Sunday, March 4, 2018

Fresh Powder at Kirkwood

Time to make fresh tracks!

When a huge snowstorm appeared on the horizon, Alex and I began to track it, using OnTheSnow and OpenSnow apps on our iPhones. Hoping for some fresh, light, powder at Lake Tahoe ski resorts, we eagerly anticipated its arrival.

As expected, the storm deposited 30+ inches of fresh snow at Kirkwood, Heavenly, Northstar, and other nearby ski resorts, during heavy periods of snowfall on Thursday, March 1 and Friday, March 2.  Since the roads were snowed in on Saturday, we decided to try snowboarding at Kirkwood on Sunday, March - expecting most of the roads to be clear by then.

Waking up at 4:00am on Sunday morning, we quickly dressed and started our drive. Since I was not sure about road conditions, I chose to drive the Audi Q5 with a set of chains in the trunk (just in case). The drive to Kirkwood proceeded smoothly, until we hit the snowed in/iced roads on the last stretch  of highway 88. I tried to drive carefully, since I've seen cars crash and flip-over on this road before. We arrived into Kirkwood, right around 8:00am and parked in the best parking spot.

We quickly dressed and walked over to the Monte Wolfe's Mountain Kitchen for some breakfast. There was not much edible on the menu (this isn't Whistler), so Alex chose some oatmeal and I selected a muffin. After a short breakfast, we headed to the Cornice Express chairlift for the first run of the day. The snow looked wonderful and we saw lots of fresh powder! Mamma mia!

We quickly boarded the Cornice Express chairlift and were whisked away to the top. On this cold, sunny day, the air was clear and cold, and the view from the top was magnificent. We quickly sttrapped on our snowboards and headed down "Zachary" black diamond trail, weaving in and out of the trees.

Despite the many moguls on the piste, the fresh powder underneath the board felt fantastic. I felt like surfing downhill a giant wave of snow. It was an indescribable feeling of enjoyment. Surfing through many canyons (like miniature half-pipes), we attempted many freestyle tricks (180's & ollies). When we finally made it back to Cornice Express, Alex was exhausted. Riding on powder takes a lot of effort - since balancing oneself is so much harder.

Alex felt a bit nauseous from all the effort, but felt better after a bit of rest.
Here is a GoPro Hero 4 video I recorded with my selfie-stick:

We did another run from Cornice Express,  and then decided to head to "The Wall" to try double black diamond runs. On the way there, we headed to the "Wagon Wheel Bowl" where Alex got stuck behind a cliff - for which he needed to take off his board, walk down, and remount. The snow was very deep here. We headed down a very enjoyable run.

We boarded "The Wall" chairlift but decided to head to the backside - as it just opened and we were eager to try deep powder there. From he, we snowboarded down "Eagle Bowl" to the Caples Crest chairlift. We continued to the bottom of of Kirkwood's backside, to the Sunrise chairlift.

Sunrise was totally overrun - I never saw so many people in line - so Alex and I decided to get of there and return to our favorite Cornice Express. From the backside, we skied down to "Thunder Saddle" where Alex and I lost sight of each other. I went ahead and skied down part of the way down but had a fall, where my right binding broke.

The snow was so deep here - I had to dig myself out multiple times!

I snowboarded down to the lodge (with the half broken binding). It was not very comfortable. When I returned to the lodge, I tried to contact Alex by phone but my AT&T iPhone was not working well at Kirkwood. Eventually, I was able to text him my location and we re-united at the Monte Wolfe Mountain kitchen for lunch. We had a couple of burgers - Alex had an Epic burger and I had a classic. We were so hungry!

Fortunately, my binding was easily repaired by one screw for $2. I was so happy (and relieved).
After lunch, we continued to snowboard at Cornice Express, though by this time, we were exhausted.

What a fantastic powder day!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Snowboarding at Whistler

In November of 2017, we thought about skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb, but realized that the cost was just too high. However, while drinking coffee at our favorite Philz Coffee, I was perusing message from NorCal Snowboarders and noticed a planned Whistler ski trip  - which was really inexpensive. How did NorCal manage such as low price? Inna and I looked into it further and discovered that we could book an airbnb at Whistler at a significant discount from the prices charged at our favorite Pan-Pacific Whistler Mountainside hotel. Doing further research, we were able to find respectable airline tickets to Seattle on Alaska Airlines and an inexpensive car rental at Alamo (for the long drive from Seattle to Whistler, BC) using (I considered using Turo but could not find any respectable cars at a lower price)

To save money on Whistler's lift tickets, I decided to purchase the Epic Local pass, which included tickets to Kirkwood, Northstar, Heavenly, and Whistler! To save money on snowboard rentals, I decided to bring all of our gear with us (saving $400+ for a week rental for 2 people). Fortunately, Alaska Airlines only charged me $25 each way for the heavy snowboard bag (which included 2 boards and 2 sets of boots).

We woke up early on Sunday, February 18th for our flight from San Jose to Seattle. Once awake, I ordered Uber to take us to the airport. Arriving on time (around 5:30 am), we dropped off our heavy luggage and boarded our flight, for the short 90 minute flight on Alaska #321 to Seattle. Once there (around 8:45am), we quickly picked up our luggage and took our rental car shuttle to pick up our Alamo car rental. I chose a silver Nissan Rogue AWD and we quickly departed for the long drive to Canada.

It was extremely cold in Seattle, with some snow visible, and we stopped by for a lunch break at the Cosmo Bistro in Bellingham. It was so cold outside! We ran from the car to the cafe, to avoid freezing!

After a delicious lunch, we resumed our long drive to Whistler.

Thankfully, the roads were clear and we made good time - except for the 45 minute wait at the US/Canada border.

We arrived into Whistler at 3:30pm - about 30 minutes ahead of our normal check-in time at our Airbnb on 4360 Lorimer Road in Upper Whistler Village. I walked around the area, while Inna and Alex waited in the car to hear back from the owner that the apartment was ready.

Before 4:00pm, we were able to check in to our Airbnb rental and we unpacked all of our gear. I had to attach bindings to Alex's Morrow snowboard (which were dis-assembled for transport). We then decided to explore the village and get some dinner.

We decided to have dinner at our favorite Earl's Restaurant. It's one of our favorite spots (despite lower ratings on Yelp) because it has excellent entrees at very reasonable prices, lots of TVs showing multiple sporting events (usually ice hockey!) and a great vibe.

I selected "Jeera Chicken Curry" for my main entree and really enjoyed it. After dinner, we explored Whistler Village, stopping by at the local IGA grocery store to pick up a few breakfast items (eggs, oatmeal, snacks).

On Monday morning, we woke up quite early but a bit concerned about the plunging temperatures. I still had some remnants of a lingering cold, and did not want to get sick again.

Both Alex and I dressed quite warmly for our first day of snowboarding at Whistler. Meanwhile, Inna decided to try her hand at cross-country skiing.

We had a fantastic first day of snowboarding Whistler, stopping by frequently at various lodges for hot chocolate!

Here is a GoPro Hero 6 video (in 4K 30fps mode) of some of our snowboarding exploits. I used a Feiyu G5 V2 gimbal to record some of the footage, to see if it could improve my unsteady camera footage. It seemed to work well, but was a pain to use and required a lot of practice.

I have a link for a full 1080p high-definition video here.

Alex was interested in trying out various snowboards. At the top of Whistler, there is a small Igloo that contains a Demo Center. Alex was able to try out the following snowboards:
  • Burton Custom Process
  • Ride Warpig
  • Jones Ultra Mountain Twin (157cm)
  • Libtech E Jack Knife

Alex liked all of the snowboards except for the Ride Warpig, which he found to be too stiff. His favorite was the Burton Custom Process and the Jones Ultra Mountain Twin 157.

One of our favorite experiences occurred on Tuesday, February 20th, when we decided to try snowboarding Blackcomb. Once we got there, Alex convinced me to try the Blackcomb Glacier. Getting there took some effort, as it required multiple chair lifts, and a short hike up the mountain. However, the view from the top of Blackcomb Glacier was magnificent and the virgin snow mostly intact.

We had a splendid time riding on top of fresh powder, down the Blackcomb glacier in gorgeous, though extremely cold weather. It was an unforgettable experience.

On Wednesday, February 21, I snowboarded only half the day, as I developed a mind numbing headache around noon. When I returned back to our apartment around 1:00pm, Inna convinced me to rest and then go to the Scandinave Spa nearby. We decided to go there on Thursday, while Alex took snowboarding lessons at Whistler.

The time in the spa was fantastic, as I was able to enjoy the steam, sauna, and cold water plunges in the peaceful Whistler surroundings.

Alex enjoyed his snowboarding on Thursday, where he learned about different stances.

We tried snowboarding at Blackcomb Glacier on Friday, February 23, but the blizzard conditions made photography difficult.

On Friday, February 23, it was Inna's birthday and I reserved a special dinner for Inna at the well-regarded Araxi Restaurant. Unfortunately, I erred and made a reservation for March 23 instead of February 23! Thankfully, Araxi staff were kind and accommodating and let us enjoy Inna's birthday dinner at previously planned.

The birthday girl was in great spirits and enjoyed her small present.

We had a very delicious birthday dinner, starting our with "Tuna Tataki" appetizer.

The other entrees followed our appetizer.

I selected the "Red Tuna Main" - a rare Ahi tuna entree. It was small, but delicious!

Araxi staff were kind enough to create a delicious Birthday creation for Inna. The cake was extremely decadent (and Inna had to part from her usual sugar-free diet) to enjoy the delicious Valrhona chocolate oozing out of the cake.

After dinner, we strolled through beautifully lit Whistler village, marveling at the beautiful decorations, window shopping, observing ice skating and Olympic events (shown on the big screen in the village center).

On Saturday,  February 24th, we decide to try snowboarding at Whistler Bowl/Glacier - since we had a fresh snowfall and Blackcomb Glacier was temporarily closed.

Snowboarding down Whistler Bowl required waiting a very long time (in the morning) to get to the top - as Peak Express chairlift was overloaded with skiers. Eventually, we made it to the top, but snowboarding down Whistler Bowl was a bit treacherous - as there was an immediate drop off.

Alex and I snowboarded fine, over freshly fallen snow - but it was not as pleasant as Blackcomb Glacier. However, we still enjoyed gliding over freshly fallen powder.

Here is another GoPro Hero6 1080p video of our February 24th session:

We had a fantastic time at Whistler and hope to be back again soon!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Plumed Horse, Saratoga

I have always liked the entrees and desserts at the Plumed Horse - a Michelin 1 star restaurant in Saratoga. When it was time for Valentine's Day, I decided to reserve a spot for my wife and me.

The Plumed Horse prepared a special, Valentine's Tasting menu for $225 per person (quite a steep price).

When we arrived, we were quickly seated at our table and provided two complementary glasses of Francois Lecompte "Premier Cru" Rose Champagne from France. We really liked the champagne (and usually dislike the Brut version of Champagne usually sold in US).

The tasting menu started out with a small sample of Black Caviar. Inna really liked it but I must say that I prefer red caviar.

Our first course was an entree for Dungeness Crab. It consisted of tempura, avocado, puffed wild rice, and pickled combu. It was delicious but very small.

Our next dish was "Dayboat Scallops". This unique combination included deliciously seared scallops, Fuji apple, fermented kohlrabi, and citrus. We really loved the scallops.

The next course was "Duck Breast". This entree included roasted chestnuts, sunchoke, and smoked bacon jus, along with tender duck breast. It was quite a treat!

The main dish - "Roast Tenderloin of Beef" - finally arrived at it was spectacular. It addition to the slightly rare tenderloin expertly prepared, there was potato rosti, hen of wood mushroom (tasting like chanterelles), and bodelaise.  It was so delicious! Inna was already full and could not finish it all.

For dessert, we enjoyed the "Valhrona Chocolate Ganache". This was a red velvet cake with white chocolate and blood orange foam. It was quite delicious.

We really enjoyed our time at the Plumed Horse. We hope to come back again. It's one of our favorite restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area. The food is not just delicious - but a true work of art.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Snowboarding at Northstar

With a reported total of 16 inches of fresh snow at Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, January 24 and Thursday, January 25, Alex and I decided to try snowboarding at Northstar and Heavenly on Saturday, January 28 and Sunday, January 29th.

We woked up around 3:50am on Saturday, January 29th, and quickly dressed, for the 4 hour drive to Northstar. The traffic was fairly light and we arrived into Truckee and subsequently into Northstar before 8:00am. However, upon arrival traffic become quite heavy and we were required to park in a remote parking lot.

We parked our car in the "Yellow Lot" (i.e. shuttle 7), dressed, and boarded the shuttle to the resort. Upon arrival, we decided to eat a small breakfast. We found a nearby cafe which served light sandwiches, muffins, and coffee. Alex ordered a ham'n'cheese sandwich, while I enjoyed a fresh muffin. Finishing breakfast, we strolled to the Gondola, which was already quite busy - even before 9:00am. It felt like being in a line in Disneyland (or Whistler).

Eventually, we boarded the "Big Rings Express Gondola" and were whisked away to mid-mountain. From there, we boarded two more lifts: "Arrow Express", followed by "Comstock Express". We were told that the back-side had the best snow and we wanted to experience powder before it was all beaten up.

Our first run of the day was on black diamond "Burnout" run, pictured below.

The run was going well, until I decided to try snowboarding in the trees - as I was hoping to make fresh tracks in virgin snow. All was going well into I unexpectedly fell, hitting my left side against a rock. I didn't realize how light the snow cover was, and did not see the rock covered by a light sprinkle of snow.

It hurt a lot, but I was able to get up and continue my run. We continued snowboarding down "Burnout" a few more times, but I was a lot more careful and was not able to go full speed, due to back pain.

After a few runs, we decided to try the snow-park, which contains small and large jumps, rails, and obstacles. I managed to jump on a few small ramps, but the back pain was really beginning to distract my attention.

It was also getting very crowded and the lift lines became extremely long. Eventually, we decided to take a break and eat our early lunch. Surprisingly, lunch was fairly delicious and not as expensive as in Heavenly.

Here is a short GoPro Hero4 Silver video of snowboarding down the "Burnout" ski run:

After lunch, we snowboarded a few more times on the Northstar backside and at snow-parks, until about 2:00pm, when we decided to return to our Bluelake Inn in South Lake Tahoe, for much needed rest & relaxation.

After resting (with an icepack on my back), Alex and I decided to eat an early dinner.  Since it was only around 5:00pm, I thought that we could easily get a table at Base Camp Pizza - but there was a 80 minute wait. We declined and decided to try our luck at California Burger. No luck, there either - as there was 80 minute wait there too.

We decided to eat again at our tried and true Applebee's. I had my usual Bourbon Street Chicken and Shrimp, while Alex had an 8 oz Top Sirloin. For drinks, I tried the delicious Red-wine Sangria and a Perfect Margarita, while Alex had his mint lemonade. Dinner was great and we came out full.

Overall, I liked snowboarding at Northstar, but I did not like the crowds. On busy days, I think it's better to snowboard at Kirkwood, which never gets this crowded.