The Liberty Gazette
August 23, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: At 13,000 feet I don’t really need oxygen but I have my mask clamped on anyway. The engine hums effortlessly and I scan the dimly lit gauges in the early morning darkness as black gives way to grey. My sister slumbers, cocooned in a sleeping bag and occupying the entire rear seat of the Cessna. Wayne, our friend, keeps me company recapping a recent motocross race he did inside of a volcano in Hawaii.
This is our second leg since the wheels broke ground at 5:00 a.m. We waited an hour in Sacramento, planning to be in the right place when the first readings come in from the weather observer at the South Lake Tahoe control tower as it opens for the day.
Approaching the Squaw Valley radio beacon the Oakland Center controller informs us the field’s weather is above the minimums needed to perform the instrument approach, but not by much. We are cleared for the approach which takes us over the radio beacon on a continuous descent southeast across the lake. Slowing the airplane, I’m anticipating a lot of turbulence as we descend into the bowl, but it never comes.
The clouds open to a magnificent view. Resting before us is a majestic mountain, its slopes covered in glittering white, reflecting the early morning rays. This is heaven, more accurately Heavenly. Heavenly Valley Ski Resort is where we plan to spend our day. Down a side-valley to the right sits the airport, five miles distant. A controller clears us to land.
Shortly after the wheels kiss the pavement, we are ushered into a parking spot. Climbing from the plane and unpacking our gear, the snow starts to fall. Just a little at first, then a lot. Visibility in the narrow valley drops to a quarter mile - too low for even a commuter airline to land. Weather softly envelopes the mountains and the canyons around the airport. We are the first plane to land this morning and the last, for a while.
While many of the would-be skiers are stranded in San Francisco waiting for weather conditions to improve, we explore near deserted bowls, dance off moguls, and schuss and even tumble down long ski runs, with no lift lines to speak of. Wearing ourselves out we enjoy a leisure dinner and return to the airport. Weather has improved enough for us to depart. But for the first time today, we have to wait as several airliners from San Francisco to land, several hours too late to enjoy a sensational day on the slopes.
Departing, we are soon surrounded by darkness as we climb out and cross the backbone of the Sierras. Wayne and I enjoy the warm glow from the instruments as the airplane’s heater does a great job warming our tired feet. My sister has resumed her spot in the sleeping bag on the rear seat. Her doze is interrupted by flakes of snow coming through the fresh air vent, splattering her face and dusting her hair. The vent is frozen open so she stuffs a tissue in the opening and nods off.
It’s mid-night when we touch down at our home airport. It’s been one heavenly day.