A year ago we were here.
That is five people skiing together on top of mountain (maybe six – depending if both my dad and mom were skiing with us that day). We had spent years bent over holding up our kids, sometimes skiing fast to give them a sense of freedom speed can bring, sometimes skiing inches at a time as they find their legs and balance.
Finally there we were – both boys (five and six years old at the time) skiing at the top of Blackcomb. Sure, LBB needed some helping hands on steep pitches – but we were doing well. We ended last season strong. TFS was skiing 7th Heaven, Harmony and the terrain parks and LBB was slowly but surely tackling green runs and the occasional blue with help. His stamina was short but he was doing it.
Fast-forward to this year. We are here:
LBB and Matt are here:
We have hit a roadblock. LBB has decided he doesn’t like skiing. He refuses to help put on his boots. He screams when we try to do up his helmet. We scrimp and make some tough choices to afford skiing – do we really want to spend $80 a day willing him kicking and screaming to do one run (like last week)?
For us, skiing is one of a few activities the whole family enjoys (enjoyed?). Skiing in many ways is extra special because my parents usually join us on the hill. I think my parents find the moments they cruise down with the boys particularly special. They had me skiing at two, hitting world cup runs at four, and tackling double diamonds at eight. As my parents were dating (or before) their relationship grew in the shared car rides up and down Vancouver’s mountains and up to Whistler before it was really Whistler. They have skied every season the resort has been open.
It’s really the only thing we did together growing up.
And a lot of that time I hated it, HATED it. Sometimes I flat out refused to do it (granted I was a lot older than five). It wasn’t until I discovered snowboarding in my teens that I enjoyed the mountains again.
I know where LBB is coming from. I have had those days.
As a parent It is so hard to be patient and empathetic when you have thrown almost a hundred dollars away. It is hard to not push a little bit more – just one more – let’s go for TWO (just two…) runs for the day. We know with LBB if we dig our heels in, he digs in harder, we will be left a angry wet noodle, kicking and screaming – now extra special with nice hard ski boots on.
We know what led to our current situation. This:
We are victims of Whistler’s success. It seems to be focusing on getting kids off the hills with their families and into lessons. The resort has systematically eliminated shorter lifts (like orange) and rarely run others (like Little Red/Franz’s) to force people onto longer, faster lifts. While this gives skiers the likelihood of more vertical in a shorter time, for the beginner it leaves really long, exhausting runs and huge lines. When I was growing up the smaller chairs offered little legs a break and shorter lines to keep little bodies moving – even if it was slower than today’s high speed lifts.
On our few days of early season skiing this year we encountered 45-minute-plus gondola lines and an hour of lift lines before we even got to our first run. We weren’t the only parents whose child was angry and frustrated to be inching along, in a confined space, staring at bums for 45 minutes. The adults around us were frustrated, rowdy and at times rude – it doesn’t take much to understand that a kindergartener is feeling all those same things but also doesn’t have a lot of coping mechanisms nor any sense of control about the situation (he can’t see over our shoulders let alone the end of the line).
LBB was done before we started. He decided he could no longer ski on his own – he insisted we hold him up. His season was over – he decided he hated skiing.
I realize this isn’t life or death. This is us trying to build up our kids into resilient adventurous beings. This is us trying to find activities that make four very different people happy and leads us on a path that bonds us together with valued experience and memories.
This is hard, in part, because we felt we were wasting so much money every time we tried to ski, and more importantly our family wasn’t meeting our main goal of doing something we love together.
I know how LBB feels. I hate waiting. I hate being cold. Frankly, I hate ski boots.
I also know LBB loves skiing when he is moving. He heads down the hill singing away. He loves finding little bumps to hop over. He is thrilled to duck in and out of trees.
I spent a lot of the last week trying to figure out how to get LBB on the hill. We needed to meet him where he is and push him the tiniest little bit to get going. We need him to feel the speed he loves but safety of connection. We needed him to feel control – to see the end before he began.
And so we arrived at Saturday. My dad, TFS and I headed up the mountain to perfect sun, blue skies and crisp corduroy. We tackled moguls, the terrain park and scooted through the trees. We skied and skied. When we stopped TFS begged us to keep going. When we breaked for lunch he urged us back outside.
I hatched a different plan for LBB and Matt. They would stay low and slow – circles of Magic chair. We got a harness, something we know his skills exceed but his little heart and mind seemed to need. We would respect when he said enough was enough.
They skied and skied in their own way. Taking breaks to eat chocolate and play basement video games in the lodge. LBB wore the harness all day but only used it once – just having it on gave him confidence. They did laps and lunch and when they were done. It was done.
LBB marched into the cabin declaring he had a great day.
It wasn’t the ski day we imagined. It isn’t the family fun we have enjoyed in the past. We have a few difficult ski trips ahead of us: more circles, more two of us here and two of us there.
For now we will take the win of sliding down instead of taking steps backwards.