We arrive in Arnold just before midnight after a slow trip through a sputtering snowstorm on a windy mountain road. The boys explode into the mountain cabin like hornets, full of energy after the long ride. They rush up and down the stairs, looking through the rooms and scoping out the accommodations. Most are anxious to claim a sleeping space because beds are in short supply and there will be competition to sleep in them. Some younger boys just dash for the bathrooms. The adults are outside unloading the vehicles in the snow.
The cabin is large and comfortable. The Troop fills it completely. Scouts are on the top two floors. Adults claim the bottom floor. The leaders say a prayer that the Scouts don’t knock a hole in the wall or set anything on fire. (There was a hefty security deposit.) Boys are gathered in the television room upstairs, watching a movie on the VCR. Adults are trying to sleep. Eventually everyone settles in for the night.
According to the schedule, we should be up at 7:00 am so we can get to the lifts early. Cooks start laying out cereal, fruit, muffins, and milk in the kitchen. Everyone else is racing around trying to find their clothes. Loud shouts fill the cabin. “Who took my gloves ?” “Anyone seen my long underwear?” “How much is lunch going to cost?” Youth leaders try to establish some sort of order but chaos and energy overwhelms hierarchy every time. It’s like herding cats, but eventually everyone gets into a vehicle and we are on our way. The weather is cold but at least it’s not snowing anymore.
At Bear Valley, our SUVs are guided into parking spaces facing newly plowed piles of snow. We struggle into our ski clothes and pull out our equipment. It takes a while to hobble awkwardly across the parking lot in our ski boots, fill out the forms, buy lift tickets, pick up maps, set some ground rules (meet no later than 4:00 pm), and make sure the snowboarders actually put on their wrist protectors. A few lucky adults move quickly to the chair lifts with boys who have their own equipment and are ready to go. They are promptly whisked away to begin their first runs of the day.
Everyone else gets in line to rent their skis or snow boards. Most also want to get signed up for lessons because it is their first time. An hour later, we are all finally on the snow and ready for a little fun. The boys taking lessons walk off to find their instructors. The rest head for the nearest slopes.
Our little group had lessons last year, so we leave the lodge and head toward the beginner’s lift a hundred yards away. Progress is slow. There are four Scouts, but only three are actually upright and moving forward at any given time. One after the other, boys lunge forward and then collapse into the soft snow. And just when one works his way back to his feet, another falls sideways. Again and again and again. By the time we cover the short distance and make it into the short lift line, all the Scouts are covered in white snowflakes from head to toe.
The line moves forward and two boarders in front get whisked away by the chair lift. A couple of Scouts scramble to take their places in front of the moving chair. The chair lift swings around and comes up behind them just as the Scout on the left drops his pole. He bends over and reaches for the pole, but gets hit in the butt by the chair lift. He falls sideways, and collides with his buddy. With arms waving, they both fall down, but one immediately leaps back up to see what happened. The aluminum chair scrapes the knit hat off his head and continues up the mountain.
The attendant jumps to turn off the lift and pull the two Scouts out of harm’s way. After a little cajoling, everyone is back in line with their poles and hats. We all make it onto the lift this time without major mishap and ride to the top of the greenest slope in Bear Valley. (Ski slopes are color-coded as to difficulty. Green is the easiest.) All four Scouts tumble out of lift chair at the top, fall to their knees, and crawl away so they don’t get run over by the people in the next chair.
Eventually, all four are standing unsteadily at the top of the Ego Alley run, adjusting their goggles and hats, taking deep breaths, and moving their feet tentatively. Eventually, they bend their knees and start moving slowly but surely down the hill. It’s not pretty to watch, but three of the Scouts make it all the way to the bottom without falling. (The fourth boy has an equipment problem. After his binding is fixed, he takes off in pursuit of his friends.) With their confidence more or less restored, there is no problem with the chair lift next time and they ski happily for the rest of the day.
A command post has been created in the dining area, a kind of ground zero for tired and wet Scouts. By the middle of the afternoon, most of the Troop is crammed around a couple of tables drinking hot chocolate and peeling off wet clothes. As they come in from their last run, each Scout steps around a pile of jackets decorated by colorful gloves, scarves, and hats. When everyone is accounted for, we collect our things and head for the cars. Dinner has to be cooked and cabin clean-up duties must be assigned. Then a short night’s sleep (interrupted by loud talking, laughter, and the occasional banging of something thrown across the room). In the morning we will get up and do it all again.
Bear Valley is a popular ski/board destination for Northern California Troops. From the East Bay, the drive time is only about three hours and there is seldom the traffic jams you see in Tahoe. They have a good merit badge program and discounts for Scouts who rent equipment. (Both must be arranged ahead of time. ) The ski area is a little on the small side, but the variety of the runs will satisfy all but the Black Diamond skiers in your group.