Sunday, January 31, 2016

Who Can Suffer From High Altitude Sickness?

The short answer: Anyone.

You wedge an opening in your schedule to make a ski getaway and come to Tahoe, leaving the Bay Area or Sacramento early in the morning. The slopes have awesome snow, and you hit them hard that first day, maybe a bit too hard. That night, as you are about to fall into the sack, you start to feel sick and you wonder if it was your over-exertion or your celebratory beer or wine.

Probably, it was neither. It was altitude.

Altitude sickness can hit anyone, even people in very good shape. Typically, it strikes when you live near sea level and go up to 8000 feet or more. While most of the lodgings in Tahoe are below 7500 feet, much of the skiing and boarding is above 8000 feet. For example, if you go Heavenly, Tahoe's highest area, and ride the upper mountain on either the California or Nevada side, you will spend much of your day above 9000 feet. At Kirkwood or Mt. Rose, it's also possible to spend much of your day above 9000 feet.

A body has a strong reaction to being deprived of oxygen. The reaction can even be dangerous. Altitude sickness will initially manifest as a major headache. I don't want to scare you, but if it progresses to nausea and vomiting, you may be at risk for pulmonary edema or cerebral edema. It's time to get down to lower altitude fast! Seriously. Otherwise, you could suffer a cascade of events that lead to coma and death. A drop of 2000 feet or more will make a big difference. If altitude sickness strikes in Tahoe, taking an hour to drive down to Reno or Carson City (both around 4500 feet) can make you feel much better and can even save your life. Even if you only go down for a few hours, it can revitalize your brain and body. (Of course, if you are really sick, seek medical attention.)

Why does does altitude sickness happen and how can you prevent it? Tune in next week...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Ski Weekend In Tahoe? There's Something You Need To Know...

The word is out. Tahoe has snow, and lots of it. So you may be planning a ski weekend.

We're so glad about that! But you should know that a hundred thousand other skiers and boarders have the same idea. So here are two simple things that will make the difference between a great vacation break and a frustrating struggle dealing with traffic.

1. If there is any possible chance of controlling when you come and go, do not plan to arrive on Friday afternoon or evening, and do not plan on leaving during mid-day on Sunday (or Monday, if it is a three-day weekend like Presidents Weekend in February). Whatever it takes to adjust your schedule will pay you a hundred times over in lack of traffic frustration. I strongly recommend coming up Thursday night and leaving Monday morning instead (or leaving on Tuesday morning if you visit on Presidents Weekend).

2. If it is snowing, don't try to Google-map your way around the highways and chain-up areas. Locals have been trading stories of the masses of cars on the back roads that have spun out and slid into ditches all because they were trying to avoid the main highways and instead found themselves on hills that are undriveable in major snow. Most of us locals have 4-wheel-drive, and we don't even go on those roads during storms. Last week, hundreds of people spent huge amounts of time in ditches while the cops tried without luck to unsnarl masses of traffic that couldn't move because the back roads were covered in wet black ice and cars were scattered in all directions like a hundred toys some kid had kicked across the room. If you stay on the highway, at least you have the benefit of graders and rotary plows and dump trucks spreading sand.

Even AFTER the snow melted and the countless spinouts were towed away,
there is still gridlock on Sunday afternoon with everyone trying to get out of the basin
at the same time, especially on the back roads. Choose to drive home after 5 p.m. or,
better yet, Monday, and you'll have a much better weekend. Good luck!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Flurry... No, A Storm Of Good Weather News

As we face another series of storms lined up out in the Pacific, it's interesting to note where we're at as we approach the half-way point in our winter season. One of the best ways to get a basin-wide picture is to look at what the ski areas have received at various locations around the lake.

Of course, ski resorts may spin how they present their snow totals, but I can say from personal experience that their reported figures seem pretty accurate. For example, during the last few years, they were quite frank about the lack of snow.

Here's a list of the "year to date" total snowfall as of Jan 16, 2016 for various ski areas. The total snowfall can vary significantly at different points in a given resort, so I'm just reporting the highest figure. You can assume that some locations at a given resort will have had less snow.

Sugar Bowl  281 inches

Boreal  243 inches

Squaw Valley  237 inches

Alpine Meadows  231 inches

Northstar  246 inches

Mt. Rose  210 inches

Diamond Peak  163 inches

Heavenly  201 inches

Sierra At Tahoe  241 inches

Kirkwood  243 inches

(You will notice I've left out Homewood, Donner Ski Ranch, Tahoe Donner. This is only because I couldn't find year-to-date totals for those areas)

Bottom line? We had a lot of snow so far - 20 feet in several places! - significantly above average for this time of the season. Thank El Nino or good luck or those pagan snow dances some people have been performing.

And more storms are on the way. As I write this a few hours before it posts, it is snowing again, and the National Weather Service shows a significant chance of snow for the next few days. Not bad, eh?

Come on up the mountains to play in the snow!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Young Writers, And Mustangs, Too

Last week, I drove to Fernley, Nevada to give a talk about writing to 8th graders in the library at the Silverland Middle School. It was a great time.

I always love talking to kids because they are much more willing than adults to say what they think and ask the questions they are wondering about. So our conversation ranged over a wide territory. I was especially pleased when I asked if any of them had written fiction, a short story or otherwise, and most raised their hands. When I asked how long these stories were, the shortest number of pages I heard was 6 pages, and the longest number was 15.

In a world where we Boomers often think of younger generations as being hopelessly stuck on their video screens, it’s a great reassurance to be in a library surrounded by books (including mine!) and hear kids interested in, and talking about, reading and writing stories.

Writers know, of course, that stories will never go away. But we sometimes wonder if the future of storytelling is going to be exclusively in movie or video form. Once again, kids have given me reassurance that my ancient craft is not moribund. Yea!

Now comes the other cool part of going to Fernley. (For those of you who are curious, Fernley is about 30 miles east of Reno on Interstate 80, deep into the mountains of Northern Nevada.) To get there from Tahoe, I drove to Carson City and then turned east into the desert mountains, drove past the turnoff for Virginia City and continued east until I got to Silver Springs. From there it’s north a dozen miles to Fernley.

I knew this was Mustang country. And there were signs along the highway warning about the presence of wild horses. Even so, I didn’t expect to actually see wild Mustangs. But I saw 4 HERDS OF MUSTANGS! Gorgeous, majestic, frisky, energetic horses. The smallest group was 4 horses, the largest was 12 or 15 horses. Three of the groups were on nearby hillsides, and one was right next to the shoulder of the highway.

I’ve always thought that horses are the most beautiful animal on the planet. And, truth be told, Mustangs are probably no more beautiful than domesticated horses. But there’s something about their wildness… I think it may just be that when you see horses out on the open range, not fenced in, their striking beauty is more dramatic.

What a treat that day was! Talking to kids who are eager book readers and seeing Mustangs.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What, No Parking, No Carts, No Food?!

Here's what great snow will do in a ski resort town.

The week before Christmas, I had to make a delivery over by the Raley's Supermarket near Stateline on the South Shore. The parking lot was full. I drove to the farthest corner up behind the supermarket. 

Nix. Nada. Nope. 

Driving across town, I noticed that the Safeway parking lot was also full. I needed some groceries, but I didn't even try.

A week later, right before New Years, we'd run out of some basics. I went to Raley's at "The Y," also on the South Shore That lot was full as well. Lots of cars covered with snow, some that hadn't moved for hours. I would have left, but I was desperate. Gotta have something to eat.

So I loitered in the driving lanes with all the other cars. Eventually, someone pulled out right in front of me and I got a space.

Inside the store, there were no shopping carts. There were no hand baskets. The mass of people in ski clothes was impressive. I saw no locals because I was apparently the only local who'd forgotten the rule that says shop before 8:30 a.m. or after 9 p.m. during holidays. 

The produce section and the dairy section had entire shelves that were empty. The wine section was getting thin. The bread shelves were as lean as I'd ever seen. There were no employees roaming the aisles because they were all up front tending to the long checkout lines. 

When my turn came, the checkout man looked harried. "Busy, huh?" I said.

He made a weak grin. "Job security," he said. "There's a few skiers in town." An impressive understatement. "But we love 'em."

"Yes, we do." I agreed.

No parking, no carts, no food. Tahoe's tourist life blood has arrived.