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Skiing Through Life: A Winter Tradition Passes to the Next Generation


Published January 29, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated April 6, 2022 at 9:18 a.m.

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Five months before my daughter was born, I strolled through my college town of Crested Butte, Colo. The ski shops offered summer sales, so I looked for skis for my wife, Sarah, and sunglasses for me. While shopping, I stumbled upon a pair of toddler skis. Immediately, I bought those skis. I didn't care that my child wasn't yet born. I didn't care that I had no idea what type of girl she would be. We hadn't even picked a name.

All I knew was that my entire life had been defined by skiing, and I could not imagine a child of mine not being influenced by the sport. I thought of two photos, black-and-whites from the 1930s or 1940s, that hang on our walls. They show my father's parents on wooden skis, bamboo poles in hands. I thought of the thousands of other photos of my parents, brother, sister and me skiing.

Ours has been a life of winter, of skiing.

When I was 2 years old, my parents strapped me to my first pair of skis on the same day that my older brother and sister started skiing. On that day, my parents taught the three of us to ski on a gentle slope in Pennsylvania.

My mother, seven years ago, framed my oldest ski hat, tiny and rainbow-colored. Surrounding the hat are pictures of me skiing: arms wrapped around a T-bar, wedging through moguls, blazing a path out of the woods, and standing with my family, all of us on skis or with skis in our hands, faces blizzards of smiles.

In mid-January 2017, six days after Winter — so named because she was born into a world of snow and to parents who love snow — came home from the hospital, I bundled her up, tucked her into my jacket, and stepped outside with my cross-country skis and poles.

Sarah asked, "Are you sure?"

"Winter is a Prentiss," I replied, "which is just another name for skier."

I strapped on my skis, and we glided across frozen Solstice Lake. Soon enough, Winter snoozed against my chest, with only her little hat poking out of my jacket. Soon enough, I began to feel like a father.

As a child, my family skied almost every area on the East Coast, up to Québec. Weekends, we'd load into an old RV and camp in a ski area parking lot. Then we'd ski first lift to last.

In college, I studied skiing as much as business.

After graduation, every winter found me chasing snow from resort to resort, then from backcountry area to backcountry area, all across the West.

Two years after I bought them, Sarah set Winter's toddler skis on our carpet.

"Why pull them down?" I asked. It was July. We had months until the snow would fly.

Sarah just smiled.

Within moments, Winter picked up the skis and used them as hockey sticks.

Sarah, a newer skier — she learned to ski on our first dates — knelt beside Winter and said, "These are skis. They go on your feet. You use them in snow." Winter slid her bare feet into the bindings.

I grabbed her hands and helped her "ski" across the carpet. As her feet slid, she let out a wild laugh, just like I make when I surf through powder.

Skiing, it seems, has taught me every important thing in life.

My parents would say to my siblings and me, "If you want to ski, you have to put on your own boots," so we learned self-sufficiency.

On the coldest days, when Kristin, Jay, and I wanted to hide in our RV to stay warm, my dad would say, "We'll have the mountain to ourselves. We'll have so much fun," which taught us to brave the elements and the hard moments of life.

Regardless of the weather, we'd talk and laugh our way up the mountain on the chairlift, sharing stories of skiing or school or friends, which helped us learn to communicate.

And then we'd ski down the mountain. Mom making elegant turns. Dad racing through the moguls, run after run, with Kristin close behind. Jay flew through the air off every jump he could find. And I scouted paths through the woods. We learned early in life that we each had our own paths down the mountains and our own styles for skiing and for living.

When there were tears — and there were always tears about falls or being cold or hungry — Mom or Dad would take care of the problem, stand us up, and say, "Let's be all done crying and get back to skiing, OK?" They'd wipe our noses, and we'd get back to skiing, all five of us, together, which reminded us that it was OK to be sad but also that, after a bit, it was time to get back to skiing, to life.

Twenty inches of snow graced our Thanksgiving. Sarah and I bundled up Winter and carried her outside. She always likes being outside best, just like her parents.

As we walked out the door, Sarah grabbed Winter's skis and set them in the snow. Sarah didn't say a word, didn't tell 2-year-old Winter what to do. She just let Winter's skis sit in the snow.

"Skis?" Winter asked.

"Yup," Sarah said.

"Winter?" Winter said, asking if she could put on her skis.

We bent down, clicked Winter's boots into the bindings, and pulled her across our driveway. We made goofy faces. We picked her up and spun her like a helicopter. We let her slip and slide and walk until each of us was laughing.

"Do you want to go down the hill?" I asked.

Winter, laughing and smiling and confident, cooed, "Yes," so I tucked her between my legs, maybe just as Mom and Dad tucked me between their legs, just as Kristin and Jay tucked my niece and nephew between their legs. And Winter and I, we skied into the rest of our lives.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.