Just over a week ago, bright and early on a cold 12 degree morning. Squinting from the warm Pumpkin Head sun. Bundled and geared up. Austin wants to snowboard. Joel and Emma want to ski. The kids are excited. Mama and Daddy are nervous. Here we go.
I had been to the base of the ski mountain in the summertime, but this was my first time seeing it all snowy and ski-vacation-like. My mind couldn't help running through my own ski vacation memories. The first time I fell head-over-heels in love with snow. The feel of snug-fitting ski boots. The sound of those ski boots as they SNAPPED! into their bindings. The feeling of swooshing and gliding over the snow. Ice skating on a frozen pond. Sleigh rides. The little slopeside coffee shop in Breckenridge (or was it Winter Park?) where, while waiting every morning for our bus ride to the mountain, I would order a Pooh Bear - steamed milk swirled with a touch of honey, lightly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and topped with whipped cream. (I think of Pooh Bears every time I think of skiing.) And then it hits me. We are not on a ski vacation. And I am left trying, yet again, to wrap my mind around the fact that we live here. Here. This is our ski mountain. This is our home. I get a lump in my throat, and I am thankful.
We arrive at the Little Red Schoolhouse early and notice a sea of official royal blue Steamboat jackets and bright green ski pants. The instructors are warm, welcoming, friendly, great with kids, and eager to start the day. Our kids are signed up for "Never Ever" lessons - they have "Never Ever" skiied. Because we are locals, the kids receive, free of charge, two six-hour days of lessons (including lunch both days at the restaurant atop Thunderhead Mountain where the Gondola unloads.) Someone working for the mountain is brilliant. If after taking their lessons the kids like the sport, they will invariably be back to play on the mountain again and again and again. "Never Ever" lessons are group lessons, but because we have chosen to take them to the mountain early in the season before the Christmas Holidays and the tourists arrive, the kids' group lessons turn into private lessons. What a treat!
John and I leave to go home, me with that lump in my throat again. But before I know it, we are headed back to pick the kids up, only now they are not just our kids. They are our skiiers. (Plus one snowboarder. I have been told that I have to clarify this fact.) We get back early enough to spot Emma in her all-black ski clothes and bright pink ski gloves snowplowing down the bunny slope. Early enough to see Emma give her instructor a "thumbs up". Early enough to watch her ride the "Magic Carpet" back up to the top so that she can do it all over again. Early enough to see Joel come down a Green run with his instructors and step out of his skis. Early enough to see him recognize me with my camera on the sidelines and to see the smile that breaks out on his face as he rushes to me, happy. So very, very happy. And finally, early enough to see Austin glide in with his super cool snowboard instructor from New Zealand who has just allowed Austin to snowboard through the halfpipe in the terrain park. (WHAT?!!) He gets a free pass from me because of his accent.
We all load up and the kids find snickerdoodles and a big thermos of hot cocoa waiting for them in the car. My nervous energy is their benefit. We hear the stories, feed the little people, smile, and breathe a sigh of relief. They love it, and since we plan on staying here, this is a very good thing.
The next day we do it all over again. John skis the mountain for the first time. I hope to get out there myself soon. Because Austin had taken his first "Never Ever" the day before Joel and Emma, he takes a day off, and I treat him to breakfast. I go home and make more snickerdoodles. The kids progress and start turning with their skis parallel ("Like French fries," Emma says.) rather than snowplowing ("Like a pizza wedge."). More smiles. More stories. More Green runs down the mountain. "How long before we can ski Blues?" they wonder.
John tells me that he saw hand-written signs in the windows of the little buildings at the tops of the chair lifts. "Pray for Snow!" and "The Snow is Coming!". And a week later it has. (As if these Texans didn't already get excited by every snowfall as it is.)
We now regularly look over and study the Mountain Trail Map. We now watch the snow report everyday. We now check every morning to see which runs have received enough snow to open up. John and Austin have gone back to play on the mountain twice this week. Joel and Emma are ready for their next turns.
Looks like for the next three months I'm going to be making a lot more snickerdoodles.