At 55, most of my friends have retired and sold off their equipment long ago. But, I’m not ready to let go. Skiing is what gets me through the winter.
I’ve grown up with it. When we lived in Trail, B.C. in the 60’s, it was our big thing. We weren’t a sports family, but Dad’s bachelor buddy, Ed, had taken it up. As a young father, I’m sure Dad realized if he was going to ski with Ed, his wife and four daughters were going to ski, too.
One Christmas, our gift from Santa was ski equipment. It was exciting times as we all tried on our boots, fastened our feet onto the boards and practiced our step-turns in the living room. We were ready!
Red Mountain was only a few minutes away in Rossland and by cutting coupons out of the Trail Times, Mom and Dad were able to afford lessons for all of us. I was going to be the next Nancy Green.
But, it turned out there was a lot about skiing I didn’t like. I hated putting on multi-layers of warm clothes and I hated carrying my own skis. Even after Dad taught me how to balance them over my shoulder, they still felt awkward and heavy.
I hated how I didn’t have the strength to hold the rope tow tightly enough to keep it from churning through my woolen mittens. I hated the restriction of lessons and just wanted to soar straight down the hill. “No swooshing!” Mom would holler as I whizzed by.
But, what I did love, and still love, about skiing is the feeling of freedom. Up on the hill there is no competition, no measuring up. It’s just me and the hill, my skis and the smell of evergreens.
And, what I realized much later in life is how skiing had become my connection to Dad. It was something we did together.
Skiing took Dad away from his work and his passion for music and brought him together with all of us. The memories are still vivid.
Back in the 60’s, the chair lift on Red Mountain had single seats. Skiers rode up one at a time. It was up to parents to ensure the safety of their children. So, the plan on one particular day was to have Mom get on the first chair so that she’d be at the top to help us off, then my sister, then me and lastly Dad to make sure we got on at the bottom.
Once we were all on, Dad was coaching me from the chair behind on how to hold my poles correctly. Just as my chair was going over a tower, I twisted to take a look at how he was holding his. My ski hit the tower and I was thrown from my seat. Instantly, Dad became Superman and jumped after me.
I landed in a heap of untouched powder snow, stunned to see Dad land right beside me. Miraculously, neither of us was hurt. He picked me up, dusted the snow from my jacket and sent me into the lodge for hot chocolate. That day he was truly my hero.
Dad was very driven in his career and his music so there wasn’t much time left for skiing as a family once we moved to Calgary. After living a convenient 10 minutes from Red Mountain, Banff seemed far away, not to mention very expensive for a family of six. I’m sure that’s why the few times we went together in my teens seem more memorable.
I was in my teens when I realized the ski/Dad connection. The ski hill was the one place where I had Dad’s full attention all day. I loved it when he ducked into the ski lodge mid-afternoon, returning with a full-size Mars Bar for each of us. “For energy,” he’d say. It felt like we were getting away with something.
Whenever Dad took something on, he intended to master it. Skiing was no different. I loved to watch as he floated on his skis. He had style. Not like me whose style, to this day, is “no style.”
The last time we skied together, Dad was well into his senior years and it did not go well for him. We were on a family ski trip. I had my own kids on skis now and he was excited to join us. But he hadn’t skied in a few years. His ski suit was tight, his form was sloppy and he couldn’t keep up. Within a couple of hours his frustration grew and he packed it in. It was a sad day – the last time he skied with me, the last time he skied – period.
The first time I skied after Dad died, I looked down from the chairlift to see a man teaching his little daughter to traverse the hill. It was Dad and me 50 years ago.
I heard Dad’s voice as I started my first run, “Roll your knees. Now get a little bounce going.”
“I’m trying my best, Dad.”
At the end of the day my husband, who was skiing with me, said, “That’s the best I’ve ever seen you ski.”
“Thanks for your coaching, Dad. We had a great day on the hill.”
I worry that I’m on limited time where my recreational skiing is concerned. Each year, when I get one more season in, I am grateful.
And as long as I ski, Dad skis with me.