The dad stood atop the tallest ski hill in the east, 4386 feet above sea level, looking out at the surrounding mountains and down a steep slope of white. It’s one of those views that make you say, holy crap, I’m on a mountain.
Then he turned to his kids and lowered his goggles.
“Alright, we’re gonna take our time, wait for eachother, and stick together,” he said. “We got this.”
And off they went.
I turned to my kids and could see the concern in their eyes.
“What he said,” I muttered with a less cool lowering of my goggles.
It was our only trip to the top of Whiteface Mountain. Accomplished thanks to an intimidating chair lift that takes you into the clouds — with signs noting the famous mountains you’re higher than along the way.
“I think I’m scared,” my 17-yr old daughter said when we passed the sign telling us we were higher than Vermont’s Jay Peak. And there was good reason to be.
After filling my kids with dread, the lift eventually deposited us atop the Adirondacks. It was on us to get down in one piece.
We’d decided to take the family skiing during Presidents Day week due to a break from online school and the mental need to do something, anything. It was a calculated risk.
Like most people, we’ve had very few adventures away from home over the past year. Mostly local hikes here and there, and a few trips to a nearby beach with no crowds. We’ve taken the pandemic health protocols seriously, and always wear masks and social distance and make sure not to do all the things that can spread the virus. But this ski trip felt needed.
Before we planned the trip, we read up on the health protocols at the mountain and on articles about the relative safety of skiing as an activity during a pandemic. Masks required all the time. Limited lodge access. No virus breakouts recorded. It was in the same state and would only require a long car ride to get there. It all checked out. So, we weighed the decision against our increasingly debilitating cabin fever and went for it.
But there’s another reason we did this. And that’s because it was likely the last time we could.
A lot of people have given up things they love as we as a society and a world try to fight this pandemic. With a daughter headed to college next fall, most of what we’ve given up and what she’s given up are the lasts. Her last school musical. Her last school dance. One last normal year with all our kids living at home.
The last family ski trip wasn’t going to be another casualty. Not if we could prevent it.
I don’t want to give the impression that we spend a lot of time, typically, galivanting around the country going skiing. We don’t. That’s not who were are or who we can afford to be. Most winters we just ski at our local little hills a few times. But, we’ve also taken trips to bigger hills, once memorably to Gore Mountain and more recently to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. These trips were the culmination of the many years we spent teaching our brood to ski, which was no easy task. Though, it got better.
We’ve also learned over the years that special events, like family ski trips, are the flowers in the garden of our memory. They’re the times that stick with you, when the day to day fades into the background of your life story. And who couldn’t use some flowers right now?
I also don’t want to give the impression that we will never take another family ski trip. We well might. Maybe our eldest daughter will come back from college for a weekend, and we’ll be able to find time and money enough to make it happen again. It just doesn’t seem likely. And when your kid is quickly becoming an adult, those last family moments together are tangibly fleeting.
In the fall she goes to school. Where, we’re not yet sure. Someplace far away, she says. I’m trying not to take that personally. But going to a college that’s cool and big and challenging is something she’s been focused on and dreaming about since before high school. Like most parents, I’m proud that she has a solid plan, and I slightly dread that it’s about to happen.
I just hope that we’ve raised her with enough guidance and support that she willfully decides to come home from time to time. And that she desires to go on a family ski trip again, or something akin to it, because we’ve given her a reason to want to spend time with us.
The truth is, I’m a little scared myself right now. I know life always brings change. And, if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that you won’t always see the changes coming. But sometimes you do. And that can be hard too.
Our family is about to change. The four kids under our roof are about to become the three. We’re one step closer to being empty nesters. And to grandchildren. Oh my god. I’m getting old.
I just want to stay at the summit of the mountain with my kids and my wife nearby. Looking out at the world and the adventure ahead, with all the fear and excitement you’d expect and ever want. But, things do change.
Not to spoil it, but we did make it down from the summit of Whiteface Mountain in one piece. And it certainly was a day to remember for the ages. Filled with gondola rides and ski fries. And even a few smiles.
And, between now and next fall, we’re going to do our best to enjoy the lasts that remain. The last trip to Hilton Head. The last days at the beach. The last campfires in the backyard.
Hopefully, no matter what the future holds, and where we all end up after the pandemic is over and this family is separated by many miles, we’ll always remember to take our time, wait for eachother, and stick together.