Jan 12, 2009

A Serene Ski Weekend

This weekend’s trip to Serene Lakes was our first out-of-town sojourn and—based on everyone’s reactions to the food, the weather, and the company—it was a smashing success. Since I pushed this excursion on the group, I’m only pretending to be objective and will happily take credit in any comments below.

The Setting
Located near Donner Summit, and nestled between the Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge ski resorts, Serene Lakes is famous for two things: ice and the Donner Party. The Donner story is well-known, but the area’s ice production history isn’t. Given its elevation (about 7,000 feet) and its proximity to the Union Pacific main line, the “Ice Lakes” were the largest source of wholesale ice for Sacramento and San Francisco in the late 19th century. Mark Twain was so taken by the beauty of the area, and so distressed by its generic name, that he christened the eastern lake "Serena" and the western lake "Dulzura". Hence the current sobriquet, Serene Lakes.

All of this history was lost on us as we scrambled for choice beds, and seats at the correct dining table on Hillside Drive. Everyone in the Dearborn cabin scored his own room, but John and Tom and Dean and Larry had to share rooms in my cabin (which I’m told worked well until Dean’s homemade chili tested the bonds of friendship).

The Skiing
For those who arrived in time to ski on Friday, it was sunny and icy at Sugar Bowl. The skiing at Alpine Meadows the next day was an improvement, even if the snow was patchy in places. (For Larry and Dean, however, there was ample snow to shovel during the excursion to Tom’s cabin.) On Sunday morning, some headed home, others returned to Sugar Bowl, and one hapless soul enjoyed his death march, er, backcountry ascent of Castle Peak with Trapper John.

The Group
The obvious benefit of our weekend retreat was that we came to know each other quite well without—OMG!—the artifice of a book to engage us. Some random observations and a few character assassinations:

Doug’s skiing is like his lawyering: excellent and understated. I begged him to quit the practice of law and become my ski coach, but he would have none of it. Damn his Yankee prudence!

Terry eschewed alpine for the safety of cross country skiing. In so doing he managed to fall, lacerate his face (it looked like a paper cut), and bleed profusely on the trail. Next time, Terry, please spring for a lift ticket.

Peter, the entire group recommends that you take Terry’s advice at the earliest opportunity. We also ask that you report back so we learn if it works. If so, I suspect there will be a number of guys ready to follow your lead!

Tom proved to be a fine skier and an even better cook. But it was his story about the risks of growing old, without friends or community, that reinforced for us the importance of staying close. Thanks for the reminder, Tom.

John learned to ski with the best at Mammoth Mountain, but alpine skiing wasn’t enough this weekend. Armed with a new set of boots for his randonnee skis and skins, he convinced me to accompany him up Castle Peak on a rental set. The verdict: amazing!

Dean told me he was a mogul team skier in his youth. Of course, when you’re that fast, you’re apt to lose the group you’re with. Which Dean did several times on Friday. All was forgiven once we sat down to his excellent chili.

Roy’s skiing manners were impeccable, but it was the imported Mizuno skiwear (courtesy of his Japanese clients) that captured our attention. When paired with his home-distilled brandy and ouzo, and his grandmother’s chicken-fried gravy and biscuits, Roy was a study in contrasts all weekend.

George’s outfit made us cringe. With vintage Olin skis, rusty Marker bindings, and white “Starship Trooper” alpine boots, we were convinced that George would separate from his aged skis on the first run. He didn’t. Instead, he was consistently first down the hill. He was also first in the weekend’s sommelier contest: his vertical tasting of three Bandol vintages was outstanding. (Note: Peter pulled a close second with a fine bottle of Silver Oak.)

Larry was given a dessert assignment, and (like the amateur pastry chef that he is) he exceeded our expectations: brilliant brownies a la mode both evenings! With his terribly correct (and perfectly luxurious) hybrid SUV, he also took green honors for the weekend. If he discharges his banker’s responsibilities with the same zeal he shows for our palates and our environment, the financial crisis might soon be behind us.

Stan, we all appreciated your cameo appearance for dinner on Saturday. You drove up from Squaw and regaled us with the story of your disastrous plunge off Stan’s Rock and the ensuing 44 stitches to your scalp. (Was it just me, or was Terry caressing the paper cut on his nose during Stan’s account? )

The Rest
Between the morality debate, everyone's Favorite Books, and Peter's intervention (about which, more later), we all spent plenty of time jawboning. But the weekend was about more than that. In his recent comment, Jeff Potter of the Great Apes refers to “the good things in the manly life.” We found those things this weekend. Thanks to everyone for the gift of his company, and our regrets to those who couldn’t make it. Let’s do this again!


  1. I have a suggestion on splitting the expenses more equitably following a particularly harrowing experience for yours truly......

    1. All those who had a queen size bed (no I did not say a queen in the bed!) please pay double
    2. All those that snored uncontrollably and never knew it the next morning pay triple the standard rate (George you know who you are and I sympathize with your partner/wife )
    3. All those that drove others should pay half (Roy, Larry , et al - many thanks)
    4. All those that needed an interpreter to understand English (yes that foreign language to most within America)- God save us all, visit the audiologist, and stop listening to CNN - pay double at the next turnpike.
    5. Finally - he who was ABUSED, CAJOLED, but otherwise affirmed as the lone "resident alien", (superior in intellect and cultural diversity) as a result of the local bushlips* and petty bantering, I believe this resilient "chap"deserves a free pass and the master suite next time

    BTW I will follow the advice of my friend, Tom and send a check for $88 - good deal all round- thanks Andrew

    PS: Thanks everyone for a great weekend!

  2. Peter's comments about equity are fair ones, but when they devolve into accusations about our use of the language, well, he's one to point fingers. The sad fact is that, under the influence of hard liquor, Peter's Aussie dialect became increasingly difficult to understand. We were not being mean when we asked each other to translate his broken English. Indeed, with simultaneous translation from George, I found Peter much more intelligible and interesting during our late night walk. Perhaps we can arrange for more translation services in the future?

  3. Per the Great Apes Story of Edgar Sawtelle discussion over the past weekend at Trout Village in Breckenridge CO, let me say that you've picked a good one and your next meeting should be a lively one! We discussed the book four times over the course of the weekend with the big discussion lasting an hour and a half over Saturday's exquisite French sausage and chicken pot pie feast.

    Without revealing too much (we can compare discussion notes later), we had eight "thumb's up" and one "thumb sideways." The majority of the discussion focused on the success (or not) of Wroblewski's ending and how well you have to know Hamlet to fully appreciate Edgar Sawtelle; with so many teachers and lit guys in our group, I think most of us felt the Hamlet connections enriched Wroblewski's book.

    Ala Hamlet, there was also much discussion about choosing to act or not. Although there is no "to be or not to be" soliloquoy in ES, it's clear from the first scene in Korea that Claude chooses to act, whereas Edgar needs to learn whether to act or not. . .bumbumbum . . .

    And of course, there was lots of "dog talk" and dog training talk, so MBC dog guys may see somethings in the book differently, particularly the Forte character and episodes as well as the final couple pages of the novel.

    It is a very worthwhile read, and we all appreciated the fact that while long it wasn't difficult reading. We attributed that to Wroblewski's nine drafts and Richard Russo's influence on this first time author.

    I'm looking forward to your post discussion blogspot. One of these days we'll do an Apes meets MBC face to face discussion.

    Read on!

  4. Jeff,
    We enjoy reading your comments. It sounds as if your group is a little more homogeneous than ours. We would never get eight out of nine of us to agree on anything. (Unless of couse Andrew tells us what to think...)
    Perhaps meeting in Utah during ski season should be put on the blocks. Although you mention nothing of skiing while in Breckenridge...

  5. Hi George (are you the one in a yellow top in the ski weekend photo?) Truth be told, most of us have had our fill of downhill skiing and have retired due to injury or surgeries. Two Apes did a long cross country ski and one snowshoed, but for our Trout Village weekend most of us curl up around the potbelly, play guitars or mandolins and sing, and talk books and just generally catch up since two of us fly in from IL However, I bet a trip to Utah ski resort could induce at least a few more of us out of retirement and back onto the slopes!

  6. The singing with mandolins sounds like fun, especially for George, since he's the MBC member in the a capella men's group and the rest of us wouldn't be caught dead doing karaoke (ok, I'm projecting, but I didn't hear any musicians pipe up when George mentioned his singing). As for his garb in the photo, George is front and center with the red shirt and ski bib. Roy gets credit for the bright yellow shirt. No shrinking violets there!