Friday, February 28, 2014

Beyond the pony slope

Birthday ski ~ heading down Zoomer.
My youngest child was born on a powder day to a family of skiers. It seemed apt, then, to celebrate her 5th birthday last weekend with a family ski outing.

Last year I wrote about the many hours and days I had spent in recent winters on the pony slope, skiing in a snowplow, sometimes backwards, often with a kid between my knees or at least following close behind. I lamented the many times I had longed to be floating through powder or flying down groomed runs on my own. Paying my ski mom dues, I called it.

Well, all that pony lift time has really paid off, and this year is a new winter of wonder. With all three kids happily occupied in Cannon Mountain’s seasonal junior program from just after breakfast to just before lunch each weekend day, I have reclaimed my freedom to ski with other adults (mostly other ski moms). And the kids have developed into fine little skiers and, thankfully, love sliding around on the snow as much as I do.

My husband and I spent Sunday’s family ski time alternately leading and chasing our children down the slopes of our own childhood memories. Away from the snaking lines of their ski groups, the kids picked up lots of speed and showed us what they’ve learned this winter.

My oldest daughter careered down each trail with gleeful grace, daring the rest of us to keep up. My son, once a backseat-hockey-crouch skier, now makes smooth, confident turns and – gasp! – pole plants. The littlest one cruised right along like a miniature ski racer, arcing from turn to turn, not a care in the world except going fast enough to stick with the bigger kids.

From the snowfields above the Tramway’s summit station to the base area, our little skiers ducked into the trees – their “magic forests” – wherever they could, seeking fresh tracks and a feeling of adventure. I can remember sliding into those same magical, snowy, kid-sized hideouts when I was little and feeling the same joy I see now on my children’s faces.

We let the kids decide which trails to ski, and each run they seemed to go a bit faster than the last. I was simultaneously terrified and proud when they zoomed in Super-G style turns down Turnpike, then dropped into kid tucks for the straight run out at the bottom. Not to be outdone, the birthday girl held the lead through the last turn.

We had a blast, and I’m not sure there’s much that could make me as happy as skiing with my kids. Unless it’s skiing with my friends. And that’s the beauty of having paid my pony slope dues – and of having the kids in lessons every weekend. There is only so much my little skiers are willing to learn from Mom, so the lessons are for them. Really. But that time sans children also means I get to ski. With other grownups. Grownups who love to ski as much as I do (and don’t need help putting on mittens, zipping coats, and pulling up neck gaiters).

For some of us, it is our first winter in several years with the freedom to ski at our own pace. We are still wrapping our winter-loving minds around that fact. We can take any trail we like, ski as fast as we want, and take extended coffee breaks when the skiing is less than stellar. Often, on these breaks, we run into people we know – folks whose now-grown kids we used to coach, or other parents whose little ones are still in tow.

Those whose kids are older smile knowingly, remembering their own first taste of skiing freedom. The parents with kids younger than ours look at us longingly, wondering how many more winters until they’ll have the chance to ski with poles again and hang out in the lodge without dodging tantrums and coordinating ski-pant-clad toddler trips to the restroom.

Often, at the end of the morning when I collect my children from their instructors, the kids want to ski more. And so we take some runs before heading home, cruising around favorite trails. If there’s enough snow, we head into the woods, whooping happily along the way. If it’s all hard pack, we ski fast cruisers.

Sometimes the kids want to head to the handle tow – long the “pony slope” to me. There’s a mini park there, and they love to hurl their little skier bodies into the air, feel the wind in their faces and the joy of momentary flight. I’m content, those runs, to stand at the bottom, watching. No more pony slope for me, thanks; I’ve paid my dues there.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog: Writings From A Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the Feb. 28, 2014 edition of the Littleton Record.

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