Recently, I learned about one of the new kinds of moms that is around: the Snowplow Mom. Like her cousin, the Tiger Mom, she wants her offspring to be successful — so much so that she will clear all obstacles out of her children’s way to ensure that they never run into any adversity that would injure their poor little self-esteems. Am I Snowplow Mom? No, that sounds like waaay too much work.
However, President’s Day is coming up, which means many families will take advantage of the day (or five) off of school to hit the slopes. We will be going up to the mountains for a few days, which means we have some big decisions to make. Ski or snowboard? Lesson or just teach the kids yourself? This is a debate that HapaPapa and I have before every snow trip. I firmly believe that teaching your kid to ski is sort of like teaching your friend to drive stick-shift. It sounds like a great idea, but rarely ends well. To explain, we need to back up 25 or so years to my first experience on the slopes.
The Scene: Squaw Valley, 1980s
I first tried skiing during my freshman year of high school, on an overnight trip organized by the French Club, the Spanish Club and the honor society. At the start of the year, my sophomore friends informed me that whatever you do, make sure to go on the ski trip. As I boarded the chartered bus with my banged-up rental equipment and elephantiasis ski bibs, I realized that the popular kids had been studying their French vocabulary alright. Their sleek one-piece suits were embroidered with words like Rossignol and Descente. I slumped a little lower in my seat and tried to remind myself that once we were on the slopes, we’d be having too much fun to notice what people were wearing. Over the din of the bus, I could occasionally pick out phrases such as Black Diamond… KT-22… moguls.
We were supposed to arrive at the resort in time to have a half-day of skiing. I was so excited, especially as the sophomores talked about how much fun it was to ski. While I had grown up in the Midwest and was used to the snow and cold, there were no mountains. And even if there had been, my immigrant parents would have deemed skiing too expensive and dangerous. But in California, some of the best resorts were just a few hours away from the Bay Area. I was going to be a ski bunny.
I listened intently to the older kids around me.
“Beginner slopes are sooo boring.”
I tucked away the tidbits that snowplowing was something only little kids (and nerds) did, and that parallel was the way to go.
Squaw Valley was beautiful, sort of like the mountains in The Sound of Music — with a Disneyland sized parking lot in front. As the bus groaned to a stop, we had some bad news. Because it was snowing at the top of mountain, where the beginner slopes were curiously located, lessons were cancelled for the day. However, we were welcome to ski on our own until the lifts closed for the afternoon. “You could totally do the intermediate trails,” the sophomores encouraged me. “Just ski with us.” While most of my friends decided to wait in the bus, I grabbed my skis and headed for the slopes. We only had a few days in the mountains, and I wasn’t going to let a few snowflakes stop me from making the most of it.
I didn’t expect the chair lift to be so fast — or so high off the ground. But I studied the figures swooshing down the hill. Just sway to the left and to the right. It didn’t look that hard.
Then we reached the top of the mountain. In my complete cluelessness, I had no idea that as with everything related to snow sports, there is a proper way to get off the ski lift. As there is a proper way to fall, and a proper way to get back up. I just had no idea.
The sophomores glided off the lift and to the side. But when I tried to stand up, I couldn’t find my balance, and the seat of the chair knocked me down as I teetered around the icy exit area. I managed to scrape myself off the ground and struggled over to where the sophomores were waiting.
Not really. But the older girls slid down the hill. I took a deep breath and tried to follow them, picking up much more speed than I felt comfortable with, but having no idea how to slow down. My instinct was to lean back and brace myself against the force of gravity, but that only made my skis slip out from under me, landing me on my rear.
I brushed myself off and tried to stand up, which was much harder now that the ground was not flat as it was near the top of the chairlift. Nothing was stable anymore. The moment I got both feet flat on the ground again, they would slide out from under me, carrying me ungracefully — and terrifyingly — down the hill, careening toward people who turned sharply out of my path if they were able, or shouted obscenities at me if they weren’t. And this is how it went, each fall taking me a few yards further down the never ending intermediate slope. It only took a few of these falls to make it abundantly clear to me that I wasn’t going to get any better during the course of this run. As I barreled toward a chair lift pole, I realized that I’d be lucky to make it down the hill without seriously injuring myself.
“Better call ski patrol!” I heard some jackass yell from the lift.
At one point, I saw a snow mobile zoom past me, pulling what looked like a large sled with a man lying on it. As I landed akimbo time and time again, I wished one of those snowmobiles would come find me. Couldn’t they tell I had no business being on this run? I wasn’t even a beginner, much less an intermediate skier. By the grace of young ligaments, I was not permanently injured when I finally reached the bottom of the hill. I used my poles to pop the bindings the way the clerk at the rental shop had shown me how to do and trudged toward the line of buses at the curb.
“It’s about time!” the jump suited crowd sneered as I climbed onto the coach. Apparently, everyone else had called it quits after a single run; the bus was waiting to take us to the hotel. I was mortified, but I was exhausted and too broken to care. The sophomores who were so eager to take me skiing were now avoiding me. The whole thing was so awkward, I wished the bus would just leave already. If I was the last one down the hill, couldn’t we just get a move on it and put this day behind us?
After a bit, there was some commotion at the front of the bus. A senior, one of the boys talking about KT-22, climbed up the steps, lifting his arm, which was now encased in a sling.
“Cut his arm wide open with the edge of a ski.”
“Had to be carried down in a snowmobile.”
And suddenly, no one paid attention to me anymore.
* * *
I’ve gotten much better at skiing since that first day, but I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. In my head, I’ll always be that high school freshman tumbling down the hill. HapaPapa never went to a ski resort until college. He was a Southern California surfer, and like his peers was trying out this new thing where you strap a board on your feet and ride it down a ski slope. He never took a single lesson, and he picked it up naturally. In fact, he later found a job teaching other people how to snowboard (but that is a story for another day).
However, our boys have inherited a bit of my athletic ability, and it’s going to take a little more instruction to get them proficient on their skis. Little Brother, especially, has had a harder time. But lessons can get expensive, and we usually opt for the half-day class, followed by a few hours of skiing as a family. Little Brother’s first day out ended up with me carrying him, his skis and my own skis and trudging back to the lodge.
Over Christmas, we went skiing again; HapaPapa took Little Brother to the bunny hill, while I took Big Brother on the intermediate trail. By the end of one run, my husband was ready to switch. Little Brother was in tears and proclaiming that he hated skiing. I don’t want my kids to hate skiing. I’ve spent too much money on it already to give up. I also don’t want them to be the kids embarassing themselves on the high school snow trip. So we sat down for a hot chocolate and Teddy Grahams (the trick of ski schools everywhere), and I told him in my most casual voice, “We can just sit here until the others finish if you want. Skiing isn’t supposed to be torture. We’re here to have fun, let’s just enjoy ourselves.”
After the snacks were finished and we were warm and our blood sugar levels were back up, Little Brother sighed, “Okay, I guess I’ll try the bunny hill one more time.”