It’s Friday the 13th and I’ve got the fear – big time.
I’m standing nearly 10,000 feet up a mountain preparing to throw myself down it and I’ve got a bad hangover.
A big night on the town – with one Jägerbomb shot too many – has left my head sozzled and feet unsteady.
And here I am staring at a massive drop with a snowboard under my arm on the unluckiest date of all.
What could go wrong?
Well, I made it.
My first run of the day wouldn’t have won me any medals at Sochi – unless points were awarded for dramatic falls.
But despite turning right instead of left at the top, losing my group and having no idea where I was supposed to be going, I made it down in one piece.
And with the sun shining bright and Lake Tahoe’s cold air starting to clear my mind, I began to feel much better.
“Go big or go home” read a sign next to the gondola – and you’ll be pleased to know that I did the former.
Okay, I didn’t go quite as “big” as some of the locals, who don’t do winter sports by halves at the well-named Heavenly Mountain Resort.
But I did still spend an absolutely wonderful day soaking up the endless trails and marvellous views across the Sierra Nevada mountain range and icy blue waters of North America’s largest alpine lake.
And after an exhilarating session on the slopes we refuelled with a steaming bowl of chilli con carne at the lively Tamarack Lodge.
Weary from our exertions, the Unbuckle après party, with Heavenly Angels (dancing girls), DJ Shameless playing dance tunes and cheap drinks wasn’t quite what we needed.
Classy: The Ritz Carlton
But there are worse ways to spend an hour in the afternoon here – even if you’re still trying to get over the excesses of the night before.
We were staying in the city of South Lake Tahoe on the southern shore, slap-bang on the California-Nevada stateline.
Our boutique hotel was a quirky newly-converted motel called Basecamp – one of the rooms features a tent and fake camp fire.
It was a snowball’s throw from the gondola, restaurants and bars.
And that night we hit Basecamp Pizza for huge Bloody Marys, which were served with bacon rashers, and washed down our BBQ and Thai Chicken Curry pizza (I’m not kidding) with Alaskan White beer.
On the way home we skipped merrily past the 24-hour casinos – there are six here, one right next to our hotel – and enjoyed crossing from California on one side of the road to Nevada on the other and back again... and back again.
Once in the friendly warmth of Basecamp we settled down for a good bottle of red and some Britpop hits on the stereo to round off a great day.
Our visit to California had begun in San Francisco, where we squeezed in an afternoon exploring the city on foot followed by an evening of Anchor Steam beer and fresh crab.
Apres-ski: Relax by the fire
The next day we made the four-hour drive to our next stop-off, Northstar, for two days at the five-star (well, someone’s got to do it) Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Don’t be put off by the distance because it’s a wonderful drive.
The journey takes you past the vineyards of the Napa Valley, the first signs of snow and then into the high desert.
We enjoyed the views, a good chat and tuning into the local radio stations along the way.
And after just a few minutes at the Ritz-Carlton you’ll forget being stuck in a car for hours because they do service with a capital S.
The ski-in, ski-out hotel has a concierge service that not only makes sure you’re fitted with top-of-the-range gear (if you’re hiring) but will also show you to your skis/snowboards on the slopes and pick them up at the end of the day.
Eager to get going, we were changed and ready to hit the snow within an hour.
Ready: Ben Rankin
Northstar has just under 100 trails (most of them of intermediate difficulty) and is well known for its tree skiing.
But this being the home resort of champion boarder Shaun White, it also has seven terrain parks and a huge halfpipe built in his honour.
It’s smaller and more family-orientated than Heavenly at South Lake Tahoe – which is an hour’s drive away – and seems to attract a wealthier crowd, but everyone is catered for here.
We rocked out to American anthems around big fire pits between runs and back at the hotel toasted marshmallows and made s’mores (toasted marshmallow sandwiches) with families.
In the evenings we downed Sierra Nevada beer, Dirty Snowman cocktails and fine Napa reds.
But we ate, too – gloriously, in fact.
The first night we had filet steak at the Ritz-Carlton’s Manzanita restaurant and the second night we had sushi at Mikuni in Northstar village, a short (private) gondola ride away.
On our last night there we visited the town of Truckee, a cab ride away, to experience some local culture, playing pool and stumbling across a live band rumoured to include a Beastie Boys drummer.
So much for Friday the 13th – I was dead lucky to be in Truckee.