Whatevs to Your Weather Report Man, Let's Shred

How skiing with my kid made me remember why I loved it to begin with

The east side of the mountain had been fine, vaguely icy but skiable and flat enough that falls were of little consequence. So when we bucked right off the west side summit quad and contemplated the blue-angled runway funneling toward a banked switchback, I saw no reason not to go.

I realized my mistake immediately. The reason the slope stood perfectly groomed tilting toward 11 a.m. was not because we’d struck upon some secret trail but because the corduroy had been fossilized in some sort of overnight post-grooming weather shift. We could not cut the striations with our skis and I’m not sure we could have cut them with a chainsaw and when we rounded the banked turn at the bottom I realized what enormous shit we were in.

Here the slope widened and steepened into that sort of pitch that on the weekends seems eternally closed off and dotted with NASTAR flags. The trailmap indicated blue all the way down but this was not a blue angle and I was definitely with low blue if that skiers and these were not blue conditions.

I have a plan for such circumstances and the plan involves angling directly across the slope so you’re basically skiing flat and a pivot near the very edge for an S-turn wide enough to sweep around Yankee Stadium. And so I lined up the children and said follow me and skied off and of course they both collapsed mid-hill before we’d made a single turn. For a moment both sat crumpled and gear-splayed and poised like desperate climbers gripping a cliff edge in a Himalayan Stallone adventure, the ice-snow groaning beneath them as physics approached its point where mass plus slippery surface equaled freefall.

It happened a second later, both children simultaneously pinwheeling downhill like cartoon characters. By this time I had swung back below them but they came like simultaneously thrown bowling balls and 10 feet apart and I could only save one so I chose my daughter, digging my skis in perpendicular to the slope and skidding a little upon impact but holding holding and then turning to watch as her friend spiraled 200 vertical feet down and gaining velocity all the way until the hill flattened out and he came to a stop just before the cut slope gave way to woods. He seemed fine and at least he was down and gee why hadn’t I thought to conduct a lesson in the art of self-arrest prior to our decent of Catamount? Somewhere above us his dad was still side-slipping his way down but I decided I couldn’t worry about them and just focused on pep-talking my daughter from one sweeping turn to the next until 15 minutes later we were down.

Skiing pavement on a cold February day - the kind of day I would have avoided before I began skiing with my daughter.

This is everybody’s idea of East Coast skiing and nobody’s idea of a good time. It is the kind of day I had long sat out. A strain of Rocky Mountain snobbism had reduced my East Coast ski forays mostly to powder days. I had had enough Hunter Mountain ice skating, enough tap-dance tight-radius edge-of-the-trail turns avoiding boilerplate glaciers humping up the center of skied-off black diamonds, enough of wishing I’d borrowed a ninja’s sword-sharpening kit to grind my edges before every run. There was nothing to be found there but injuries and disappointment. No thanks.

But something funny happened when I started skiing with my kid. Kids like skiing for the motion and the laughter and the activity and the attention and the novelty and the sense of accomplishment when they conquer something scary. They like it for the hot chocolate breaks and the helmet stickers and the first time you let them carry poles and the six-inch side hits in the terrain park and the conveyor belts and the gondolas. They like it for the springtime pond skims and the yardsales they see from the chairlift and the lift tickets dangling off their coats and the feeling of a hand warmer in their glove and the giant cookies at lunchtime. They like it for the extra sleep on the way to the hill and the naps on the way home and the sense of being in the mountains even if they don’t quite recognize that yet, that escape and that feeling that you’ve stepped outside of the slog of life for a moment and that’s OK because your dad says so. And that sensation of flight, of effortless motion, that is what we all care about and why we all keep dumping enormous sums of money and energy and time into this thing.

What kids don’t care about are all the things that adults have designated as essential. They don’t care about powder because they have never floated through a two-foot dump on the shoulder of a Colorado Tuesday. They don’t care about corduroy because their turns are sloppy and inconsistent anyway. They don’t care about moguls because they look like something out of Mordor and we tell them not to go to places like that. They do care about trees but only almost flat ones that you meander through at low angles and low speeds with your arms spread laughing. They don’t care about jumps for the same reasons they don’t care about vaping or cars or other things that they’ve decided are the domain of distant teenagers. And yes some of your kids do care about some of these things because they’ve been skiing since they were 11 days old and you guys live at the top of Stowe or something but most kids you realize are not like this.

And kids don’t care about après or condos or “owning a quiver” or snow tires or where you park or any of the other things that make us rubberband stacks of hundreds thick as goldbricks to prep for our season. They only care about the skiing. And unlike your friends ever particular and conditions-seeking they will ski in the rain because it’s different and ski in the slush because it’s fun and ski in the ice because they don’t know any better and ski to last chair because you make them and take long exploratory detours on flat bike trails because it’s interesting and ski in the crowds because their whole life is crowded places and frenetic motion. And they will ski anywhere because they don’t know the difference yet between Campgaw and Vail and every place seems as huge and like you could get lost there. So primed, stripped of pretense and ego, they sail joyously through their ski days.

I am ashamed to say that, before I began skiing with my daughter on such less-than-ski-film-worthy days, I had forgotten much of this, how to find joy in the less-than-Epik, in the sleet and the glaciered and the swarmed and the flat and the humble.

But here she had a February Monday off from school for no explicable holiday-based reason. Had we stayed home I would be fixing something or organizing some closet or sequestered writing or toggling through bills or out running errands and she would be sprawled into some creative project or off reading or watching other kids open toys on YouTube or something. Maybe you make flashcards with your kids of all the Chinese emperors and practice differential equations and recreate the Battle of Hades with interactive macramé sculptures but I am not that kind of parent and ours is not that kind of home. Home is endless scrambling distractions. Skiing is laughing up-and-down-in-a-sort-of-orderly-way togetherness. Conditions be damned.

So I hadn’t bothered with weather reports or anything else other than confirming that the mountain would be open and we’d pulled into the mostly-empty parking lot a bit before nine a.m.

It is very cold and a few snowflakes tumble drifting and hesitant and for a moment I am hopeful. Not to be. From the summit we ski from New York into Massachusetts and this is another thing that is more fun with children, because they care so genuinely about such novelty.

On the chairlift I sink into different characters. On one ride I am too-cool teenage park rat Shreddington and my answer to every question is “Whatevs” and I talk about all the rad tricks I’ll throw and how my parents are “lamestains” and how school is bogus and Waverly tells me no one says any of those things anymore and probably didn’t ever. “Whatevs,” I say and we ski down. On the next ride I imitate her future boyfriend Javier who I intensely dislike because he only skis Whistler and he drives a Mercedes that his father bought him and he uses the price of things as an adjective and he mistakes having $1,200 skis with being good at skiing. Wave laughs at all of this and for some reason so do I even though it’s all so stupid.

Somewhere deeper into that afternoon, after the previously described icefall and after lunch, we are lapping the east side triple and our friends ride up behind us. We exit at midstation and turn to wait for them. The boy stands and wobbles and slides tottering in a jumble of ejecting equipment down the ramp. His father had not been expecting an exit at all and by the time he processes the soft yardsale he is craned backward over the still-moving chair. He is well past any point of judicious exit but after a moment’s hesitation he leap-falls four feet from the chairlift and collapses like he’d landed beneath an anvil in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. The teenage liftie belatedly halts the chair and emerges unhurried from the box and just kind of stands there looking at the two of them hoisting themselves from their jumble. After several seconds he turns and walks back inside and I am too far away to hear any talking if there was any but I imagine him saying “whatevs” as he closes the shack door.

Waverly and I stand watching at first confused and then concerned and then realizing they are OK laughing. Two years later, we still laugh about it, a shared memory sculpted from a ski day otherwise born to be forgotten.

Storm Skiing Podcast #7, with Burke Mountain General Manager Kevin Mack, will go out Friday, Dec. 6.


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Check out previous podcasts: Killington GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher