A long time ago, in a land far far away, there was a little girl from Amherst, Ohio, who came home from school one day waving a flyer that said she could rent equipment and learn to ski all for the cost of seventy-dollars over six weeks. Her mother looked at her with a dazed look in her eyes, wondering, will my child be safe, and weighed that with the fact that her mother too had always wanted to ski, but girls didn’t do that in her day. So, with reluctance and prayer, her mother said ‘yes’. Her parents faithfully took her shopping for attire and patiently waited each week night for her return, when she would regale them with tales of diamonds, only these were black and double black.
Soon enough, the time came for her to pick a college. Her parents were not wealthy and not knowledgeable enough to encourage her to follow her dreams to attend school in Colorado. She settled on a college called the University of Akron. In those days, the university sported a ski club which once a year offered a trip to “Ski West”. She knew of this trip and dreamed of it often. When her junior year rolled around, she enlisted, without any friends to accompany her.
She would travel 2000 miles by bus through states she hardly remembered the capitals of, over a twenty-four hour timeframe, which eventually turned into 30 hours, after their expedition was besieged by a snowstorm somewhere in Kansas and as she would learn, all of Kansas, is really just nowhere. She would survive on her mother’s famous Italian Christmas cookies which had been packaged carefully in bubble wrap, bypassing the stops at McDonald’s.
On this trip, she would flirt with a football player who played for Gerry Faust, learn about grain alcohol, acquire more friends that she could have imagined, but mostly, she would fall in love with the West. And someday, when she grew up, really grew up, with a real job and a real life, she would come West for good.
On those mountains of Crested Butte, she would learn that skiing was meant to be a solitary sport, no matter who she rode the lifts with. And that someone else could tell her about the gentle slopes or steep drops, but no one else could really tell her how she would feel about them that day. And that she really could fly downhill, if she held your arms out just so. And in the woods and powder, she could tell the trees her secrets and they would be safe. She could stand quiet there, hear her heart beat, and the branches would flutter in rhythm to hers. And she would come to understand that winter would always be her season, one that not many others would claim, and she would claim it just for that reason
She went on to join the ski club out West for five more years, even after college, though by then, the allure of riding the bus had been lost in her youth. She would fly by plane, but miss those times when bonding happened in the backseat of the bus over cookies and cards.
She married a young man Devin, who knew little of the sport. But they would ski Big Sky and Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor all the same. And when the time came, she would finally make her move West, only this was further west than the Rockies, this was the Oregon Coast. The mountains would still move her, but the sea would still her heart.
In subsequent times, she would give birth to a young son, Davis, lose a husband to cancer and teach her son to ski in areas she could only describe as hills. Together, they would attempt Wyoming skiing and snowshoeing, but somehow, she was still deep enough in grief to resist the pull of the powder.
Years passed and she met someone else, Mark, who had also attended college in a land far far away. And he had three daughters, older than her son. And they decided to become a family, but it would not happen instantly or gently for her in the months that followed. His college friend would come to own a home in the mountains of Utah and invite him to ski. After amusing her with stories from his time on the slopes (and off) with his friends, he suggested they ski together, as a new family.
So, they would travel during a blustery January day to take respite on the slopes of place called Deer Valley. The first day would be filled with constant activity of moving the children from slope to slope. The second day would be filled with motherly frustration for her son who needed to leave the slopes and sleep instead and motherly angst for the teenagers need to be themselves. And wifely resentment for the husband who always found the glass and never cared if it were half-empty or full. And on the third day, the sun would rise over the mountains, first in flesh tones, then pink, then yellow and she would be happy again.
And she would ride the lift to the top of Flagstaff Mountain and stand tall, gazing at the other peaks in the range and think, everything is insurmountable and nothing is as well.