Yesterday it became very apparent to me, just how lucky I am.
We were weekend skiers, my dad, sister and I. I hated waking up early, the long drives, frustration when I couldn’t figure it out, even crying on the mountain. I didn’t realize what my dad was doing for me: instilling a life-long passion and introducing me to (in my opinion) the greatest lifestyle imaginable.
I started at the Summit of Snoqualmie when I was 4. My dad then moved us down the street to Alpental when the basics were established. My first seasons pass to Crystal was at 8, it has been my home since, I'm 26 now.
Earlier this week, I received a text from my dad’s buddy Craig. I have skied with Craig since before I can remember, well sort of.
My dad has a group of approx 10 guys that have been skiing together for decades; a conservative guess would be 4. These guys are coming up on 70 in a few years.
I’ve been wanting what they have my whole life. A group of rad dudes that crack jokes and snake lines. That don’t get mad, but laugh.
Obviously, they’ve had their ups and downs. They’ve gossiped on one another, offended with poorly timed jokes, even lost money by doing business together. It’s complicated, but on the mountain, they’re brothers. I watched them closely. They have inspired so much of my life. So much of what I want and who I want to be.
For the kids that came from this crew, it was a rite of passage, being fast enough to keep up with the old dogs. You can’t keep a group of 50-year-old ski junkies waiting when you’re 8. It’s not cool.
As I grew, my only goal was to be faster than my dad, to have more beautiful form, to have strong PNW thighs that could blow through chop leaving him amazed and proud.
Naturally, those things came. I am faster than my dad (lol), I do have casual form and look comfortable, and I do have thick thighs (genetics, not from working out, thanks dad) that can handle chop. But the importance of those things fell away. It was out of insecurity, that I felt the need to compete with these old men. They were my teachers, but I wanted to be as good as they, better even.
I wanted to be respected and revered.
It wasn’t every ski day. Mostly, I skied with my sister, my dad, his best friend, and his 2 kids (4 kids, 2 dads). That’s who I learned with. That was my mountain family. But as I started driving up alone, buying my own gear and passes, putting in the effort to get up there when others in our circle fell off, I was pulled into the old dog crew bit by bit.
That feeling of belonging, was special. I felt like me and my family were “skiers”. I felt it differentiated us from a normal boring family. WE liked speed, WE liked being cold, WE dedicated hours of driving to be where WE belonged.
WE were hardcore.
My dad has always been an independent guy. He does what he wants, and seems to like the peace of being alone. The last 4-5 years he's drifted from his pack, it's a bit of a bummer because I always wanted what he had in that crew. A group of dudes who ski. Recently, he moved down to Portland to be with his girlfriend (not surprising). I don’t harbor resentment, but it has been very difficult to get him out for a ski day, even when he’s in town for months during the season (I believe we've had 2 days together in the last 3 seasons). I miss those days, he’s happiest on the mountain and we can enjoy that time without the burdens of economic or political disagreements. It’s a neutralizer, and a damn good one at that.
Back to the text from Craig: “Best spring day ever at Crystal tomorrow. You in?”
Casual, simple, inviting.
Craig, sent my dad that same text. He passed. I did not.
I responded: "Can't wait man see you there"
His response: "Excellent see you there brother"
On the way up, there were an unusual number of elk on the road (Hwy 410). I wanted to give him a heads up, I texted Craig, "lots of elk". A simple OK emoji was his response.
These are silly things, but they made me feel like a friend rather than my dad's kid.
After a couple texts and meeting in our long-time spot in the lodge, it was on.
Craig, Scott (another of the old dogs) and myself set out.
The snow was firm (it almost always is to start), the sky was clear, and the sun was out.
The snow softened throughout the day, the conversations picked up, the laps were fun, really fun.
Early on, Scott checked to see if Craig brought his flask (someone in the crew always had one). He did not, but ironically, I had mine to both of their surprise and elation. Another moment of that feeling of belonging.
We spoke as friends, sharing our personal lives and plans, our work and our families. It was truly a great day.
Craig was wrong, in a sense, it was not the best spring day ever at Crystal. Our snow rarely corns (but when it does, oh boy) and it was not one of those days. It mushed by 12:30, and that was perfect. We sat with beers, chatted some more and called it. A true pleasure I'll remember forever.
After I unpacked at home I received one more text from Craig, "Great day today. Conversations were a highlight". I felt the same.
With all the debate over what ski culture is/should be. I have been enlightened. These dudes at 65/67 wear what they think looks good, which is the same gear for 20+ years. They aren't subject to new trends and fancy new tech (I BUY NEW GEAR ALL THE TIME JUST FYI). They like stiff fast skis. They beer at 10. They sit in the sun and laugh and smile.
That is ski culture. In allowing me to belong, bringing me into their fold, I was able to let go of the thoughts of judgement, the perceptions of the "Jerry", the gatekeeping that we can all feel. Because skiing IS special. I don't appreciate many of the changes I have been seeing in the ski world. Many of them scare me. I fear I am losing something that once defined me. The saturation of "skiers" and the sport's commercialization seem to dilute what that meant to me as a youth. I wanted to protect it and decide who is "real" and who just bought an Ikon.
I thought WE were skiers.
But we're all skiers. It's about the pleasure, the comradery, that sweet sweet feeling we chase.
Craig dreams of carving corduroy on a bluebird day in Sun Valley. And I think he might be right.