Friday 18 January 2019

Irish diaspora saves the day at pow wow party

THURSDAY The closing ceremony for this year's American tourism showcase, Pow Wow in San Francisco, might well be the best ever. Could it get any better?

It nearly did. My friend Jane Wilson of West Virginia Tourism had run out of drink and I chased the closing hour to get her another. By the time I reached the last bar the manager was getting cranky. He called the cops.

As I was mentally selecting which cell on Alcatraz I preferred, I recognised the surname one of the officer's jacket -- Corry. "You wouldn't be from Clare, would you?" I asked. He wasn't, but his father was. And they said emigration was a bad thing?

FRIDAY On the bus bound for the Californian High Sierra. Three hours later we are entertained at the West Shoe Cafe of Lake Tahoe eating chef William Johns' avocado filled with Dungenese crab.

Lake Tahoe never freezes over because it is about a mile deep. The water is so crystal clear I have to take the plunge. The cold is beyond bracing but not unbearable and enough to keep me awake during a tour of the local boat museum.

The charming host, Roger Beck, at our resort at Squaw Creek has just returned from a golf trip to Doonbeg. The outdoor pool is heated and backdropped by snow-peaked mountains on four sides. Marketing manager Cory Carlson, veteran of the USA 1988 Sarajaevo Winter Olympic team, has enough tales to keep us going through most of the bar's bourbons.

SATURDAY More Olympic stories at Squaw Valley, which staged the Winter games in 1960. The place could do with a facelift but we get a feel for the grandeur of the terrain.

Dinner is in a casino across the Nevada border, a place filled with sad people pulling one-arm bandit handles, the life drained from their eyes.

SUNDAY The Sierra Mountains drop away like a change of scenery before we pass Yosemite and stop at Matt Twomey's gas station restaurant, the best on a US roadside, they tell us. His grandfather is from Cork.

MONDAY We reach Mammoth Mountain Inn in a snowstorm, and, appropriately, a wonderful woman called Winter greets us (her sisters are called Spring, Summer and Autumn). It is a classic whiteout but not too white to stop me sampling the outdoor heated pool. Mammoth Lake is a five-hour drive from everywhere, so they party hard.

TUESDAY The sky clears for the most beautiful morning's skiing I can remember, through the fresh powder that fell last night, with the sun on my face.

WEDNESDAY Flight 2199 on Alaska Airlines. The aircraft has to be de-iced before we fly.

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