Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Love Bus Rides Again!

During the months of January and February I look forward to Thursdays.  Every winter for the past 10 years, I've joined a midweek bus that travels up to Mt. Hood Meadows for a day of skiing.  I shuffle my work, sweet talk my bosses, and save up my vacation days to make this happen.  It is so worth it!

Passengers on the "Love" bus

If you ski, you probably know most ski resorts are crowded on weekends.  If you work, that's usually the only time available to get up on the mountain.  But if you can swing it, midweek ski days are the way to go.  Empty slopes, short or nonexistent lift lines, and lots of runs make it worth burning a vacation day.

Linda and Dixie, our "Bus Moms"

Dixie Love is the advisor for our bus.  We are the "Love" bus!  She's been running the Mt. Hood Meadows ski buses for many, many, many years.  Linda, Dixie's sidekick and friend, helps out with marketing, serving the food and drink, and ticketing passengers.  Dixie runs a tight ship (bus), but she does a wonderful job and we all love her.

Some of my bus friends - Linda, Linda, and Judy

Most of the people that ride the ski bus are retired.  There's a few lucky younger folks, like myself, that either have flexible work schedules, or take vacation days.  The retired people on the bus are amazing.  Most of them are super fit and good skiers.  Very inspiring!  I hope I'm still riding the bus and skiing every week when I'm in my sixties and seventies.

More bus friends, Doug and John

The other great thing about the ski bus is we're well fed.  Each week, the passengers take turns bringing food.  We have breakfast in the morning on the way up to the mountain, and snacks in the afternoon for the trip home.  Dixie brings coffee and hot water for tea to go with our breakfast, and offers pop with the afternoon snacks.  However, most of us bring our own liquid refreshment to enjoy on the ride home.  Bottles of wine are uncorked and passed around to share.  It's a merry atmosphere on the bus after a day of skiing.

Unusual cloud over Mt. Hood

The past week the weather was warm and rainy in town.  As the bus was heading to the mountain that morning, some of us were discussing the possibility of a rainy day skiing.  One man said the snow phone reported "heavy mist" (aka - rain).  It didn't look good.

More of the "Love Bus" gang
When we arrived and emerged from the bus, the first thing I noticed was the really warm temperatures.  Oh-oh this was definitely not good!  The mountain was obscured by a large foggy cloud.  Looked like rain.  I decided I wouldn't need all my warm layers, but I'd for sure need my most waterproof gear.

The "Love Bus" gang at lunch
I buddied up with some of my fellow "Love Bus" riders, Linda, Linda and Judy.  Yes, we have an abundance of "Linda's" on our bus.  I think we had six Lindas on board that day.  Maybe we should rename ourselves to the "Linda" bus!

Me and my shadow

The first run down, I realized the warm weather had softened the snow to a nice consistency.  It was totally skiable - very much like spring corn snow.  Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all.  The clouds and "heavy mist" seemed to be abating.  About an hour later - to our happy amazement - the sun came out!  Spring skiing in January!  Who would've guessed?

Cool clouds form at the top of a run
I had my tele skis that day.  When skiing on my tele boards, I usually take several breaks per run to rest my burning quads.  But the ladies I was skiing with were die-hards.  They didn't stop much!  I wore myself out trying to keep up with them.  With no lift lines (the threat of rainy weather had scared everyone away and the place was a ghost town) there wasn't much opportunity for a break.

Look ma, no people!

Close to noon, my companions decided to head in for lunch.  By then, the snow was so nice, I decided to take another run or two.  On my next run, I found out the wonderful sunshine was not our friend anymore.  The sun was so warm that the snow was turning sticky and grabby.  It was really like spring skiing now!

A toast to a great day of skiing

So I went in for lunch to rest up and fortify myself.  I found most of the "Love Bus" crew gathered around a table in the upper floor of the lodge.  On most Thursdays, we have our pick of tables for lunch.  Another great benefit of mid-week skiing.

After lunch I really wanted to go back out and continue skiing, despite the sticky snow conditions. If the snow and weather conditions aren't good, some bus riders will stay in the lodge for the afternoon. But since I take a day off work to go skiing, it's got to be really bad before I'll do that. So I strapped on my skis and headed for the slopes.

The Love bus gang, enjoying apres-ski

And I had a great afternoon. I learned quickly that if I stayed on the runs in the shade, the snow was just fine. The crowds were even smaller in the afternoon, so there was never a line at any of the lifts.

Dixie and Lisa share a laugh

I saw the Meadows ski photographer set up on the Apollo run.  This run is an "easy" black diamond run, and would've been no problem had I been on my alpine skis.  But I had my tele skis that day, and I'm not real good on black runs yet with my teles.  I did want to get my picture taken doing some tele-turns, though, so against my better judgement, I headed down Apollo.

Apollo was all bumped up with moguls, as per usual.  My first run I was kind of nervous, made a couple of good turns at the top, and then made some terrible flailing turns.  I stopped next to the photographer and teasingly told him I was psyched out by his presence.  The photographer encouraged me to come back and try again, and said "just ski right by me - pretend like I'm not here."

Arrghh!!  Doug does his Captain Hook impression

So up I went, and traveled back down to the top of Apollo.  I sat at the top of the run, and let a large group of people ski by me.  I wanted the photographer to have a clear shot when I came skiing down.  Finally, the coast was clear.  I started down, making good turns, and trying to tune out the camera.  I got into a rhythm and the turns came easily.  The snow was still good, and slid effortlessly under my skis.  I was feelin' like a pro!  I swished up to the photographer, and yelled a "woo-hoo" as I passed by.

And then I'm not sure what happened.  I think it was another snow snake (I'm convinced they all hang out on Apollo!).  The next thing I knew, I was on my back, skis pointing uphill, in an uncontrolled slide.  That nice sun-warmed snow was really slippery, and I had a hard time swinging my skis around into a downhill position to stop myself.   When I finally arrested my slide, I looked up at the photographer and said "I hope you didn't get a picture of that!"   But of course he did, and when I looked at my photos online the next day, he had one shot taken right at the moment of impact.  The image caught all the snow flying up as my body hit the ground.  It was actually kind interesting.  But not interesting enough to buy!

Enjoying a little vino on the ride home

About 3:00, I'd had enough, and I decided to head into the lodge.  Most of the bus riders were gathered in the bar, enjoying a liquid libation after a day of skiing.  I joined my fellow bus-mates at a table.  The Linda's and Judy told me they'd witnessed my great fall as they were riding up the lift.  There are no secrets at Meadows!

Howard, our bus driver extraordinaire

Our bus driver is the best.  His name is Howard Hugger (yes, he fits right in with the "love" bus theme!)  Howard has been our driver for the past several years. He always helps load your skis into the bus, helps carry everyone's stuff, has the bus waiting at the front of the lodge and lays out our ski bags at the end of the day.  He gets us safely up the mountain and then home again.  And he is a really, really sweet man.

Tired, but happy, the "love" bus riders piled into their seats, broke out the wine, and enjoyed the trip home.  This is the very best part of riding the bus - not having to drive home! 

I'm so happy it's ski bus time again.  I had a great first day and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next seven Thursdays.  Here's to Dixie and the "love bus" crew!  Ride on!

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