Mountain Grit Meets Personal Identity in the First Snowpocalypse of 2017

I’m going to admit something that would almost certainly have me derided on a certain beloved community Facebook group…you know who you are…but here it is: I am not a Tahoe local. I’m technically what one might call a “city girl”. With that weight off my chest, let me tell you a bit about my experience these last four (and a quarter) winters in Truckee Tahoe.

Where I grew up, we didn’t get much snow. Seattle is one of those cities in the U.S. that mountain communities can’t help but giggle at, the ones where three inches of powder shuts down all traffic, all schools, and all businesses. I knew I wasn’t used to the snow when my now-husband and I moved to Truckee in October 2012. I was sure looking forward to it though – early morning car scrapings and a little shoveling wasn’t’ going to keep me from experiencing mountain life and riding that Sierra cement!COMM BB SnowBlog Identity 2017 01

The winter of 2012-13 came and went, and I thought I held up pretty well. I knew we were facing down some pretty nasty drought conditions – I was working for SBC, after all – but I still naively patted myself on the back for a winter well managed. The same went for the winter of ’13-’14, and ’14-’15; the drought intensified, I enjoyed riding what snow we had, and told myself that I had some true mountain grit. Ha.

The winter of 2015-16 hit and I realized I had been naïve, that waking up half an hour earlier to shovel six inches of berm and scrape my car had been child’s play (not Tahoe kids’ child’s play, of course, those kids are intense). I learned what a powder day really is, and that the snowpack doesn’t just stay in the backcountry or at the resorts, it settles into your deck, yard, roof, and driveway waiting for June. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it, my Sunday Funday bluebird days at Sugar Bowl were unlike any I’d experienced at my beloved home “mountain” of Snoqualmie. During this same winter, I started treating Truckee more like my home; a community I was gladly entrenched in. Seattle drifted into the hometown I love to visit; the mountain vistas replaced the downtown scenery in my heart as the visuals that provide my sense of place.

With all its beauty and transcendence (along with the precipitation-based nudge we needed to get the drought monitors moving back in the right direction), last winter did feel a little long to my new mountain senses. In Seattle, long, dreary winters are the price we pay for glorious summers, (I mean…it never stops raining, never, rains all the time, you don’t want to go…), but my grit against the rain had been spoiled by an average 307 days of annual sunshine, leaving my seasonal affective “order” completely ineffective against my first average Tahoe winter. Thus, I did what I could to prepare myself this year once the aspen turned their glorious yellow, from reading up on the Danish winter tradition of hygge (pronounced “hyoo-guh”), to taking advantage of the new indoor community pool at the Truckee Rec Center, to picking up a new hobby (interior decorating is super cheap, right?), and, of course, readying myself for the awesome snowboard season ahead.

Ha. Ha ha. No. Nothing about last year’s winter could have prepared me for this past week’s storm. If you aren’t currently living it, then I’m sure you heard about it. The Tahoe area was hit and hit hard: flooding, mudslides, power outages, road closures, and tree falls are just some of the disasters Tahoe residents faced (and in many cases are still facing). Sugar Bowl Resort received 103 inches of snow through this single storm. The Town of Truckee declared a State of Emergency in order to access funding for what will be much-needed road repairs.COMM BB BlogPic Home 2017 01

The house I live in on the west end of Donner Lake received approximately five to six feet of new snow – it’s hard to tell, because at this point we’ve shoveled enough to build ten-foot berms all around our driveway. Based on our experience the past four winters, my husband and I do not have a snow blower. We did not pay for plow service. No, we figured spending that money in the face of California’s drought was somewhat equivalent to a night gambling in Reno, so this week we shoveled. We each shoveled about four hours a day to keep the driveway maintained and our deck free of too much weight. We shoveled and shoveled and shoveled, our muscles growing more and more tired each day. I know many of you reading can relate, or commiserate, or both – and if not, you’re probably just laughing at the predicament we made of our own volition.

And you know what? I’ve loved it. I’ve loved going to bed and falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow due to exhaustion. I enjoyed the thrill of surviving “on our own”, not knowing if or when the power was going to come back on, testing ourselves to see if we’ve learned anything from years of watching natural disaster stories on the news. I’ve loved seeing my neighborhood and our community with a whole new face on it, witnessing the kindness that residents showed each other and the appreciation voiced for all of the plow guys and gals, CHP officers, utility workers, and more. As you hear so often in emergency situations, we came together to support one another.

The joy I’ve found in this winter storm is not without the heavy reality that this was an emergency situation, that there has been tragedy and that recovery will not likely be a simple task. My appreciation for the experience is metered by the luck I’ve had throughout it. I was able to work from home rather than risk the roads. My husband and I are able bodied and were able to spend as much time shoveling to protect our home as we needed to. Our stove is gas powered, so we enjoyed French roast coffee, eggs, and English muffins the morning the power was out (all made more delicious by the thrill of the unknown).

When we look back on this past week years from now, we’ll remember the light feeling of adventure that came out of it. We’ll remember the remainder of winter that came after it, and hopefully the summer that blossomed from an above-average snowpack (it could happen!). We’ll remember feeling like, maybe, that fateful week we earned ourselves some true mountain grit, and I’ll remember the self-acknowledgement that while I may never be a Tahoe local, I can definitely become a mountain girl.

Photo Credits: Steven Benesi