Living in the moment in the Northern Sierra
We started at Donner Ski Ranch about an hour after the lifts opened Friday morning and skied a dozen runs by noon.
Fog lifted from Donner Lake and stretched a billowy arm south across the Summit as we watched from the top of Chairlift 1 before the first run of the day.
Branches of pine trees bounced in the wind under the weight of half-a-foot of wet, new snow.
It looked like school just let out down on Easyrider where kids bundled in different colors zig-zagged back and forth down the hill.
Living only in the moment, Molly and Heidi made their way down the mountain like kids on a wondrous playground, oblivious to the worries of the world.
“Having fun?” I asked 8-year-old Molly after we boarded Chairlift 4.
“Yeah,” she said with a smile so big and real that you knew she meant it.
It was Molly’s second time downhill skiing.
“And her first,” said Molly pointing to her 6-year-old sister Heidi.
Molly and Heidi started out on cross-country skis soon as they could walk, said their father Chris Hunt from Larkspur, who raced cross country back in his college days.
Both girls, after a little coaxing from dad, said they wanted to be cross country ski racers when they grow up – just like their father.
Donner Ski Ranch is advertised as a relaxed family ski area that delivers everything the big resorts do, but without the hassles and big lift ticket prices.
And while the place can’t compare to big neighbor Sugar Bowl, which looked primo to the south in the morning sun, Donner Ski Ranch serves up some great skiing, but on a smaller scale.
Backside runs like Lyla’s Sister, Lance’s Leap, and Split Rock were short, but sweet.
Spring Board, groomed to perfection on the shady backside, was frozen nice and hard, but not too icy.
Nearby Boreal was the next stop on our Valentine’s Day tour of three of the Northern Sierra’s closer to home and more affordable ski areas.
After a couple of runs down Race Course and Bonanza we headed for the Lost Dutchman Triple on Boreal’s backside where our plans to ski a dozen runs at each resort were dashed by a dreaded ski lift breakdown.
After a 40-minute wait, which seemed like hours, we started hiking with about 20 other skiers and boarders and finally made our way out via Sunset Boulevard.
Ski lifts breakdown sometimes – it just happened to be a bad time at Boreal. But don’t get me wrong; Boreal isn’t a bad mountain.
The place is packed with terrain parks with slide rails, ride pipes and jumps, which made the crowds of boarders happy. But after our little hike out of Lost Dutchman Friday afternoon, we’d had enough of Boreal.
We got to Soda Springs at 3 p.m. and made eight runs before the lifts shut down.
The place is just your basic little two-lift ski resort, but we had a blast on two of Soda Spring’s more challenging runs – Crystal Bowl and Mad Dog where the cruising was great.
All in all, it was another gorgeous day skiing the Northern Sierra and playing in the closer-to-home Donner Summit winter playground.
The storm the night before – the Sierra’s first in weeks – was followed over the weekend by a system that dumped one to two more feet.
And while some ski areas are closing lifts for lack of snow, the welcomed new white stuff should keep Northern Sierra ski resorts going through March and hopefully into April.
Next week, we’ll be skiing Heavenly at Lake Tahoe.
Heading home from Soda Springs at the end of the day, the radio talked war with Iraq and North Korean missiles aimed at the West Coast.
Shadows and sun moved across the snow covered Serene Lake as clouds circled the Summit above.
And we wished we could get lost in the moment as easily as Molly and Heidi did.
Kevin Wiser is a reporter for The Union and a former competitive skier. He may be reached via e-mail at
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