Friday, March 3, 2017

Preliminary thoughts on West Coast v. East Coast skiing

This title is a lie: I went skiing once last season at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe and once this season at Killington in Vermont. I had gone skiing a few times in my youth, but not nearly enough to have any authority on the sport. However, I like skiing, want to go more often, and have some thoughts on my different experiences at these two sites, and photos to share.

Beware! Garish colors ahead. I was evidently very heavy-handed with VSCO last year. I promise that the real blue of Lake Tahoe looks astonishingly vibrant in person.

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Last year, I went on a week-long trip with some college friends to Lake Tahoe, northern California's favorite retreat for mountain time. The trip was a lot more than just skiing, with lots of bonding time and board games and such, but I spent three days skiing and want to return. My best friend's family lives in South Lake Tahoe, and a trip to their cabin after high school graduation (and numerous short trips to the Sierra Nevada in my life) made me realize that there are no mountains more like "home" to me.

Lake Tahoe itself

The thing about Lake Tahoe is that it is a massive freshwater lake and shining emblem of the American West in and of itself. Though I've shown its frozen shore, it is blue beyond imagination all seasons of the year and a natural draw for locals and tourists.

Hanging around at the frozen shore

Lake Tahoe sits at 6225 ft above sea level in the Sierra Nevada along the California-Nevada border. An essential part of my Lake Tahoe experience is altitude sickness -- childhood asthma, low O2 saturation confirmed by medical school -- shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, light-headedness. Oh yes, and nosebleeds.

Lake Tahoe is generally pretty dry, and not too cold, as my friends in t-shirts indicate. Though this year gave California far too much precipitation, the recent drought forced Tahoe ski resorts to use man-made snow on the slopes.

Looking towards Nevada

Heavenly is a huge resort. It's expensive, it's expansive, and it straddles the border. I started on the bunny slopes on the Nevada side, played around on the blue intermediate slopes, then took the trails to get to the California side.

Looking towards California out of a dirty gondola window

Heavenly base camp sits at 6255 ft above sea level, which is plenty high for me. I reliably get some shade of altitude sickness in Lake Tahoe, which for me presents as an intense, crushing pressure on my chest, difficulty breathing, light-headedness, and misery.

Pygmy trees! And Lake Tahoe, of course

I challenged myself to take the Sky Express lift to the summit at 10040 ft above sea level. The summit left me literally and figuratively breathless, and that peak, with its variety of very long intermediate runs, remains my favorite.

This place is beautiful

Right turn off the lift to get to California; left turn to get to Nevada. The altitude hit me the hardest on an agonizing flat stretch at >10k ft, which I unfortunately needed to suffer through to get back to my friends on the Nevada side.

Weird colors, but I had to play around with editing because the sunset was kind of strange

My friend below in the orange said that one of his first indulgent purchases after entering the workforce (engineering in Silicon Valley) will be a season pass to Heavenly. That won't be realistic for me, but it's a nice dream to keep in mind.

Unlike some of the snow on the slopes, this is the real deal

Killington, Vermont

Okay. I really liked Killington, but not as much as Heavenly. In short, the great thing about Killington is that the summit of its highest mountain, Killington Peak, is 4241 ft, substantially lower than Heavenly base camp at 6255 ft. I had no altitude effect and could happily ski the day away without thinking about how difficult it was to breathe.

It's cold in Vermont

The other thing about Killington is that the snow is all real, the wind is vicious, and the cold is unlike anything I've ever experienced.

The same snowboarder got in the way of both my photos so I had to do some suspicious copypasta to get rid of him

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the mountain, especially since there was fresh powder from a storm the night before. I also felt like I could get more out of the day because I wasn't having any trouble with the altitude and could breathe comfortably.

At the summit of Killington Peak

As fun as Killington was, it was substantially more crowded than I remembered Heavenly to be.

In short, the tough thing about Killington was how cold it was. My phone stopped working because I kept it in a very superficial pocket, but at the hotel, it claimed a high of 12 F and a low of -1 F, not even considering windchill.

A pretty trivial difference: there are no deciduous trees to be found in Heavenly. The transition between evergreen to barren deciduous trees was a good indicator of how far down the mountain I had gone.


All in all, this was a fairly brainless post to write, but I had fun skiing this year and last, saw beautiful mountains, took pictures, and my frost-nipped fingers suffered too much not to put them on the internet.


  1. All this scenery is so beautiful - I love the sight of a snow covered mountain. I've never skiied in my life - I would definitely injure myself trying!

    1. The transition up the mountain from bare, twiggy deciduous trees to completely snow-laden evergreens was very interesting and beautiful. The scenery at the top of Killington were completely otherworldly!

  2. Back when I still swam competitively, my coach would give me a special workout if ever I was on break and traveling somewhere that would be at a higher altitude. Some competitive swimmers use this higher altitude to train breath control. Anywho, WOW both these views are gorgeous! Back in high school, I learned how to ski because my mom told me that this was how people socialise and I needed to learn how to do it :P I haven't skiied for awhile and have forgotten how, but I've never been left out of socialising due to not being able to ski :P Because of my mom, for some reason I thought skiing would be a bigger part of my life haha. But nevertheless, I do want to re-learn how to ski! and snowboard! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

    1. Some of my high school friends work as seasonal lift operators or ski patrol in Lake Tahoe, but I haven't really heard of skiing as a major form of socializing! But it is very fun and I know that if I challenge myself, I can improve. I probably won't be snowboarding anytime soon, though.

  3. Seems like you have gone on some incredible trips for skiing this year. I have only really been skiing 2 times in my life, once back in uni and had a blast and once last year and realized it was not for me. Still, I wish I knew how to do it. I am sure you had loads of fun and isn't that so annoying about the iphone? Same thing happens to me ALL THE TIME but just when out and about outside.

    Rae | LFB Blogazine

    1. I usually keep my phone in my jeans pocket and avoid the temperature issue, but I was really surprised! I basically used it and revived it enough to take the pictures.