bad luck, which happens all the time, someone on the left lane will be trying to turn left, while someone on the right lane is trying to turn right but has to wait for pedestrians, and there is not a single car that passes in a green phase.

In any case, by nightfall we were on the Lion’s Gate Bridge, crossing over. They had this funny (and very dangerous-sounding) system where lights above tell you which lanes go in which direction. We had two on our side, and then suddenly the left of the two was closed. Apparently, an ambulance had to cross the bridge. Nice job!

I was a little disappointed, because the wouldn’t be seeing much of Howe Sound, which is another one of my favorite places in the world. The Coast just North of Vancouver splits into an inlet protected by mountainous islands, which reaches inland to Squamish, from where the highway to Whistler starts. The stretch from Vancouver to Squamish is simply astonishingly beautiful.

You drive on a highway cut into the cliffside, with views of the sound below, the islands rising dramatically from the sea, while waterfalls dot the cliff at irregular intervals. You don’t need to snowboard to make a trip to Vancouver, believe me!

After Squamish, the drive got dull. It was night, and even during the day there isn’t much to see. We were all very relieved when we hit Creekside, the Southern end of Whistler Municipality. Our hotel was to be only 7 walking minutes from the ski lifts!

Since the section on the drive to Whistler got a little out of hand, here a separate section on the hotel.

As we got to Creekside, as mentioned, we turned left at the gas station. Lake Placid Road. They love their winter resort streets in Whistler!

We get to the end of the road, where Google Maps has the entrance to the hotel. It’s a resort alright! It’s a huge building, with an enormous sign on the right side that says, SPA. The lobby alone is enormous. It looks beyond luxurious. I can’t believe our luck!

Of course, that’s when M turned around and said, “I don’t think that’s our hotel.” He added a few helpful pieces of evidence, like the fact the name was different, and the address was wrong, and seriously, 5 stars???

It turns out it was the second time Google Maps sent us to the wrong spot. It had done so with the Squaw Valley Lodge, whose reception is at the East side of the building, not the North side. Here it had indicated the Parkside was just past the end of the road. It wasn’t.

We look around, and sure enough, the Parkside is one of the last buildings on the North side of Lake Placid Road, just before the giant Nita Lake Lodge.

The Parkside is the Canadian equivalent of a cosmic joke. From the outside, it looks just like a lower category motel in South Lake Tahoe. The parking lot isn’t even shoveled free of snow and ice, and to park you have to get the car over a hump of ice. At least there is parking.

We get out of the car, trying to work around deep puddles. It’s not cold in Whistler, which is fine. We have 5000 feet of vertical to get things cooler.

The door to the lobby is heavy. Inside, another door. Locked. People get in and out, and we could easily just swoop by, but that’s kinda pointless without room keys.

Turns out the lobby is manned only during the day. Where day has a very odd definition: 8a to 4p. Which is almost precisely the hours the lifts operate. I suppose that’s cruel to staff, but it’s even more cruel to the guests.

Unlike in other hotels without 24h reception and check-in, this “resort” has decided the burden is on you. There is a phone number you are supposed to call, but it’s on your phone or with a pay phone. A pay phone that takes cards or coins, but doesn’t tell you how much the call is going to cost. It’s a local call, so one hopes it’s not going to be a tragedy. But for crying out loud, it’s really cruel to International guests!

(Especially because my T-Mobile mysteriously doesn’t work at all here. It registers fine on Rogers, but won’t allow me to call. Also, since I don’t know the password to the hotel WiFi, I can’t IP call.)

Finally, we manage to bum a call and get the instructions. Unlike in other hotels without 24h reception, there is no manager that has to come out to hand you the keys. Instead, they are located in little lock boxes by the locked door. During the call, the very friendly (it’s Canada, what did you expect?) person tells me how to open the lock box (a 5 digit combination they probably change every time there is a royal succession). Inside, ONE room key and ONE spa/pool/laundry room/fitness room key. And a sticky note with the combination for the lobby door, as well as the WiFi password.

Of course, they could have told me that all in an email the day before I arrived. The room was prepaid, for crying out loud! What was I supposed to do with the knowledge? At the very least, they could have simply set up a phone with a dedicated line to their management number. Or they could have given me the WiFi password and made sure I was at the lodge (by checking the IP address). In short, they deserve the shitty reviews they get on tripadvisor for their check-in.

Inside, the room stank. It wasn’t just the usual faint smell of cheap hotels: this one had a very heavy stench of weed and bro sweat. The kind of thing only someone from Pacific Beach recognizes instantly.

The room itself was not bad at all. It had a somewhat unusual Murphy bed whose feet had once been repaired with duct tape. Now there were just two independent feet and the somewhat squishy feeling that one movement too many might send me to the floor.

The room was supposed to be a suite, so it had a kitchen. I will admit that the kitchen was the highlight of the place: It had a dining area with a big table, and it had a full supplement of kitchen utensils. Unsurprisingly, given the probable clientele of the place, it had several full sets of drinking glasses. Wait, aren’t all glasses for drinking? Yes, but this place had whiskey tumblers, wine stem glasses, cocktail glasses, and beer mugs. Hint, hint…

We ran off to the IGA, Whistler’s only decent supermarket (there is a small grocery store and a smaller and overpriced market in the Village) and bought dinner, breakfast, and room freshener. Fortunately for us, a moderate application of the stuff destank the room almost immediately. After almost a week of nonstop snowboarding and sitting in the car wearing the snowboard clothes, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference, anyway.

Time to zzz and get ready for our first day of Whiz!

If you haven’t been to Whistler, yet: GO!

It’s easily the best snowboarding resort in North America: the snow is varied, the vertical huge, the runs well-kept, the trees in all shades of thickness, the parks excellent and well-used. You can meet everybody you’d ever want to be inspired by, and you’d still need a month to see them a second time because the place is just humongous.

The facilities are amazing, too. Virtually all the lifts are in sensible places that feed into each other. The few outliers access amounts of terrain so vast, you are surprised there is never a line. And did I mention the food?

We walked from the hotel the 7 minutes to the Visitor Center. Another super-friendly Canadian person (well, in my case, a dude from Fiji, go figure) took a picture and gave me my pass. Then they linked the credit card to it, which later turned out not to have happened.

After that, a quick walk in the rain and we were at the Creekside gondola. Usually, the ride up is already fun, but the lower part of the mountain was getting rained on, so it didn’t look too exciting. I should mention that Whistler is sadly like that: most of the time you get amazing snow, but once in a while you’ll get there and it rains all the way to the top of the mountain.

The top of the Creekside gondola gets you either down to the Village, or up one more to the Roundhouse on the Big Red Express lift. That’s the only annoying thing about getting on the mountain from Creekside: that lift is always packed.

Then there is the Roundhouse, a giant of a hub. There are all sorts of coffee shops, bars, etc. Especially etc, the largest collection of decent food I’ve ever seen on a mountain. There are stations for the usuals (burgers and pizza), but also Asian, Asian soups, regular soups, sushi, sandwiches, and much, much more.

Much, much more applies to the Roundhouse in more ways. This is a real hub, and from here you can decide where to spend your time. (Pro tip: if you are on Whistler Mountain and get lost, always meet at the Roundhouse entrance.)

Since the lower mountain was a lake, mostly, and the upper mountain was closed, we decided to opt for Harmony Bowl. It was a beautiful morning, with plenty fresh snow everywhere, and Harmony didn’t disappoint. We spent hours there, carving down all the various slopes, charging through the trees. It’s a wonderland when the snow is good. Plus, the place was not packed: spring break wasn’t for another week in Canada!

Lunch at the Roundhouse, and then the Peak was open. We went up there and then down Peak to Creek, my favorite in Whistler by far. So many option, so much terrain! Of course, towards the bottom things got frosty first, then mushy later. By the time we hit the gondola again, the snow was so soft, I felt like on a wave.

Getting from Creekside to the Village is longer than you’d think, considering you can easily snowboard from one to the other. But Whistler is fun, and even though the mountain was not jam-packed, the apres ski was. (I guess a lot of people go to Whistler but don’t have the money to ski?)

I am not going to list the popular places, since they are likely going to change every month or so. It appears that Earl’s and Araxi are consistently jam-packed, with Earl’s not requiring reservations. (For Araxi, you better call well in advance or have an Oscar or Olympic gold medal to trot out.

On the more basic end of the spectrum, the Village is crowded with Starbucks (we counted three, but I am pretty sure there were more overnight ;-)).There is a Marketplace at the North end of the Village with a decent (if indecently priced) supermarket and a liquor store. It appears they are changing liquor laws in British Columbia and they will allow grocery stores to sell liquor, but for now you have to go to a separate store.

There are a smattering of mid-level places with decent food, from Asian to Italian, to American, to Mediterranean. And of course a host of pizza and fast food choices.

There are lots of bars, but I don’t go to those, so you’ll have to find out by yourself. There are tons of stores, most of them selling the usual snowboarding gear and clothes. Some of them are decent, some of them indecently expensive.

My favorite place of all, though, is strictly speaking not in the Village, but just North of it. It’s the Meadow Park Sports Centre. It’s a multi-sport facility, and since Canadians are incredibly nice people, it’s also incredibly easy to chat with them at the gym, in the pool, in the sauna, on the ice hockey rink, etc.

Well, you can’t really go to Whistler and stay only on Whistler Mountain, can you? The second day (late start) was devoted to Blackcomb. There was a ton of fresh snow (YAY!) but also freakishly heavy winds, which meant half the mountain was closed off. In particular, the two areas of Blackcomb I like the most, the Glacier and 7th Heaven, were both inaccessible.

We got up to the Roundhouse in the usual fashion, then took the Peak 2 Peak gondola to the other side. If you don’t know, Whistler has a gondola that goes from midstation on one side to midstation on the other side. It’s an 11 minute ride that you’ll never forget (although it’s not a straight shot as I initially hoped; instead, you go down almost to valley floor level and then ascend again).

On the other side, I was eyeing my secret stash of powder on the far side of Jersey Cream. Unfortunately, there was too much powder, and getting to the stash would have meant hiking. Sigh! Nobody’s got time for that! We rolled down a few times in low visibility, then decided Jersey Cream was getting too crowded.

It was time for lunch. By now, the wind had gotten so bad, they had shut down Glacier Express (which doesn’t actually get you to the Glacier – for that, you have to use the dreadful T-bars). We stopped at the Glacier Creek Lodge and had our usual lunches (French fries and ketchup for me, yay!).

After lunch, we decided to head for the parks. There was one along Solar Coaster Express, so we headed that way. I figured the wind was coming from the South-East, so that promised to be the best angle.

Boy, did Solar Coaster NOT disappoint! There was a ton of fluffy powder everywhere, and the descent was incredibly long. We went up a half dozen times, not unhappy it was the only lift we could actually use.

Then, as we wanted to hit the other side of the mountain, a road block. Peak2Peak was closed for the day, because of the winds. Which was a real nuisance, since the day was about to end and we had to get all the way to Creekside.

I dragged everybody down and told my noobs that we had to meet at the Village. There we’d take the gondola to the Roundhouse, and from there we’d go back down to the other gondola. We made it, but just barely. Also, we found out there was some competition going on at the Village, so we’d head back later.

On the third day, I woke up chipper and happy only to find out that nobody else was going to move. That was quite the downer, since the only way we could get up the mountain was to pack the car and check out, and then snowboard until we were ready to go.

That didn’t happen. Nobody moved, everybody (except for me) was snowboarded out. I grieved over the fresh powder we’d miss, especially since this was probably the last (and second) trip of the season, but I acquiesced. We packed the car by 11 and left.

Sadly, it was rainy the whole time and we didn’t get to see much of the drive. As I mentioned before, the section that runs along Howe Sound in particular is incredibly beautiful.

At some point, we got to Vancouver. Since M had to fly back, I picked a hotel close to the airport. It was in Richmond, a suburb/town South of Vancouver proper. The hotel was the Holiday Inn Express, a giant monstrosity whose two redeeming features were the proximity to the airport and the Costco next door.

Dinner, after consulting Yelp, was McDonald’s. I know, I know…. But it’s not always about me!

Without Internet connection, finding the onramp to the highway to the States (the Canada 99) was nigh impossible. I tried for 20 min utes, then I stopped at a Starbucks and used their WiFi.

I got on the way to the border. It had turned into a beautiful day, with picturesque clouds, but no rain. Canada was awesome. Then I hit the border.

There are two border crossings close-by. The one on the 99 (which turns into the I-5) and the other one. The other one has shorter waits, but you have to find your way back. I stuck with the main one, despite longer waits.

The board said my wait would be 30 minutes, the other crossing would be just 15 minutes. I waited exactly 31 minutes, so next time I’ll probably go out of my way to the other crossing.

Turns out the border patrol officer had been Navy, stationed in San Diego. That was fortunate, because you usually get a host of really annoying questions about who you are, where your relatives are, and what you do for a living when you cross the border with a non-American passport. But since he could see I actually lived in P.B. (and thanks to a shared passion for motorcycles) we were done in 5 minutes.

The car, my new Subaru Forester, was sipping the fuel. I had bought a tankful in Whistler and didn’t need any until in deep Washington territory. Stopped at a non-existing Starbucks, tried to get gas at a station that didn’t take my debit card, refueled at a freaky expensive station closer to the freeway. Then through Seattle.

After Seattle, Portland. After Portland, all of Oregon. I decided to buy more gas in Roseburg. Quick check told me there was a Safeway with a Starbucks, so I stopped there.

Then more Oregon. Medford, Ashland.Gorgeous country. If the Gods had a vacation home, it would be here, in the green valleys of Southern Oregon.

Then the ascent. Then the summit. Then Mount Shasta, my favorite mountain in the world. Then the oddly named town of Weed. Then the descent. Then Lake Shasta. Then darkness.

I got to my stop, the Baymont Inn in Anderson (just South of Redding) in the dark. There was a Walmart nearby, so I went there for food. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more rednecks in my life – despite the fact the place was deserted.

Sleep at the Baymont. It was an odd place, with the furniture they were renovating away sitting in the parking lot. But nice. Friendly. Calm. Quiet.

When I woke up, I just went to the car and left. Yeah, there was a complimentary breakfast. But I just wanted to be back.

Dashing down the I-5 was not as bad as I thought. The Forester is very pleasant for long-distance drives, and the CDs I made tided me through it. Really, I was just looking forward to getting to the Outlets at the base of the Grapevine (where the 99 and the I-5 meet). Stopped there for lunch, refueled, then went up the mountains.

Here I realized again how well the car was doing. It was rated at 27mpg highway, but I easily outdid that. On the flat stretch from Redding to the Grapevine, I had gotten 32mpg. One gas tank was going to last well over 500 miles!

Everything went fine, until I hit LA. Then, the rudeness of Southern California came back with a roar. Some redneck in a raised, red pickup truck moved from the onramp to the left lane of the I-5, crossing my lane at half my speed and forcing me to slam on the brakes. There was absolutely nobody in front of us. He could have just stayed on his lane. When I honked to signal he was about to get in my lane, he just raised his middle finger. Such happy.

It was more of that, until I hit Camp Pendleton. After that, things got quieter. I got home. I survived. Such happy!