Road to Winter Wonderland
Day 14. It was our family’s first road trip to a winter wonderland. It was also going to be our first ever white Christmas! For a family who lives in tropical Singapore, driving along these roads newly cleared of snow and lined with snow-dusted trees, was beyond exciting. It was thrilling, magical, really a dream come true.
That wonderland was Squaw Valley in Tahoe. It was the last stop on our Christmas road trip in California. We were going to spend 3 nights and 4 days there, from Dec 23 to 26, before going back to San Francisco to take our flight back to Singapore.
From Sacramento, where we had spent the night before, Squaw Valley was just about 100 miles (160 km) away. We’ve done a fair bit of reading about driving in snowy conditions and the number one tip was to bring food and water, and so we loaded up on those especially since we have two ever-so-hungry bear cubs with us who go by the names, Benjamin and Joaquin. We also printed our driving route just in case our Garmin nav system failed us.
Call it weird but seeing this ‘Carry Chains’ road sign got us more excited! Our rented 4Runner was fitted with new winter tires and was a 4WD so by law we were not required to bring snow chains. We got them anyway, just in case.
There were snowstorms almost every week leading to our holiday but Interstate 80 was one of the highways that stayed open so I insisted on taking this route. I-80 goes to Squaw Valley via north of Tahoe. US Route 50, the alternative route, goes from the south.
We regularly checked the highway conditions in California using the CalTrans website, http://www.dot.ca.gov/cttravel/.
Anyway, our route that day was mostly on I-80 toward Donner Pass in Nevada County. Our exit was 185 to State Route 89 toward Lake Tahoe. If I remember it correctly, our entire drive was just over 2 hrs; an hour and a half longer had we started from San Francisco.
We stopped at a service road to rest a little; but really because Joaquin was just too eager to step on the snow.
The view behind us was lovely, I’m not sure very though what this lake is. Google tells me it could be Donner Lake?
We spent maybe 20 minutes to take some pictures and really to just breathe in the fresh crisp air of winter. We felt truly blessed.
Back on the road…
The snow on the roadside was thick throughout but we did not mind at all.
As our 4×4 climbed further north, everything seemed to have frozen, including our car’s windshield. We knew there are real dangers driving during a snowy weather, but for us that day, it seemed like a great adventure. Even Euben, who was driving, agreed, judging from the smile on his face and the coffee in his hand.
We finally got off I-80 and took exit 185 to State Route 89. We knew our destination was close-by because the roads have narrowed and they were now all completely blanketed in snow.
There were a number of ski resorts in Lake Tahoe that we chose from, the biggest ones being Heavenly Mountain Resort located south of the lake, Northstar California Resort in the north and Squaw Valley in the northwest.
Based on my research, Heavenly is the largest and would have the most exciting slopes that seasoned skiers would enjoy. Northstar is less intimidating, has a staking rink, but at that time had less dining and lodging options. Squaw Valley is the second largest in Tahoe and was the venue of the 1960 Winter Olympics. It boasts of an aerial tram that allows even non-skiers to experience the Sierra Nevada at 8,200 ft (2,500 m) above sea level and has beginners’ slopes at the same height, which made it really appealing to us. But the most compelling reason why we chose Squaw Valley was its proximity to Resort at Squaw Creek, the accommodation we had chosen.
Take a look at these pictures, that is Resort at Squaw Creek, a paradise just 5 minutes away from Squaw Valley. It was love at first sight for me. I pursued it all the way from the first minute I saw it at its website. It has different types of rooms including suites complete with a fireplace and kitchen, it has casual and fine dining restaurants, an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, and most of all, a backyard (golf course during summer) where the kids can build snow castles and do sledding.
And at night, it looked like this… magical.
Anyway, we finally arrived at Squaw Creek around 12 noon.
We booked a one bedroom Fireplace Suite which looked exactly like this in the picture.
The boys had no idea that I booked a room with the view of Squaw Valley. They hugged me when they drew the curtains and right there, staring at them, were the peaks of Sierra Nevada. They liked the fireplace, and the open space (the golf course) covered with snow and the ski lift just outside our window.
After dumping our luggage in the room, we headed outdoors. The snow was fresh and the mountains were calling.
This pic of me and the boys was taken at the ‘backdoor’ of Squaw Creek while waiting for the free shuttle that would take us to Squaw Valley.
After five minutes we arrived at Squaw Valley.
That’s our little Joaquin who couldn’t wait to try his new sled.
Squaw Valley has several lifts, including a funitel and an aerial tram, that go to the different parts of the mountains. It has varied slopes – from gentle to the most challenging and most complex. It has ski runs for kids and has a snow tubing facility too for the whole family.
It was 3 pm when we reached the snow tubing area and it was already closed so we just settled for a walk around the resort, and enjoyed the atmosphere and our time together in that great outdoors.
The Village, which is at the Base Area, is where the lodging, the restaurants, and the shops are located. It is where the off-mountain activities happen.
This is the entrance to The Village.
We stopped here for a while to warm our fingers. People can actually roast smores here if they want.
At the heart of The Village were a tall Christmas tree and an enormously big chair that can fit a family. We loved the Christmas-in-the-mountains atmosphere – that snow-dusted tree, those loud Christmas carols that filled up the crisp winter air, the skiers crowding the small streets and those kids wearing big boots and even bigger smiles.
For dinner, we met up with Euben’s relatives from Sacramento.
The restaurants were crowded that night so we were lucky to have gotten some tables at Fireside Pizza Company. Aside from gourmet pizzas, they serve pasta, salads, chicken wings and a lot more.
At around 8pm, our relatives headed back to Sacramento and us to our accommodation at Squaw Creek. Oh, it was a rather sleepless night for our family. Joaquin had the stomach flu and was vomiting almost the entire night. We thought of driving to Truckee to go to the nearest hospital, but the winds were howling, the forecasted snowstorm has arrived. The concierge thought it would be a bit tricky to drive in the storm especially at half-past two in the morning. And so we just called our doctor in Singapore who advised us to just continuously give Joaquin an electrolyte drink and bring him to the clinic first thing the next morning.
We knew we will not be able to push through with our family ski lesson the following day but we were more worried about our little Joaquin…
Anyway, despite how the day ended, it remained a happy memory for us – the fascinating road trip in the morning and our first glance at our winter wonderland for the next few days…
Joaquin got better eventually and there’s still snow and ski and smiles in my next entries! Till Then…