311 Personal Skiing

When the World Changed

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. This is my story.

On December 18, 2019, I interrupted a ski day with my friend Mark to order a concert ticket. My favorite band, 311, had scheduled a series of warm-up shows before their biennial 311 Day event and I wanted to get a good seat. The Saturday night show in Reno on March 7, 2020, looked like a perfect opportunity to attend my 36th 311 concert and squeeze in a day of skiing at a Lake Tahoe–area resort.

At the top of the Pioneer lift at Park City Mountain Resort, I left Mark and skied to the Summit House lodge to order my ticket as soon as they went on sale. I scored a front row seat to the show. Three days later I reserved a room at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, the venue for the concert.

My skiing and 311 weekend was booked.

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) learned from media reports of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in Central China’s Hubei Province.

I had read news about the mystery illness. It caused a brief pang of concern, but I figured it wouldn’t become a problem. A co-worker who traveled to Asia in mid-January told us about the new safety measures at the airports there. All the other new viruses that emerged in my lifetime either fizzled out or we learned to mitigate the risks and live with them. Why worry?

On January 30, with about 8,000 confirmed cases worldwide, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, a respiratory infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was well on its way to becoming a global pandemic.

March 6–7, 2020

I never considered not going to Reno. The United States had about 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 5, the day before I left. China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea were the far-away hotspots for the outbreak then.

“It seems like the public is overreacting and government health officials (not only in the US) are underreacting,” I remarked in a text conversation about the virus.

My parents were scheduled to fly to visit my sister and her family later the same weekend. I called them on my way out of Salt Lake City after I had heard they decided to cancel their trip because of the virus.

“There are only 200 cases in the entire country, ” I told my mom. “The odds that you’ll catch the virus are slim to none.”

Later, after they discovered that the airlines’ newly lax cancellation policies didn’t apply to their trip, they decided to go. If I had to put a dollar figure on their safety concerns, it did not yet exceed the cost of roundtrip airfare.

Upon my arrival in Reno after the long drive across Nevada, I stopped at a Walmart to stock up on some food and supplies. All the hand sanitizer was gone. Most of the liquid hand soap was gone. Curiously, bars of shower soap were still fully stocked. Hoarders were apparently still concerned about compiling a functionally appropriate hoard at that stage in the impending pandemic.

I ate dinner at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant across the street from the Walmart. I watched basketball games on the TVs in the crowded bar area.

The Grand Sierra had placed hand sanitizer stations throughout the casino floor, but little else was different. The dance club, slots and table games, and buffet and restaurants were all crowded. And the concert was crowded.

The theater only had seats. There was no general admission pit area near the front of the stage. My seat was on the far left side of the front row. (I might’ve bought the first ticket to the show.) There was also no barricade between the seats and the stage. I could stand right up against the stage if I wanted. I only wished my seat was closer to the middle of the wide stage.

The show was good, not great, but I always enjoy watching 311 perform. Show number 36 was in the books.

“I made sure not to touch any 311 fans at the show in Reno,” I joked on a 311 fan message board. “But that wasn’t because of COVID-19. That’s just part of my standard personal hygiene policy.”

It was time to get ready for skiing.

311 after their show in Reno on March 7, 2020

March 8, 2020

Walking through a casino at six a.m. wearing ski clothes and my big ski boot backpack was weird. The only thing that would’ve made it weirder was if I was also lugging my skis through the casino, but I had left them in the car.

The drive to Squaw Valley from Reno was scenic and pleasant. It had snowed in the mountains overnight, but the sky was clear in the morning.

After I purchased my lift ticket, I wandered around the base area trying to find lockers to store my stuff. While I was walking back toward the ticket office to ask someone, again, where exactly the lockers were, a man walked past me who looked like Jonny Moseley, an Olympic gold medalist in moguls and one of my skiing heroes.

In their September 2001 issue, Skiing magazine published a letter I had written in response to an article on the top 25 skiers in North America. “Jonny Moseley has to be #1!” I wrote. “Moseley for prez in 2004!” (He had finished second.)

I did a double-take and turned around. I almost yelled out, “Jonny,” but I decided that would have been rude. I was convinced it was him. I couldn’t think of a more quintessential introduction to Squaw Valley than running into Jonny Moseley on his way to the KT-22 lift. After all, he has a trail named after him there.

KT-22 is arguably Squaw’s most famous lift and terrain area. Most of the terrain is rated expert. It has been a proving ground for some of the world’s best skiers, including Jonny Moseley, Scot Schmidt, Cody Townsend, and Shane McConkey. But I was going to save that for later, after I warmed up a bit. I decided to board the tram.

KT-22 and Moseley’s Run at Squaw Valley from the tram

Despite the new snow, the lift lines weren’t long. It had been a bad winter for snowfall at Squaw. The south-facing slopes near the base were almost completely devoid of snow.

The wind yesterday had so badly affected the snow in some areas that they closed them because it had turned the snow to boilerplate ice. That didn’t sound promising. The tram attendant, however, gave us a clinic in where to find the good snow. Hike up Granite Chief, she said, but I wasn’t comfortable committing to hike-to terrain by myself at a ski area I had never been to before.

Squaw’s tram is nothing like Snowbird’s. Snowbird’s brings you to the top of the resort. It provides access to almost all of Snowbird’s terrain. Squaw’s tram brings you to what amounts to a separate base area called High Camp that accesses some of the easiest skiing at the resort. It was empty there. But the view of Lake Tahoe from High Camp was worth the visit.

Lake Tahoe from High Camp at Squaw Valley Resort in California

I warmed up with a couple buttery smooth runs on powder-covered groomed trails. The snow at Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada was much different than the snow that falls on Utah’s Wasatch Range. The Sierra snow was thicker, with more water content. None of this was surprising. I had read all about Sierra snow conditions in ski magazines. But I was impressed. It was different but still good.

After a somewhat disastrous run down Main Backside from the Emigrant lift, I made my way to Siberia Bowl. I had missed fresh tracks, but I was fine with that. The locals deserve not to have their fresh tracks trampled by a tourist. The snow was tracked but still good when I arrived.

Next, I skied a run in Chicken Bowl, adjacent to Siberia Bowl, via the Headwall Express lift. That was not ideal. I didn’t know how to get to the good stuff I saw from the lift.

I skied down to the base to take a break. KT-22 was next.

I considered skiing Jonny Moseley’s eponymous run, but G.S. Bowl looked good, so I dropped in there. Immediately, I knew I was in trouble. It was not good. Moseley’s would’ve been a better choice because of its shaded northwest aspect. The sun had impacted the snow on G.S. Bowl to the point that it was sticky like contact cement. I had never encountered snow like that before. I found a few areas where the snow hadn’t been so affected by the sun, but those areas were few and far between.

It was my worst run of the ski season.

I took another break before riding the Gold Coast Funitel with people from three continents to the mid-mountain. I thought about the coronavirus. If they were out here skiing Squaw Valley, I figured, they must be feeling well. I concluded that none of the other passengers had COVID-19.

There were still a couple hours left until the lifts closed when I arrived back at the base area, but I decided I was done. My legs were tired. I had been charging pretty hard all day, and I just wanted to get back to Reno, take a shower, stuff my face at the buffet, and relax.

If I had known this would be my last ski day of the season, I would’ve skied until the lifts stopped running.

On the way back to Salt Lake City the next day, I stopped in West Wendover, Nevada, for gas. I checked Instagram and noticed that Johnny Moseley had posted a video of himself skiing at Squaw Valley yesterday. The two-toned purple Marmot jacket and purple pants were the giveaway. Yup, it was him.

March 11, 2020 (311 Day)

This week, our team at work was asked to have one person per day work remotely to identify any gaps in access in case we have to quarantine ourselves or avoid the office because of COVID-19. My turn to work from home was Wednesday, March 11.

My company had sent an email that afternoon dictating new coronavirus guidelines. Hand washing was encouraged. Handshakes were disallowed and fist bumps were encouraged (I kid you not). Personal and business travel were discouraged. Group events should be cancelled.

The 311 Day show on March 11 went ahead as scheduled. I watched the webcast online. But before that respite from the madness, news related to the pandemic came rushing in like a dam had failed. The WHO officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The NBA suspended its season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 before a game that night.

The dominoes continued to fall. The NHL, NCAA, and Major League Baseball suspended their seasons on March 12. On March 14, Snowbird closed its tram, which is typically packed with 125 people during the ski season. The next day, the CDC issued guidelines to cancel or postpone in-person gatherings of 50 or more people. Alta, Snowbird, Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, and others closed their ski areas.

And on it went until nearly every non-essential service was either shut down or modified to follow the CDC’s guidelines for slowing the spread of the virus.

311 had played their two remaining 311 Day shows on March 12 and March 13 amid the roiling chaos. Their concert on March 13 was likely one of the last big concerts in the United States before the pandemic shutdowns.

The world had changed.

March 17–19, 2020

I was still going in to the office every day, but each day it was becoming clearer that things were going to change. State, local, and federal government guidelines were prescribing as much.

On March 17, my boss and I attended a meeting in a conference room where none of the executives showed up in-person. They all called in to the meeting from their offices, some only steps from the conference room. This was unusual.

After the meeting, I said to my boss: “The fact that none of them showed up to the meeting in-person said a lot. I think we need to start working remotely, at least part-time.”

He agreed.

Based on the work-from-home schedule we decided on, my direct report and I would work from home tomorrow.

Something woke me up, and it wasn’t my alarm clock. The bed was shaking. I felt like I was riding waves while lying on a pool raft. After a second, I realized it was an earthquake—the biggest one I had ever experienced.

Welcome to the new 2020.

The earthquake closed Salt Lake City International Airport. Travel to downtown was discouraged while workers assessed and fixed damage to buildings and infrastructure. In a macabre twist, the state health department’s testing lab and COVID-19 hotline were also shut down by the earthquake. But everyone was OK.

I told my direct report that he could continue working from home full-time, despite the part-time schedule we had decided on just yesterday. With the earthquake and the rapidly deteriorating public health situation, we all knew we weren’t going back to the office any time soon.

The day after the earthquake, I downloaded a stock image of a fortune cookie and inscribed this fortune on the blank slip of paper: “One day you will work from home while in quarantine during a pandemic through aftershocks after waking up to a 5.7 magnitude earthquake.”

Final Thoughts

My last handshake before the pandemic (possibly forever?) was with Matthew Roads, the lead singer of the band Tropidelic, who opened for 311 in Reno. He and his bandmates were handing out flyers in the lobby after the 311 show, so I stopped by to compliment him on his band’s performance. Simpler times.

And I skied my worst run of the ski season on my last day of the ski season. Appropriate for 2020.

Since the pandemic hit and the mitigation guidelines began in mid-March, I’ve only been out to the grocery store, Target a few times, and REI once to return something I had ordered online (they re-opened their stores this week). Otherwise, I’ve either been at home, running in the neighborhood, or hiking on local trails. I’ve filled up my car’s gas tank only twice in three months.

The scale of the widespread death and economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult for me to fathom, so I can really only speak about how this pandemic has impacted me personally.

At first, I was flippant about contracting COVID-19. I figured everyone was going to get infected at some point, so I might as well get it over with. I wasn’t going to go out of my way to get it, but I wasn’t worried. Since then, I’ve learned that many people are dying from blood clot–related complications. I’ve had two blood clots that required treatment with anticoagulant medication, including one that caused a pulmonary embolism (not fun). I cannot risk getting this infection (if I haven’t had it already).

I’m sad about the things I enjoyed that are gone now—perhaps for a long time—or that will be changed significantly, including travel, skiing, baseball, concerts, sporting events, eating at restaurants, etc. I miss the simple pleasure of going out to lunch during work. I miss talking with my co-workers in-person instead of on a screen. I’m not sure when it will make sense to travel back east to visit family.

The mental aspect of this pandemic that hit me early on was the dearth of anything good. All the abovementioned things I enjoyed were gone immediately. The news was all bad (and continues to be bad). There was nothing to distract me from the bad news. It was just bad news and work.

Then I started feeling lucky that I still had a job. As an introvert, avoiding people has basically been my life’s ambition. I didn’t suffer from the stir craziness more extroverted people I know were experiencing. But I still fell into a severe rut. I did nothing. Each day was a struggle to find hope and meaning.

In May, I finally started to take better care of myself. I started running again. I logged out of most social media. I planned to do things locally instead of traveling. I also started working on projects that I never seemed to have time for before. I made progress adapting to this new normal.

The United States is faring poorly during this COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the outsized impacts of the virus in the United States are a natural consequence of the free society in which we choose to live, but there are few countries doing a worse job at managing their epidemics. I think the root causes are poor messaging and a lack of political leadership.

The federal government has been gutted of public health expertise. State-level responses are inconsistent and increasingly toothless. The private sector relies on a concerted federal response to coordinate its efforts; however, a concerted federal response doesn’t exist, so the private sector’s efforts are unfocused. Some politicians seem more interested in communicating “mission accomplished” messages than cautionary messages that encourage continued compliance with virus mitigation guidelines. We are failing.

This virus is not going anywhere. Its spread will accelerate when we are less careful and slow when we are more careful. It’s not complicated. We need to find a level of caution that prevents the virus from spreading exponentially while also living as normally as possible within that context. Our lives and livelihoods depend on our success in balancing those two goals concurrently.

No one wants to wear a face covering in a grocery store. No one wants to maintain physical distance from friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. But the mild inconvenience of following those guidelines helps reduce the chance of spreading the virus to others. The more people adhere to those guidelines, the slower the virus will spread, the safer people will feel in public, the quicker the economy will rebound, and, most importantly, the fewer COVID-19 infections and deaths there will be before a vaccine or effective treatment can be developed. That day can’t come soon enough.