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Ode

By Teaching Me to Ski, My Parents Gave Me an Unbeatable Gift

Fostering the generational passion of skiing, but this time, the other way around.

My parents’ number one objective when teaching my older brother and me to ski was simple: to always make sure we were having fun. If that meant we only took three runs before hot cocoa, then so be it. 

It’s no hyperbole to say I was raised on skis. I grew up in Silverthorne, Colo., surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and world-class ski resorts. When my older brother Grant was learning to ski on a leash, I was in my dad’s backpack. By the time Grant was ready to lose the leash, I was kicking my dad from the backpack, shouting “me ski!”

My parents moved out West in the winter of ’83, one of the snowiest winters in modern history. Previously the best skier at Schuss Mountain in northern Michigan, my dad taught skiing at Copper Mountain. My mom sold lift tickets. Over a decade later, they still had the look of esteemed ski bums. My dad sported a bushy mustache to complement his bright-red Spyder jacket and Salomon skis. My mom often skied her telemark setup when we were learning—leather two-buckle boots and a pair of yellow Tuas. They were shorter than her downhill skis, making it easier for her to tuck one of us between her legs.

Once I graduated from the leash, Grant and I—in our one-pieces, bowling ball helmets, and matching gigantic mittens—would follow Dad. Mom was the caboose to pick up the pieces. Eventually, by the time I was 5 years old and Grant 7, they would tell us to “ski and enjoy” at the top of every run. It meant that we could ski wherever and however we wanted. Grant arced smooth turns, always in control, already with good technique. I skied fast, often ducking into the trees, catching air, and letting gravity hurtle me down the mountain.

These days, my version of “ski and enjoy” hasn’t changed. I’ve built a life as a professional skier. All those hot cocoa breaks and runs spent chasing my dad and brother did indeed foster a strong passion. For me, even with “professional” prefixing my skiing now, when it all boils down, it is still simply about having fun.

My dad still skis nearly every day. The year before last he skied 183 days (last year he would have broken his record, if not for the pandemic). My mom still skis too, but I’ve seen her passion wane. So a few years ago, I finally repaid a long overdue favor. I got my parents new skis for Christmas. I gave my dad a pair of the latest and greatest from my ski sponsor. He lit up, immediately taking them out on the hill. But for my mom, I did something different. My favorite version of our sport these days is ski touring, and the path of my ski career has led me to spend the majority of my time in the backcountry. So, I got my mom a touring setup—her first since those old tele skis and leather boots.

She couldn’t wait until Christmas either, so I took her out two days before the holiday to Mayflower Gulch, one of my favorite local backcountry spots. I taught her how to rotate the heel piece, click into her tech toe, and switch her boots into walk mode. As we skinned up the old mining access road, I showed her how to use her heel risers, seeing her excitement ramp up with every glide forward. New snow fell and we made it to the top. I taught her to transition, how to pull off her skins, and prepare to go downhill.

Before we even skied down, her exuberance was infectious. I had never in my entire life seen my mom this pumped about skiing. And in her smile, I saw that I hadn’t simply repaid the favor by finally giving her a pair of skis or teaching her the basics of ski touring. Rather, this was my turn to foster that passion for skiing in her.

Now she skins up Arapahoe Basin after work at least one night every week. She often texts me a photo of the sunset or a snap of her skis atop the endless, empty slope below.

Pro skier and Colorado native Drew Petersen now resides in Utah, but logs uphill time with his mother as much as he possibly can.