You can say we had some fun taking advantage of the 9 new feet of snow that fell last week! Check out this video we put together.
The huge, steep cliff faces. The wide-open powder fields. Caples lake, which freezes over in the winter and turns royal, turquoise blue in the spring. The narrow chutes create a ski run so steep, you can be standing up straight on your snowboard facing the hill, reach up, and touch the mountain face. Although not the first place I ever set foot on a snowboard, Kirkwood Mountain, CA is where I spent most of my time snowboarding for about four years. It is where I tried my first backflip and where I spent my 15th through 18th birthdays. The term ski “resort” doesn’t do the place justice; the people who go there go for the extreme terrain and the feeling of remoteness in nature. It’s both a Christmas wonderland and a place where Mother Winter can let out her wrath.
Kirkwood is one of the more remote ski resorts in the Tahoe area, located off highway 88. You’re driving down this winding, narrow path with tall snow banks on both sides, the road often snow-dusted or icy, breezing past sandals-and-shorts-clad people from the Bay Area looking at tire chain manuals and scratching their heads. You might even pass an upside-down car in a ditch. Suddenly there’s the sign — Kirkwood Mountain Resort. As you turn into Kirkwood Meadows drive, the ten-thousand-foot sheer cliff peaks of the mountain stare down at you. Because of the location and altitude, Kirkwood receives more snow than most places in the area. For storms to get to Tahoe, they must first pass over Kirkwood and let out their glory on the mountains there.
It’s December 21st and I’m out in the Palisades bowl building a jump into a soft, open, powdery landing to learn backflips. Palisades is a place in Kirkwood only accessible by hiking. There is no chairlift that goes up to this place — it must be earned. You get off Cornice Chair, the lift to the top, and traverse right for about half an hour. When you’re out there, you don’t feel like you’re at a resort. You can be out there all day and not see another soul. That’s what it was like for the four of us — my coach, teammate, brother, and I.
Riding or skiing alone in the backcountry is not an option. Tree wells, avalanches, cliffs, and rocks are only some of the dangers you may face. A tree well is where it snows a couple feet and the tree covers the ground around it, leaving a deathly sink hole waiting for people to fall into. It is one of the leading causes of death from skiing or snowboarding.
There was, in fact, a moment when riding with my friend at Kirkwood probably saved my life. It was the last run of the day and my friend and I decided we would head to a place called “Shamwah,” which is a chute just past the “caution cliff zone” sign. Because it was early in the season, we ended being “cliffed out,” which is when you reach a point in the run where there is no other option other than to fall down the sheer, rock face. I remember taking my snowboard off, trying to climb down the rocks, and realizing I was completely screwed. I felt like I couldn’t safely climb down or up, and I was stuck in the middle. My phone was dead and I didn’t have ski patrol’s number anyway, but luckily, my friend had her phone and she called for help. He came to where we were and helped us climb down the cliff. Crisis averted.
In-bounds, avalanches are not a serious problem because of the bombing. I live for the days when I go to bed with snow falling outside and wake up to the sound of avalanche bombs. The dull thud off in the distance is a beautiful sound because you know it is going to be an epic day. On those days when Mother Winter feels like showing off, the resort operators need to be 100% sure their guests are safe, so they trigger avalanches in advance so the mountain is safe to ride on. That is somebody’s job — to be the first one out on the hill, play with guide dogs, make explosions, and ski fresh powder. That white, fluffy, stuff is a euphoria unique to Kirkwood. While all resorts have powder days, Kirkwood’s are the best. The perfect conditions can last for days in some hidden spots. The slopes are steep enough so you are less likely to get stuck in the deep snow. The crowds are much less and the back bowl stretches out forever.
Lift Ten, otherwise known as The Wall, is the most iconic chairlift in Kirkwood. At both the top and bottom of the chair is a skull-and-cross-bones sign with the words “experts only.” Of course, some hot-heads who think they’re better than the sign and have only been snowboarding a few times decide to test the validity of this statement. However, once you’re about halfway up the chair, you begin to see just how treacherous Chair Ten is. Unlike most expert chairlifts in other resorts, there is no “easy way down”. Ski resorts rate their ski runs from green squares to black diamonds, with green being the easiest, blue in the middle, and black as the most advanced. If one black diamond doesn’t do the run justice, more diamonds are added to the rating. There are only double black diamonds off Lift Ten. We call the people who decide to ride down the chairlift “downloaders.” Their shame and embarrassment while sitting on that downward facing chair is tangible sometimes.
While still a dangerous, menacing mountain that deserves respect, there is a certain kind of peace that can be found in these places. Picture a blank white canvas as the sky. Huge, light flakes of snow whisper their way down from the heavens and drift slowly towards you. Picture the trees all around, caked with millions of these snowflakes. If you’re still, you hear nothing. If you’re moving on your skis or board, the sound is like when nylon rubs against nylon. If you look close enough at your jacket or gloves, you can see the individual flakes. You wonder how nature could have possibly created each one, although I’ve heard it is just a myth that every single one is unique. You think about the amount of effort and intricacy it would take to make just one — so delicate and fragile. What is more beautiful — the individual flake, or the collection of flakes that blanket a vast mountain landscape? These are some of the moments when I see God.
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“Let’s go on an adventure!” was my response. I was stoked that this tall, good-looking Portuguese-Italian I liked whom I had only known for about 2 weeks wanted to spend his 26th birthday with just me, and he was asking me where I wanted to go.
All other traditional “date” options seemed boring. Too conventional, too expensive, not unique enough. I was a junior in college and had never once been on a “date” in my life. Not even prom, not even homecoming, not even one of the casual parties I had been to in college. I was always the one “single friend” through high school and the college I had been through so far. Never kissed, never held hands, never been liked back, and I was nineteen years old.
Hiking seemed like a good idea because it was free and we both shared the same sense of adventure and athleticism. I knew a place I had been before, but I wasn’t even sure exactly where it was or how long the hike would take. It was up by Donner, a small lake by Truckee, just north of Tahoe. We agreed to go there and wing it, or as I like to say, “send it.”
We drove up Old Highway 40 with the windows rolled down; it was a nice, bright-cherry-red Subaru Impreza with a roof rack and a manual transmission. Not saying I would ever like a guy just for his car — but damn. As we drove up the road, we began to see “road closure ahead” warning signs.
“Why would the road even be closed now? I bet those signs are left there from the winter,” he said. Before we got to the trailhead however, there were police cars and cones across the road, so we drove back a little. When we saw another trailhead, we parked there and got out of the car. It was a simple trailhead — no bathroom or lodge, just a sign with a map and a few facts about the place.
“Let’s just send it”, I said. We started down the trail. It was nearing sunset on fall equinox, the last day when the days are longer than the nights. The weather was at that point where you were kind of cold in a sweatshirt but you knew you’d warm up if you hiked a little. It was a dense forest with this trail carved out, and tall trees on either side of it. The ground was rocky and dusty, and was slightly uphill. You couldn’t really see the trail ahead or even how long it was because of the trees and winding nature of the path. There weren’t many people out at the time, but we did see one old man.
“How far to the top?” we asked.
Hiking poles in hand, seeming tired and a little worn out, he wheezed, “About three hours.”
“Think you can run?” he asked. The elevation of the base of the trail was about 7000 feet, and we were only going uphill. Not wanting to seem like the weaker one, I agreed to run, and we started up the mountain. We naturally took turns leading the way, like we were both trying to impress each other. My lungs were burning from the thin air, but I kept on running. There were some near-ankle-rolls and face plants, but we were having a great time.
Finally, after only about half an hour since setting off, we reached what looked like the end of the trail, but we were not on the top of a mountain. We looked up. There was an abandoned train tunnel that snaked through the mountain for miles. There was no trail up there but we were young, adventurous, and determined.
“Where now?” I asked.
“Up,” he said.
“Hiking” wasn’t the right word, but neither was “rock climbing.” It was a steep incline all the way up, and the ground was covered in loose rocks, ranging in size from boulders to pebbles. Sometimes, the only way forward was to walk right through a bush.
“You know,” he said, “There aren’t many girls who would do this.”
“Yeah, I agree,” I replied, “There aren’t.”
Another half an hour or so passed since the end of the designated trail, and we reached the outside of the train tunnel. We couldn’t find a way inside, so the next best thing was to climb up on top of it. It was about 20 or 30 feet tall, but there was a part where the tunnel intersected with the mountain, and we could climb up the rocks to get to the top of the tunnel. It was a steep sheet of granite, with a few footholds and a thin, sketchy electrical cable attached to a metal rod at the top. I tugged on the cable.
“Seems stable enough,” I said, making him lead the way.
The view from the top was spectacular, and not only because of the pink hues of the sunset over the blue lake, surrounded by dense forest and the tall mountains in the background. What was also amazing was the graffiti. Yes, most of it was just lame vandalism and profanity, but a few pieces shone as works of art. One piece, about 15 feet long and 15 feet wide, looked like a sunset and featured every color of the rainbow. There were stripes of color separated by black lines of spray paint, starting with purple at the bottom, and transitioning to yellow, then red and orange, and back to purple. It was simple but beautiful.
Some featured deep, inspiring quotes. One piece was written in plain, black spray paint and simple handwriting, It is not the length of life but the depth. Another featured a colorful fish painted into the side of the wall and the words Just keep swimming.
“They’ve probably broken up by now,” I joked, looking at all the marks left behind by couples that had written their initials in a heart. Other pieces showed frustration with the system. Question everything was written multiple times along the tunnel in a simple, purple scrawl. Enjoy your fluoride ya F****** sheep, another wrote.
We walked along the top of tunnel until it intersected the mountain again. It was getting dark, and we had no flashlights and were in the middle of nowhere. In the distance, we could see Donner Pass, a scenic, winding road with many narrow, hairpin turns that meandered around the mountains by Donner Lake. We decided if we just made it there, we could follow it and make it back to the car. There was only one problem: between the road and us was an army of alder trees, which were really thick, dense bushes about 6 feet tall or more.
Every step, the branches poked against us or whacked us. In the face, between the legs, you name it. I feared one would eventually poke me right in the eye. The ground beneath was not smooth either. At one point, we had to step over a 5-foot-wide crevasse, all while still going through the alder bushes. The sun had already set, and you could just see enough to get through.
We whooped with joy when our feet finally met the road. There was no walking path, but we knew we would end up back at the car if we followed the road down the hill for about a mile. There were not many cars going down, which was kind of a good thing because it was a winding road with no bike lane or walk path, and there was a serious danger of being hit if someone were to speed down close to the edge. As we walked, we held up our thumbs at the three cars that passed by, trying to get a ride down the road. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, no one stopped for us.
On the way down we talked. We talked about our pasts and our lives and our shared love for Jesus. We talked about the winter — how excited we both were to snowboard together. We talked about our shared frustration with the system, and how we both didn’t like watching TV. We talked the Illuminati. By the time we finally got back to his car at the trailhead, it was completely dark. We had made it, and it felt so good to be out of danger. He apologized for taking me through such a crazy, difficult trail. I said I had fun — probably more fun than if we had gone out to a movie and a nice restaurant.
This wasn’t really a “date” when we originally planned, but in retrospect it was. I went and visited him again that week and hung out more. We finally kissed. He said he wished he had done that at the top of the train tunnel, but didn’t have the guts to. I said I was waiting for it that whole time. That’s the thing — you can be so scared to do something because you don’t know how it will turn out, but in the end, it would have been just fine. This was September 21st, and we decided we were “officially a couple” on October 1st. In those short 9 or so days, we went rock climbing, scrambling on the boulders by Lake Tahoe, and skateboarding and rollerblading at the local skate park. I think we’ll get along pretty well.
Having all your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins half way across the world makes a different kind of family dynamic for a child. Thanksgiving dinners were often just my parents and brother and I — not just because of the geographical distance, but also the fact that British people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Although I saw my grandparents about once a year at most, and less often as flight ticket prices went up, they were still able to leave an impression. As I have grown older, I have learned some of the very interesting, and quite frankly, very cool and badass history. We seem to live in a society where old people are thought less of than they used to — that they aren’t “cool” or “hip” enough for the new generation.
My Father’s mother, whom my brother and I have always called “Oms” or “Omi” was born in Java, Indonesia, and is of Dutch descent. She attended her first years of school there in Indonesia, which was actually the same school president Barack Obama went to. At the age of nine, in 1939, WWII broke out and the Japanese took over, putting everyone in prisoner of war camps. Between the ages of 9 and 14, she was in one of those camps, and many of her friends died from disease or conditions, or were raped. In 1945, just days before all the prisoners were about to be killed, the British navy came in and saved them. “I’ll never forget the sound of their bagpipes,” she said, “It was the most beautiful sound because we knew life would finally be normal again.”
After the war, my grandmother was sent to boarding school in England when her parents went back to Indonesia, and after that went to a farm in Cornwall, England. She had to learn English as a second language in a short amount of time.
She then worked as a nurse, and then as a flight attendant, since back in that time, flight attendants had to meet that requirement. She met my grandfather, who also worked in the airline industry, and they were married and had three children, with my father as the middle child. I remember she would tell funny stories of my aunt, uncle, and father, such as when my uncle swallowed a coin, or when the detached head of one of my aunt’s dolls ended up in the apple basket, giving her a right old scare.
Whenever we go back to England, we stay at her home in Crawley, a small town about an hour drive south of London. It is the same house my father and his siblings were born and raised in. That town feels like home even though I never lived there. On street corners, there are those classic red phone booths and red mailboxes you see in movies. There is a park my brother and I would always walk to and play on the flying fox – a seat attached to a rope that slid down a cable about 100 feet long. That kind of unregulated park feature would never exist in the U.S. — too many lawsuits.
Almost every memory I have with my grandmother is positive. With the advent of Facetime video calls, I was able to see her almost every day when my dad would talk to her. Last time I went to Europe, when I was eighteen and my brother fifteen, was one of the most memorable. We went to Holland and she was able to meet up with some of her high school friends, and we saw some of the places she grew up in, as she visited Holland for a few months a year before and after the war. For some reason, my brother and I decided we would act like turtles around her, and she became the queen of our turtle society. To this day, she is still “Queen Turtle”, and we act like a turtle whenever we see her.
I remember she would care about the things my brother and I cared about, such as out favorite TV show, Futurama. She would send me articles about snowboarding in the mail, and would hand-craft the most beautiful, personalized cards for birthdays, Christmases, and my parents’ anniversaries. I remember I even found a snowboarding magazine at her house, although she didn’t seem to know how it got there.
It was not until recently that I learned more about her past with the war camps. The prisoners were scared all the time because uncertainty loomed over their every day like the clouds that loom over England. The prisoners didn’t even have the luxury of knowing that they will see the next day. What amazes me is her ability to be still so light-hearted and able to pour into my life as a young girl. It’s almost as if she made sure I had a smooth time going through my formative age — the same ages she spent in war camp.
It took her a long time to forgive the Japanese for what they had done. They had robbed her of her childhood and killed her friends, even though she had done them no wrong. One time, she and her father watched a Japanese man be forced to shovel dirt from one side of a road to the other, shovel by shovel, only to have to do it all over again for humiliation. Her father thought it would be right for her to jeer at the man. After all, the Japanese had put them to work like that for years and she had every right to jeer. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It was only upon reading the book about the Hiroshima bombings that she realized how much pain the Japanese had gone through in the war as well. “I hope you never have to live through a big war like that,” she says. That’s thing with war – it sucks for everyone.
She learned not to take freedom for granted after the war. People don’t often think of the fact that they usually have control over their day-to-day life. She shut out her experience in war camp for many years, as in those days there weren’t many options for counseling. That’s what people did back then — they just had to “suck it up”. Although this was a grim time of her life, she is still able to make light of some of the things that happened, such as when one of the Japanese guard’s shoes came off and was grabbed by a dog, or how they would peek out the windows and giggle at the soldiers standing to attention over and over again whenever the captain walked by.
I am fortunate and grateful to have a good relationship with my grandparents. Through my grandma’s story, I have realized that there are a lot of things that can be taken for granted, such as daily freedoms and, you know, being pretty sure you’re not going to die the next day or not. I have learned that positive, light-hearted people can still have backstories that aren’t so positive, and I have learned that old people can be cool if the people of my generation would learn to take the time to find out their stories.
Last week I got to go to the Grand canyon for the first time on a family road trip. I got to do some cool stuff like hike Yosemite and the Bright Angel trail. I also got to take some cool pictures!
Here are some of the pictures I took during sunrise over the canyon with my phone.
And here are some pictures I edited using the prisma app on my phone.
Working with hundreds of kids at an action sports camp has made me realize what the word “fearless” means. With some kids, if they want to try something new, they just do it. Double backflip off the trampoline? Can’t be too hard. Send the megaramp on a skateboard? Easy. They don’t need someone to make them try something new. They just get out there and do it. They seem to lack that part of the brain that gets them thinking about the worst-case scenario. They can shut off their brain and just go for it.
All that is just because they’re kids, right? Well, not all children are the same. Meet 8-year-old me. She didn’t wand to go on Disneyland’s Splash Mountain. She stayed far away from diving boards and the deep end. She never picked up a snowboard until she was 14. She never went through this phase of recklessness.
Despite this, for some inexplicable reason, I have since then found my love and passion in freestyle snowboarding. I absolutely love it, even though it goes against everything my overthinking brain tells me. You know, the sport that was considered being taken out of the Olympics because it was “too dangerous”. The one where the sign looks like this?
I like my brain. It’s smart. It got me through high school in three years. It got me through calculus at the top of my class. It remembers things really well, sometimes with the craziest, most unnecessary detail. There’s no way I can say I hate my brain. It just thinks a lot. Always working, always finding ways to make life easier. However, there are moments when I wish I had a different brain. Those moments when I have the perfect speed for a jump but I throw in a few too many speed checks and case it. Those moments when I totally mean to do a backflip but I end up bailing and doing yet another straight air.
So there’s something I tell myself in those moments. As much as I’d like to deny it, I’ve got to face the facts. I’m just not born “fearless”. But here’s the catch: I’ve become really good at pretending. Instead of trying to shut off my brain, I get it to override the default system of self-preservation built into my body and subconscious mind.
For this split second it takes to jump onto this rail, let’s just pretend. Just pretend you’re fearless. As I approach the lip of the ramp at the point where you can either send it or ride around it, I pretend. Just pretend you forgot about that time you dislocated your shoulder last time you tried this trick. Pretend you never broke your tailbone on this same jump. When I wonder how on earth I even got myself into a situation standing at the top of a cliff over Lake Tahoe, I pretend. I act like I was born to do backflips off ramps. I’m an actress, an impersonator, a performer. I’m playing a character: Fearless Hanalei, the daredevil.
I almost feel it was not me who did the backflip off that ramp. It wasn’t me who jumped on that rail and balanced all the way to the end, or hit the big ramp with perfect speed. But somehow, I snap into character and do it again.
In an attempt to understand why someone like me was drawn to freestyle snowboarding, I think I’ve got an idea. It’s the satisfaction you get when you stomp that new trick. It’s the adrenaline jitters you get after doing something epic. It’s that horrible gut-feeling you get at the top of the jumps. It’s that floaty feeling you get in the air. Snowboarding is my medium for pushing my comfort zone. I rebel against how my “default mode” wants to act. I exercise authority over animal instinct.
That is why I ride.
“Snowboarder talk is not a language!”
When people ask me how many languages I speak, I say four. That’s English, Chinese, Japanese, and snowboarder talk.
Yes it is. Snowboarder talk is a language.
“Did you see my backside lipslide two-seven off the downflatdown? It was totally FRONT, man. When I stomped it, I was all like BANGERRR!!!! So then I went fakie 50-50 on the battleship but totally biffed. Half cabbed the first kicker, then I was going to throw down a steezy back-five boned out truck driver off the second booter, but this total blazin raisin was right in the tranny! I mean, who lets these two planking fruit booters in the TP anyway? It’s good thing I took it to the flats because I totally would have slammed that gaper! So then I sent the next booter, but my speed was off after almost eating it so I CASED it! 50 feet lip to knuckle, yeah? It was a major lawn chair air. I must have rolled down about 5 windows! I told that freak with the sticks to go 50-50 a rail or run down a staircase. That’ll teach him! Let’s go back and sesh that jump line, bro. I need to show you my suitcase!”
Dude, and then, when I was exiting the park, there was this squad of bowling pins falling leaf down the bunny hill, so I rode the chair up and dropped a load on them! One of them scorpioned so hard! That's what they get for snaking me all the time. Those gapers. I swear each one was rocking like a 4-inch gap, you know?
Tomorrow should be so epic with 70 inches of fresh. Its gonna puke tonight. I’m going to build a backcountry booter and throw some rodeos. Maybe I’ll go for an underflip or a cork 5. Just gotta watch out for those off piste death cookies. Gotta get some poaching in too, yeah? Get some sick footie.
Between coming home from College and going off to my summer job, I had three weeks at home in the Bay area. It was hard to get hired because I was only there for such as short time, and I had no plans. Nothing to do, no routine, no time constraints or deadlines, no commitments. So I decided to continue something I had started about three years prior. That was a healthy, gourmet, catering business for family friends.
My company motto is “good food that just happens to be healthy”. You may be surprised when you see items such as clam chowder, alfredo linguini, chocolate-citrus cake, and shepherd’s pie on a “health food” menu. But those are all there, and yes, are indeed, healthy. It became my goal to spread the idea that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or limited.
When I started the Paleo diet 3 years ago, I didn’t want to “cut out” any of my favorite foods, and I soon discovered that there was a healthy way to adapt practically any dish. Doing this business has not only taught me more about cooking, but about business.
I learned that you’re never too young to go ahead and start something. My business started as a way to raise a few hundred dollars for a missions trip in 2013 when I was 16. In a few months, I had raised enough money, but I didn’t want to stop there. I continued it on and off and saved the money for my snowboarding pursuit. When I started, I had no idea about business or accounting. All I knew was that I had to price the menu items more than the cost of the ingredients, and boom! Profit. I learned that other people are willing to pay more than I am willing to pay for something. I guess if you’re used to eating out at restaurants, my menu was pretty cheap, and probably healthier.
I learned about target markets. It would be great to be that cool, hip new startup serving the twenty-somethings. I wanted to cook for my friends, and people like myself. However, when I first began selling my meals, 100% of my customers were my parents’ age. It made a lot of sense. Who makes the decisions about what the family eats for dinner? Probably not the children. I hadn’t set a target market at the beginning, but I soon figured it out.
I realized how hard it must be to start a “real” business. For me, it was easy. There was no risk, since I only bought the ingredients after receiving an order. Working out of home, I had no extra rent to pay, no overhead, and I didn’t have to pay any employees. My only cost was the ingredients and electricity. Getting customers was hard, but at least my life was not dependent on turning profit – it just was a way for me to get some extra money. Seriously, if this was a real business where I had to get a separate building, hire employees, and pay for permits and insurance, I would have to get a lot more orders – which wasn’t easy. I learned that most of your money comes from repeat customers rather than new ones, and that putting people over profit is important for keeping those customers. If someone didn’t like my food, I would re-do their order for free. I gave out free samples and free gifts for repeat customers. I took “off menu” orders if that’s what my customers wanted, even roaming around the city in search of goats meat to fulfill one of those orders.
Am I going to make this more official and continue it in the future? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure if I will still love cooking if I do it for many hours a day, day in day out. All I know is that I’m very grateful I’ve had people willing to put their trust in me and buy food from a 16-19-year old. Without this experience, I would not have learned so much, and those three weeks at home would have been a drag. Honestly, I would have done it for free. It means the world to a chef when people enjoy and praise their creations.
Dropping – a poem
I’ve said the word
I’ve pulled the trigger
Passed the point of no return
The huge mounds of snow stare at me
Cold, steel rails wait for me
Drawing in, enticing, luring
Ready to launch me into the air
The word is out
I am committed
No turning back.
The choice is Adrenaline or comfort
Excitement or ease
Progression or plateau
Send it or stay
You go too slow, you miss the landing
It’s all or nothing
Fear exists in the mind
I am not a slave
My love is an addiction
I am at peace, confident
Pictures in my head
Perfect landings, hi fives, good vibes
Ready to take on the world
Palms sweating inside my gloves
Every cell fights against the brain
Why do I do it?
I have one life to live
Is this what I’m supposed to do?
It’s only snow and gravity
The choice is one hundred percent up to me
I open my mouth, I say the word:
Hanalei Sian Souza
Snowboarder. Writer. Chef. Singer. Disciple of Jesus.