A few inches constitutes a powder day in my kids’ minds, so after breakfast we made our way along snow-greased roads to the mountain. I spent the next few hours chasing my kids around the familiar ski trails of my own childhood, and I couldn’t help pondering the progression of my skiing life – from New Hampshire to the mellow hills of college days in upstate New York, then the deep snow and steep skiing of Colorado, and finally home again to continue the cycle with the next generation.
In Colorado, I worked in a ski shop a few steps from the base of the main chairlift. My bosses were skiers, and they scheduled shifts so that all employees had a ski break every day. It was during my five years in Crested Butte that I learned the “No friends on a powder day” rule. You could make plans, but if someone didn’t show, there was no waiting around; it’s every skier for herself when the getting is good.
A powder day there, whether interrupted by work or not, generally included laps on the Headwall or North Face, searching out new lines and fresh tracks each run, and recounting the day’s best turns over a couple of beers with friends. I remember skiing one perfect, snowy day without stopping to eat, run after joyful run of deep snow and sweet turns, skiing until my legs were jelly. At day’s end I was exhausted, but happy, fulfilled.
In my first winters back East the occasional storm brought a gift of knee-deep powder and soft bumps, a respite from the harder, groomed, manmade stuff. If I could sneak away from work, I would spend an hour or two skiing off the Zoomer chair, short, steep runs as familiar as my own back yard. Sometimes I’d run into friends in the lift line, and we’d ski together for a while. But the no-friends-on-a-powder-day rule stuck: there was no waiting, no adjusting to others’ work schedules. And whether it was a stolen hour or a full afternoon of skiing, I left the mountain with that same feeling of happy fulfillment.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself with three young children, who I was determined would be skiers. Raising skiers is not for the faint of heart. It starts with years of bundling awkward toddlers and preschoolers into layers of sometimes uncomfortable clothing, coaxing small feet into rigid ski boots, schlepping skis from the car, and getting everyone’s boots into bindings, goggles and neck-warmers properly adjusted, mittens tucked into sleeve cuffs just right.
Pockets filled with chocolate and the promise of cocoa breaks provided extra incentive if needed. But there were meltdowns, of course, sometimes from tired little skiers; sometimes from the skier mom longing for the bigger runs beyond the pony slope.
Back then, I managed to sneak out once or twice a winter to ski with friends on longer, steeper, snowier terrain. On those rare occasions, the old no-friends rule went out the window. I welcomed the kid-free companionship of friends on the chairlift, and we weren’t above taking our own cocoa breaks if the wind was too cold or the lift line too long – or we simply wanted to sit and talk.
More often, though, I spent my skiing days with the kids as they honed their skiing prowess. We spent countless hours exploring kid-sized glades and hucking little airs in the mini park. I have a video of my 3-year-old son cruising down a beginner trail in a power wedge, then veering toward the woods near the bottom. “I want to ski powder,” he said, as he shuffled through an inch of fluff atop the groomed surface of the flats.
Nature or nurture? I don’t know. Probably a little bit of both. Gradually, the kids progressed to longer, steeper trails, the tight glades at the top of the mountain, hiking over the saddle for further exploration of hidden places, a faster skiing tempo.
These days I don’t often get to ski with my kids. The older two have embarked on their first year of race training, skiing with their coaches all weekend and learning how to carve fast, smooth turns into hard snow. The younger one is in a group of more than two dozen of the littlest would-be ski racers, which I help coach on weekends. This all means lots of skiing for each of us, just not together.
So Monday was a treat, an unscheduled day to do whatever we liked, and we like to ski, especially when there’s fresh snow and no overlying agenda. I ran sweep on each run, watching the kids negotiate soft powder interspersed with rigid hard pack, then making my own turns behind them.
The pace is slower than it was during my Colorado powder days, but considerably faster than that not-so-distant time spent on the pony slope. My skiing company Monday was a ski mom’s dream come true, and the thrill of skis through snow just as happy and fulfilling as ever.