Years before we had children of our own my husband and I joined our college friend, Megan, and her family on their annual ski trip. It was a tradition her dad, who I’ll call “Mr. A,” started when Megan and her siblings were young. Once each winter, he’d pack up his suburban New Jersey-area family, rent a condo at a resort somewhere out West and spend a week passing his love of skiing onto each of his four children.
It was a brilliant move.
As his children grew up, left the nest and scattered across the country for college, new jobs, and independent lives, it was the annual ski trips that drew them back together.
We spent several nights with them around the dinner table of their cozy retreat – in Steamboat Springs, Colorado that year — playing games, sharing good food, and laughing until our bellies hurt.
We spent our days skiing until our legs hurt. And always, when the lifts closed for the day, we gathered back together for après-ski fun.
Not only did Mr. A and his wife welcome us as part of their family that long weekend, but they taught us a lesson we’ve never forgotten:
The family that skis together, stays together.
If seeing the A family in action wasn’t enough to convince us of the value of a family ski habit, a wall of their home certainly did. It’s filled with photos of their ski adventures through the years. The numbers of people in the pictures grew as the family did, to include friends, love interests, spouses and grandkids. The line of photos ended only when Mr. A could no longer ski, but that was well into his seventies – a decade he was looking forward to because many resorts offer free lift tickets for the seventy and up crowd.
With Mr. A’s lesson in mind (and because my husband and I love to ski ourselves) we were determined to follow his lead when we became parents.
We wanted to live the dream.
We just didn’t know it would take 15 whiny years to make it really happen.
We were so excited to introduce our daughters to our favorite sport that we put our youngest on skis for the first time just shy of two years old. She was thrilled and adorable, and done – in less than 10 minutes. We had hoped her little legs would hold out just a bit longer for our ski rental money, but we did get a great start on our own wall of ski pictures.
And our daughter got lifelong bragging rights.
“Oh yeah, we’ll I’ve been skiing since I was one,” she can tell her college roommates.
Our oldest was four when she started. She lasted the length of a 45-minute lesson on a pre-bunny hill that first day out. Then she pooped out.
We toasted with hot cocoa to celebrate the start of our family ski tradition. But we also learned that day just what we were in for.
Skiing with young children is difficult, back-breaking work.
We pulled them up the hill with our ski poles. And for years after, up more hills and across mountains whenever their legs tired — which was a lot.
We skied holding them between our legs, we hoisted them up when they fell and then eventually onto chair lifts.
We carried our daughters’ skis, and our skis, and clunky boots, and squirmy kids, from parking lots to slopes and back again.
There was always a lot of whining — from them, or from me. Usually both.
We dressed them up like stay-puff marshmallows. They were too hot, then too cold.
They preferred to ditch their skis and slide on their bottoms down snow banks, make snow angels and build snowmen. That was cool with us, but we had shelled out big bucks for new (albeit) used skis and boots every year as they grew into bigger and bigger sizes.
We got smart and put them back in lessons to save our backs. Our youngest fell asleep in the lodge after lunch and napped through the whole afternoon.
We knew how she felt and had a good laugh.
What the hell were we thinking?
Well we were thinking about these smiles filling our walls…
It wasn’t until the middle school years that our daughters’ ski legs really kicked in. For my oldest, that was two years earlier than her sister, of course. And for little sister, that meant she got pushed along faster than she was ready. When my overly enthusiastic husband turned us all down a black diamond run, it took her an hour to get down and that was it. Years of solid progress stalled. From then on she claimed – loudly and often – that she would never like skiing again.
Sure, she came with us on our ski trips, but that didn’t mean she liked the skiing. It meant she merely tolerated it (and it meant more whining) because she had no choice.
But last week on our ski trip, it finally happened. She caught the same ski bug the rest of us have and we skied together – all four of us and four family friends – for four glorious days in a row. The only whine to be found was in a bottle on our condo’s kitchen counter.
We played together on the mountain until our legs hurt. At night, we laughed in our condo until our bellies hurt.
We were finally living the dream.
It’s not too long now until our daughters will be leaving our nest and scattering to who knows where. I have a lot of hopes for them. One is that they won’t be able to resist the lure of snow under their wings. That the call will be strong enough that they won’t be able to resist coming back “home” to play together on the mountain. Especially, if mom and dad are paying.