Constructing a Skier

DCIM155GOPRODespite starting to ski only five or so years ago, I find myself passionate (if not obsessive) about the sport today. As I’ve grown more comfortable on skis I have eschewed the normal path of visiting resorts and riding lifts, preferring instead to spend more time “earning my turns” by hiking or skinning uphill either at the resort or in the backcountry. It’s not that I dislike riding the lifts; I just enjoy the exercise, solitude, and overall experience I get out of powering myself both up and down the mountain. Although I was introduced to skiing later in life, I believe the seed of my passion was planted at early age, on a large (at the time; small looking back on it) hill on the side of a farm.

While I did not grow up in a family of skiers, I was raised in a family of passionate sledders. Growing up with two other siblings in a fairly pastoral New England suburb before cable television (at least before my family had cable), the internet, and fancy video games, my parents made sure we got outside no matter the weather. In fact, the worse the weather, the more likely my siblings and I were to be shipped outside in order to burn off some energy and give our parents a break from the mayhem that three cooped-up children can create.

While ski country was far away and skiing was expensive, my family’s home sat on top of a modest hill that to my young, short legs felt like a monumental climb—add in deep snow and the weight of a sled dragging behind me, and I was getting my first taste of slogging uphill for a few moments of blissful descent. There was also a farm that has ceased operations about a half mile from my parents house; it contained a vacant hill that not only looked like Mount Everest to my five-year-old self, but if I remember correctly it was pretty steep too. Although my childhood was devoid of ski trips, on some occasions—when the snow had really accumulated or my parents were desperate to tire us out—we would travel up the “big hill” to sled.

I still remember standing in my parents’ living room as my mom stacked layer upon layer of clothing on me. A novice outdoors person, my mom’s idea of dressing me for winter was to put as many layers of clothes on me as possible, until moving was just barely possible (no wonder those hills felt so daunting), and hoping that upon completion of getting me dressed I wasn’t hit with the urge to pee. These days, I find myself meticulously layering up for a day of skiing—trying to find the perfect combination of clothes that will allow me to climb uphill without sweating too much and still provide enough warmth to keep me comfortable on the descent. Although I have learned to layer more efficiently (and certainly in nicer clothes), I still find myself getting flush with excitement as I prepare to go outside.

After being carefully bundled into every warm piece of clothing I owned, sleds were thrown into the back of my father’s pickup truck, and I would hop in after them. Further adding to the excitement and adrenaline of a day of sledding was the freedom of riding in the bed of the truck. (Riding in the bed of the truck with the sleds is still one of the great highlights of my childhood, and something that would probably get my parents arrested for reckless endangerment today.) I’m sure we never made it over 20mph, and went no more than a half mile, but I remember feeling as if I was in a very cold, snowy version of the Dukes of Hazzard as we made our way over to the big hill. My days of riding in the back of a truck to ski are certainly behind me, but I still feel the same buzz of excitement heading to the hill today that I did as a child.

As most things about where I grew up have changed over the last 30 years, so has my old sledding hill. The farm is long gone, having been bought, subdivided, and built on—the top of the hill is now someone’s backyard—and the hill’s original steepness has disappeared thanks to the grading of the lots. What isn’t gone though is the memory of slogging up that hill for what seemed like an eternity, only to experience a few moments of bliss as I slid effortlessly to the bottom. The moment my sled stopped sliding, I would turn around and plod back up the hill to recapture that euphoric feeling of flying downhill again. It still feels that way today: the trudge uphill feels even longer than it is as my anticipation of the downhill grows.

While my sledding hill has disappeared, a casualty of development, those early memories of my time there are still strong and still affecting how I live today. Thirty years later I am still chasing that feeling I got as a child…when you let go, let gravity take over, and just feel the rush of sliding on snow. Only these days the hills are a little bigger, my layers a lot nicer, and my method of descent might even be a little bit more fun.