By: Mark Abrams
It was now 3 weeks into December when I headed back to Mammoth Mountain on Wednesday, December 21st to ski for a few days and to retrieve my ski mask that I left at Lincoln Peak. It has been 30 days since I was there when the antennas that were leaning over were fixed and I left my ski mask inside the building. Since that time, as skiers we have been very lucky with the weather in that there have been multiple storms which have deposited a large amount of snow in the Sierras. This means that the antennas may have been damaged if we did not do our job correctly and conversely they should be in essentially the same condition as they were when we left the mountain on November 21st if we did our job correctly.
Mammoth Mountain’s requirements are that we register through their contractor portal at least 3 days ahead of our planned arrival so that they can have everything ready on their end that they need to make certain that we get proper access since so many facilities on the mountain are not accessible by ordinary passenger vehicles. The location to which I was going was on top of Lincoln Peak which is completely inaccessible by car, truck or SUV due to the snow coverage. I needed to get there by some other means which would be an easy task this time since I planned to ski on the mountain. All I had to do was to ski to the building by taking Chair Lift #22 that unloads next to the building where the MRA radio equipment is located.
December 21st arrived and it was time to head north after completing the move of our new radio building up to Cajon Mountain Lookout on Tuesday which you can read about in another one of the Tales from the Radio Shop. I left the house at the normal time to head to the office where I had a lot of things to accomplish before leaving and heading north for a short vacation. I left the office by 2:00PM so that I could get to Mammoth by 8-9PM depending upon traffic, pit stops, food stop or rest stop. My plan was to ski at Mammoth Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I headed north on the Long Beach Freeway and merged onto the Golden State Freeway heading north. Once I arrived in Sylmar, I passed the Foothill Freeway and shortly thereafter arrived at Highway 14. Turning north on Highway 14 took me through Canyon Country, Acton, Palmdale, Lancaster and eventually to Mojave, the location of an aerospace center where many airplanes come for retrofitting and repairs. It is just a short hop, skip and a jump to Edwards Spaceforce Base which is several miles east of Mojave. Passing through Mojave, I continued north past Jawbone Canyon, Redrock Canyon, Roberts Roost, Indian Wells, Pearsonville, Coso Junction, Grant, Olancha, Cartago, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and then Bishop.
When passing through the Olancha area, I had called to see if anyone wanted me to stop at the Olancha Fire Department to reprogram some radios for them. I had called ahead to see if someone would be available to open the station so that I could reprogram some of the radios. Unfortunately, no one was available, so I continued to roll through Olancha without stopping.
I continued north and finally arrived in Mammoth about 9PM and drove to the house where I was not able to open the garage door. I attempted to open the garage door and found that the snow had been cleared from the driveway by the snow plow, but they leave about a foot of snow packed against the garage door because the snow plow operator does not want to get too close to the building and cause damage the house. Last time this happened, snow had been there for about a week and had frozen to the garage door making it impossible for Chris & I to get the garage door open. This time I had to get to the front door which is around the side of the house where there was plenty of snow between the driveway and the front porch. Grabbing the key to the house and my cell phone in case I got into trouble, I crawled through the snow on my belly in ordinary street clothes (and not clothes for snow country) until I reached the porch where I was able to make my way to the front door. When I opened the front door (which is actually around the side of the house), I proceeded into the mud room and into the interior of the house and then into the garage. I was able to kick the garage door multiple times to help break the door loose from the bond to the snow, grab the braces for the garage door then press the button on the remote while I pulled up on the garage door finishing the job of breaking loose the bond between the snow and the garage door. I then had to grab the shovel and dig out the snow bank that was left behind by snow plow. After digging for 30 minutes, I was now in a position to drive the SUV into the garage and park the vehicle. I went into the heater closet turn up the heat on the water heater. I also plugged in the circulating pump for the hot water which makes the hot water more readily available when one uses any of the sinks or showers that use the hot water. I then grabbed my suitcase, went inside the house and turned up the heat on the downstairs heater which was the only heater that was currently working. I normally stay upstairs where the heater was not functional. However, this time I brought a 1500 watt electric heater to warm up the bedroom so that I did not have to shiver in the cold this trip.
On Thursday morning, I started off the day a little late as I managed to sleep in until 7:30AM. I then went through my normal morning routine getting ready for the day including shower and other bathroom routines. I then proceeded to handle emails and other business from the office. I went onto the Mammoth Mountain website to register for accessing the radio site at the top of Lincoln Peak and informed them that I was going to access the site via my skis since I was at the resort to ski for 4 days. After handling those items, I started calling HVAC companies to see who I could get someone to the house to fix the upstairs heater. I finally located a company who said that they could get someone there the same day or possibly Friday, but did not know for certain what time it would be when they could get there. She indicated that she needed to check with their local Mammoth representative and get back to me. At this point, I was ready to start skiing so I drove over to Stump Alley hoping that I would be able to get a parking space for my vehicle. I was fortunate to find a good parking space this late in the morning so I parked close to the lift. I then proceeded to change into my ski boots to get ready to hit the ski slopes then headed to the Stump Alley Chair Lift #2. I got into line and soon thereafter I was swept up by the lift heading up the mountain for my warm up run heading down the Mambo ski run. As I got off the lift and started heading down the hill, I realized that this was my first time on skis this season and had not skied very much the previous two years. My legs were like rubber, the quads burning and getting out of breath far more easily than I was accustomed to while skiing. In short, I was skiing like a totally incompetent beginning skier. I slowly made my way down the hill continuing to prove how an experienced skier could regress to a far more primitive level of competence.
I managed to get down the hill without killing myself and decided to take the same lift a second time. This time I was better prepared for the chairlift when the chair arrived sitting down on the lift like I was a professional who had used a chairlift thousands of times. While riding up the lift, I received a call from the HVAC company who said that they could be at the house in 10 minutes. I told him how to get inside and what was the problem and then indicated that I would head back to the house, but it would be about an hour before I could get there. Arriving at the top of the lift, I managed to demonstrate a second time that I was in terrible shape and continued to ski like a beginner skier. This time I went down Stump Alley ski run while fully demonstrated my incompetence. I then received another call from the HVAC company who informed me that the problem was the fan motor which he needed to order and it would take a week to get the motor. He would have to return after the new motor was received and that it was not necessary for me to return to the house since he was about to leave so I then headed back to the lift instead of heading to the SUV eventually arriving back at the Stump Alley chairlift where I got on the lift for a third time. This time, I decided to head down Broadway, the ski run that heads down the hill to the main lodge. I further demonstrated complete incompetence while getting out of breath with my quads burning at the drop of a hat. After multiple stops on the way down the hill, I skied over to the Broadway Express Chair #1 for my ride back up the hill. Upon exiting the ski lift, I felt that I needed to have lunch and take a break before continuing with this exhausting experience so I headed to McCoy Station while having similar issues and eventually took off my skis and started the trek to get inside the mid chalet station. There was a huge line going inside the building which seemed to be for the gondola that takes one to the top of the mountain. I have never seen this long of a line for the gondola which seemed to be caused by the mountains attempts to recover from the large amount of snow received from all the storms. Many of the lifts were still not operating since the snow dump had buried the mountain in new snow which left its angry mark on the various facilities on the mountain. The number of people blocking the building entrance was significant and it took quite some maneuvering to work through the maze that constituted the building entrance. I attempted to work my way to the entrance when one of my feet found a significant depression in the snow causing me to loose my balance resulting in falling down while in the snow just before the transition to the hardscape in front of the building. McCoy Station normally requires about 7-8 steps up from the ground, but now it required walking downhill on an icy irregular surface of snow by several feet. This was turning out to be a bad day on the ski slopes.
Once inside the building, I quickly found a place to sit down and take off my ski gear for lunch. Sitting down in the chair made me aware of how much my muscles hurt and how much my left foot hurt. The lack of pain in my feet after I sat down demonstrated that my ski boots still needed work after the multiple times I have had them adjusted by a boot fitter. Now it was time for some lunch but the thought of standing up and walking in my ski boots seemed like something that I was not brave enough to tackle. Eventually, I succumbed to hunger and decided that I had to stand up and get some food so I got a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a Diet Coke for lunch while I winced in pain with every step that I took. I finally got back to my seat with the food tray and sat down to relieve my discomfort while being in a position to consume my lunch. Once finished, I delayed going back outside to continue skiing because my muscles were still shot and I didn’t want to incur the pain of walking. Eventually, it was necessary to head back to my skis which were stored outside the building and incurred a very uncomfortable long walk. I put on my skis and headed back for the Stump Alley ski run and found myself in just as much pain and skiing as awkwardly as before while my legs were ready to give out. The picture was dismal at best as I headed down the Mambo ski run stopping every 50-100 yards to rest. I started praying that I would get down the hill without a major fall and decided to wrap up my ski misadventure for the day before I had a serious accident that I would ultimately regret. I was starting to regret getting on skis at all and thinking that maybe it was time to retire from skiing. However, I had a season pass for which I could not return, so I thought that I should go to the ski shop and do something because continuing the way I was going was just not a viable option.
My regular skis were about 15 years old and in terrible shape. In fact they had huge gaps in the ski base of the bottom of the skis that were not repairable. The metal edge base was exposed and ready to pull out of the ski base at the first sign of an obstacle in the snow. Today I was using my powder skis which were designed for powder and not for packed powder like the snow condition that was at the mountain where I had been doing my skiing. My boots were giving me trouble and my left foot would ache most of the time I was wearing the boots and severely hurt when I walked in the boots. Both of my feet are flat causing my feet to collapse inward and rub against the inside of the boot. My left foot was significantly worse than my right foot which made my left boot cause significant pain to my left foot. I thought that it had been cured last year when I had a boot fitter work on my boots, but the problem came back with a vengeance this season and now was even worse than before. I am certain that this is a result of changes in my foot and not a change in the ski boot, but the result was the same, lots of pain.
I went home to rest up before continuing my various activities. I thought that I would go to the ski shop first, but decided that I needed to start digging the snow out the balcony. More snow was expected soon, so the snow needed to be removed before it became a weight hazard. I grabbed the snow shovel and proceeded to dig a bit more in front of the garage to make it easier to get the car into the garage, but decided to leave the rest of it for when Ken would arrive on Saturday so that he could see some of what I had to do to get into the house. I then went upstairs to start on the balcony. I wanted to get a bunch of the digging work done before it got dark since the temperature drops considerably once the direct sunlight is gone and continued to drop further after the sun goes down. It is easier to dig while there is sunlight, so I felt that my efforts were best directed towards digging out the balcony as my next task.
I opened the sliding glass door to the balcony to be staring at a wall of snow approximately 4 feet high. The challenge is to get started digging snow without it dumping into the house. If I tried to go out onto the balcony, a huge amount of snow would fall into the living room, so it became necessary to start digging from inside the house and throw the snow as far away from the door as possible which was sometimes off the edge of the balcony and other times was still on the balcony. This caused double duty digging until I could dig far enough to get outside the living room and actually be outside on the balcony. At that point, I could throw the snow far enough to surpass the balcony railing getting the snow off of the balcony falling to the snow pile in the back of the house. I continued to dig while eventually creating a path to the balcony railing, eventually widening the path so that it was easy to turn around and dig from most any angle. After digging for about 2 hours and the sun having disappeared, I was done for the evening. Then it was time to rest up, head to Burgers Restaurant for dinner and over to the ski shop.
When dinner was finished, I went to Footloose Sports which is well known in Mammoth as they seem to have the best boot fitters in town. They take the time to work with you to help resolve any boot fitting situation, so I decided to go there after dinner. I was surprised to find out that they were now closed having changed their hours to close at 6PM and are no longer open at night until 10PM. Now I was stuck being unable to resolve my ski equipment issues tonight and now must take time in the next morning to handle the issue. This made me sorry that I decided to dig out the balcony earlier in the day but what is done is done and cannot be changed.
The next morning came early when the alarm rang to wake me up. I tend to leave one of the window shades open so that the morning sun will wake me up, but the alarm was set to 6:00AM, an earlier time before the sun would manage to come crawling over the top of the mountains. After completing my morning routine and being fully dressed for my day of skiing, I proceeded to handle the most recent batch of emails before heading out to the ski shop and the slopes.
I arrived at the ski shop early, but not early enough. The shop was bustling with customers, some of whom were experiencing the same problem that has plagued me with the shop’s shorter business hours. I inquired as to why they are operating reduced hours to be informed that it was a staffing problem caused by the COVID response. They have not been able to get sufficient staff to be open for the longer hours, but now it was time to get my boots fixed. I got registered into their computer system and waited for a space to open up in the boot fitting area. Once I was seated after the people ahead of me had been served, I explained my troubles to Robbie who took the bull by the horns and devised a solution to my problem. After his first try, I was amazed how much better the boot fit and how much pain he averted with my ski boots. Now I talked about my non repairable ancient ski trouble and he suggested that I try out a demo ski. We found a demo that we both thought would work well for me and he got the skis adjusted to my ski boots. We rounded out the trip by finding a new set of ski goggles to replace my old and scratched up ones. In summary, I felt that I was in much better condition to have a better ski day than yesterday.
I now headed back to Stump Alley to park the car and get started skiing for the day. I found a parking space and proceeded to put on my ski boots and get ready for a day of skiing. I locked up the SUV and proceeded to the slopes and went over to the Stump Alley chairlift, got into line and got on the lift heading up to the top of Stump Alley with an expectation of having a better day than before. I exited from the lift at the top of the hill and immediately noticed a big difference. I pulled over to be certain that all was ready for heading down the hill when I proceeded to start the ski run. I started to ski like an experienced skier instead of a total nincompoop. My quad muscles were still sore from yesterday, but I had quit before I ruined myself for the rest of the trip. I managed to ski 200-300 yards without stopping while managing to avoid being out of breath. I traveled down Mambo while heading back to the Stump Alley lift feeling like I had a new lease on my ability to participate in the sport as a “Born Again Skier”. So I continued to ski until about 3:30PM quitting early enough in the day to spend some time digging again and preserving myself so that I could ski effectively the next day. Also, I wanted to get back to the ski shop to turn in the demo skis and purchase a new set of the skis that I just demoed. I was excited again because the difference was like night and day.
I headed back to the ski shop to purchase the same model skis that I had rented for the day to demo on the slopes. After turning in the demo skis and arranging the purchase of the new skis, I turned in the new skis to the ski technician who was going to mount and adjust the ski bindings. I then returned to the house to continue digging out the upstairs balcony. Ken was supposed to arrive the next morning around 8AM and after a day of skiing he would help me finish the job of digging out the balcony before we would head for our 8:45PM late Christmas Eve dinner at The Mogul. In the meantime, I finished digging for the day and went to Giovannis Restaurant and Bar for dinner. After dinner, I went back to the house, dug a little more on the balcony and decided to retire earlier than yesterday to be ready for a long day of skiing on Saturday.
The next morning, I left the house at 7:30AM to pick up my new skis. Ken arrived at the house around 8:00AM while I was out at the ski shop and he started getting ready for heading out to the ski slopes. My plan included heading up to Lincoln Peak on skis so that we could retrieve my ski mask. I called Mammoth security to arrange to pick up the key to the building at the radio site. Ken and I drove up Minaret Road towards the Main Lodge. We passed the Mammoth Scenic Loop, Mammoth Chair 4 parking area, the maintenance yard, the compressor house, Stump Alley and finally arriving at the main lodge parking lot. We pulled into the parking lot passing many full parking spaces as we headed towards the security office to pick up the key to Lincoln Peak. We pulled in front of the security office and met with security who handed us the key to the building so that we could head back to Stump Alley where we intended to park. Arriving at the Stump Alley parking lot, we quickly found a great spot near the lift and proceeded to put on our ski boots and get ready for a day of skiing.
I was now looking forward to having a great day. We headed to The Mill restaurant to have some breakfast prior to hitting the slopes. After finishing, we both got onto the Stump Alley lift riding the chair up to the top of Stump Alley and Broadway ski runs. We headed down Stump Alley making numerous turns while demonstrating significant competence in our ability to ski. We skied about 1/3 of the way down the run before turning off at Mambo and stopping to make certain that we were still both together. Then we headed down Mambo making turns while spraying a rooster tail in the snow stopping at the top of Phantoms Escape. We then took that ski run back to the lifts where we got onto the Gold Rush Express Chair #10 taking it to the bottom of Relief which placed us near the MRA radio equipment. However, there was no direct method to get there from here. We then skied down to Rollercoaster to take it back up the hill to the top of the Rollercoaster run where we could take the cutoff to the Downhill ski run which allowed us access Chair #22 that would take us to the top of Lincoln Peak where the radio site was located. When we exited the lift, we were in front of the building that served multiple purposes including electrical equipment for the chair lift on the first floor of the building, the home of the ski lift operator, the ski patrol office and radio equipment room on the second floor.
I then took Ken over to the building so that I could open the door to the bottom floor of the building. I went around the door to find my ski mask was still lying on top of the power transformer where I had left it a month earlier. This put a smile on my face that we were successful retrieving the ski mask and that no one had taken it during the month since I was there to help straighten the antennas on the tower. We then locked up the bottom floor and went upstairs negotiating the same staircase as last time to the second floor so that we could show him the radio equipment and the installation. The lift operator wanted to know why we were upstairs so I explained that we were there to do something in the radio room next door which satisfied the lift operator. We proceeded to the radio room using the key to open the door. We went inside to view the installation while I explained in detail the different portions of the system so that Ken could understand the basic functions of the various pieces of equipment. After the tour, Ken took pictures of me standing next to the MRA equipment in my ski gear. We then left the building and continued to ski for the rest of the day. After a full day of fun, we headed back to Stump Alley where our vehicle was parked. Once fully loaded and driving away in the SUV, I called Mammoth security to find out where I could meet them to return the key. They were over by Little Eagle Lodge heading for the bottom end of the Village Gondola at The Village, so we agreed to meet there with security where we handed over the key to Lincoln Peak. Our duty was done and now it was time to head back to the house where we would relax for a short time before starting to dig out the upstairs balcony. We dug for about 2 hours completely clearing all the snow off of the balcony. We were both exhausted, but we felt great that we had accomplished all of our tasks for the day. Now it was time to relax and rest up for awhile before dinner. By 8:30PM, it was time to leave the house and head over to The Mogul Restaurant for a great meal on Christmas Eve and some libations so that we can be prepared for the morning skiing on Christmas Day. We finished dinner and headed back to the house so that we could retire for the evening.
The next morning was Christmas Day and we were up early to get ready to ski. We planned to ski until about 12PM then head back to the house where we would get ready to return to Los Angeles. Both of us wanted to head over to The Mill, the restaurant at the bottom of Stump Alley to have something before starting the day. Ken had a full breakfast meal while I had some hot chocolate to warm up for the cold outside. After our morning fuel stop, we were ready to hit the slopes and burn up some calories. We took our usual first warm up run and then headed out for more activity including Chair 12, Chair 14 and Chair 13. We then headed back to the main lodge where we took Chair 1, Chair 6 and several other lifts. We burned up the slopes going from one run to another working our way into exhaustion before it was time to head back to Ken’s truck, get out of our ski gear and return to the house to clean up, change into civilian clothes, load our luggage into the vehicles and start the caravan back to Los Angeles after giving Ken a digital radio so that we could chat back and forth while caravanning back to Los Angeles.
We headed east on Main Street through town and proceeded to get onto US395 heading south towards Bishop. We passed the Mammoth Airport, Crowley Lake and then Tom’s Place. We continued south eventually arriving at Sherwin Summit. About that time, I tried to make a phone call when the car indicated that there was no WiFi connection to my phone. I reached into my pocket to get my cell phone and discovered that I did not have my phone. I suddenly realized that my phone was still in the pocket of my ski jacket back at the house. I immediately called Ken on the radio to inform him that I needed to turn around and head back to Mammoth to retrieve my cell phone which would be a huge problem to live without for weeks until I could return to Mammoth. Ken and I pulled over to the side of the road so that I could retrieve my radio since we would be too far apart from each other to talk simplex, but we could use them to talk over the Diga-Talk Network if we changed the channel on the radios. However, this would make it so that Ken would be taking my radio home and that I would have to spend considerable time retrieving my radio from him which I did not want to do. Therefore, I retrieved my radio from Ken and turned around to head back to Mammoth while Ken continued heading south. I was over 20 miles from Mammoth which means that I just lost about 45 minutes to head back to retrieve my cell phone and return back to my present position before continuing south towards Los Angeles.
I retrieved my cell phone and headed down to Bishop. I stopped at Mahogany Smoked Meats (MSM) where I picked up a few goodies for the trip home. At the company party, we gave away numerous treats from MSM to the company employees only two weeks prior so I did not purchase much to bring back but just enough. Now I continued my trek south through Bishop stopping for a quick chicken nugget snack and a drink from Jack in the Box before leaving town where I proceeded to head south to Fort Independence to add a sufficient amount of fuel so that I could guarantee that I could reach Los Angeles without further refueling. I then continued south for almost 2.5 hours until I reached Mojave. I stopped at a local gas station for a pit stop and to get a caffeinated soda to stave off any drowsiness for the balance of the trip. I got back onto the road while continuing south and accelerating to full highway speed. The last 2 hours of the trip were relatively uneventful as I drove through the high desert, through the mountains and depositing myself into the San Fernando Valley. Heading down Interstate 405 through North Hills, Sherman Oaks, Sepulveda Pass, Westwood, Culver City, Westchester, LAX, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Lawndale and finally exiting the freeway in Torrance. I drove down Crenshaw Blvd heading south to Palos Verdes where I was able to get home by about 9PM.
I was glad to be home and relax before going to bed. Ken was already home for at least an hour before me to spend the rest of Christmas Night with his wife. This would be the end of the story if we had obtained the internet connection from Mammoth Mountain, but since we did not, we made a temporary internet connection with a cell modem. Therefore, we must return to Mammoth in springtime to install a microwave system to bring in a permanent internet connection which entails mounting a microwave dish antenna on the tower with an ice shield to keep the antenna from being crushed by falling ice and installing the microwave radio.
Some projects never seem to end; just like this one. The saga continues and continues and continues. . . . . . . .