Thursday, 17 April 2008

Lake Tahoe Ski Challenge

Every year I use my annual leave to work in America, looking after after British children on school skiing trips. This has allowed me to visit some fantastic ski resorts, my favourite being Lake Tahoe in California. There are 13 resorts surrounding the lake, each with an individual character, specatacular views and always nearly perfect skiing conditions. This photo is of me overlooking the lake from the North West shore.

One of my ambitions is to ski the hardest ski runs in the world. When I say ski, I mean complete from top to bottom without seriously injuring myself. From the resorts around Lake Tahoe, I have previously completed GunBarrel in Heavenly, home of Glen Plake's Gunbarrel25 endurance challenge and KT-22 in the infamous resort of Squaw Valley. This year, I decided to take on Our Father in Alpine Meadows and The Wall in Kirkwood.

I tend to snowboard when there is a lot of powder. However on the day I visited Alpine Meadows the conditions were ideal for skiing. Blue skies meant for near perfect visibility and although it had not snowed for a while, the snow was soft enough to have an enjoyable day.

This picture shows the view out over Our Father, a narrow couloir expanding into a steep and icy mogul field. The access to the run is from just beneath the top tree line on the left hand side of this image. There is not a lot of room for error with a risk of sliding all the way to the bottom. There are plenty of signs warning of the dangers of skiing this particular run but in a bid to fulfill my ambitions, I chose to ignore them.

This picture does not capture the fact that each mogul was about three foot high. Once on the slope I became acutely aware that there was no-one else in sight. The skiers code states that you should never ski alone, but for me sometimes this is unavoidable. At this point fear and apprehension tends to take control but realising there was no way back I began to edge my way down. I got to the bottom in a less than graceful manner but without falling and relieved to be able to tick another one off my list.

Again, The Wall in Kirkwood had so many warning posts. The chairlift was marked with a skull and crossbones and "Expert Skiers Only" as well as risks of an "uncontrolallable slide" and "Risk of Death". They even sold T-Shirts in the ski shops with "I Survived the Wall" slogans. Needless to say, given my experiences with Our Father, by the time I had made the 20 minute ascent, I was absolutely petrified.

The Wall however turned out to be a very different experience. Once you had "jumped in" from the four foot ledge, it turned out to be a relatively passive slope, continually shallowing and expanding in width. I could perhaps have skiied it better, if my legs weren't shaking from fear installed in me by the warning signs.

The lawsuit culture in America makes ski resorts compliated places. All visitors must sign an official waiver declaring that they will not take any action against the ski resort in the case of negligence.

There is a popular myth that all american ski resorts removed the restraining bars from their chairlifts after a parent successfully sued a ski resort after their child seriously injured themselves falling from a lift. Their case revolved around the fact that by installing security bars, the ski resort was offering security measures that were ineffective.

Still on the list to ski are Courbet's Couloir in Jackson Hole and Delirium Dive in Sunshine Village.

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