Friday, February 25, 2011

Why we ski

Raising skiers on Baldy

Express Staff Writer

     It was one of those pivotal parenting moments—the moment I knew that my Connecticut kids had transformed into Ketchum kids.

     The day was Sun Valley sunny, Baldy’s snow freshly groomed with stripes of corduroy still showing through. My daughters, then about 7 and 9 years old, were poised at the top of Greyhawk. With the flash of a smile and in a flash of bright ski clothes, they pushed themselves over the lip. One turn, maybe two, a long tuck, and they were at the bottom waving up at me.

     I hadn’t even had time to point my skis downhill. It was then that I knew the conversion from hair-ribbon-wearing, field-hockey-playing East Coast girls to mountain kids was complete.

     And all this within the space of only two full-time ski seasons in the WoodRiverValley. As long-time part-timers, our family had been visiting and skiing in Sun Valley since the girls were born. They snapped their heels into their first pair of bindings at the age of 2 or 3. But visits were short and ski days always limited.  Five days at ski school was the best we could ever fit in.

     So the first winter that we lived here and the snow fell and fell, they were intimidated by our big mountain and refused for months to ski anywhere other than Dollar. I was all for this. I, too, took my first lessons on Dollar and think it’s an ideal learning hill. Back in 1983, as I was following my instructor carefully down turns that took us straight across the entire run on Quarter Dollar, I missed one, and sped to the bottom with nary a swish of my heels to slow me down. This brush with speed reduced me to tears. And no, I wasn’t 3. I was 13. But I was a Connecticut kid. And therein lies the difference.

     So those first few months, my girls acclimated to life in Idaho and to weekends spent on skis. One morning, they wanted to ski Baldy. The draw of the big hill and peer pressure from classmates were pulling them over. Thankfully, this evolution coincided with their readiness and eligibility to participate on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Development Team. Under the watchful eye and steady instruction provided by Doran Key and the rest of the ski team coaches, the conversion of the girls began in earnest.

     While it has taken me 10 years to progress from an intermediate to an advanced intermediate, it took them about 10 minutes.

     Huge grins greeted me at ski team pickup as stories of jaunts through “Grandma’s House,” “Africa” and other hidden Baldy gems (unknown to me despite more than 20 years of skiing that hill) unfolded. During their two years on D team, they hit every bump, every seam and every patch of powder that big mountain had to offer. And somewhere in all the fun, they learned to link beautiful turns, ski safely and even run some gates.

     It was official. I could no longer keep up. While I spent many years when the children were very young patiently making a few turns and waiting for them to catch up, they now waited for me. But joy superceded my bruised ego. We could ski together now.

     And as for my son?  I can still ski with him, but then again, he’s only in kindergarten. I imagine he will be out-skiing me any day now. But he is a different story. He relocated to the valley when he was only 2 years old and clicked into his first bindings as an official Sun Valley resident. With him, there was no conversion. From his first experience on snow, he never saw a run that wasn’t interesting or a powder field that didn’t look like a whole lot of fun. The addition of Dollar’s ever-growing terrain park just added more things to explore.

     Like I felt with his sisters, I am in no rush to move him over to Baldy.  Until he can actually carve a turn and remembers to check uphill for skiers, we will be running laps on that wonderful mountain called Dollar.

     In one way, my children are still transplants to mountain culture, and probably always will be. And that is in their appreciation for where we live and the beauty that surrounds us. Not a ski day goes by that upon reaching Baldy’s summit, one of us doesn’t stop, scan the sublime view and say, “Look at where we live!” It’s never, “Do we have to ski?”  But always, “Wow, we get to ski!”

     And then, in a flash of spray, we are off. Laughing, breathing clean air and building memories that will last a lifetime—my Ketchum kids and me.

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