We are huge fans of Kirkwood. One of the highest ski resort in the Sierra Nevada, Kirkwood usually features the most and often time the best snow in the region. The resort is quite big, and has opened the backside with new lifts.
The only drawback is the lack of budget lodging, with no nearby town similar to Truckee on the North Shore, or South Lake Tahoe in the area bearing the same name. Kirkwood has its own village, composed of condos, cabins and lodges, but most of them are on the pricey side, unless you book months in advance or have a ski lease. A couple of nearby lodges exist on Highway 88 but they sell out quickly and early in the season. This results in many visiting the resort as a day trip rather than spending the weekend there.
You can either plan for an early drive and a long day, which we did for many years. Or you can let someone do the driving and enjoy your long day without fearing the drive, especially the tiresome return.
How so you might ask? Well, we used one of the Bay Area ski bus and loved it! We knew of these buses for years, but for some reasons, failed to try them. I guess we were also a bigger group of snow lovers but many of our friends now have kids and other interests, and are less inclined to hit the road on an bright Saturday morning.
Anyhow, we tried for the fist time last year, and we were sold. We used Bay Area Ski Bus both time and really liked their services. Not trying to sell anything here, just sharing a good tip. They organize trips almost daily in the season, to different ski resorts, and for different types of customers – teens, family, or adult only. They offer different picking up locations (one conveniently at Rockridge Bart, close to where we live in Oakland). Tickets include some breakfast, an end-of-day barbeque, and storage for your day stuff while you are on the mountain. They can also provide ski lifts at a very reasonable price. Anyhow, we liked them, found the tickets to be relatively cost-effective (think gas, mileage, stress and potentially bad weather vs sleeping in the bus) – we will definitely try again!
Driving on Highway 88 after Pioneer, we were eagerly looking for signs of snow, but these were few and far in between. Though we knew we were in a drought, the lack of snow at this altitude mid-February was really telling. However, we were happily surprised arriving in Kirkwood Meadows and then at the foot of the slopes to see some relatively extensive snow coverage. We quickly disembarked the bus, changed and got ready to hit the slopes. Another surprise awaited us – no waiting at the lift, another consequence of a weak snow season.
The slopes looked good but as we arrived at the top of the first lift, Solitude, and starting heading down, we quickly noticed how icy it was. The warm temperatures of the previous days and lack of new fresh powder meant the melting and freezing of the snow over and over. Bottom line, we were too early on the slopes… After trying Corniche Express and seeing the same type of icy slope, we decided to head toward the backside, which has more sun exposure. We decided to go through The Reut and snowboard the mountain down towards the backside – this turned to be a bad idea. What should have been a fun ride through the trees turned out to be a pain in the butt for me – literally. Icy terrain meant I could not get my turns right and kept falling. In retrospect, we should have thought this would be the case. We finally managed to reach Caples Crest, the access lift to the backside. I was ready for a break, not in a good mood. And the brown spots covering that area of the mountain were not very motivating either. Bruno and I talked about heading back to the Village, the prospect of hot chocolate being way more appealing at that very moment.
But as our first trip to the snow for the season, we thought we should try to show a bit more motivation and as we exited the lift, we heading for some more afternoon fun. I guess my body was not agreeing with this decision, and I flipped over as I was pushing my board away from the lift. And hit my head – hard. Luckily I wore an helmet which absorbed the most of the shock but I did see a black flash for a second and felt my brain hitting the back of my skull. A sudden headache came upon me right away and I was quite shaken by the fall. I decided to wait out for a while, and staid by the Emergency outpost – very relevant and reassuring if I was going to pass out! I encouraged Bruno to carry on to the backside – one of us should have fun!
My headache started to recede and as it was lunch time, my stomach took over my brain (not an unusual occurrence unfortunately) and felt I was feeling good enough to join Bruno. As great minds think alike, I received a message from Bruno to come and meet him for lunch if I felt like it. Putting my board back, I cautiously made my way down, not trying on any trick. Reaching Bruno by the outdoor BBQ concession, I was glad I did, and we were soon enjoying a tasty burger, relaxing by the side of the slopes, warming up under the midday sun.
Happy I hadn’t fainted by then, I decided to join Bruno for some afternoon snow time. Heading up the top of the mountain via the Sunrise lift, we had a couple of good runs – some part icy, some part slushy but with (almost) no one else on the slope, we were Kings of the Hills and could carve as we wished. I was still careful not to push my luck but had a good time, all things considered.
It was time to head back to the Village, and catch some of the festivities providing by Bay Area Ski Bus. Fresh hot dogs, cookies, nuts, pretzel, red and white wine, hot coffee and tea, fresh fruits – plenty to recover from our efforts of the day. Once again, we really liked the services provided (and no, if you ask, we are not paid or sponsored by Bay Area Ski Bus, just sharing our appreciation). The return ride was smooth, glad we could sleep it off a bit, though I did watch some of the provided movies.
Back home around 9.30pm, we were tired but happy of our day after all. I was somewhat concerned about falling asleep because of the potential concussion, so I set my alarm clock to ring every 3 hours. This left me rather tired the next morning, but as this blog can attest, I made it through the night.
Overall another good day in Kirkwood, even with uninspiring snow conditions.