As the Californian leg of his tour continues, Pingu visits God’s country. Illustrations by Kieron Black
If the Griswalds were going on a snowboard holiday, they’d go to Heavenly.
More accurately, they would probably have driven hundreds of miles in their station wagon to South Lake Tahoe, desperately trying find a way to pay for Joey’s college fees by gambling Grandma’s retirement home fund on slot machines in one of the multi-storey casinos that lie literally twenty yards over the stateline into Nevada.
Having lost all but their last $500, they would resolve to do something wholesome with what remained of their money. Most likely they would have taken the gondola up to Heavenly, splattered in rental gear, with a view to trying out the new sport of snow-surfing. Two fractured wrists later, they’d find themselves utterly broke and facing the prospect of a $10,000 medical bill, at which point they would return back to the casinos by the lake and put their daughter’s virginity up as collateral for a $1000 advance, which they would stick on number 47 on the roulette wheel. And lose. Much to the delight of the 85-year-old casino owner.
“It feels like Heavenly is a resort that happens to be at the top of a hill in South Lake Tahoe – a town which is really all about the lake, and the casinos”
Anywhere other than Monaco, casinos are a peculiar melange of impoverished desperation and grotesque excess, with drunken bravado acting like cheap sausage meat stuffed up the ass of the gambling turkeys. To my mind they are one of the most effective vehicles for rich people to take money off poor and/or drunken people, just pipping pay-per-view motel porn and despotic third-world regimes to a close second and third respectively.
South Lake Tahoe, splitting itself between California and Nevada and sitting at the base of Heavenly mountain, is like a really messed-up fruit salad that your Grandad has sprinkled with toenail clippings and pissed on before serving it up in a nice glass bowl.
It sits (evidently) on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, which is quite possibly one of the most beautiful spots I have ever visited in my 40 years on the planet, let alone whilst snowboarding. Crystal blue and emerald green waters nestle up against long spits of deserted sandy beaches, and are framed by impossibly perfect azure skies and the thrusting peaks of white that are the Sierra Nevada mountains, whilst all around ancient trees pepper the landscape with their history-encrusted bark and their hopeful, reaching branches of green. In his celebrated opus Roughing It, Mark Twain tells of his time as a paid-up member of the 19th century gold-rush, calling Lake Tahoe “the fairest picture the world affords”. And he was probably right.
Juxtapose this incredibly raw natural beauty with a splattering of gaudy fast-food outlets, tacky motels with promises of heating, running water and no cockroaches, and the thrusting totems to man’s greed and stupidity that are the 18-storey high casino hotels.
But you have to scrape behind the plasticised veneer of sub-Blackpool tat – because if you do, you will find some great snowboarding, and some fantastic places to hang out.