Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category


Now before you think that my Olympic medal winning exploits had passed you by, let me clarify at the outset that I haven’t even attended a Games, let alone competed in one, but cynically entitled this piece as I have to grab your hopefully more than fleeting attention. This is an account of my evolving connection with the Olympics over the past half century.

As I start this article the official website ( http://www.london2012.com ) informs me that it is one day, twelve hours and seventeen minutes to go to the Opening Ceremony of the XXX Olympiad in London, the precise details of which, including the identity of the individual lighting the Olympic cauldron, remain a surprisingly well guarded secret.

I leapt from the blocks at the Rome games of 1960, or rather sat on the living room floor with my legs, and, due to my proximity to the new but tiny black and white television, eyes, crossed, cheering on Great Britain’s two gold medallists, Anita Lonsbrough in the women’s 200 metres breaststroke and the diminutive Don Thompson, waddling hilariously for 50 kilometres in sunglasses and mum made white hat.

Great Britain doubled its gold medal tally in Tokyo in 1964 with victories for Ann Packer in the women’s 800 metres (whom of a certain age could forget David Coleman’s hysterical television commentary as she took the lead in the home straight and broke the world record?), Lynn Davies and Mary Rand in the men’s and women’s long jump respectively, and Ken Matthews in the shorter form (20 kilometres) waddle. The glory was accentuated by the fact that the television had grown a couple of inches in the intervening four years.

Don’t worry – this article is not a list of British gold medal winners over the last 50 years, but rather an account of how the Games have, or, on occasions, not, touched my life at various stages.

What is interesting about my childhood Games watching is that, bedtime regime permitting, I watched all of it, not just the glamorous events like the men’s 100 metres, pole vault and high jump (well ok, the 100 metres then), but everything – from fencing and water polo to weightlifting and graeco-roman wrestling.

And I loved it! There was never a chance that a British competitor would stalk the podium in the majority of sports, but it was the Olympics, the original “greatest show on earth” and it was on television! My only reservations at the time, as a prepubescent and then fully pubescent boy in the sixties, were that neither synchronised swimming nor  beach volleyball had been invented as Olympic sports for another 20 and 30 years respectively.

(one day, eleven hours and thiry six minutes).

It was the athletes from behind the iron curtain, particularly the Soviet Union, that fascinated me most. Perhaps it was their exotic names (the brilliant ice dance pairing of Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov still raise a juvenile titter), or the fact that we knew so little about their society, or the allegations that most of their women were actually men, or the suggestion that they took performance-enhancing drugs, or that they received massive state sponsorship (there was still an expectation that competitors should be amateur) Or it may just have been because they were so bloody good.

The most notorious case was that of the Press sisters, Tamara (shot put gold in 1960 and 1964 and discus gold in 1964) and Irina (80 metres hurdles gold in 1960 and modern pentathlon gold in 1964), who were effectively hounded from the Games after Tokyo in the wake of persistent Western mockery and, more pertinently, the introduction of gender testing in 1966. They never took the test and their sudden disappearance was explained by Soviet officials as enforced retirement in the Ukraine to care for their ailing mother (or was that father?).

Before I move on, I must make it clear that, in the interests of political correctness and indeed accuracy, many of the most attractive women from that era bore the bibs of eastern European nations.

(one day, seven hours and fourteen minutes).

Leaving home and going to university in the Moscow Olympics year of 1972 put a virtual end to my slavish scrutiny of the Games, as I discovered other interests, or rather enjoyed the opportunity of exploiting those interests to the full. I will leave it to you to consider what they might have been.

As those interests, as well as responsibilities, expanded over the next thirty years, I became much more selective in what I watched, focusing largely on the track and field events.  The rivalry of Sebastian, now Lord, Coe and Steve Ovett over 800 and 1500 metres in the Moscow and Los Angeles Games of 1980 and 1984, probably stands out, not least because it sparked endless arguments between my mother, who adored the smarmy, former Loughborough University graduate Coe, and myself, who cheered on the Brighton bruiser, Ovett.

Memories of summer Games over that period centre on remarkable individual performances. The most notable for me included the four times gold medal winner at 200 metres (Atlanta 1996), 400 metres (Atlanta and Sydney 2000) and 4 x 400 metres relay (Barcelona 1992), Michael Johnson, pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, who, despite ten world championship golds, won just a single Olympic title in Seoul in 1988, Mark Spitz’s seven swimming golds in Munich in 1972 and Nadia Comaneci who, at the age of 14, won three gymnastic golds in Montreal in 1976 (and a further two in Moscow four years later). There are many others but these are my particular favourites.

(one day, three hours and twenty seven minutes).

But let’s not forget the Brits who have momentarily captured the imagination of this increasingly wearied Olympic follower –  (Sir) Steve Redgrave’s extraordinary five rowing gold medals, almost matched by (Sir) Matthew Pinsent’s four, Linford Christie becoming the oldest 100 metres champion in Barcelona in 1992, the hockey team that won gold at Seoul in 1988 and (my mother’s influence here), Torvill and Dean’s sublime ice dance routine to Ravel’s Bolero in Sarajevo in 1984. But, for me, the greatest achievement is that of Kent girl (Dame) Kelly Holmes who won double gold in Athens in 2004 (800m and 1500m) at the age of 34 and after years of injury heartache in major championships.

(one day, one hour and eighteen minutes).

With my discovery of skiing in the late eighties, I became more interested in the Winter Olympics over the next few years, modelling my own technique on that of Purmin Zurbriggen, downhill champion in Calgary in 1988, and Alberto Tomba, winner of slalom and giant slalom in both Calgary and, four years later, Albertville. If you’re wondering, the “modelling” extended no further than being able to stand upright on two skis.

They are my fondest memories of a truly global spectacle. My feelings about the only Olympics to be hosted in my country in my lifetime can be found in the following article entitled “Let the Games Begin”.

(eleven hours and forty two minutes).

Read Full Post »


Finally, after a pre-season match against the Oakland A’s in 2008 and a rain-curtailed “friendly” against the Seattle Mariners two years later, I made it to my first two Major League Baseball (MLB) games at AT & T Park for the opening weekend of 2012.

On Saturday evening the San Francisco Giants entertained the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second of a three game series, and then hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the opening game of three on Monday evening.

This is not a match report on either game, though I will briefly outline  the action. It is more a series of impressions on the baseball experience.

So – the figures. On Saturday, the Giants squeezed out a 4-3 victory in the ninth after trailing both 2-0 and 3-2 earlier in the game. CRedit should go to much-maligned, and many believe, grossly overpaid, starting pitcher, Barry Zito’s second quality performance at the start of the season.

A disastrous first innings by star pitcher, Tim Lincecum, in which he gave up four runs, meant the Giants were always chasing the game against the Phillies’ Roy Halladay. Despite Buster Posey’s three hits and improved pitching by Lincecum and the bullpen, the deficit was too much for Giants to pull back, eventually losing 5-2.

One win and one defeat, not altogether unexpected, so I’ ll take that.

Although we had already printed our tickets at home back in the UK, we wanted to get to the ballpark well in advance of Saturday’s 6.05pm first pitch. We disembarked from a Muni Metro car at 3rd and King at around 4.30pm, just in time to be welcomed through the turnstiles with a large number of equally excited fans, most wearing the Giants’ orange and black colours.

One of many reasons for wanting to get to the park early was that it would guarantee us securing the day’s free gift on entry. Although on Saturday this was a rather modest foam finger, the use for which is modelled in the photograph below, we received a far more elegant A5 size Giants 2012 schedule fridge magnet at the Phillies game. This was the first of a host of fan-oriented activities on both nights.

And it is this emphasis on ensuring that the spectators, especially families, have a memorable experience at the ballpark that is so impressive about American sports in general, and the San Francisco Giants organisation in particular, and which I want to concentrate on in this article.

Amongst the other gifts scheduled to be handed out at future home games during the season were bobbleheads of the most popular players, including Sergio Romo, Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval, a Brian Wilson gnome, a Matt Cain t-shirt, fedoras, knitted hats, texting gloves (sic), trading cards and caps. Some of these are limited to the first 20, 25 or 40 thousand fans through the turnstiles, one of many clever marketing ploys to get the spectators eating and drinking early inside the stadium rather than at the bars and restaurants around the “yard”.

For children aged 14 and under, they would be greeted at selected games with snap watches, rope necklaces, and Super Hero capes. Many of the above gifts were presented by companies such as Subway, See’s Candles, Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area and PG & E.

And then there would be the games that celebrated past glories such as the “Turn Back the Century Game – 1912” and the 2010 Giants World Series Team Reunion. On another day Virgin America would be providing two for one flight vouchers for all fans.

And it still doesn’t end there!

San Francisco is renowned for its commitment to diversity, demonstrated in a range of festivals and street fairs throughout the year that showcase its ethnic communities.

And the Giants play their part. Certain games are designated “heritage nights” where the culture and history of peoples that have played a key role in the history of the Bay Area is celebrated. The list includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican (Cinco de Mayo), Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polynesian, African American, Filipinos, and, this being San Francisco, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

And then there are the games that are dedicated to firefighters, law enforcement officers, masons and even singles! And, again, it wouldn’t be San Francisco without a series of food festivals, including one where leading chefs from around the area set up stall and offer their wares at a fraction of the price that one would pay in their restaurants.

Once inside the stadium, the off-field entertainment, both before, during and, on occasions, after, the game, is excellent. In the lead up to the start of the Pirates game, the crowd was treated to Jefferson Starship ripping through their – or rather Jefferson Airplane’s – catalogue of classic songs, including Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. They returned to lead the traditional pre-match rendition of the American national anthem – not perhaps their finest hour, but I doubt the great majority of the crowd, wrapped in the emotion of the moment, were too concerned about that.

Although the breaks between innings in a ballgame are rarely more than a few minutes, the gaps are filled invariably with quizzes, competitions and interviews played out on the large screen / scoreboard, with yet more prizes and special offers available to the lucky fans. The middle of the seventh community singing of Take Me Out to the Ballpark is another tradition that raises the crowd’s spirits, even if the Giants are faltering.

Perhaps the most popular moments are when the camera scans round the crowd to hone in on unsuspecting couples whose duty it is then to kiss each other in front of 41,000 other people. These bring huge cheers, notably when a chaste peck turns into a more passionate clinch. On more than one occasion I wondered whether the “victims” had ever kissed before, might even be on their first date, such was the embarrassed on some faces. But most carry it off with good humour.

The antics of Lou Seal, the Giants’ larger than life (particularly around his midriff) mascot, contribute to the party atmosphere. A feisty character, his finest moment is when he strides and struts on the roof of the Giants dugout, leading the ninth innings rallying cry of Dont Stop Believin’ by Journey, which has become the team’s unofficial anthem since the World Series season of 2010. And it had the desired effect in the Pirates game in inspiring the team to pull round a 3-2 deficit to secure a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth, adding a triumphant note to the spectacular fireworks display at the end.

Oh….and there’s always a baseball game going on if you get bored with all the ancillary entertainment!

I shall now turn to the other visible demonstration of the fan-friendly approach that epitomises the Giants organisation – the provision of refreshment.

For anyone unfamiliar with American sports, and, as a result, erroneously supposing that the food and beverages at venues barely extend beyond Coca-Cola, Budweiser, hot dogs and hamburgers, would be astonished to see the variety and quality on offer at AT & T Park.

Amongst the dozens of outlets at the stadium are California Cookout, Clam Chowder, Crazy Crab’z, Mission Creek Cantina, Cinnamon Roasted Nuts, First Base Carvery, McCovey’s 44 BBQ, Gourmet Sausages, Tres Mexican Kitchen, Long Taters Baked Potato, Doggie Diner, Haagen Dazs, Outta Here Cheesesteaks, Pier 44 Chowder House, Say Hey! Speciality Sausages, Port Walks Pizza, Ghiradelli, Mashi’s Sushi Bistro and Edsel Ford Fong’s. Some of these have multiple stands.

But the crowning glory, the signature dish, the product singularly responsible for the unmissable, pungent aroma of the ballpark, apart from on Grateful Dead Day when it is overpowered by the heady waft of dope, are Gilroy’s garlic fries, served up in generously filled trays at many of the aforementioned stands. These are the must eat” option, not only for the human visitors but also for the savvy seagulls that swoop and hover over proceedings in the latter stages of the game.

And yes, of course, soda and beer dominate the drinks scene, but this is San Francisco and elegant dining is available too, as witnessed by the Francis Ford Coppola wines my wife and I gravitated towards on both evenings.

My only quibble with all this eating and drinking – which clearly provides the Giants organisation with massive income – is that it is so enjoyable that a significant proportion of the sell-out crowds that flock to every game feel the need to keep going back for more – and more – and more – during the actual game, meaning that they miss a not inconsiderable part of the play. If you have the misfortune to sit behind someone who is constantly getting up out of their seat to stock up on yet more food and drink, it can be very annoying.

Now, I like a drink and something to eat when I watch football, cricket or baseball, but not at the expense of missing the play. I will get that out of the way before the game, or, occasionally, during a scheduled interval in play, such as half time in football. After all, I am there for the game, no more, no less.

But baseball, with its short breaks in play between innings, doesn’t allow one to do that. There is no lunch or tea interval as in cricket, where you may have between 20 and 40 minutes in which to satisfy your hunger or thirst.

So I do understand, not only the urge, but also the compulsion to eat constantly during the game, particularly when the fare is so tasty. And if you have children badgering you for a hot dog, coke or ice cream, during the play, it’s hard to resist.

But for some people, and not necessarily those with families, the actual game appears almost incidental – or rather that it is no more than a part of the overall experience or the excuse for attending a foodie extravaganza.

By the end of Saturday evening when we sat in section 324 View Reserve Infield, overlooking from the clouds (if there had been any) third base, I wondered whether I had been the only spectator in my block who could honestly claim that they had seen every single ball pitched during the game. Even my wife had had to make a call of nature (your fault Mr Coppola – who was at the Phillies game) during the seventh innings!

That said, I was one of the first in the extensive queue for the gentlemen’s restrooms at the end!

By way of contrast we sat in section 135 Lower Box Infield, immediately to the right of the bleachers on Monday evening and the “problem” was almost non-existent. The higher you sit in the stands the more likely you are to have people leaving their seats obscuring your view.

The situation would be worse – if that is the correct word, if it weren’t for the army of incredibly hard working vendors of hot dogs, cotton candy, ice cream and beer that flit amongst the crowd from beginning to end. Their energy, good humour and efficiency are a sight to behold.

Lessons to be learned for future visits?

1. If it’s a night game in spring or autumn (or summer for that matter) take a blanket. Although both evenings were clear and relatively still, it became decidedly chilly when the sun went down.

2.Choose seats at a lower level than section 324 – few fans struggled to make it back to their seats without pausing for breath. More chance of catching a ball there too.

3. Take more photos to supplement my report. This article  would certainly have benefited from that.

Read Full Post »


We hadn’t intended to ski this year.

And we didn’t.

But between those two statements lay a four month long gallimaufry of resolution, indecision, confusion, excitement, frustration, relief, misery, hope and resignation.

Following last year’s trip, our seventh, to Heavenly ski resort on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, we decided to give skiing, at least in the USA, a miss this year, and perhaps even next.

But as the British summer shrugged its way into autumn, and our equal determination not to visit San Francisco this year,  dissipated, the prospect of not skiing at all became increasingly unpalatable.

With a major holiday planned for later in the year, we could not afford – in both senses of the word – more than two weeks away. We arranged, therefore, to spend a week in an apartment in San Francisco, drive up to Tahoe for four nights, skiing for three days, before returning to the city for the final weekend prior to flying home. Flights and accommodation were duly booked in the New Year, the lateness of which illustrated how we had prevaricated about going at all.

I have written elsewhere that my wife and I are “fair weather” skiers, liking nothing better than cruising perfectly manicured trails in warm spring sunshine. With that in mind, we booked to ski Heavenly between Wednesday 18th and Friday 20th April inclusive, providing us, we hoped, with a felicitous combination of good weather and a healthy accumulation of snow (2011 had been a record year).

So we were “sorted”, looking forward to what was fast becoming our annual American skiing fix.

Or so we thought, for that’s when it all started to unravel.

In deciding to ski late in the season, we’d given no thought to when the resort might be closing. After all, last year it had remained open until early May and only a few days prior to that the previous year. We were not only going to enjoy wonderful weather and spring conditions but would also get some great end of season bargains in the shops. 

I suppose we should have seen the warning signs earlier in the season as snowfall had been uncommonly sparse, weeks passing with barely a single natural flake bedding down with the undeniably impressive but limited layer of artificial snow provided by the resort’s convoy of groomers. Much of the skiing terrain remained closed.

But even at the end of February there appeared to be no cause for concern. Major storms were surely lining up out in the Pacific, ready to deposit the white stuff soon enough. And Heavenly would be prepared to stay open as long as possible to compensate for the relatively poor conditions of December through to March. Wouldn’t it?

How wrong we were.

Firstly, we discovered that Heavenly had planned all along to close on Sunday 15th April – nearly three weeks earlier than last year and, more alarmingly, THREE DAYS BEFORE we were due to arrive! A succession of frantic e-mails, Facebook and Twitter messages over the next 24 hours confirmed this to be the case.

At least we had not incurred great expense at this stage – just the first night’s accommodation, which could be cancelled up to 72 hours before arrival anyway. Unusually (we must have known), we had not booked our lift tickets and we would not obviously have hired equipment until we were in the resort.

But what were we going to do?

I devised eight alternative options for the middle leg of the vacation. These included remaining in San Francisco, driving down the coast and spending nights in San Luis Obispo, Carmel and Monterey, or in the opposite direction via Mendocino and Bodega Bay, even still travelling to South Lake Tahoe but amusing ourselves in other ways.

But the thought of not skiing at all, when the conditions were likely to be the best they had been all season, was too painful to contemplate. And, of course, you guessed it – by this time, those slothful storm systems had swung into town with a vengeance, depositing seven feet of snow in a week!

Having decided that we had, if we could, to ski somewhere, we found ourselves forced into doing what we had often spoken about but never got around to doing before – slide down some other slopes than Heavenly’s.

So perhaps it was all a blessing after all – provided we could find other resorts that were open whilst we were in the area.

The next few weeks were spent anxiously trawling the websites of, and sending e mails to, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Kirkwood, Homewood, Alpine Meadows, Sugarbowl and Squaw Valley to establish what their closure plans were.

Whilst, in one respect, we were now becoming increasingly excited at the prospect of skiing elsewhere, this threw up several practical issues. For example, if we were to ski near the north end of the lake, we would need to find alternative accommodation, and it was extremely limited in some resorts, particularly at such a late stage. We would also need to take a different route to the one we were accustomed to to get to the lake.

The fact that we would be skiing only a day, possibly two, at a new resort would also mean we would be unfamiliar with everything there – the terrain, transport, equipment hire and so on  – to the extent hat we might not derive much enjoyment from it.

But beggars can’t be choosers, and, after all, it meant we could ski.

And then……Heavenly decided to extend its season!

Great!

We could now avoid all the complications of staying and skiing elsewhere and return to our familiar, much loved Plan A of skiing in Heavenly for three days.

Or so we thought.

Rather than extending by a full perhaps two, to allow its customers to enjoy the fresh snow, the resort proposed to close as planned on 15th April and reopen for the next two weekends only (Friday to Sunday inclusive). The upshot of this would be that we would have ONE day in which to ski!

Again we considered different scenarios, including skiing only on the Friday, our last day. Better than nothing.

But we rather liked the idea now of skiing somewhere else too, and plumped for a day at nearby Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Now, neither of us had been fully fit in our last couple of days in San Francisco, suffering from sore throats, coughing, headaches and general tiredness. So we decided that two days skiing would be sufficient.

The final plan now went like this. As it was conveniently located just off the I-50, we would call into Sierra-at-Tahoe on our drive from San Francisco on Tuesday and familiarise ourselves with the resort. We would then take our first full day off and perhaps drive to Carson City, before skiing at Sierra on Thursday and Heavenly on Friday.

What could now go wrong? After the twists and turns, and mangled emotions, of the past three months, we were going to be skiing for two days, one of which was going to be at, for us, a new, exciting resort, and the forecast was for brilliant blue skies and warm temperatures.

Well, one three letter word ending in a vowel was about to be replaced by another and destroy those plans. 

Flu.

On the journey to South Lake Tahoe, we both started to deteriorate dramatically, to the extent not only that we abandoned the diversion via Sierra-at-Tahoe, but that we were only able to leave our room – reluctantly – in the next 48 hours to stock up on pharmaceutical supplies (and the occasional Starbuck’s). Dinner on our first evening consisted of a $1 packet of Dorito’s from the vending machine along the corridor.

It was only the last – fourth – night that we were both able to do any justice to an evening meal when we dragged ourselves to the Hard Rock Café in our hotel. Even then, we had had to cancel our reservation beforehand at the Riva Grill. We did manage, however, to drive around the lake during the day, as the last post testifies.

We had both been so debilitated during our stay that walking alone proved a challenge. As much as we wanted to, we could not have skiied. 

At least we saved on meals, ski hire and lift tickets  – although the colourful cocktail of pills, infusions and liquids – enough to have taken the weight of our baggage over the allowance had we been flying back to San Francisco – were not cheap!

We hadn’t intended to ski this year.

And we didn’t.

Read Full Post »


If you’ve had the doubtful pleasure of reading my recent post about Heavenly ski resort (www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/heavenly-thoughts-returning/), you ‘ll be aware of my love of skiing, particularly on the snow rich slopes of Lake Tahoe. But had circumstances been different a quarter of a century before on my first winter vacation, that may have been a pleasure forever denied me.

Encouraged by another couple, already experienced skiers, my girlfriend and I agreed to accompany them on a two week holiday to Austria in late February 1987. But before that, we had to locate our ski legs and take the first tentative, or in my case, petrified, steps on snow, or rather, artificial Dendix mesh.

The ordeal began with a course of evening lessons at the Crystal Palace Sports Centre dry ski slope in south London. Sadly, I recollect little of the first lesson other than it took me more than half of it before I was able to a) wedge my feet into the concrete boots, b) stand up and c) begin to tramp around in them in a manner reminiscent of Boris Karloff in the early Frankenstein movies.

The “slope”, if it could be dignified with such a noble word, was a terrifying 60 metres long and of a gradient that would barely have qualified it to be called a green run i.e. virtually flat, in any self-respecting European resort. But, for me, the distance from top to bottom resembled a pit of writhing, seething snakes.

Half way down, in the middle, stood a menacing, 8 foot high tree that called to me, like the Sirens luring sailors to shipwreck in Greek mythology, every time, and there weren’t many, I had managed to plod back to the top to make my next descent. Either side of this monster were run-outs to the bottom. It was not until the third lesson that I succeeded in routinely reaching the end without having had an intimate encounter with that tree along the way.

A couple of long, agonising months later the fateful hour arrived when we set foot – blessedly freed, for now, from those concrete blocks – on a flight to Munich, praying that the worst of the winter conditions were over and that we would catch some spring sunshine. Our destination was Auffach – notoriously difficult to pronounce after a couple of glasses of schnapps or jagertee (a potent mix of overproof rum and black tea) – in the Wildschonaü region of Austria, an area allegedly ideal for beginners.

My girlfriend and I spent the first week in ski school whilst our friends enjoyed themselves.  She was marginally, well much, better than me in the initial test, which amounted to nothing more than being able to stand up in the skis for more than 3 seconds, and was, consequently, placed in a higher standard class.

I was consigned to the lowest group which comprised one Austrian girl and half a dozen boisterous (is there any other type?) Dutch men. The instructor, who at least had the decency to be gorgeous, even in a pink Michelin (UK) or Stay Puft (US) Man outfit, spoke Dutch fluently and used it as the default language for the week. 

Unfortunately, the only Dutch I knew, other than the names of the national football team that came so close to winning both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, was of the double variety, though I do profess to being quite fluent in that. At least I had found a ready made excuse for my ineptitude.

And that spring sunshine? Forgeddaboutit. Snowfall had been a stranger to the area since Christmas and it was conspicuous by its continued absence during our stay. Whilst the weather was generally bright it remained cold, rendering the surface thin and icy.

My “progress” was tortuously slow. When I wasn’t trying to step off the precarious button lifts prematurely, obliging me to climb the remainder, inevitably slipping back with every other step, I was sliding down an icy incline in a permanent and deeply uncomfortable “snowplough”. I did, however, become highly proficient at trudging down the side of the run with a ski tucked under each arm, having surrendered any belief in my capacity to achieve the same result with them strapped to my boots.

My girlfriend’s experience was equally disappointing and we agreed to forego the final day’s test run, and the life-changing opportunity to dribble down the hill in front of the entire ski school and any other sadists residing in the village, in the forlorn hope of earning a certificate (that was probably written in Dutch anyway). 

Exhausted from the miles, or rather metres, we had carved up in the previous 5 days, we decided to take a coach trip to Salzburg, city of Mozart, chocolate and The Sound of Music. An otherwise enjoyable day was marred by the news of the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry shortly after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge en route to Dover, resulting in 193 deaths. Skiing seemed even less important on that day.

I was prepared to come home at that point. However, we had paid for a second week, and there was a limit to the number of sleigh rides, bowling alleys and “authentic” Tyrolean evenings a man with his pride still narrowly intact could take, so I resolved to give skiing another chance.

And it proved an altogether more enjoyable experience. Our friends were very patient and supportive, escorting us around the whole mountain (much of which we had only dreamed of seeing before), and providing us with one to one tuition – in English! Whilst conditions underfoot were little better, it was much more fun, and we improved accordingly – though my propensity for leaping off button lifts before reaching the top continued well into my third Alpine season.

By the end of that second week, we were hooked and did not want to leave! Had the vacation only been for a week we may never have skiied again – and our subsequent holidays – and life – may have taken a completely different course.

Read Full Post »


Firstly, if you have landed on this site expecting subject matter a tad more racy or devotional than skiing, please leave now!

After spending our formative skiing years in Europe, we decided in 1999 to try America for our winter vacation. Lake Tahoe caught our imagination, not only because of its innate beauty and impressive snowfall record, but because it could comfortably be combined with a trip to San Francisco (and other parts of both California and Nevada).

We fell in love with Heavenly and the unique California / Nevada Stateline atmosphere instantly, and despite acknowledging that we should expand our skiing experience to the Rockies or Canada, we have remained loyal to it ever since.  We were even on the verge one year of booking Whistler or Banff and spending our “city time” in Vancouver, but when push came to shove, we hadn’t the heart to abandon Heavenly.

Nor, in the face of numerous recommendations from people on chairlifts, in restaurants and on the street, have we skiied a single day in any of the other Tahoe resorts. Lame excuse though it may seem, we have, in a sense, not wanted to “waste” one of our precious skiing days at Northstar, Squaw Valley or Sierra-at-Tahoe.  And where would we get a better breakfast than at the Driftwood Cafe in the village centre, or seafood dinner at the Riva Grill by the south shore of the lake? 

 

After our initial vacation we returned in 2002, followed by further trips in ’04, ’06, ’08 and ’10.  With a mountain that rises to over 10,000 feet and the largest snowmaking and grooming operation on Lake Tahoe if Mother Nature should fail to deliver, snow conditions have always been excellent. The weather during our stays has, however, been less predictable (for example, warm sunshine in ’04 and incessant snowfall in ’06, including 4 feet the night before we were heading for Vegas).

The biennial strategy collapsed last year when we went again just 12 months after our last trip. This appeared at first to be a smart move as a record season was already in full swing when we arrived in early March. Now, we confess to being fair weather skiers, always going relatively late in the season, initially in late February, more latterly in mid March (and now April!). The theory is that there will not only have been substantial accumulations of snow already, but that the weather will have warmed up. Spring in San Francisco can be very pleasant too.

So we scanned the web cams and drooled over the daily Another Heavenly Morning broadcast on the internet, watching the snowfall count escalating. Surely, this will have abated and Spring will have arrived with a swagger by the time we pitched up in the resort, allowing us to enjoy several days cruising on a deep snow base in balmy, sun-soaked weather?

No chance! As the travel diary on this blog demonstrated (links below) the only thing we saw was snow, and, in the words of A.A. Milne, it just “kept on snowing”, even after we had left for San Francisco towards the end of the month:

www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/western-diary-day-3-janet-falls-over/

www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/western-diary-day-4-Janet-falls-over-again-and-Tony-gets lost/

www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/western-diary-day-5-the-more-it-snows-tiddley-pom/

www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/western-diary-day-6-i-fall-over-and-Janet-loses-her-backpack/

The year did, indeed, turn out to be a record one with a total 0f 529 inches snowfall (the average is anywhere between 300 and 500). But, after such a disappointing experience, we vowed that we would now leave it a couple of years before returning to Heavenly, perhaps even going back in the interim to getting our skiing fix in Europe again.  

But here we are in mid January and the itch needs scratching again (problematic when you are plodding around with several layers of clothing on, including an esapecially fetching pair of tights). The lure of both Heavenly and San Francisco has become too much, causing us to alter our vacation plans for the year. The four weeks travelling around the canyons and National Parks of the West to celebrate my 60th birthday later in the year has now contracted to two.

We are undaunted by the uncharacteristically puny snowfall so far this year. Although the resort has been open every day since November 18th, the total snow for the season has only reached 13 inches (lower slopes) to 22 inches (upper elevations), and the base depth is just 18 to 24 inches. Only 215 acres out of a total of 4800, and 27 of the 97 runs (trails), are currently open.  

Limited terrain aside, the resort has still managed to provide high quality, if limited, snow in fine weather, with the army of “midnight riders” (groomers) putting in more than 1,200 snowmaking hours. And we have faith that the storms will come. In fact, as I pen this article, 3-6 feet is being forecast for the next week. 

It can snow now until early April as far as we are concerned. But please, let’s have a few days sunshine after that!

Read Full Post »


I have never understood, or cared to understand, American football.  That is until last night.

Purely because of our affinity with the city of San Francisco, my wife and I had considered celebrating our first wedding anniversary at Wembley Stadium in October 2010 when the 49ers came to town with the Denver Broncos – until we saw the exorbitant prices. We went to Dublin for the weekend instead.

Last season, as dozens of others before, had completely passed me by but I have followed the upturn in their fortunes this year, if  only by casting a cursory glance at the final scores. I had also read a lot about the exploits of quarterback, Alex Smith, which reminded me of the only 49ers player from the past I could honestly claim I could remember – Joe Montana.

So as they had reached the playoffs and were live on TV last night at a manageable hour (9.30pm) – even if it meant missing The Football League Show on BBC – I decided to tune in to the final two quarters as they were leading 17-14 against the New Orleans Saints at the time. Having led 14-0 earlier in the game but the prospects for the remainder of the game did not appear promising to one unsuspecting football virgin.  However, the sight of a scarlet hued Candlestick Park convinced me to stay the course.

I can’t claim to have followed everything of what was going on, though touchdowns and field goals were at least comprehensible.  And I can appreciate a long, accurate pass and even a mighty hit (I have always enjoyed these on the ice rink).  Anyway, the third quarter passed without much incident, other than that San Francisco extended its lead to 20-14.

The margin was still 6 points (23-17) as those final 3 portentous minutes started. It appeared to me that the home side was defending with increasing desperation and, with a history of supporting sports teams who so often ripped defeat from the jaws of victory, I felt staying up until nearly 1.30am would prove ultimately futile. 

And when the Saints went 24-23 ahead, it looked all over. But then Alex Smith, who had hardly had a bad game beforehand, ran in a 28 yard touchdown (I believe that’s the correct expression).  So we’d (notice that?) won it 29-24 hadn’t we? Now, hold on a cotton picking minute (who was it used to say that, Deputy Dawg I think) – back come the Saints with a touchdown of their own to “win” it 32-29.

Glorious failure then – a not uncommon feeling for this sports fan. With 14 seconds left, and my thumb poised on the off button on the remote control, Smith calls what seems to me to be a pointless timeout.  Now this is where my ignorance of American sport kicks in. Of course I should have known that within 5 seconds he would plant the ball in the arms of the grateful, and soon to be sobbing uncontrollably, tight end, Vernon Davis, for the winning touchdown. 36-32! 

I was reminded in the midst of all this mayhem of the word “torture” that so eloquently described the San Francisco Giants march to the World Series 15 months before.

I don’t think that I will still ever develop the affiliation I now have with the city’s baseball team – you might like to read my earlier post about how I fell in love with the San Francisco Giants (www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/bitten-by-the-giants-baseball-bug) – but I have acquired sufficient interest to prompt me to learn more about the rules and tactics, purchase some 49ers merchandise, and be there in front of the TV for the next playoff game and, of course, the Super Bowl. OK, I’m probably getting  a little ahead of myself now, but that’s what fans do don’t they?

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts