My mom loves to ski. My parents used to joke that it was part of their marriage contract that my dad would ski and my mom would golf (not that my dad was ever much of a golfer for the first 26 years of the marriage, I think he was just looking for a sport he thought he could learn so he could have a “his side” of the bargain).
My mom always dreamed skiing would be a family activity, and for a while it was. When I was about six, I remember my mom and my uncle took me to Glen Eden, a small ski resort near where we used to live. The following year, 1994, we bought a condo in Ellicottville, New York, across the road from Holiday Valley ski resort. We’d spend 2-3 weekends a month there during the winter and about a weekend a month in other seasons (they had a swimming pool and a golf course, which my dad did use a handful of times). As Caleigh, my younger sister, and Jared, my younger brother, became older, they too learned to ski at Holiday Valley. In 1997, I travelled with my mom to Silver Star (interior BC), and in 1999, with my mom and my uncle to Whistler. In 2001, my family spent a week outside Salt Lake City skiing at Deer Lake, Park City and Canyons. But Holiday Valley was always “home.”
In April 2003, we sold the place. We had moved to Toronto the previous summer and it had become hard to find time to get there. In some ways, that was my fault. Instead of leaving Friday evenings, I wanted to spend Friday nights with my girlfriend and Saturday mornings with my band, and Sunday nights became vital for an increased homework load at a private high school. Moving to Toronto also added half an hour to the drive in either direction. There were other factors, I’m sure. Having a real estate investment south of the border was increasingly worrying for my parents post-9/11 as border security (and security theatre) increased and the Iraq war was imminent, and the money was needed to put my siblings and I through high school and university. For a variety of reasons, that era was over.
There’s more to skiing as a family than just sport, though exercising and staying healthy is certainly a part of it. Skiing as a family means working as a team. It’s about helping each other out as we improve our skills and navigate the mountains. It’s about getting a chance to talk over hot chocolate during a break, or in front of the fireplace at the end of the day. It’s about retreat from the stresses and distractions of daily life (to a condo instead of a cottage). Beyond our immediate family, we were host to many other families and friends over the years, sharing and introducing many people to the experience and our love of the sport and the place. For us, Ellicottville was a place where we could get away and a place where we could grow.
Skiing as a family continued. We travelled to Jay Peak (Vermont) that winter and continue to ski in Ellicottville at least once a year as renters. In 2006, we skied Whiteface (Lake Placid) and I (somehow) convinced Heather, my girlfriend, to join us. The last time she had been skiing was 2003, in Ellicottville, and she ended up with a mild concussion (after she was “too cool” for the helmet I offered her and she hit her head on a patch of ice). We made a day trip to Ellicottville in preparation and she took a lesson while we were in Lake Placid. By the end of the trip, she had fallen in love with skiing (which is better than the fall she had last time…) and she bought her own equipment later that winter. Just like with the many families and friends we’d brought to Ellicottville, the love had spread.
This Christmas break, my mom had planned a family ski vacation at Mount Tremblant. Heather wanted to come, but my sister didn’t. My parents tried to convince her to come, but she brought up the fact that I’d been able to skip out on a couple family vacations in the past. As we were loading up the van, my dad’s skis were removed. He never skied much, but he’d usually do at least a day or two. This time, he’d sit it out on account of his workload and health reasons (he still came — pretty sweet to have someone preparing dinner while you’re on the hills!). My brother slept through the first day and wimped out pretty early on the second. He came out with us, but after a fall on one of the first runs, started to complain, “I’m only doing this for you, mom.” He went in early and didn’t come out the next day. And who am I to criticize my siblings; it was when I was Jared’s age that I no longer had time for Ellicottville, and it was by my example that Caleigh exempted herself from the family vacation.
My mom had always hoped for a European family ski trip, and she saw a lot of the smaller trips as working up to that. On the drive to Mount Tremblant, she realized that would never happen. I doubt her mind was changed through the week. It seems the whole family skiing thing has ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.
It’s only recently that I’ve realized how things are constantly changing so gradually, yet so permanently. I mean, that truth is obvious, but to really internalize it and be conscious of it — not just to know, but to understand, feel and experience — is a whole new level of recognition. I’ve long since been hyper-conscious of that reality on a social (peer) level, but I guess family has always seemed relatively permanent and stable (I’ve been lucky — not many deaths, no divorce). Change comes quickly; it seems almost exponential now. (For example, in the last few years my dad has been developing a real passion for golf.)
I’m thankful that my mom shared her love of skiing with us, and with my friends and with Heather. I have no plans to stop skiing, and I’m sure I’ll keep skiing with Heather and with my mom in the future. And here’s a promise: one day, I’ll do that European ski trip with my mom.