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January 19, 2008

"The Skiing Adventure That Wasn't"

It had been a very wet winter: one of the wettest winters in many years.  Both of the major ski resorts - Snowbowl and Sunrise - had plenty of snow, and the ski season was booming.

And John (who had not skied in more than 10 years) was "jones-ing" to hit the slopes again.

When he learned that he had a three-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day (a holiday that he didn't get at Banner Health), John suggested that we at least take two days to go skiing.  Having never skied before, I didn't really know what to expect, but John insisted that I would love it.  (Of course, he said the same thing about ice skating...)

In order to go skiing, there was a lot of prep that needed to be done.  First, we needed to figure out where we were going.  If we went to Snowbowl, near Flagstaff, we would have to make reservations at a hotel; if we went to Sunrise, we could stay at the Gaard-Chak in Overgaard, about an hour from Sunrise.  Although that would have been the obvious choice, there was a problem: the furnace in the cabin wasn't working.  The pilot had stopped working during the holidays and had not yet been repaired, so we would be in for one very cold night if we stayed there.  After tossing up our options, we decided to tough it out at the Gaard-Chak, once we had been told that, with the space heaters and the fireplace, it wouldn't be that bad.

Next, we had to rent skis and gear. Three days before our departure, we went to Alpine Ski on 32nd Street and Shea to reserve the items that we needed: skis, poles, boots, snow bibs, and parkas.  Naturally, we had to have everything fitted, so we showed up with the socks that we would be wearing with the ski boots.  (That was a no-brainer.)  An hour later, we had everything sized perfectly and ready for pick-up on Friday night.

On Friday night, we dropped Mary off at Janice's house, where she would be spending the weekend.  Although we could have taken Mary with us on this trip, we decided to make this a weekend getaway for two...or, as John put it, he could only take one set of tears.  (Oh, ha ha ha!)

With the newly-repaired 4Runner loaded with the rented ski gear and our supplies for the weekend, John and I hit the road at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, January 19.  We had decided to get an early start, because we would have to be there early to sign up for ski lessons.  Lessons started at 10:00 a.m., but it was recommended that you get in line at 8:00 to sign up.  We also decided to stop first at the Gaard-Chak on the way to Sunrise, in order to prep the cabin for our stay.  We thought that it would be a good idea to turn on the water and the hot-water heater ahead of time, so that we could have a nice hot shower when we return in the evening. 

When we arrived in Overgaard, we were surprised to see that it was 8 degrees outside - much colder than we thought it would be there.  We expected it to be around the freezing mark, maybe a few degrees colder.  Not 8 degrees.

And it was not much warmer in the Gaard-Chak; according to the thermometer, it was about 36 degrees inside.  That wasn't a good sign.

We immediately went to work to set the cabin up for our stay.  While John tried to turn on the water, I set up the space heater in the bedroom and looked for extra blankets and sleeping bags that we could use on the master bed for extra warmth.  I also watched the faucets in both the kitchen and the bathroom, waiting for the water to come on.

John tried for about fifteen minutes to turn on the water in the cabin, to no avail.  He even called his father to help walk him through the process; but when nothing happened, we came to the conclusion that the pipes had to be frozen solid.  We would have to give up for now and try again in the afternoon, when it was warmer outside.

After locking up the cabin, we continued on our way to the Sunrise Ski Resort.  The drive there was uneventful, except that it got progressively colder the closer we got to the mountain.  The temperature remained in the teens as we passed through Show Low, Pinetop and Lakeside; then, as we turned onto SR 273, it dropped into the single-digit range.  It continued to get colder and colder the higher we drove and soon bottomed out at 0 degrees in the parking lot.  Considering that the thermostat in the 4Runner is a few degrees off, we figure that it had to be several degrees below zero outside. BRRRR!

As we arrived at the Sunrise Ski Resort, we parked in the ice-covered parking lot then got ourselves ready for a day of skiing.  We sat in the tailgate of the 4Runner and put on our ski bibs, parkas, hats, and gloves.  Then, we tried to put on our boots.  John's boots went on easily; mine, on the other hand, didn't go on at all.  Although they were the right size - and they had fit three days before - they just didn't fit now. 

"Well," John said, "we're just going to have to rent boots here for you. No big deal."

With that, we gathered up the skis and poles and headed into the resort, to get in line for ski lessons.

It was nearly 9:00 a.m. when we got into the line for lessons.  At that time, the line was very long; but we were lucky that we got there when we did.  In just a few minutes, the line doubled in size! 

It only took us twenty minutes to get through the line, though.  When it was our turn, we purchased a two-hour beginner lesson for me, and a two-hour refresher lesson for John.  We also purchased all-day lift tickets, which we would wear on our parkas. 

Once we made it through that line, it was time for me to go stand in yet another line - a longer line - to go rent pair of boots that would fit me.  While I waited in line, John decided to get some practice in before his lesson; he did a couple of runs down the mountain, just to see how much he could remember about skiing. 

The line in the rental shop was a complete zoo.  I had never seen so many people crammed into such a tiny space in all my life.  I was completely surprised that they were able to get me a pair of boots that fit me...but that was all that they did for me.  After that, I was on my own; I was never able to get anyone else to help me, and it was almost time for my lesson. 

I arrived at the ski class meeting area just in time to meet the instructor for the beginners' ski lesson.  Before I had a chance to get myself organized, he gathered the six of us up and brought us over to the lesson area to get us started.

For the first hour of our lesson, the instructor taught us technique: how to start moving, how to slow down, and how to stop ourselves.  The instructor also helped us with our equipment problems...mainly, my equipment problems.  Unfortunately, my skis weren't fitted for the new boots, so he had to stop and adjust my equipment for me. 

We started off with one ski and practiced gliding on that down the little hill.  Although I was a little apprehensive in the awkward equipment, it didn't take me long to get the hang of it.  Then, he had us put on our other ski... With two skis on, I felt even more awkward than before, but I did my best to follow the techniques that I had been learning.  He taught us how to side-step up the hill, so that we could get into a position where we could glide downhill.  It was only a small hill, so I thought, "This shouldn't be too bad!"  The first couple of times, I did very well; you could almost say that I was getting the hang of it!

Almost...but not quite... Towards the end of the first hour, the ski resort had become very crowded; and when it was my turn again to glide down the hill, there were too many people in the way.  That caused me to panic; and I swerved to avoid slamming into a group of kids.  As a result, I fell down and landed hard on both knees...

It took me a while to get back up again.  I managed to detach one of the skis, and I used that to help me pull myself to my feet again.  Once I was standing, though, I realized that I had once again damaged my knee: the same knee that I had banged hiking along First Water Creek a year ago and again when I fell climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica.  When I tried to walk on it, it hurt.

And that was when I came to the conclusion that skiing - like ice skating - just wasn't for me.  I was done for the day before the day had even begun.

The instructor helped me hobble over to a nearby picnic table, where I waited for John to finish his lesson.  John found me there an hour later and couldn't believe his eyes.  "You got hurt before you even got on the lift?" he asked, incredulously. 

"Yep," I replied.  What else could I say?

"What a clutz!" he exclaimed, laughing.  That was when he concluded that I must be allergic to cold. 

"That's not necessarily true," I said.  "I like snowshoeing!"

Fortunately, we encountered the instructor as we made our way away from the lesson area; the instructor told John that I was doing very well, but that I had had some crowd control issues.  I don't know if John believed that or not; he was too busy laughing at my clumsiness.

Since it was noon, John suggested that we go inside and grab some lunch at the restaurant...or, in this case, the cafeteria, because that's what it was.  Run by the Apache tribe, the restaurant at Sunrise was more like a high school cafeteria.  We stood in - you guessed it! - a long line until it was our turn to order.  The menu consisted of typical cafeteria items: hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, soup, chili, and salad. Our food was dished up in front of us and placed on a serving tray, which we took to the cashier to pay. 

After lunch, we returned outside, where John worked with me to try to get me back on the skis again.  Although I managed to maneuver around on the skis, I just couldn't quite find a comfort zone.  John decided not to push the issue, and I told him, "Don't worry about me; just go have fun, and I'll go hang out in the lodge."

So while he skied, I just hung out.

Sunrise Ski Resort, on a holiday weekend: very crowded!While he was gone on his first run, I decided that I wanted to put my skis away and get my purse out of the car.  Easier said than done, though, because John had the keys to the 4Runner with him!  I waited for over an hour for him to return from his run.  I soon found out that he had gotten turned around at the top and ended up on the other side of the mountain.  It took him a while to get back to where he needed to be.

Once I got the car keys from him, I picked up my gear and walked over to the rental shop to turn in my boots; then, I went to the 4Runner to put my skis away.  While I was there, I gathered up the cameras so that I could take pictures and video of John skiing down the mountain.  I figured that would be good stuff to burn to a DVD to bring to his grandparents during our Spring Break trip to South Carolina.

As I waited for John to come down the mountain, I sat at the lodge and did some people-watching.  It was interesting to see that the ski resort was not much different from the Drop Zone.  Like the Drop Zone, Sunrise Ski Resort was a place where adrenaline-junkies from all walks of life, with a little bit of disposable income, come to experience the thrill.  Like skydiving, skiing is not for everyone; while some people insist on going up the lifts over and over again, others (like me) were content just to watch the excitement. 

John skiing at Sunrise Ski Resort.John made a total of 12 runs that day, and he had the time of his life doing it.  He even conquered the blue run that had always done him in every time he had ever been there in the past.  He credited his skiing success to the refresher lesson that he had taken, which had helped him learn new techniques and relearn old ones.

The last run of the day, however, nearly did John in.  He had been feeling great during the first eleven runs; on the twelfth run, though, he got lost again.  He also had a couple of bad falls that really zapped his strength.  By the time he made it to the bottom of the run, I could tell that he was done for the day. (Of course, it was already 3:30 p.m. - only a half an hour until the lifts closed.)

John and I slowly walked back to the 4Runner, discussing our plans for the rest of the weekend.  John had already determined that we were done skiing for the weekend, knowing that he wasn't going to be able to get me back on a pair of skis.  I told him that I would have no problem just hanging out at the lodge while he skied, but he didn't think that it was right for me to have to do that.  That said, John proposed that we make our final decision to stay the whole weekend once we returned to the Gaard-Chak.  If we could get the water running, we would stay and do another day of skiing; if not, we were going home that night.

On the way back to Overgaard, we decided to do a little geocaching, even though we knew that we had very little daylight time left and that it was hard to cache in the snow.  We only found one cache, hidden in a city park in Pinetop.  By the time we found the cache, the sun was starting to set and the temperature was dropping fast, so we decided to stop caching and continue on our way.

When we arrived in Overgaard, the temperature had already dropped below freezing; it was a nippy thirty degrees outside.  Inside the Gaard-Chak, it was about forty degrees, and although we had left one faucet on in case the pipes thawed out, the basin was dry.  John attempted once again to turn on the water to no avail; he even called his father again, but by that time, we had determined that we were going home.  Our romantic skiing getaway just wasn't meant to be...

So, we closed down the Gaard-Chak and locked it up tight; then, we started on our way home.  Instead of stopping for that nice dinner that we had planned on eating, we stopped instead at the McDonald's drive-thru in Payson.  True, it wasn't exactly the romantic fare that we had hoped for, but we were trying to get home before it got too late.

We arrived home around 8:30 p.m., completely exhausted from the long day.  (Remember: we started out at 3:30 a.m.!)  It wasn't long before we found ourselves in our nice warm bed, sound asleep.

Having given up on skiing, we now needed something else to do with the rest of our three-day weekend.  Mary wouldn't be coming home until after 2:30 in the afternoon, so John and I decided to take the motorcycle out for a spin (and to geocache along the way).  We managed to find seven caches in the area around Tatum and the Loop 101, including three caches just in the Desert Ridge Marketplace and another four in the Reach 11 area (which required some hiking).  The next day, with Mary in tow, we conquered a complicated but fun multi-cache in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve; then, we returned the skiing equipment to Alpine Ski.

I'm sure that this will not be the last time that we attempt a skiing adventure; after all, John had been bitten again by the skiing bug.  Hopefully, if we do go again, it goes much better than this one!


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