It would be nice if you could take a BMC, basic mountaineering course. You need a snow covered hill with a safe run out and some fairly heavy duty clothing. It would be interesting to try on a hill covered with iceplant or wet grass but I'm not washing your clothes and it really isn't the same experience.
You need to pick up a copy of Freedom of the Hills, by the Mountaineers, and at least practice the positions and concepts before you meet up with someone in the Sierras. I'm sure any guide service will help you out if you can't find a volunteer, we also used to offer this training as part of Mountain Rescue.
Find some snow, find a friend , good luck.
The grivel is a fine tool, if you are only going to own one ice axe get one that is uiaa certified.