It was all very last-minute, but I tried looking for reasonable round-trip airfare to anywhere near there. Reasonable didn't happen, so I decided to drive to Atlanta to meet up with TigerPaw, who was also going, and catch a ride for the rest of the trip with him.
Aside from some light traffic in Orlando and a patch of fairly heavy traffic in Atlanta, the drive there was pretty uneventful. The trip did make me realize just how fuel inefficient my car has become in its old, 230,000 mile, age. By a rough calculation, I was getting about 15-16 miles per gallon on the highway - pretty abysmal. I stopped at a KMart and picked up a new air filter, just to see if that would make a difference, but it really didn't.
From Atlanta to Sugar Mountain, we were in a 2000 BMW M Roadster, which was a very fun ride! Leaving Atlanta, we had to contend with some heavy traffic on the highways, but we lived. Because the temperature had reached a point where snow won't stick around, the only snow that was left anywhere was that which was on the ski trails, themselves. As a result, we were free to "test the handling" of the car through the tight, curvy, mountain roads. After stopping along the way for some dinner at Doc Chey's, we arrived at the Sugar Mountain area at around 10:30pm, met up with Domino and JaegerFuchs at Sorrento's Bistro, had a drink with them, and headed to our room at The Pinnacle Inn Resort, where Tig was already sleeping. After a short period of settling in and watching some television, we all headed to bed.
In the morning, I was the first one up and moving at about 7:20am, so I used the time to shower and get ready for a day on the slopes. Everyone else groggily moved in the same direction, and we finally headed to breakfast at a little place a short way down the mountain. I actually finished the Doc Chey's Noodle dish I had leftover from the night before while I was waiting for everyone else to get ready, so I wasn't very hungry for breakfast, and just ordered a strawberry cheesecake dessert. Yummeh
After finishing breakfast, we headed over to Ski Country Sports to rent our equipment. TigerPaw has been skiing for 20 years, but decided to give snowboarding a try for the first time. We both got boots, made sure they fit, and then gave them back to the guys at the counter to have them fitted on the boards. Domino, Tig, and Jaeger rented skis, and we hopped back into the car to head back to the inn, 'cause the twilight lift passes we were planning on buying were good between 12:30pm and 10:00pm, and it was only about 10:30am.
When we got to the parking lot for Sugar Mountain Resort, it became abundantly clear that everyone within a 300 mile radius (or more) seemed to have the same idea we did, 'cause the place was packed! I guess we didn't really take into consideration that it was Valentine's day, coupled with Monday being Presidents' day. We didn't feel like waiting for the shuttle bus from the parking lot, so we trudged uphill to purchase our lift tickets, and head up on the slopes.
For the first run, everyone stuck together as far as exiting the chair lift, and Tig, Domino, and Jaeger disappeared from sight very quickly, hardly to be seen again. Meanwhile, I decided that since I had just learned how to snowboard, I'd try to show TigerPaw the ropes. I would have preferred to take him on the bunny slopes, but they were completely packed with people. I did succeed in at least sticking by him on the "Easy Street" trail, and giving pointers where I could, but it's a lot harder to explain something than it is just to do it. He caught on very, very quickly, though, and by the end of the day, he was going down blue square trails and feeling more comfortable on them than the green circles.
We also learned, during the first couple of runs, that the bindings on TigerPaw's board were mismatched. One was medium, the other was large, and it was obvious that when they "fitted the boots to the board", they missed that little detail. The toe of one of his boots was constantly slipping out of the binding, thus creating a condition where control of the board was severely hindered - something that would really mess with an experienced snowboarder, much less one who had never been on a board before. There was a convenient station at the lodge for adjusting equipment, but even with it adjusted to as small as it would go, he really needed to have both bindings be medium ones. This ordeal was obviously very frustrating for him, so he sent me up the mountain by myself while he called Ski Country to make sure he wasn't going to get charged for equipment he couldn't use, then rented another board from the rental facility at the lodge.
I used that opportunity to go all the way to the top of the mountain to try my hand at the longer runs. All but one of the trails were black diamonds, so I took the one blue square, Northridge/Switchback, or so I thought. See, I haven't really mentioned the conditions on the mountain much, but they were terrible. Everything was melting - therefore wet, the "snow" was really loose granular ice, and the clouds rolled in at the top of the mountain, so visibility was basically at zero. On top of that, there were like... 40,000 people on a mountain where there were only 20 or so trails and the elevation difference between the summit and the base is only 1200 feet. This means LOTS of obstacles, and since the snow was basically ice, you would accelerate very quickly. Heading down what I thought was the Northridge trail, I'm almost certain that I ended up on "Whoopdedoo", which is a double black diamond trail (most difficult). The reason I think that? It had moguls - read "bumps", which create a sort of game of life-sized, human Plinko, like from The Price is Right, except I was the little puck bouncing around the pegs. Don't let the guy in the video fool you by how effortless he makes it look. I was falling left and right, and probably would have done better if I could SEE WHERE I WAS GOING. Did I mention that there were tons of people to avoid? I did manage to not have any collisions with other riders, though, so I'm happy about that. For the rest of the day and into the night, I avoided going back up there, mostly because I was sticking by TigerPaw, but also because it didn't really add to anything that I'd call "fun". :)
At about the time I was finishing that run, TigerPaw had finished waiting in line to rent his board, and the rest of the gang were ready for some lunch. We had burgers at the lodge cafeteria, and went back out for a few more runs. When we exited the cafeteria, we noticed that it was raining very lightly. TigerPaw and I went ahead and boarded in the rain. We were already wet, so, whatever. Tig didn't want to go out in it, so he went to the bar.
The resort shuts down the lifts between 4pm and 6pm to groom the trails with a Snow Cat. While they were doing that, we went back to the Inn to relax for a while, decide what we were going to do for dinner, and head back out to the slopes. It was then that I learned just how COMPLETELY DISGUSTINGLY HORRIBLE the stench in my rental boots was. I don't have stinky feet, but one or more of the previous people to rent those boots certainly did. They REEKED that sort of slap-you-in-the-nose kind of way that a moldy bag of rotten potatoes does... and I had to put them back on to go back out on the trails (*whimper*).
We tried a few more runs down Easy Street and Lower Flying Mile, and then decided to try heading up to the 3/4 mountain unloading point on the main lift (Yellow). The first time, we took "Load Off" to "Switchback" to "Upper Flying Mile", then all the way down to "Lower Flying Mile". TigerPaw had the most trouble at "Load Off" and "Switchback", but did well from "Upper Flying Mile" to "Lower Flying Mile". Load Off and SwitchBack were really tight trails with LOTS of people on them, and it was clear that most of his problems were generated by fear of colliding with other riders. The next time we went up there, we took a left at the lift's unloading point, and we were really the only people going that way. EVERYONE else was taking Load Off to Switchback - SCORE! He could really start practicing traversing and edge control because he wasn't constantly worrying that someone was going to plow into him or vice-versa.
Snowboarding at night was pretty kick-ass, 'cause it was so pretty to see the mountain all lit up. During what ended up being my last run of the night, I pulled over to answer my phone, 'cause Domino had called. TigerPaw waited for a minute for me to find out what Domino needed, and when I ended the call, he took off before I finished putting my phone away and putting on my helmet and goggles. That meant that I flew down the rest of the mountain, 'cause Domino wanted to do one more run and ski with me from the top of Upper Flying Mile and I didn't have to wait around to watch over TigerPaw. By the time we all met up at the base, it was after 9:30, and the rental equipment needed to be returned by 10, so we sucked it up, decided one more run would take too long, and headed out.
Oh yeah! The helmet! After my experience the last time I went snowboarding, I ordered a helmet from Christy Sports. It's manufactured by "R.E.D." and has headphones built in, with an easily accessible mute button on the side. Carmi gave me an iPod shuffle, and I, with the help of daymond42, loaded it up with tunes from the EA SSX games, like SSX Tricky, SSX On Tour and SSX 3. He also threw some others in there for good measure, like the Offspring song from Crazy Taxi - "All I Want". I mention that one, specifically, 'cause I happened to unmute my headphones just as that song started, and right as I was starting a run down a trail - Perfect timing! It was actually pretty strange, because it seemed like TigerPaw and I were the only ones on the mountain wearing snowboarding helmets. This is quite the opposite experience that I had at Killington, where a very large portion of the population had them. I guess southerners are just HARD CORE or something. Oh well, I wore mine, 'cause like... owie. That was further enforced by a collision event that TigerPaw witnessed where a guy fell, and someone clipped him in the head with their board or a ski, causing a sizable gash to his head. The guy somehow thought TigerPaw was involved, 'cause when TigerPaw asked him if he was okay, he said, "Yeah, but that's why I wanted you guys to go ahead of us, 'cause I knew you'd be doing tricks." I guess he thought that helmets == tricks. TigerPaw was like, "Uhh, it's my first day on a board. I'm not doing any tricks." Maybe he was just delirious from the smack to the head or something. :p
After returning our rental equipment, we went to a Tapas restaurant, called "Zudza", and had a spectacular meal. I ordered "zuzdashetta" a Jerk Beef Filet Kabob and the cheese plate. We were all sampling each other's choices, though, so the variety was amazing.
After getting back to the lodge, it didn't take long before everyone was out cold, and the morning got off to a slow start. I was leaning toward trying to make it out to tervicz's area, but TigerPaw convinced me that at more than 3 hours worth of extra driving to get there, and the additional time it would add to the trip once we left there for Atlanta, we really wouldn't have much time to be able to spend there, so we opted to just follow Domino, Jaeger, and Tig back to Jaeger and Tig's place, stopping for food nearby.
After a short visit at their place and meeting their dogs, we took off for Atlanta and arrived at around 7pm. I just happened to have four $25 gift certificates to any Darden restaurant with me, so I offered to pay for dinner at Seasons 52. We went a little overboard, so between the three of us, the meal came to about $160.00. TigerPaw picked up the difference, and Conan got the tip. :)
We went back to their place, TigerPaw finished and submitted some school work, we watched some YouTubage, and crashed for the night. I got up at 6:30am, showered, dressed, took care of a few, quick, work-related things on Conan's laptop, and hit the road. Just south of Payne's Prairie, between Gainesville and Micanopy, traffic came to a complete halt because of an accident involving two semis and a tour bus. I didn't get to work until about 5:30pm.
All in all, it was a fun weekend, but if I did it again, I think I'd shoot for sometime in December instead of February.