My kids don’t remember the first time they came to Clair Tappaan Lodge.
But my first memory remains clear: hiking up the steep trail – so steep someone had installed a rope. At the top of the exhausting walk a latched door—latched to outwit the bears—leads into a dark hallway and stairs. To the right a door to staff sleeping quarters, to the left a locker room for skis. Beyond the locker room steams the hot tub, then there’s the firewood room, the laundry room and the ping-pong room. Up the stairs past the library, the ski rental room,
The lodge sleeps 137 at max capacity. But every time I’ve ever been, empty tables in the dining room allow us to stretch out. We always chose a dorm room—where 10 people could bunk. But I hear the third floor has private rooms. Still, it’s bring your own sleeping bag, all meals included, small discount for Sierra Club members.
I remember our middle-school kids signing up for chores in the last slots available: washing dishes … then discovering that the sprayer thing and sterilizer are way more fun than ping-pong or even foosball. They washed the dishes required to serve 90 people without complaint. Possibly because the staff appreciated their work so much.
So, fast forward 10 years, now in college, the two boys arrived before us and signed up for dish duty before I even had a chance to give them a pencil or a suggestion.
I remember my child timidly, at age 8ish, playing a familiar tune on the piano and someone else across the crowded room remembering the words and less timidly singing loudly along. The tiny grin on the kid who was playing, the furrow on his forehead at the sudden seriousness of his task.
I remember the very nerdy UC Berkeley (is that redundant?) kid who spent two hours teaching same 8-year-old to play ping-pong in the basement.
I remember talking to a guy with a white beard who worked with Ansel Adams in his lab.
The crazy coincidence of knowing the cousin of the guy whose 12-year-old daughter had spent the afternoon playing in the snow with my 12-year-old son.
Clair Tappaan Lodge is like that. If Holiday Inn could bottle it, its stock would skyrocket.
Things have changed a little at Clair Tappaan, this year’s visit shows. It’s our first visit since moving to D.C. seven years ago.
The chore sheet is shorter and I soon figure out why: I spot a skinny self-absorbed guy sweeping the library, cleaning the showers, fixing the dryer.
The steep hill climb is only for employees … there’s a road up now. And meals are optional.
The common room is a mess in the morning, more like the lobby of my college co-op. People don’t leave their stuff on the benches in the hall; dorm room doors have locks now.
But I go out on the balcony from our dorm room’s back door to stick a bottle of wine in the snow bank and I meet a 9-year-old girl whose hair has its own personality. Her father, who it turns out is a Stanford anthropology professor, is sick, she explains, so she has to be quiet. We chat quietly . Soon my hubby, known here as “Lars,” is getting trounced by her in the ping-pong room.
Later, as we head out the back door for a walk in the sparkling woods, Lars makes the mistake of starting a snowball fight with a kid I knew had to be the girl’s brother, judging by the hair alone.