Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Best Ski Coach EVER!"

Hope everyone enjoyed Christmas. It was weird to be working on that day but a lot of things are new in my life these days. We got dumped on for Christmas, with about 3 feet of snow falling in a 48-hour span. We pretty much skided down our front stairs on our way to work on Christmas morning. After going out for pizza on Christmas Eve in a McArdle family tradition and having a few pops at McP's, our favorite Irish pub at the base of the gondola, we got up early to give ourselves a Christmas present--first tracks in powder! Check out the video I took of it on my Facebook page. Oh, and we drove around the corner to park on a sidestreet rather than walk the .3 miles to the base. Wouldn't you know it? Michael and Robin, the couple of ski instructors who used to live in our place, parked right in front of us and sufficiently and deservedly busted our balls. Think of it this way: Most of you know how far my apartment was from Toons. It would be like driving up to Southport and Waveland, parking, and walking the rest of the way.
I ended up getting a class around noon and had two young boys from Ireland and three Indians, one of whom twisted his ankle in a fall. My second day on the job and I had to fill out a "green sheet" (the term we use for an injury report). I think he was OK, but it's just something we have to do for liability. I caught a lot of grief from the other instructors about "breaking somebody on Christmas." We went out that night with Eric, another ski instructor friend, for Xmas dinner at a place called Fire & Ice, which is a Mongolian BBQ, Flattops type of place, and played some pool at one of the casinos.
Yesterday I got pulled out of lineup to take a private lesson with a couple 7 year olds. When I first met Lotus and Kiave they were very quiet and seemed scared. Wouldn't you be, too, if you saw me? They were BFF and sooooo cute. That's them in the picture with me at the top of the blog. We had such a fun time together and they were a hoot. Lotus was telling me at lunchtime that once when she got in trouble her mother made her sleep outside. I wondered if I should contact DCFS. Then she was stuffing loose M&M's into her snowsuit and we got into a little argument over whether or not they would melt inside her pocket. "How can they melt in snow?" she asked. "Well, if they do and you end up having to sleep outside tonight then don't blame me!" I told her.
By the end of the day they were calling me "the best ski coach EVER" and giving me hugs. They enjoyed it so much that they badgered their parents to let them come back again today. When Lotus' mom's boyfriend won 10K at the casinos last night, they called me up to see if I could work with them again today. It was supposed to be my day off but we get paid double for privates so I suited up and went in. Another fun day with the 7 year olds. Had them going from "hot dog" (skis straight, going fast) to "pizza" (skis in a wedge to slow down) and doing turns by the end of the day. And they brought a sled with them today and spent a good portion of our post-lunchtime sledding down a hill. Oh, and Kiave explained a game her mom and her mom's beau play with her. Mom tells Kiave a number from 1-10 and if Stanley can guess it he gets a hug from mom. "Noooo," Lotus interjected. "It isn't a hug." Kiave shushed her friend but when I pressed, Lotus said when Stanley guesses correctly he gets "a kiss with a tongue!" Did I mention Kiave's mom was a MILF?
So today we had to move out of our condo for a week. It had already been booked for New Year's week. Ziggy went north to spend time with friends. He's part time on the mountain and isn't scheduled to work all week. Me, on the other hand, I have to stay local. So tonight I'm staying at our friend Eric's place. The rest of the week I'm getting a hotel room with a friend who's coming in from L.A. I'm tired of packing and unpacking and moving but after another week we can settle in for the long haul at the Summit.
Lastly, the proofs for my book came in yesterday. I've got a couple weeks to review it and make any recommended changes. Pretty cool to actually see a tangible version of what I'd been working on for the lion's share of 2008. And I put in today for some time off to come home for the Cubs Convention in mid-January. Hope to get to see some of you during my visit!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wall skillets, moguls and Bearsss, oh my!

Heyho all and happy holidays! I am writing this post from the community center in our complex, the Summit. They've got Internet service working, but it doesn't reach our place. Which, by the way, I forgot to mention two peculiar things about. No. 1, the heating vent in my bedroom, the second, smaller bedroom, of course, doesn't work. So they've got this 2 foot, by 2 foot metal plate, which is painted the same color of the room. It's got a switch on it and is plugged into a thermostat at the wall socket. It radiates heat and, heats the room. We've come to calling it the wall skillet. My goal is to heat it up real good one day, and throw an egg at it to see what happens. Second, we discovered a hidden loft in our washer/dryer room. It's got a ladder that the owners blocked off with a piece of plywood. Ziggy peaked up there the other day and noted the room is big enough for a blowup mattress and friends. Now there's the matter of making sure they're all roasty toasty warm. Where did they get that wall skillet?
But I digress. We had to take two tests on Saturday and then were tested by one of their longtime instructors on our teaching ability that afternoon. Turns out this guy (his name is Michael Rogan, another amazing wealth of skiing knowledge) and his longtime gal Robin lived in the very condo the Zigster and I now inhabit. The world is even small on the giant ski hills. Michael asked if we'd seen any bears yet. I said we'd be finding a place to watch them on Monday night against the Packers. Apparently, it was the other kind of bears, the real ones. Our place is a 9-minute walk from the base of the California side of the mountain and high enough up that black bears are very commonly seen roaming around.
We bar hopped a bit on Saturday night. It was deader in every place we went. But our scouting uncovered a great big sports bar called Mo's that was great for watching the Chicago Bears win last night. We did find a hottie bartender at the Brewery who comped us a couple shots of Jaeger!
Sunday we shadowed another instructor for a lesson and after showing up for work on Monday only to be dismissed because there wasn't enough work, Zig and I got up early today and got first tracks in about 18 inches of fresh powder. A black diamond named Double Down had its ass thoroughly kicked! Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, Rossignol Smith rides again! For those who don't know, that is my "ski name," my alter ego on the slopes. It was dreamt up from a day of skiing with Team Snark--Chip Chaney and Jeff Ladin, aka Scott Aspen and Sky McAlpine. On the trip out, I made Ziggy commit to his ski name and he need only about 10 seconds to come up with Hans Volkl.
We had to get down to base camp by 9:45 for morning "lineup." Since we're new and have no seniority, we get work last. And after most of the instructors got lessons, there were me, Ziggy and our new buddies from training, Eric and Mike, getting cold standing around. Finally, about an hour later, I was given my first class--two very pretty sisters from Bolivia. So I taught Donna and Stephanie how to ski today! I had Donna starting Level 3 skills at the end of the day and Stephanie did what was the goal of Level 1--turning in a wedge. Pretty cool feeling and we had a good time. They even took a photo with me. I gave them my email and hope to post the picture in a future blog. Zig got a lesson, too, but not until the afternoon session at 1:00. He had six in his class and had them rockin and rollin by the end of the day. We can do this!
So they had a dinner for us after we got done--turkey and all the trimmings and pumpkin pie for dessert for only $4. And we stopped at the ski shop and made a big haul. One of the benefits is we get 50% off work-related items like thermal underwear, socks, helmets and yes, skis! I picked up a couple pair of thermal tops and bottoms, some socks and some cool leather ski gloves for $100! Then we jumped in our hot tub, which is beginning to become a daily ritual. It's right outside the room I am typing from.
It's going to get real busy for the next two weeks, they tell us, even on Christmas and New Year's Day, although it's understandably slow in the morning. I'm on the schedule through Saturday. Sunday will be my first day off, and I can't wait to have at that mountain!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

White Christmas

White Christmas came a week early! After spending our first training day on the bunny hill, re-learning how to do the wedge and other various beginning skills in skiing, they threw us a bone yesterday. We went out and skied all day long. With an instructor breaking down our skills and style and offering tips. And got paid for it!
We didn't go up on the mountain on Tuesday so when we first got up there yesterday, you wouldn't believe the beautiful pine trees covered in snow (pictured above from the chair lift using my cell phone camera). Literally, everything was white, save for the clear-blue sky.
Our group of eight was led by an instructor named Ted Pitcher. I told him he should've been a baseball player. He told me he was a lefty. Even better! Turns out he's a Red Sox fan from the East Coast who played a little first base as a youngster. He's been skiing like 30-something years and teaching for about 20. He used to do Nastar racing and coaches it now. Anyway, the guy had some unbelievably great tips and improved my skiing immensely. In fact, at lunchtime, he said I was the "most improved" in the group, which may speak more to my ability before we started! There aren't a lot of runs open, and it's a bit crowded but we had a blast, and I learned more about the technical part of skiing in one day than I'd learned in 20 years previous. Our own skiing is going to get unbelievably better, they tell us.
So last night, Zig and I went out for sushi at a place about a mile from our condo. Great, great stuff but a little too much saki. If any of you come out, remind us to take you to The Naked Fish.
Our place has a hot tub right up the street. Ziggy was counting the steps last night and when he got to "42," he said, "That's Toons." I said, "What?" He replied, "Toons is 42 steps from my condo." We had about 42 more to get to the hot tub and a neighborhood dog scolding us the whole way. For the record, Wrigley Field was 36 steps from my apartment last summer, so I guess we can't have all the conveniences! Hot tub is great for our muscles after skiing and surrounded by tall pine trees with an opening above to view the stars. We were looking at Cassiopeia right above us while listening to John Coltrane and Duke Ellington on Zis' I-pod and sipping red wine. Life is good!
Just to give you the lowdown on our place, it's got two bedrooms upstairs with a full bath. Downstairs is the living room with another half-bath and kitchen. It's small but works for just the two of us. The couch pulls out, though, so room for a guest or two if anyone is itching! The front porch has a bear carved out of a wood stump (they're big on Da Bearssss out here, too!) The other morning we noticed raccoon tracks on the front stoop, too! We have a little back porch, too, and are debating whether to pick up a small smokey joe to grill on. Oh, and no stereo. What's up with that? We're thinking about picking up one of those iPod players for a hundred bucks. Best thing about the place is it's about a 2-minute drive to work!
Back on the mountain today, we were with a different instructor, Heidi, who taught us the Level 2 course. It's so hard to do all these skills I haven't done in 20 years. They all become a foundation for how you develop as a skier, but both Zig and I said it's difficult to go slow and do "the wedge" (snowplow) properly. But it's going to be something we'll need to demonstrate over and over again, so they're helping get us there. One of the guys in our class who's taught before noted that our own skiing will improve because we're working on these skills once again.
The instructors all have great insight and stories. One of them told one today about a 15-year-old girl who he was teaching. No matter what he tried, he couldn't get her to get her knees apart. Frustrated, he said to her, "What is it with you? How come I can't get you to open your legs?" And she said, "Because my daddy said I'm not to open them until I'm 21!" 
So that's about it. I know, no real fun stories this time, but we're working man! Cut us a break. I'm back at the Blue Angel Cafe with a glass of wine by the fireplace listening to bob Marley's Waiting in Vain and Exodus. Tired and headed home.
Oh, and we hit a snowbank yesterday! There was a bunch of ice on the road where we enter our condo complex and Zig was coming downhill a little too fast and tried to turn. High-Ho-Silver went away....right into the bank. Broke a piece off her front bumper, too, the poor thing!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Men in Red

OK, gang, real quick, cause I'm a workin' man now again and have to get up early to learn how to learn people to ski. Did I just write that? Actually, no Internet access for the time being at home so we're down the block sipping wine by a fireplace at the coolest little restaurant called Blue Angel Cafe. It'll be a great place to come chill after a day on the slopes.
So the T-Man and I are learning to be ski school instructors. That's our picture in our snappy new unis. We get a jacket, vest and ski pants, all red and all of which have to be returned at the end of the season. For keeps, we get a Heavenly ballcap and skull cap, a moisture-wicking undershirt, and a coffee mug! 
Yesterday was a long day of people talking at us and today was our first day in skis of the whole season. Never mind that we didn't make it off the bunny hill. Skiing is a different animal 20 years after you've learned it when you are going back to the basics, re-learning how it's done. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Lots of bad habits we develop. Our instructor today told us, "You realize what you guys have done, don't you? You've taken one of your passions and ruined it for yourself. You'll never be able to just 'do a run' anymore. You'll say, 'Oh, I caught an edge up there, was out of control over here, blah, blah, blah." I guess getting inside my passions and finding out what makes them tick is a character flaw I have.
We had a dinner tonight with lots of other folks who work on the hill. It was put together for employees--a $4 dinner! Ziggy talked to one studying instructor in our class who is living in his van while work-based lodging pulls through. Then we got home tonight and saw on the news that three girls died of carbon monoxide poisoning sleeping in their car at Squaw Valley, right up the road near our former home in Truckee. They were employees, perhaps sleeping in their car, waiting for work when their tailpipe clogged with snow. Crazy! So I feel very fortunate to have a roof over my head.
Heavenly had three runs open last week. The next two weeks, they say, they'll do a third of the business they do for the entire season! Other than the slopes, not much else new to report.
I got some news on my book today. I'll be getting proof copies of the pages sometime next week and will have a couple weeks to turn it around. It'll be so cool to see my work on solid pages! Santa will truly be visiting me next week, even though I'm sure to miss all of you as I'm away this winter. I'm sure Ziggy feels the same. Gee, this wine and burning wood is making me sappy!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

North Side, South Side

That used to mean much more in Chicago and I preferred the former. But today we are headed south, to South Lake Tahoe to move into our new two-bedroom home at the base of Heavenly Ski Resort. It's in a complex with several other buildings and there's a common area with a swimming pool and two hot tubs! So the gig as ski school instructors pulled through and we're starting with orientation tomorrow followed by five days of training. Hence the reason we're moving the hour south today. It's snowing. HARD! We got about six inches yesterday and I'm guessing another 4-5 today. Just think what they have on the mountain!
The plan was to go to Squaw Valley today to get a practice day in before we go to work. Then last night happened. We went to see a band called Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. Just a hoot! He's an old Haight-Ashbury guy from the 60s who started touring again a few years back. The guy is a riot, with funny between songs banter. He calls his band toe-tapping Caucasian hip-hop! After playing his hits "I Scare Myself" and "Canned Music," he played my favorite: "How Can I Miss You if You Never Go Away." He did holiday ditties like "Making Sure Your Yule is Cool," and "Rudolph the bald-headed reindeer, had a very shiny head, and if you've ever saw him, you'd wish you'd seen something else instead."
So the show was at Crystal Bay Casino in Nevada. It was about 45 minutes away in a snowstorm through a pass. "Why are we doing this?" Ziggy asked rhetorically as High-Ho-Silver climbed up the summit. Needless to say, we were in a casino after the show and next thing you knew, it was a MILF attack and we didn't get home till close to 5. So sleep this morning, not skiing.
And then packing....and later unpacking. Somewhere along the way we've got six giant pine cones to mail to Benny back in Chicago.
Other than that the past two days were uneventful. We made it to the Donner Memorial Park and watched a movie about the Donner Party. For those who don't know, it was a group of 80-some pioneers trying to get through Donner Pass during the winter of 1846. They got trapped there, about half died and some started feeding on the dead to survive. There was a monument with a base of 22 feet, I think, which was the height of the snow that had accumulated. Oddly enough, both Zig and I felt sick to our stomaches after this tour, probably half from the story we'd heard and half from hangovers that were gaining strength!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Damn Sailor Jerry!

So Ziggy and I kicked up our heals a bit last night, celebrating the Bears' overtime win against the Saints, finding a place to live and possibly (hopefully) finding jobs as ski school instructors. How crazy is that? I spend the summer season writing about my passion and the winter season teaching another. I think I died and went to Heavenly!
We watched the game in Tahoe City at a bar called Pete and Peters. We're calling it Toons West since the first thing we saw was a cardboard behind the bar with squares for the Bears-Saints game. There were two guys Ziggy insisted were Barry and Ed in another dimension, and another guy wearing a vest (no sleeves) that we figured was the winter version of Bob Morand. We each bought two squares (Zig refrained from his usual "Floyd's Balls" entry). He would've won if the damn Bears didn't kick a field goal, and the game ended in a 24-24 tie. But we'll take the win. Fun crowd who seemed to get a kick out of getting to know the Chicago boyz. Where we went wrong was stopping in Truckee for two nightcaps and then opening our handle of Sailor Jerry while watching "Dumb and Dumber." (Thanks for the suggestion, Jeremy. We think it aptly fictionalizes our adventure!)
So yesterday we went back to South Lake Tahoe. Terry thinks he's found the place to stay for the season. It's not a ski out place but looks like we can ski right to our door at the end of the day. Now all we need is some snow. Even New Orleans has it for crissakes! Oh, and there's a community hot tub walking distance in your flip flops and towel (or in the buff for you exhibitionists). Then we visited human resources at the mountain. Our timing couldn't have been better, as they were pretty much closing up their hiring for the season. We ended up interviewing for jobs and it looks like we might both get hired teaching ski school--me full time and Zig part time with the handicapped. Orientation is Monday and training is next week. Of course, we still need confirmation that we do have jobs.
After Tuesday's movie night (code for we were lame and stayed in), we did two one-mile hikes Wednesday. One took us down into picturesque Emerald Bay (pictured above), where we saw a woodpecker and trees that are 500 years old! To put that in perspective, we offer that those were mere saplings around the time Columbus discovered America. Ziggy fell in love and gave one of them a hug (photo above). Then we hiked to frozen Eagle Lake. How anything could be frozen out here is beyond me since it's sunny all the time and hasn't been below 40 degrees. The scenery was just unbelievable. During the hike, Ziggy regaled how these type of activities would get out bodies working on high octane, and we'd soon be leaving large floating "hindenturds" in the bowl. Apparently they explode right before you flush. OHHHH THE HUMANITY!!!! We also came up with a code name for me, since Zig is hellbent on me staying for the season. I am his "kept wingman," or KW for short. Oh, and Zig came up with a name for the silver Toyota SUV that got us out here. It's "High-Ho-Silver."
It's sunny--again! We are thinking of going up to do a hike near Donner Pass. If one of us doesn't make it back, know the other one had a good meal!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hawaii in Tahoe

Our first weekend in Tahoe beat us up pretty good, and Ziggy and I spent Monday sucking our thumbs and nursing hangovers on the couch. Monday Night Football starts at 5:30 out here! We're anxiously considering where to watch Thursday's Bears-Saints game. Wonder if there are any Cajun pubs out here?
On Friday, we drank in nearby downtown Truckee at a couple bars. We didn't really meet anybody, other than a tall blonde doing a fly-by butt grab on Zig. One girl walked by wearing a shirt with what looked like a map printed on it, and we wondered under our breath, "How about the map of Hawaii on your back?" We did the drive to South Lake Tahoe on Saturday morning. Zig and I have been fighting quite a bit--with his new GPS doohickey. It recommended us taking I-80 to Rena on then heading south to SLT. WE did that, and it turned an hour ride into a 90-minute ride. Stupid gizmo.
We spent a few hours looking at places he is considering renting and think we found it with the last place--a three-bedroom house that was remodeled in 2006 and is walking distance from the base of Heavenly. It's at Aspen and Wildwood, so check out a map and see exactly where it is. Still details to work out, but it looks like a done deal.
We then found an Irish bar to watch the Alabama-Florida game. The Tide got rolled, unfortunately, and then the Oklahoma-Missouri game sucked. So we went to Harrah's, where I placed a $25 bet at the sports book know it...Hawaii. It was for my buddy back home, but I spent the entire game "pretending" i had wagered the remainder of my advance for my book. Wouldn't you know it? The Rainbows, er, sorry, the Warriors, won! We ended up in some dark, thumpy nightclub and got separated when Zig was dancing with a girl in a red hat, and i was hanging out with a group celebrating a 30th birthday. I walked about a mile past our hotel trying to find my way back--ugh!
The next day, we returned to McP's, the bar where we watched football on Saturday. But by the time our lazy asses got there, Da Bears were already done whipping Jacksonville. We watched the second games there, and Ziggy swore me into the Buffalo Club. I repeated the oath enthusiastically, only to find out I now have to drink left-handed for the rest of my life.
We drove back to Truckee, stopping for some wine and sushi at a local restaurant down the block. And then yesterday was, well, pathetic.
The weather remains the same--sunny like you wouldn't believe, and in the 40s and 50s. It might even reach the 70s on Thursday! Don't want to complain, but we'd rather see colder temps and some white stuff. Heavenlly has like 3-4 runs open, and the other mountains are about the same--just not worth skiing unless we were going home tomorrow, which, of course, we are not.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Starry nights

OK, first of all, don't be misled by that title. Ziggy and I are not getting cozy together. It's just that the stars out here are AMAZING! There's so many of them once you lift the blanket of Chicago's smut and smog. We barbecued some chicken last night and it was hard to pay attention to not burning anything when you looked up into the sky.

Terry is making big progress on finding a place for the season. We checked out South Lake Tahoe the other day and that's his target area. It's about an hour south of us, an awesome drive with the lake on one side below some scary cliffs. At one point at the peak of a mountain we were driving with cliffs on both sides. "How about some guard rails here, guys?" Zig said as he white-knuckled it through into a series of switchbacks.

South Lake Tahoe is pretty cool. Only city I've ever seen where the state line crosses right through the middle of it. Right on the Nevada side are a series of casinos, of course. Most of what we're finding as far as lodging has been cabins with 2-3 bedrooms and a rustic look. We're gonna need some cowboy hats. Please, no Brokeback Mountain jokes!

The local towns are Truckee and Tahoe City. We still haven't checked out Truckee but have become fast friends with a bartender named "Jumbo" at a place called Lakeside Pizza. Don't be fooled by his name. Jumbo is a regularly sized guy who's our age, but won't reveal the nature of his nickname. What he will do is pour a free shorty and a free pint of Guinness for every three we order! And give us some tips on where to live, things to do, etc. Last night they had "Beerfest" there but we were lame and didn't make it. We were there on Tuesday, though, for trivia night. Lots of young folks came rolling in for that, including a group of nine kids just out of college from Maine. (It took them four days to get here; I thought we had a long drive.) The girl sitting next to me, Whitney who was too cute for her own good, said she and her driving partner each got a ticket and then had the sunroof on their car shattered the day they got here--presumably by a pine cone, she said. (You should see how big those suckers are out here!) Anyway, all of them are staying for the season as long as jobs at a soon-to-open restaurant called Cafe 22 comes through with jobs promised.

As for me, I'm eyeing applying for work as a ski school instructor at Heavenly. They apparently still have jobs open and since the ski hills aren't open (Chicago has more snow, methinks), I expect they'll be expanding their staff soon. Heh, heh, I said "staff." So that is my plan, but it all hinges on if we can find lodging there since I don't have wheels and will need to find my own way to work.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hello from Truckee (isn't that a kids' word?)

Ziggy and I are sitting in the living room of his buddy's place in a place called Truckee. It's right off I-80, the interstate we turned right on about 1,700 miles ago. The ride out was constant. We drove straight through, leaving Toons at 11:30 a.m. after having a shorty with DB and arriving here in the late afternoon. It was the longest night on the road I can remember. When you're chasing the sunset you're also running away from the sunrise. And the earth rotates way faster than a vehicle with Mr. Whoopie's radar detector. So the sun set somewhere around 6 p.m. on the clock on our Toyota SUV. We hadn't reset the time when it finally came back up just before we reached Salt Lake City around 8:30 a.m. Chicago time (6:30 local).

Now, the "running-out-of-gas" incident...I awoke around 2 a.m. Chicago time as Ziggy was exiting the interstate somewhere in the middle of Wyoming, around 45 miles west of Laramie. He'd been looking for a gas station for some time...nothing. The exits advised to get off for petrol and we drove right by a dark station, never noticing the closed pumps until we came back through about 3 hours later. Ziggy had his new GPS doohickey. But technology was catching its own tail. His GPS said the next station was 20 miles away, in some place called Red Rock (cue "Blazing Saddles" music). The information indicator on his Toyota said we had 19.1 miles to go before we'd run out of fuel. It was a constant chase to the station, which we passed in the dark of night as we blinked and missed the closed-down town. 

We u-turned and went back, knowing Goober and Gomer weren't working but figuring if the inevitable happened we should at least be at a fillin' station and not on a corn-lined highway. Zig called AAA, we took a two-hour nap while we waited, and the guy filled us up with 15 gallons of petrol.

We spent today looking for a place for Terry to rent for the season. It's been slim pickings so far but we'll keep on the case. We stopped and did some shopping and I cooked up some tacos for dinner after Zig confessed he has only turned his stove at home on twice in 9 years. I'm tired now and headed to bed. More tomorrow.