Go Tell It On The Mountain

I took the kids out of school on Friday (actually, two of them chose to skip school and the third had the day off) and we headed over to Stowe together. After two straight days of snow here in northern Vermont, it was a no-brainer, and I hadn't been on the mountain since last year, so it was long overdue.

I've been a skier for as long as I can remember. Most days that stretches back to yesterday's dinner, but in the case of skiing, my memory takes me all the way back to the days of the T-bar at a little hill called Adirondack, just outside of Saratoga. I remember vividly my dad having to crouch down low enough so that our bodies would be mostly even on the bumpy ride to the top. There were three T-bars that took a skier to the top of that hill -- no high-speed chairlifts or cozy gondolas. When you skied there you were outside all day, attached to your skis and moving. It was bliss, as was the reward of the "big cookie" we had at the end of the day before the ride home to Mom and a warm dinner. 

I would say that almost all of my best memories from my childhood were born on a skiing day. Dad knew that a mountain had some things to teach a kid, and so when the evening weather report was favorable, we would gear up to leave early the next day, an operation that played-out with near military precision: equipment packed into the car; clothing laid out and breakfast fixings prepped in the kitchen. Ask any kid in my family what we ate on ski days and they'll tell you: poached eggs. To this day my fondness for poached eggs runs like a vein of gold through my heart, so happy are the memories of all of us driving past the bus stop on our way to Bromley or Killington or Okemo. (Note here to my dear friend, Joanna, who asked if taking her daughter out of school to ski would send the wrong message: I'm not so sure that sending my kids to school most days sends the right message, but you can rest assured that a few days outside those four walls convening with Mamma Nature won't do any harm to your offspring: somewhere in my parents' attic you'll find pieces of paper that prove their kids earned a law degree from an Ivy League school, a Master's in education and a Ph.D.).

I feel sad that skiing has essentially become a sport for rich people because strapping two boards to my feet and gliding down a mountain is one of the very happiest ways to spend a day and I wish everyone could have that sensation; it is as close to flying as a human can get, without wings. At Stowe on Friday I thought my face would become permanently frozen in a smile; I had almost forgotten just how much I love skiing. And I was reminded of how relieved and grateful I am that my kids are carrying forth the mantle. The Three Musketeers are incredible skiers, with thanks going to Daddy Two --Richard -- who hauls them and all their gear and the dog and a ton of groceries to the mountain nearly every weekend in the winter. They're a happy skiing circus, and it has paid off mightily. Sam and Nate and Coco know every inch of that hill and they navigate it with confidence and reverence. They appreciate what they have found in skiing culture. The mountain has taught them to be respectful people at the same time it has made them strong and healthy. When we stopped for lunch on Friday they knew that things in the lodge cafeteria were pricey and they showed restraint without being asked: they chose soup and a drink; they refused my offer of candy. "We're here to ski," said Sam, "we don't need to waste our time and money in here."

Oh. Amen!

The gift our Dad gave us in the simple act of taking us to the mountain and teaching us how to ski has played out in myriad ways within our family: somehow I ended up in norther Vermont, where I look to the right and see the Green Mountains, then look to the left and see the Adirondacks; my sister one-upped us all by settling in Alaska where everyone practically lives on skis: Tommy is about to marry the head trainer of the Beaver Creek Ski and Snowboard School (SCORE!) and when Sam graduates from high school in June he's heading to Jackson Hole for an internship with Teton Gravity Research, the coolest ski film production company in the world. Dad still skis an absurd number of days each season; skiing has kept the kid alive in his heart and his body strong at an age when most people are hobbling and complaining and filling themselves up with fake body parts. Skiing permeates every part of our lives, so much so that I'm afraid it's an unspoken deal-breaker when someone in the family considers dating a non-skier. It's not a snobby attitude, I can assure you, it's a quiet understanding that exists among people who know about the power of the mountain and the magic inherent in the act of skiing. Being outside on a chilly winter day, sitting on a lift and getting to know a stranger who loves the same thing you do, the weightless feeling when the turns come effortlessly, the view you get from the top of the whole, wide, wintery world below. When we are skiing, for a brief and blissful time, we leave behind the world of pointless text messages and the incessant Like-ing of every goddamned move everyone everywhere makes. We're there, together, eating and moving and being outside, breathing fresh air; gratified in our knowing that skiing connects us to something communal and ancient and peaceful.

I'm reading a great book right now, Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest. In it she says, "I don't recall the exact moment when I fell in love with God..." I do, and I was strapped to skis at the time, holding poles, wearing bulky boots and moving as fast as I could down a mountain covered with cold, white stuff.