Hitting the Slopes with the SOF

By Jennifer O'Sullivan

They congregate before dawn near the sculpture Flame of Knowledge on the campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). Forty-seven TSRI postdocs, grad students, employees, and friends wait to board a bus for the San Bernadino mountains on the annual Society of Fellows (SOF) ski trip.

As instructed, participants have arrived by 5 AM. They yawn, check equipment, and make weather predictions. With at least a three-hour bus trip ahead, the most immediate thoughts are of going back to sleep—one of the luxuries of chartered transportation.

Kenneth Ritchie, research associate in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, stands under a streetlight with his wife, Varinia. They don't have any equipment with them, opting instead for a beginner package offered by the Bear Mountain ski resort near Big Bear Lake. Their $55 per person package includes skis, boots, and poles (snowboard equipment is also available), a lower mountain lift ticket, and a two-hour morning lesson, after which skiers are set free on the slopes. The Ritchies were even able to rent snow pants at the mountain. "We thought, 'why not?'" Kenneth recalls of their decision to give the sport a go.

The SOF sponsors three types of events—educational, professional, and social—and the ski trip definitely falls into the latter category. In the past, the SOF policy was to charge a membership fee, which needed to be paid in order to participate in any of the events. Last year the policy was changed, and now everyone at TSRI is automatically a SOF member. According to Program Chair Avi Spier, attendance at SOF events is generally about 70 percent postdocs, 20 percent grad students, and 10 percent technical staff.

The ski trip, which the SOF has been organizing for at least seven years, is one of the most popular social events and attracts all groups.

"It sells out within two days of the [e-mail] announcement," says trip organizer and SOF member Gabriela Perez-Alvarado.

Spots for the trip are reserved on a first-paid, first-served basis; the only way to reserve a spot for the trip is to send a check by internal mail. For those who don't have their own ski or snowboard equipment, Gabriela provides a list of rental shops in San Diego and advises participants of their options for renting at Bear Mountain. "The only drawback of this alternative," writes Gabriela, "is that you may have to wait in line, losing valuable slope time."

As participants return to the bus for the trip home, the tired smiles on sun-kissed faces suggest that everyone did get valuable slope time. Graduate student Jason Schnell, who grew up skiing in Wisconsin, says the snow on the West Coast is superior. He even tried some of the jumps in what the resort calls the "freestyle" area. "[The jumps] are not just for snowboarders," Jason says.

Kenneth and Varinia are seated at the front of the bus, their own tired grins erasing any need to ask if they enjoyed the skiing. Another question follows. "Yes," they both reply. "We will definitely do it again."

Skiers and snow boarders descend the Geronimo run at Bear Mountain under clear skies. Photo by Jennifer O'Sullivan.





The view from the Silver Mountain chair lift reveals Big Bear Lake in the distance.
Photo by Jennifer O'Sullivan.