It’s a warm day at Dodge Ridge Ski Resort. Our plan is to take ski lift six up the mountain and ride Clementine, the longest and easiest run. The cousins want to ride the lift together, but I convince everybody a parent/kid combo is best at first. The chain clicks towards us as I hustle Kody with my words, awkwardly waddle with my board and then swoosh, we’re caught in the bucket seat and I’m helping her scootch her bottom back. My board dangles off to the left, her skis stick out straight like two little white sticks. I throw an arm around her tiny shoulders, feeling small going up into a sky so big. My embrace is her only seatbelt. I ponder my protection.
“Grandma bought me a children’s book, where rhinos go totally aggro over epic board runs.” I say remembering a line from the book.
“What does that mean?” She asks. I look at her trying to think of how to explain.
“There’s a language for everything, and once you learn it, you’re never the same,” I say winking emphatically. She shrugs and rolls her eyes. I think I’m in heaven.
“It’s almost time to shape the mountain with our curves,” I say grinning now.
“Mom! That makes no sense! Besides, don’t you think I’m getting better?”
“Yep, now take a breath. Look around. This is a bird’s view, and we get a glimpse.”
“Oh, oh, this is the happiest day of my life!” She exclaims looking in every direction.
I had a comparable snowboarding trip; it must have been winter of ’98. I was home from college and my mom and I were driving to visit Aunt Ermadee and Uncle Vernon in Vernal. On our way, we stopped in Brian Head, Utah, for two nights and one day. That one-day break from driving was so I could go snowboarding while Mom drank coffee and read her book outside the ski lodge. She claimed I was getting better every time I finished a run. At the time, I thought she saw me, but now I see she could make this claim whether she saw me ride or not. I can see her blond whisps sticking out from her knitted cap, giving me a thumbs up in her blue cotton turtleneck and fluffy white jacket, and jeans. Even in the snow, my mom wore jeans.
I started snowboarding in 1997. I bought a used demo Burton, pink on the bottom with pale-yellow on the top. I love it. In part, because I bought it with my own money while working at Little Flock Daycare. I learned when skiers treated boarders like we were about to get a timeout. They seemed convinced that we appeared on their snow to piss them off. Choosing to board in ’97 meant looks and harsh words from the skiing elite. It was a choice. (This is a metaphor for those of you who know what I mean.) Snowboarding was a rebel move and not being a rebel at all, made me feel risky and dangerous. I had tried skiing in my teens, and it wasn’t for me. When I tried boarding in my late teens, it felt different. Although I hurt and fell and thought I might die or bust my kneecaps, or break my tailbone, I knew that once I got the hang of it, I would be in love. I didn’t have that foresight with skiing. I wasn’t bringing a punk skater attitude to the lift. I was bringing the mountain’s future lover, so I was always a bit curious when the human vibe towards me was disdain. I was a courteous boarder. I watched my cuts and inched to the side when I bailed hard. I was conscious of getting out of the way of skiers. It didn’t matter. Even before Taylor Swift’s song I knew haters gonna hate.
It’s a trip how different the sport is now. It’s accepted that there’s two groups and they get along for the love of the snow or the mountain or both. Maybe we can be that way about earth in general. Get along for the love of the land or the ocean or both.
The cousins sit together up the lift the second time we are set to ride Clementine. I ride with Ryan. Considering the kids are gaining distance away from us during lift-off, I’m concerned at first that they won’t wait at the top. Without the direction of an employee, the mass herd shuffles forward, breaking off in twos, some not even knowing their riding partner. We watch as strangers holler to our offspring to hustle fast and join the hollers from five pairs behind. I already imagine their fall and the chairs banging the back of their heads knocking them both unconscious. That’s how quickly my mind runs through the worst-case scenario. It doesn’t happen. What does happen is that they look smaller the higher the lift carries them away. My brother-in-law tries the “those are our kids!” as an attempt at gaining ground. It doesn’t happen. We are position at least three-to-five minutes behind them.
Getting off the lift takes some mental preparation. I know this and yet, my mind quickly moves from there’s nothing I can do about whether the kids wait for us at the top to asking Ryan, “Isn’t Dollywood a great theme park?” My question sparks an in-depth conversation about Dolly Parton in general—a topic I love wrapping my head around when suddenly, the lift exit is here. I see the kids off to the side, standing on their skis with their poles waiting for us. It’s a second past time to get off and my board is between Ry’s skis. I shimmy lose and catch my balance fast, veering to the right. Ry waits a second longer and leaps off the chair into a pile off to the side. “You okay, Dad?” I hear my nephew yell as Ry’s undoing the ski that didn’t fly away on impact. “Yes! Just had to jump!” He responds. I glide over to the kids and sit to buckle my left foot. I explain what happened to Kody.
“We were not prepared to exit. We were talking about Dolly Parton and suddenly the chair was dropping us off.”
“That was exactly your problem, Mom. Jonathan and I started planning waaaaay early and neither of us falled.”
“Fell. I see that. I’m proud of you for paying attention and making a plan.”
I could practically hear my mom saying these words. Tell her exactly what she did well. My mom used to say, don’t end with how you feel; end with why you feel it.
Maybe that’s a big piece in life. Not just saying what you feel but knowing why you feel it. I think in the end, whatever pieces add up to feeling like I’m fully living are the best fit for the puzzle of me. What brings joy is a good indication of a sliding fit to a personal discovery. Snowboarding fit. Snowboarding with my skiing daughter, a double fit, because it fit for her and she’s not me.
So, I’ll cut the mountain in front, ready to catch her slide. I’ll hop like a fool attached to a board to gather her poles and her pride. “Again!” She’ll claim and I’ll agree, knowing the next thing I must embrace is her speed. I’ll plan my exit alongside you. A slight ice slope into the clear blue.
My mom didn’t play sports and although I never asked, I’m 99% sure, she never went skiing and 100% sure she didn’t snowboard. But! In ’97 she bought me a children’s book, and got it signed by the author, about rhinos who go totally aggro over epic board runs.