Avon, Colorado–If you were to ask my wife why we had children, she would likely formulate an answer that had something vague to do with passing on our traditions and values. Maybe she’d throw in a few platitudes about sharing our prodigious love with a new generation. Having been well-trained, I would produce a similar answer. Then, after you got a couple of drinks in me, I would confess the truth: I just wanted some people who would ski with me when I got old.
I love to ski. I’ve been doing it since I was six. I went to a college along the Vermont/New Hampshire border in part because it was only 40 minutes from Killington and students could buy a midweek season pass there for just $240. (We’ll gloss over the convenient rationalization this provided me for not going to Harvard–in addition to them not accepting me.)
Since graduating, I have made a pilgrimage each year to Colorado, Utah, or California to indulge my ski jones. And as soon as my oldest son had enough leg strength to support himself under the weight of a down parka, I started dragging him along too.
The first years were messy–both literally and figuratively. My wife and I were so eager to get the snowball rolling, we initially ignored the rule that states children can’t be enrolled in ski school until they are fully potty-trained. That first year we received a stern note back from the ski school director pinned to an unhappy and malodorous three-year old. We did not return to that resort.
But the kids are now nine and five, and we have found our sweet spot: Beaver Creek, Colorado. For those who are not ski literate, Beaver Creek is in the heart of the Rockies, about a two-hour drive from Denver and roughly six miles west of Vail–its larger, more well-known sister. Before we had children, we stayed and skied at Vail. The bars, nightlife, and general après-ski atmosphere are more robust over there. But then the kids arrived, and suddenly the importance of a restaurant’s wine list was overshadowed by whether it handed out crayons with the children’s menus.
Apparently, we’re not the only Washingtonians who are keen on Beaver Creek. Within 48 hours of arriving here this week, we ran into no fewer than five families from Montgomery County. Back home, we often joke that you can’t walk down Bethesda Row on a Friday night without running into someone you know. Apparently the same applies to the base of the mountain at the Beav at around 3:30 in the afternoon.
That said, facial recognition has been easier than usual this spring. Normally, eyes and noses are hidden under masks, scarves, and goggles. This spring someone has transformed Colorado into Southern California. It’s been nothing but sunscreen and baseball caps. The daily high temperature during our ski week has hovered right around 60 degrees. We have seen all manner of people skiing in shorts, T-shirts, and bikinis, and at least one person totally topless. (Steady, it was a guy.)
With the mercury soaring, the après-ski scene at the bottom of the mountain feels more like St. Tropez than St. Moritz. As soon as the last run of the day is finished, skiers and boarders hustle to secure a cushioned seat on the patio of the Park Hyatt. That’s where the sunbathing commences. It is also home to the massive fire-pit where the famous Beaver Creek s’mores are made. In one of the town’s most enduring and charming traditions, at 4 each day staff members descend on the fire pit with baskets full of graham crackers, Hershey bars, multicolored marshmallows, and two-foot-long wooden skewers. Children flock to the flame from all corners of the village, and whatever malaise of low energy may have overtaken them after an arduous day of high-altitude skiing gets completely reversed in the nanosecond after that first dollop of molten sugar hits their lips.
Of course, s’mores and sunbathing are merely a sideshow to the skiing itself. Like most Easterners, we did our best to cram as many runs into our finite stay as possible. In fact, according to Beaver Creek’s “epic mix” tracking software, which monitors skiers’ activity through RF chips in their lift passes, I skied 110,000 vertical feet in my five days on the mountain. But something happened on Monday morning that made every previous run I’d ever skied insignificant by comparison.
My nine-year-old son, who, until now, has always opted for the safe and familiar environs of ski school, declared that he wanted to spend the day skiing with me. I was ecstatic. We hit the snow at 9 AM and didn’t stop for lunch until 1. We made run after run–him skiing in line behind me, and then me behind him. He led me into terrain parks I never would have ventured into without his exuberant encouragement. Conversely, I nudged him onto his first black diamond trail–an event that came with severe apprehension on the front end, then outright exultation on the back end.
But believe it or not, the actual skiing with my son wasn’t the best part. The lift rides were.
When you’re alone (or with dubious company) lift rides can be mind-numbingly tedious, to say nothing of cold and uncomfortable. On the contrary, when you’re with your son, they seem to end too soon. They are sports’ version of a confessional. They gave us time to really talk. Back home, the hustle and bustle of everyday life often robs us of the time we need to be intimate with our children. The lift gave us an infinite series of 13-minute blocks to delve deep. We talked about everything and nothing. We talked about school and girls. We talked about dreams and fears–all facilitated by the makeshift privacy of a bench hanging by a steel cable, hurtling through the air.
I’m not sure how old I’ll be when my body can’t withstand the rigors of skiing anymore, but whenever that finally happens, as long as my sons don’t mind, I think I’ll still ride the lift with them.