The epiphany came as I walked up the sled run, airborne flakes cutting into my face and eyes as if the wind were trying to push me back down the mountain.
Snow is cold.
But it's also a lot of fun -- even if you mistakenly believed your boots were waterproof and your jacket was big enough. Neither was the case. But at least my wife and I made sure our three girls were dressed in proper snow clothes.
After all, going sledding at Adventure Mountain, atop the summit just southwest of Lake Tahoe, is all about the kids. I've been telling my three daughters for years that we'd go to the snow "one of these days." Recently, I suddenly realized that I may control their free time for only a few more years.
That was also why we hedged our bets, borrowing proper snow gear for them so they'd be warm, just in case they didn't like flinging themselves onto a piece of thick plastic (fiberglass? I don't know) and flying down a snowy hill, then trudging back up said hill to do it again.
We can go ahead and invest in our own snow clothes now.
I've heard that some snow parks have stairs up the side of the sled runs, or even tow ropes. Not Adventure Mountain, but that's about the only possible amenity it didn't have. The paths were well-worn and pretty obvious, which was fine. I needed the exercise.
Sitting on 40 acres on Echo Summit, elevation 7,300-plus feet, the park features 15 machine-groomed runs that were absolutely packed, despite the constant snow flurries. In fact, the park was so popular on this particular Saturday, the parking lot was sold out by 11:30 a.m., forcing us to turn back. We went back down to El Dorado Beach on the lake, which -- thanks to the drought and sudden rush of snow the past month or so -- was like a wide tundra. A couple of hundred people were there, taking sleds and saucers down the slight grade onto the snow (which, because the water was so far away, allowed people to slide along for 50 or 60 yards). We built a snowman, grabbed some lunch and followed the advice on Adventure Mountain's website, which said: If at first you don't succeed, come back about 2:30.
The park features beginning, medium and large runs, none of which seemed too different in size. The last time I went sledding was during the Carter administration, when a sledding park was little more than a random snow-covered hill lacking enough trees to make it too dangerous. So I was impressed. But it looked like a lot of effort goes into it. There were workers to regulate traffic at the top of some of the bigger runs and to smooth the course when someone took out a divot. And, in case you're a 220-pound man who picks up great velocity going down an icy hill, there are snow walls on either side to stay on course, plus a large pile of snow at the end, kind of like the gravel on a runaway truck ramp.
When the cold gets to be a bit much -- it was in the high 20s and snowing pretty heavily -- there's a lodge at the bottom of the hill, with a large fireplace and a small cafe serving hot dogs, pizza, hot chocolate, etc. It's not Aspen, but it's definitely not that snowy hill I used to slide down in jeans when I was a kid, either. Adventure Mountain also has a store that contains everything one might need to throw themselves down a mountain of snow. It also rents sleds and inner tubes.
My 14-year-old had a blast, her 13-year-old sister was a bit too cold, and their 7-year-old sister had a great time -- as long as mom kept making room for her on her sled. The 7-year-old would have liked to stay longer to play in the nonsledding area designated for kids to simply play in the snow.
I had a good time -- and it would have been a great time had I understood that good hiking boots are not meant for snow play. It wasn't Adventure Mountain's fault that I couldn't feel my feet after a couple of hours.
Next time, I'm wearing snow boots.
IF YOU GO
Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe, at Nebelhorn (Echo Summit) off Highway 50, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends, weather permitting.
Price: Admission is $28 per car (cash only at the gate). A two-person sled rents for $12 per day; inner tubes are $20 for two hours or $25 all day. Snowshoes with poles are $18 per day, and helmets are $8. All equipment requires security deposits. Go to www.adventuremountaintahoe.com or call 530-659-7217 for more info.
Parents need to know: Obviously, everything worn by kids (and adults) needs to be snowproof, or you could be in for a long day. Younger kids who haven't gone sledding before may be more comfortable riding with parents in two-person sleds, at least at first. It's relatively easy to lose a child here, especially when snow limits visibility, so keep a close eye on your kids -- and designate a meeting spot in case you get separated (like we did).
Nearby eats: The lodge has a family-friendly cafe serving pizza, hot dogs, etc. Civilization lies 10 miles down the mountain in the Tahoe Basin, where restaurants and coffee shops line the highway.