My family and I went skiing over Christmas break with our friends.
Every year, usually last minute, we frantically make plans to get to a mountain after the holiday: spend days searching for a place large enough to accommodate 10-12+ rowdy boys (yes, only boys) and 8+ adults, send an exhaustive amount of group texts coordinating food, snacks, and drinks, and confirm times and routes to be taken.
Then we spend two days prior to leaving, having the boys try on their ski gear: snowpants, jackets, helmets, boots, and gloves, and because boys grow at an alarming rate, we inexplicably find ourselves at a ski store replacing all ill-fitting items.
The four hour drive is largely spent group-texting as to where we are on the road, who’s stopping for food, who hit traffic, got a ticket, made good time, weather info, snow, rain, sleet, status of exits passed…you get the idea.
When we arrive, usually within minutes of each other, the group spends the next hour unpacking the cars.
If it’s too late to squeeze in a half day of skiing, the cocktails and food come out and the rest of the night is spent catching up, while the boys do what they do, which usually involves some sort of wrestling match followed by parallel play on iPads and iPods.
This year, we went to Gore Mountain, near Lake George, NY. It would be my first time back here in thirty years.
I’m sure I share the same first-time ski story with many. Let me know if this rings a bell:
When I was fifteen, I decided to go on the overnight high school ski trip. Having never been on skis, let alone a chairlift, my close “friend” somehow managed to get me to the top of the mountain. I don’t know how the hell she did it. I blocked that part out- like I blocked out the pain of childbirth. But the rest of my memory is crystal clear:
We stood at the top. The two of us, together.
“Ready?” she said.
And then, there she went, down the trail, carving perfect “S” turns, leaving a plume of powder in her wake, with me, in all of my mis-matched, borrowed clothes and ski’s, frozen in place, shitting my pants.
Clutching poles as foreign to me as if they were attached to someone else’s limbs, I looked down the run, then back to the lift, seriously considering my options. I knew I couldn’t get back on a chairlift on my own, and well, I had gravity on my side. So, I timidly pushed myself off the crest and…I’m falling.
I eventually made my way down, thanks to the assistance of one kind soul, who spent the good part of her morning retrieving my ski’s and poles for me every few feet. At the bottom, bruised but still in one piece, I took off my ski’s, returned them, and managed to avoid the sport for another decade, when I fell in love and put my trust in my boyfriend (now husband), who took the time and energy to teach me (and sign me up for lessons).
He wanted me to learn, he said, because skiing is something we’d be able to do with our children one day. It’s a family sport, and one that they’d never outgrow. Year after year, we went, and with this in mind, I pushed myself, and tried to enjoy it.
When our sons were old enough, we brought them to a family-friendly mountain in Mass, and put them in ski school. Two years later, they decided to snowboard. Back to square one. They were young. It took four years of lessons, of dressing tiny bodies in ten pounds of clothing, getting them to the mountain by 9am, on cold mornings, before they could manage the slopes on their own with confidence.
This year, it rained the night we arrived. By morning, the temperature drops to a balmy 15, so when we get to the mountain, the air is frigid, the runs are icy, and the sun is MIA. We dress in layer upon layer, before donning our helmets, gloves, hand and foot warmers, neck wraps and face masks, pay hundreds of dollars for tickets, and trek to the bottom lift.
One of the adults (I’m not sure who, but I suspect we were all thinking it) questions why we aren’t in Puerto Rico. “All you need is a towel and a bathing suit.” It seems like a lot of work, preparing for this. The conditions change daily, and the amount of clothing required for this sport always seems daunting.
Case in point
We take the gondola up (total perk here!) and during the ride through the cloudy air, we resemble a band of sci-fi burglars, all wrapped up, peering at each other through goggles and masks, trying to breathe. I imagine little thought- bubbles over us saying: Bathing suits. Towels. Sun. Luke, I am your father.
We disembark at the top, grab our skis and boards, strap in and buckle up. Now, the sun decides to say hello.
This is when it gets good.
I take in our surroundings. There is nothing more beautiful than snow-capped pine trees under a blue sky, the quiet interrupted only by the swoosh of snow under ski’s, and most importantly, the pink cheeks and crinkled eyes of my smiling boys, in all of their glee, doing what they absolutely love to do; something they enjoy doing with me and my husband.
Every inconvenience until now (and I’m including all of those difficult years of dragging toddlers out of bed and into the cold, all of the clothes on our bodies, the shopping, the packing, the drive, all of the prep) is wiped away by a single “WooHoo! Mom! Check it out!”
I watch our sons effortlessly glide down the mountain, marvel at their skill and poise and feel so good that they’ll never be that kid in high school who goes on a ski trip, scared and inexperienced.
I’ll just have to make sure they don’t put their inexperienced friends through the same hazing ritual I went through.
Before they get too far ahead – they’re already more adept than I am – I push myself off the crest and… I’m flying.