Opening Weekend Droop And A Cool New Coop

Opening weekend at Squaw Valley brought rain and melancholy weather, but since it was technically a day off work I figured utilizing lift-accessibility was still a good idea. It had been over six months since I last rode a chairlift, I’d already driven the half-hour from home and was dressed to shred, and I could feel the warmth of freshly processed plastic radiating off my season pass. Traditionally on first days I’ve found myself almost lost in crowds of exuberant skiers and snowboarders all sharing the joy of the new season ahead, and we would scream and shout and act ridiculous and party hard on the hill – Click Here To Go Back In Time – Last Day Of The ‘011/’012 Season. This year was different. The weather was crummy and spirits were low, and being relatively new to town my options for riding partners is still limited. Still, even if it meant riding solo for the first time in my history of opening days, I was going snowboarding.

rain on highway 28
I’m not used to driving through rain to get to snow. Must be on the West Coast.

One pal bailed via text message as I pulled into the lot. The other called as I was strapping on my boots to say he still hadn’t left his house and wanted to know the weather report. I was brutally honest with him.

“It sucks. The chairs are empty.” I could see Ski Patrol shoveling snow ten feet from the side of the run into the middle so skiers have a white path through the disenchanting, brown landscape. “But I’m here now, so I’m still gonna take a few laps.”

I hung up the phone, grabbed my board, “cham-wowed” the rainwater out of my goggles, slammed the trunk and began the wet trek across the slush-pond (aka base area) toward one of the two lifts in operation.

opening day at squaw valley 2012
Groomer’s Choice. The only fully white stretch of open terrain.

It was eerily quiet at the resort. I turned up the hip-hop in my helmet and danced by myself on the chairs between laps. I rode switch and practiced 180’s, jib-jabs and nose butters. I worked every little bump and pseudo-mogul I could, making the most of those eagerly anticipated in-bounds turns. I also pondered the time that would pass before I felt moisture break through my pants to my thermal underwear.

The only others riding must have been those who had planned their trips in advance and made the voyage from the city, intending to spend money on a lift ticket regardless of the weather. There were also probably a few that figured since it was raining in the flatlands it must have been snowing at 8,000 feet. Eeeeehhhhh!!!!! Wrong! Then again, most wouldn’t have predicted rain, especially after the last two storms that dropped a lot of snow on the Sierras. It just wasn’t cold enough for the rain to freeze. In fact, the only water that I witnessed freezing the entire day was that which accumulated on the back of my helmet while riding the lift.

stokelab kronicle
You’re never alone when you have good publications providing moral support.

There were also a few Squaw employees making some turns on their lunch break, but I have to emphasis the word “few”. Even they know better than to stay out longer than a lap or two. After all, it is only November and you can’t expect much this early in the season. The last two storms were almost ‘freaks’, but they still brought early faith and optimism to a new season, so naturally most of us predicted more snow as the cold and rain arrived last Friday. Besides anyone who read the weather report, of course.

And then there was me. Alone, soaking wet and smiling. Although I felt as if I were navigating a mine field, meticulously connecting the dots between dirt and rocks, I was stoked to be riding. It poured rain the entire two hours and I quickly came to the realization that I would need an extremely waterproof wardrobe if I wanted to properly climatize in this region. In Colorado the air is dry and “water-resistant” outerwear did the trick just fine. In California and on the West Coast, however, fully waterproof membranes and quick-drying (and preferably removable) liners are the only way to go. On my fourth lift-ride I rang about a half-cup of water out of my “powder” glove. That was the same chair on which I decided my next course of action for the day: use my pro-form deals to purchase new pants and gloves.

not waterproof gloves
Time for waterPROOF gloves. Look at the creek flowing out of that glove.

After six [awesome?] laps and feeling like I sufficiently surpassed my own expectations for a rainy, solo day at an unfamiliar mountain, I headed home. Waterproof research was done over a hot cup of coffee and the sound of wet, heavy clothes and metal buttons bouncing in the dryer. The ideal pants and gloves were discovered, just not purchased. Perhaps after I deposit another paycheck. Instead I uncovered another project and decided my money would be better spent on a handsaw. A handsaw? Rather than new gloves and pants? But why!?

I’ve never had my own work bench, that’s why. After two hours of lifting, organizing, dusting, flinching from close-calls with arachnids and coughing up dust mites, I had the space. Until now the shed in the backyard was a place to avoid. Like the “haunted house” at the end of the street you grew up on, it was a structure you just did not enter, unless you were double-dog dared by your peers.

Go figure…I wasn’t the first to see this shed as a good place to nest.

After a trip to the thrift store for support brackets – which I was given for free in exchange for carrying a heavy load of glass to the dumpster – and a quick stop at the Kings Beach ACE Hardware for a $13 handsaw and a $7 extension cord, I had the tools required for the job.

This work bench is not your ordinary work bench, and this shed is not your ordinary tool shed. It is a waxing and tuning bench, and it’s inside of what is now the ‘tune shop’. I finally have a place to prepare my shred-stick the night before, when I anticipate a big day of touring or a major overnight change in weather. The ‘tune shop’ is also an asylum, as are most men’s tool sheds or garages. This new sacred ground is a sanctuary. A place to escape and find solace in one’s own thoughts, craftsmanship and creative outlets.

snowboard tune shop
As far as I know, this is now the only snowboard ‘tune shop’ in Kings Beach, CA.

The extension cord running from the house will provide electricity for power tools, a light fixture and some good old rock n’ roll (hip-hop just doesn’t go as well with “construction”). The old beach chair I tactfully placed in the corner is currently empty, the work bench sawdust-free, and the air stagnant and dank. But I foresee myself spending lots of quality time in the new shop over the next six months, both alone and at times with another, be that my dog or a touring partner who shares the same appreciation for quiet, wild spaces.

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