As cheesecake photos go, mine wasn't particularly dicey: The woman was blond and suitably able-bodied. But her one-piece bathing suit was modest enough for a Reader's Digest beach party.

What made the picture irresistible was the zinc oxide on her nose, the ski boots on her feet and the snow-covered mountains towering behind her.

"Another Sign of Spring in the Rockies" read the caption under the picture. It hung on a wall in my bathroom until it peeled.

That was 15 years ago, the April after my first season of East Coast skiing. Despite the ice and bitter cold, the long lift lines and the short hills, I had become addicted to the sport. And like a Bay sailor who dreams of the Caribbean, I would look at that picture and get as gushy as a John Denver album.

So a few weeks ago, when fate and a bit of finagling put me on a plane to San Francisco, I looked down at the Sierra Nevadas and caught my breath. They were white with snow, bright in the sunlight, and undoubtedly thick with bikinis.

Fourteen hours later I was at Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley, knee-deep in soft snow, half-blinded by a blizzard and suffering from vertigo.

"Where's the sunscreen?" asked John Wilson, a native Washingtonian now living in California, who was looking for a lost ski in a drift big enough to scare a St. Bernard. When I pulled up behind him, the snow was blowing past me so hard, I couldn't tell if I had come to a stop until I fell sideways into the snow. It was a ridiculous, slow-motion fall, the kind that Henry Gibson used to perform on his "Laugh In" tricycle.

In the land of the Big Ski country, west of the Mississippi and high enough to see God's breath, there was enough snow this year for three ski seasons. The same bizarre weather patterns that robbed us of an early spring, buried such places as Vail, Tahoe and the Grand Tetons in so much snow that it will be July before all of it melts.

There are ski resorts still open in most western states. Heavenly Valley, which rises above Lake Tahoe on its south shore, will do business until July. If you're planning an early-summer vacation to the San Francisco area, you might want to pack skis.

I can't afford to think snow again until November. But a 15-year-old fantasy isn't buried under one blizzard. And ski magazines do a very nice job of fanning that flame with sun-bright features on spring skiing. The mountains don't look quite as magical anymore, but the bathing suits have gotten better.