Monday, February 04, 2013

no turning back

We were supposed to go skiing last weekend.


The children were out of school for a four-day weekend, and I'd planned to take Monday and Tuesday off from work. But our ski trip last weekend didn't happen because Charlie and I couldn't get our ducks in a row and by the time we were ready to call and book our lodging and ski classes for the children - it was the day before we were planning to leave and guess what?  There was no lodging nor space available in the ski school.   


So our day Saturday was spent with me frustrated that we didn't plan this trip better and now we're wasting a four-day weekend and I had been so excited to go skiing with the family and nothing was happening the way that I had envisioned and as it happens with dashed expectations .... I wasn't at my best.  Add to that, we weren't entirely sure what winter clothing we had for the children, so we needed to do a full inventory to prevent us from purchasing things that we already owned. In order to conduct my "gap analysis" I started to look through different storage boxes in the garage and I discover that winter clothes are mixed with summer clothes are mixed with Halloween costumes are mixed with random Christmas decorations and my OCD short-circuited.

The clothes! Oh, the clothes that you have to manage when there are four distinct seasons are so much more than the clothes that I had to manage in San Diego! And it had been a while - several weeks at least, since I'd spent any time in the garage. So I didn't know how unorganized it had become. I was oblivious to the fact that our children had been getting in to various boxes and pulling things out - and mixing things up. I didn't realize that in the process of Charlie completing our attic, he was moving various items - including a few remnant baby supplies - to the garage. So when I see that our Pack-n-Play and infant carrier and Henry's crib were stacked next to the lawnmower - blocking the door - and clothes were strewn everywhere ... I felt overwhelmed by stuff. So much stuff that I fantasized getting rid of everything in our house except our beds and a dresser and maybe a table.

In order for me to function with any degree of sanity, I have to be organized. I have to know what we have and what we don't have and I have to know exactly where it is. Go forth and judge if you must, but for Pete's sake, I have to have order and the more "stuff we have" the less order we have. Or, the more time we (I) have to spend on trying to maintain some degree of order.  It haunts me taking time away from my family to organize stuff that we don't really need.  And now that all of the clothes and decorations were mixed together and bags of items that had been earmarked for donation to Goodwill had been hijacked and were now back in circulation ... I uttered some words. Including a few bad ones. 


Seared in my memory forever, and quite possibly the memory of my loving husband ... is me - wearing my custom Nordica ski boots that I'd bought in Whistler in 2001, that I'd worn less than 10 times and which no longer fit because my foot has increased a full size the birth of our four children .... jumping up and down in the garage as smoke billowed out of my ears.  Why am I the only one that has my finger on the pulse of our clothing inventory? Why must it always be me to keep things organized?

Charlie, because he is a much more calm and wise person than me, suggested that we immediately go to church. So we went to church and I prayed for wisdom, peace, and the ability to shut-up. And it didn't really help because I was still quite upset at what I felt was a totally wasted weekend and my desire to embrace a minimalist lifestyle had me threatening to donate 90% of the stuff in our house.

Instead of taking Monday and Tuesday off, I went back to work while Charlie took the children to local parks on their days home from school. And we made plans to go skiing on Thursday and Friday. Yes, we'd have to pull the kids out of school, but we figured that maybe the conditions would be better - because there would be less people on the slopes mid-week. We'd debated driving two hours and skiing at the Massanutten resort to the south of us. We'd also debated driving two hours and skiing at the Whitetail resort to the north of us.  And we'd debated driving four hours and skiing at the Snowshoe resort to the west of us.  Then we looked at the weather and were dismayed that it was supposed to be in the high 60's  ... low 70's on Wednesday ... the day we were set to leave, across the entire region. 

My co-worker, a seasoned skier, had warned me about mid-Atlantic skiing. Because the weather is so variable and unpredictable, he was planning to fly his family to Colorado for the long weekend, because he knew the conditions would be good. Or at least better. But it was too late for us to make such drastic plans on such short notice.

When I was able to procure 50% off the price of lift tickets and lessons for the children through my employer to Whitetail, that made our ski destination a relatively easy decision for us.  But when we left on Wednesday evening, in a torrential downpour, with the thermostat showing an outdoor temperature of 70 degrees, I nearly cried.  Once upon a time, Charlie and I skied a lot. In fact, in 1996, we had both interviewed in Colorado for the sole purpose of living near some of the best skiing in the world. To this day, it remains on our Bucket Lists to live close enough to a ski resort so that we can have season lift tickets and ski anytime we want.  So after more than a decade of having not skied, I was so looking forward to getting back on the slopes with my husband.  Alas, temperatures in the 70's with driving rain are most definitely NOT the most optimal snow ski conditions.

But we had decided that this trip was for the children. So what if the conditions were terrible? The kids would undoubtedly have a great time so long as we were appeared to be having a great time, so dammit ... PUT ON A HAPPY FACE.


We drove to Pennsylvania and when we arrived - Charlie decided to check out the weather at Snowshoe and low and behold .... the driving rain that we were receiving on the eastern seaboard was 3-6 inches of snow just to the west of us. We strategized pulling up stakes and driving to West Virginia.  Even if we had to back track, if we woke up at 5 AM, we could be there by 9 just in time for the lifts to open!  A rationale mindset overcame us (remember the children...), and we decided to stick it out in Pennsylvania.  After all it took for us to get there, surely it was MEANT TO BE that we were at this mountain at this time.

So on Thursday morning, we woke up - ate breakfast - and drove 25 minutes to the resort.  On the way, Charlie and I discussed what we'd do if when we arrived, they informed us that they were closed?  We tried to reassure ourselves that they had a 36-inch base, so even with the storms, they'd surely still have enough to ski upon.  Imagine our despair, then, when we pulled in to the parking lot and an attendant greeted us at the entrance and informed us that they'd lost more than 20 inches of base within the past 24 hours and the power was completely out. The lifts weren't operating.  The stores were closed. The beautiful white slopes had been washed out and in certain areas, there were large sections of visible soil beneath because of the damage from the storms.


Is the Universe trying to send us a message? 

Should we just turn around and go home? 

No! Of course not! The children were out of school. I was on precious vacation. We had purchased lift tickets for two days. We were booked in our hotel that had a great hot tub and free breakfast.  We had bought snow gear that we had identified in our "gap analysis". We were going to have a GREAT time, come hell or high water, both of which it seemed had been doled at us over the past few days.

We pulled in to the guest parking lot where we noticed we were the only car. We got out of the car, walked up to the host booth and were kindly informed that the power would hopefully be back on within the next two hours.  We walked in to the lodge and we waited. And waited. And waited.


And the host, a retired turned volunteer man named Mike (who would become our best friend for the rest of the day) brought the children coloring books, race cars, Slinkies, crossword and jigsaw puzzles and Tootsie Rolls to keep them entertained.


Two hours later, by 10:45, the lights in the lodge came on and the lifts slowly started to move.   Mike escorted us to the ski rental shop where we picked up our equipment.  The children needed to rent all of their gear - and since I had outgrown my ski boots (which I hauled along just to make doubly sure) - I needed to rent all of my equipment, too.


Then Mike walked us to the ski school where the children were enrolled.


Mike later put on his skis so he could show Charlie and I around the mountain ... which only proved that he really is the host with the most.


The conditions were the worst I've ever skied on. There was hardly any granular snow, it was all a sheet of ice and in certain spots, without skis on, you might punch through the ice to a river of melting snow beneath. Henry, especially, was drenched by the time we'd left.


Because it was midweek and the conditions were so horrible, we were literally the only people on the mountain .... at least the only people that I saw, except the employees that worked there.


The children had the undivided attention of several ski instructors (usually two to one ratio) for the entire day, and by the end of the first day, they were all snowplowing down the bunny slopes, across the ice.  If you've priced private ski lessons lately, the cost for almost six hours (times six) of individualized instruction would have had a lot of 000's at the end, but we received it all for the discounted price of the children's group lesson. (The children's ski poles were for decoration, only.  Once we saw that they were trying to use them to stop, we plucked them away.)




A quick note about our ski instructors: All of the instructors that we met were volunteers, who were in their 60s and 70s (just like the temperatures had been, the day before).


They were all highly experienced skiers that had skied mountains around the world and they would donate 16 days each season to instructing others how to ski.


In return, they received season passes to the resort.


Now I've had ski lessons before, but our ski lessons with these teachers who had nothing to prove and no where else to be, and sincerely wanted to convey their skiing knowledge to you, were the best lessons I've ever received.  My teacher, Jack, who has been skiing for more than 55 years and could rip up the mountain like a teenager, was incredible.  In addition to giving me a renewed faith that people in their golden years can be in amazing shape, he taught me how to ski backwards, how to more effectively skate uphill and how to easily maneuver my little rented parabolic skis.

(Which I loved, by the way.)


By Friday, the conditions had dramatically improved. While there were more people on the mountain to ski - we were on a first name basis with the staff, so we were greeted like family. The children were embraced by their instructors, who again, privately, took them back out on the slopes to reinforce what they'd learned the day before, while Charlie and I went off for our lesson with Jack.


As the day progressed, we put Henry in a Kid's Camp program, so I could ski with Carolyn ....


And Charlie could ski with Elizabeth and William who it turns out have NO FEAR, even when Charlie inadvertently took them down a black diamond run, which they made it safely down with nary a wipe out.  (Apparently, there was one sign, which William hit with his helmeted head.)


The whole experience of skiing with our children was surreal. They absolutely loved it and to be standing on a slope watching my babies riding overhead, by themselves, on a chair lift was breathtaking. As was the heart attack I nearly had when I saw that they were riding with their safety bar up. (There was a long discussion about the importance of safety bars that concluded with me telling the children about their cousin, Margaret, who jumped headfirst out of a chair lift when she missed getting off and was heading for the top of the mountain.)


Each day, we'd gather in the lodge to sip $30 worth of overpriced hot chocolate and talk about our the various runs we had experienced and .... how can it be I'm having this conversation with my little children?


At the end of both days, they were so thoroughly exhausted, they could hardly move and yet, they were so excited to come back and do it again.



The awesomeness of skiing knows no end!


We will be going back again very soon.  Not just because we've all got the ski bug, but because Whitetail gave us complimentary full-day lift tickets, because of the power outage and "inconvenience."

Before we left, I sent a message to the resort manager to let them know that while the conditions weren't ideal, their amazing staff more than made up for any disappointment we may have experienced. This mountain, at this time, was indeed exactly where we were supposed to be.


In the end, it never ceases to amaze me how once you make up your mind about having a good time, you usually do.


  1. Fantastic. I know exactly what you mean about looking over at your kids on a ski lift...there's just nothing like it; we are totally addicted. It's one of the best things to do with a family ever!! Wanna meet us at Mt. Tremblant in March? :) We can't wait and know it will be worth the nine hour drive.

  2. That was the best story, Jen! Gave me goosebumps. God really does work in mysterious ways! Maybe next year we will fly out there and ski with you pros! Miss you my friend...

  3. While your trip did not go exactly as planned, I am glad it worked out so well and that you and your family made some awesome memories.

    Glad you were able to share this experience with those you love. I enjoyed seeing the photos of the entire family, including you Jen!

    Course, the title of this post had me thinking it was related to work and your path, but the story behind was still a great one!

    Amy F.

  4. Sonja - WOW ... I just Googled Tremblant and it looks so awesome!!! It's *only* 12 hours from our house ... and from now until February 12th, kids ski for free. Do you have any idea how fantastic of an incentive that is for us???

    Cough. Cough.

    Oh no. I might be coming down with something that feels like it could last for a whole week.....!!!

  5. Amy - - I can see how that title would be quite appropriate for such an announcement. I will admit, after this past weekend, Charlie and I are definitely trying to figure out how we can make ends meet if we move to a ski resort and work the lifts -- so such an announcement might not be too far off! :)

  6. Poppa and Kathleen2/5/13, 10:39 AM

    So happy to see you all enjoying the snow as much as you did the sand! HAVE FUN!

  7. Look at Big White in Kelowna BC Jen as a trip one day. It's the best place we have found for a ski in ski out (everywhere) in BC for kids and families. Maybe you guys could come work in Kelowna with it's hot hot weather in the summer and lakes and then ski in the winter.

    (That list includes blackcomb,whistler, sunpeaks, seymour, cypress)

  8. Oh dear heavens .... we are SO going to do a ski tour around Canada one day. Start in the east and hit Mont Tremblant and Banff and then wind up on the west with Whistler, Blackcomb and Big White.

    Last night, Charlie and I discussed him reclaiming his Canadian citizenship and moving our whole family there so we could be closer to skiing. But I don't know if I'd want to live in one place. I like the idea of traveling around and visiting them all.

    The next riddle I need to quickly solve is whether or not its possible for a bona fide ski bum to support a family of six (with a dog and two guinea pigs)?

  9. Family skiing is awesome if you can get over the $$$$ it costs!!!! My youngest started one month before he was three b/c he insisted on being like everyone else. We have only been a few times and we all love it.

  10. Ski for free?! What!? I wish our holidays were in Feb! We're heading there during our kids' March Break from school; Quebec has holidays the week before us so it will be a bit less busy. I'm sure lots of people from Ontario will be there. (That happened when we went to Gore Mt. in northern New York the last two times...I was hoping to meet some genuine New Yorkers and ended up riding the gondola with Canadians every time!)

    You should check out Gore Mt.--it is a eight hour drive for us. We loved it. We did Whiteface as well at Lake Placid which was a little intense but awesome as well. The lift tickets were inter changeable between both mountains which was fun. And staying at the Six Flags near there was cheaper than getting a suite for our family the one year, so the kids had a blast all evening long as well. The other year we rented a house with two other families and it had an indoor pool.

    Maybe someday we will meet on a mountain and swoosh down a blue square together!

  11. Although it had a rough start, it sounds like a wonderful trip. We took our girls skiing for the first time last year at Bryce. It is a small resort, but it was perfect for new skiers. We have been anxious to go skiing again this year. Thanks for sharing your experience at White Tail. We may need to check it out next.