Tannenbaum Classic 2018
I’ve been craving van trips to ski the High Sierras for a long time. It was one of the biggest motivations for building out the van: spending more time enjoying the winter and less time driving back and forth. Earlier this month we took our first winter vanning expedition: a short trip, weekend warrior style, packed to the gills with skiing in the Eastern Sierras.
Friday, December 7: My original plans included a night ski on Echo Summit, but because of my day job we didn’t hit the road until 6:30 p.m. Our destination for the night was Virginia Lakes — a solid 3.5 hour drive from our house, which left us no time for a ski tour on a moonless night. Passing Echo Summit, snow was sparse so the ski would not have been feasible anyway. Still, our spirits were high as Flora Cash’s “You’re Somebody Else” played on the radio. We turned up the volume and accelerated toward South Lake Tahoe and Gardnerville. We hit dense fog dropping into Gardnerville’s great basin, but it cleared by the time we jumped on Highway 395 and headed south. Arriving at Virginia Lakes, we found a plowed area to park the van and hunkered down for our first below-freezing night in the van.
Saturday, December 8: It was 4:30 a.m. when Lana started whimpering — like us she was eager to play in the snow. I’m guessing a ski outing is the equivalent of Disneyland for our dog. But after a depleting workweek, sleeping past 4:30 a.m. sounded nice. I got up and took Lana for a short walk in the 7 degree darkness, my excitement for a weekend of skiing escalating. Lana got her zoomies out and I crawled back into the sleeping bag, cuddled up to my warm wife, and closed my eyes just to wake up to Lana whimpering again. This time the sun was rising and I took in the spectacular Eastern Sierras from the glorious location we parked for the night. We ate overnight oats and warmed up coffee and tea as we prepped for our first ski of the day.
As our first backcountry outing of the season with new gear, we opted for a low-key tour along the Virginia Creek heading west, then south up the ridge toward Mt. Olsen. While out touring we tested a skijoring set-up for the first time. After we skied to the ridge, we dropped back down to the creek and carved our first powder turns of the season. It was heavenly and Lana bounded after us in excitement. We skied downhill all the way back to the van, 6 miles round trip. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm for 9000 feet, so we tailgated right there at the trailhead and ate lunch while basking in the warmth.
Next we jumped into the van and continued to Mammoth, the location of my 10K classic ski race the following day. Arriving in Mammoth, we ventured to the thrift store and scored a pair of classic crowns for Trish. Tired from the dog’s early awakening and the long morning ski, we drove up to Tamarack Lodge to nap in the van and watch a movie on our iPad. After our little siesta we jumped back into our backcountry gear and skied amid the breathtaking views of Mammoth Lakes until we ran out of daylight.
Toasted from the day of skiing and altitude, we migrated to Black Velvet Coffee Bar and ate a dirtbag dinner of canned chili in the parking lot. Then we spent a few hours in the coffee shop enjoying tea and dessert while streaming biathlon world cup. Afterword we parked at the public access to Lake Mary and tucked in for the night. We noticed how harmoniously our van’s white color scheme blended in with the surroundings ... our igloo on wheels!
Sunday, December 9: Game Day … I’m an obsessive person and once I set my sights on something, I focus my life around it. For most of my life, that focus has been cross-country ski racing. This was my first race for the season; the first one always feels momentous following months of training and preparation. For years I traveled and raced with a coach, so my only job was to ski fast and I didn’t have to do all the prep work like waxing skis. For a classic race, your wax choice will make or break you, so getting it right is important. But this race, I was on my own. Luckily, the snow stayed cold so I could get by with hard wax, making it easy.
The Tannenbaum Classic is a 10K classic race starting at Tamarack Lodge and touring Mammoth Lakes in one loop. The race started with an over-a-mile climb. I chased a local junior racer, who was racing the 5K, passed him halfway up the climb, then hammered and double-poled the remainder of the loop. My kick wax performed up the climb, but was a little slick around the lakes. I finished the race with my first win of the season! To cool down, Trish and I skated around Lake Mary and then warmed back up with cups of hot noodles in the van.
We gassed up the van and started the journey home. A couple hours later, as we were crossing Echo Summit westbound, we turned on the radio to hear Flora Cash’s “You’re Somebody Else,” at the very same location we heard the song two evenings before. Our spirits were just as high. We lucked out with perfect weather and light traffic for the journey home, arriving with plenty of time to return to our weekly grind … and to start planning our next ski trip.