July 18, 2002 – You ever have that feeling, right after you’ve made a
big decision and gone beyond the point of no return, that you’ve just
made a big mistake? Doubt creeps in, and you immediately seek reassurance that
you haven’t messed up big time. We’ve all felt it. I get it whenever
I rent an Antonio Banderas movie (unless it's Desperado) and whenever
I buy something on the internet. Well, I felt it again as we left Oregon and
headed towards Washington State.
I had a feeling that I had just written off a great XC location without even
looking at it. Was it because we were leaving Bend behind? Maybe, but that wasn’t
all of it. There was some place else that was, as we drove north, drawing me
the other direction. I quickly put two and two together, and figured out that
the other direction was south (I'm a quick one), and, let's see… that leads
to California. Of course! Here we were heading north, completely ignoring the
state that arguably has a little bit of everything: tons of snow, mountains,
beaches, lakes, trees, sun, popular cities, National Parks, Hollywood, Britney
Spears. It also has a couple of excellent xc destinations in the Tahoe area
and the Mammoth area. So why weren't we going to California?
Skiing at Tahoe Donner
From the start, we had decided not to explore the Sierra Nevadas on this trip.
After all, my girlfriend had just spent three years living in San Francisco
and had done "the Tahoe thing" plenty of times. I also have spent
a lot of time in the Tahoe area visiting friends and going to ski races. So
we decided that we did not need to go back to get an accurate feeling for the
place, we already knew it pretty well.
The Tahoe region is spectacular
That was a hard decision because we both love the Tahoe region and would have
liked to go back just for fun. It has everything that Park City has, plus a
big ol’ lake in the middle of it. Not to mention the ridiculous number
of ski trails in the area. Between Royal Gorge, Tahoe Donner, Tahoe XC and others,
the number of groomed kilometers is mind boggling. I tried adding it all up
and I lost count around 500 K! Usually I consider a place to have a good number
of trails if I can’t ski them all in one day. Here, it is nearly impossible
to ski them all in a week! The deep snowpack (counted in feet, not inches) means
that you get great crust cruising into the month of May. And as a special bonus,
my favorite race, The Great Ski Race, takes place here in March. It is 30K race:
10K uphill, 20K downhill, plenty of carnage on steep downhill finish, and all
followed by a great party. Strictly based on skiing, Tahoe is hard to beat.
Plus Truckee is a charming little western town.
The Great Race is indeed great, it's after the finish that you might get hurt
But there are a few drawbacks. First, not much in the way of jobs. There are
plenty of jobs in Reno (30 minutes away) but I wouldn’t want to live in
the city, so it would be a very long commute to work (time that could be better
spent skiing). Second, it is also at 6000 – 7000 feet. I’m still looking
for the heavier, low-altitude air.
We really would have liked to go to Mammoth, because we have heard great things.
But it just wasn't going to happen. We had too much ground to cover and it was
just a bit too far out of the way (although, in the long run, being out of the
way could be a good thing…). So I can't give you any info on Mammoth. All
I know is I hope I get a chance to go someday.
At this point in the trip I decided that, in addition to all the info we were
gathering about each place we stopped (local newspapers, trail maps, housing
and job listings, etc.) we needed a cheat sheet outlining the good and the bad
of each place. So, at the risk of oversimplifying things, I created one, complete
with a very arbitrary numerical ranking based on my most important criteria
(snow, trails, jobs, housing, mountains, culture,water).
Here is how our best options stood at this point in the trip.
|Place||The Good||The Bad||Ranking (10=Valhalla,
|Bend, Oregon||Great outdoors town,
skiing at Mt. Bachelor is very good, the best crust skiing in spring, nice
town with many nice "local" spots
|No skiing in town,
housing can be expensive, few jobs
|Tahoe, California||Tons of trails and
snow, the Great Ski Race, small town but has city nearby, the lake, 4 hours
to San Fran
|high altitude, similar
to Park City, not many professional jobs in Truckee area
|Salt Lake/Park City,
|Great dryland trails,
"greatest snow on earth", spectacular mountains, nearby city,
close to Moab, Jackson, Sun Valley, Colorado
|high altitude, no water/forests,ski
trails aren't great, lived there for 6 years already
|Hood River, Oregon||a very active outdoors
culture, surprisingly good ski trails
|a good outdoors town
but not ski-specific, small
By the time all of this had run through my little head, we were almost at our
next destination: Bellingham, Washington, just 20 minutes south of the Canadian
border. I filed the info on Tahoe/Truckee near the top of our list, along with
Bend, and switched my focus to the town ahead.
We had originally thought that we would stop for a few days in Seattle. We
had friends there, plus we heard that it was a surprisingly good city for skiers
because ski areas like Snoqualmie were easily accessable. But after our experience
in Portland, I had determined that I am not a city person, and we decided to
skip the big city in favor of a more moderate size town like Bellingham.
When I first told my Park City roommates about my deisre to find myself new
and exciting ski town, one of my roommates recommended Bellingham. He had been
here for their Ski To Sea race in June and really liked the area. On his recommendation,
I did a lot of research online about the area.
The more I read about Bellingham, the more I liked it. Outside magazine called
it one of the 10 best towns in the country. It was ranked as one of the most
livable small cities in the country in another report. The list of outdoor playgrounds
nearby seemed endless: Mt. Baker and the Northern Cascades mountain range, the
San Juan Islands, Vancouver, Whistler, the Chuckanut mountains, Silver Star
less than four hours away, the list went on and on.
The reviews were so glowing that if I had to pick a place to live based on
what I knew prior to this trip, I think I would have moved to Bellingham, sight
unseen. It sounded that good. So now it had a lot to live up to as we got off
of interstate 5 and pulled into town.