by Martin Bellman
You sometimes think "I must be lunatic to be doing this". This and other unprintable thoughts went through my cranium at four o'clock in the morning as the alarm woke me. For one thing the only person I knew in the group was Paul Sharp, and he had dropped out. When the organiser of the tour decides not to come you wonder if there is something you don't but should know. This turned out not to be the case, but it was very early.
And, yes, it was a long trip. We met at Manchester Airport, all ten of us, to shuttle to Amsterdam, where we started speaking to each other. It transpired that I knew George Trait's wife at work. A few hours later we were on our ten-hour flight to San Francisco, where we landed in bright sunshine and beautiful warm weather. I fell in love with the place right away and would have stayed longer if I could. It really is the most delightful city in America and I plan another stay at a later date.
To continue .... Having collected cars from the rental, we motored to the Holiday Inn and (eventually) checked in. Thus it was that 24 hours after take off I found myself quenching a severe thirst with Tim Greenwood, Tim Greene, George, and Tony on Fisherman's Wharf. This is a well-known tourist attraction.
The next day, David and Ruth having now joined us, we did a brief tour by boat of the bay and the Golden Gate accompanied by Otis Redding and his song on the subject. Then, by car, it was over the bridge to Lake Tahoe about five hours away. The cars were more minivans and very pleasantly spacious. Tim Greene made his way by a Harley Davidson however.
The Best Western hotel was fine, but not palatial. Really it was a motel on the bus route to the lift stations, or about 300 yards walk to the gondola. Say gondOla in America. After we had sorted out the rooms and who was sharing with whom, we ate at the hotel that night. At some point Martin and Val reached us via Reno Airport in Nevada.
The next morning Ski passes were arranged with Stuart the Crystal rep, and they were not cheap. Lake Tahoe is a ski area around this really magnificent and attractive lake which is visible from cable cars and ski runs at the numerous resorts surrounding. There are about twenty resorts around the lake but our passes covered the seven most major areas including Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. We were based at Heavenly, the biggest of them all.
The skiing was generally pretty good with something for everybody. Lake Tahoe is at 6100 feet and this is base camp level. It snowed several times whilst we were out there giving poor visibility days followed by delightful powder on a firm base next day. Some of these were splendid days. A word of warning though; you may need snow chains and the car hire folk will provide these, but only if you request them. State Police close the passes to cars without chains when it snows. There are "Chain Monkeys" to fit the chains at $20, but you do need the chains.
The eating out varied, some of us having a predilection for "Sizzlers" - a buffet style eat-as-much-as-you-can eatery. Another option was to go a few hundred yards across the border into gambling state Nevada. There the casinos will send a minibus to your hotel to collect you, in the hope that you are a "High Roller" with money to gamble. The gambling subsidises the restaurants which, though not cheap, are good.
My second warning is that America is not inexpensive. Goods are reasonable, but services are dear. There are two factors: first the dollar is very strong and you only get about $1.35 to the pound, and secondly a service charge of 20% is normal in restaurants! Yes 20%!
I got flu half way through the trip and expanded my knowledge of American pharmacology, but this was an experience not to be recommended. Probably the best day for everybody else was a day trip by boat to Tahoe City (40mins), then by bus to Squaw Valley. A day's skiing followed at this Olympic resort with a name that would now be unacceptable. A two-hour boat trip back with dinner followed, then a return to the hotel at about nine.
I should like to thank Ray for being the group leader and all the responsibility that this brings, particularly at such short notice. I think on behalf of us all we would like to thank Sharpy for not being there (only joking) and organising everything. The price at under £1,000 was very good. I made lots of new friends.