It’s 9:30 on a midwinter Friday night, and a river of red taillights winds its way east along I-80 up and over the High Sierra. Many of the cars are heading to old family cabins and rental properties around Lake Tahoe—places that are dark and empty most weekdays. But late on Fridays they come to life with the warmth of wood stoves and soft lights and the comforting smells of home-cooked lasagna and chili and hot chocolate.
Tucked into the back seat of a blue Toyota Highlander hybrid and already in their jammies, nine-year-old Kendall and six-year-old Marissa alternately snooze and listen to books on CDs as their parents, Rebecca and Pete Scanlan, navigate their way from Mill Valley, Calif., toward ski country. The Scanlans, like thousands of other families, are ski-weekend veterans, and they have the drill dialed in: dinner at home, then the kids brush their teeth and get into pajamas and climb into the car by 7:45. (It can take five or six hours from the Bay Area if you leave at five. The Scanlans usually do it in 3:15.)
It’s a scene that plays out every Friday night all season long on American interstates that lead to snow—I-70 to Summit County, I-91 to Vermont and New Hampshire, and all the other highways packed with road-warrior families making their regular weekend commutes, enduring hours of drive time to and from the mountains through darkness and all kinds of weather to carve out a skiing lifestyle amid the constant weekday pressure of work and school. The Scanlans head to Alpine Meadows almost every weekend of the sason because the girls are Alpine Rangers.
Alpine Rangers is a seasonlong program designed to teach kids ages five to 12 a full range of ski skills, mountain sense, and the principles of good skiing citizenship. During the 44 days of intensive ski instruction, the kids work on technique, steeps and powder and ice, dropping small airs, and every aspect of ski safety and etiquette. Kendall’s been an Alpine Ranger for three years. Marissa for two. They were both regulars in ski school before that. And while some kids are ambivalent about skiing every weekend, these girls are into it.
I love skiing because it’s adventurous, and I like being in the outdoors all day long,” says Kendall, who, like most Tahoe skiers, has become something of a powderhound “because skiing on powder feels like I’m flying.”
Marissa is no less stoked than her big sister. “Ski team makes me stronger and more experienced,” she says. “And now I know where the secret stashes are!”
Fifteen-plus weekends is a big commitment, and the Scanlans, like most families, are busy. But come Friday evening, the Scanlans, as a family, turn their attention to skiing.
“We enjoy the Tahoe mountain respite from our busy lives,” says Pete, “and while we may ‘sacrifice’ getting stuff done around the house and socializing with friends, we’re creating positive lasting family memories that will become a part of our children’s life stories.”
Rebecca and Pete are both native Californians, and while they didn’t grow up in ski families, skiing has been integral to their lives since both of them were young. Pete started in fourth grade and later honed his skills at college in Boulder, Colo., returning to the Bay Area and sharing ski cabins with friends at Squaw Valley and Alpine over the years. Rebecca took her first runs at tiny Dodge Ridge when she was a girl, and after she met Pete they took telemark lessons and backcountry trips together.
Some parents drop off the kids in the morning and don’t see them again until afternoon, but Rebecca and Pete are skiing Alpine most days, and they meet the girls at lunchtime and eat with the team members, coaches, and some of the other families. Alpine Rangers coach Eva Graves has worked with both Marissa and Kendall over the last two seasons and knows the family well. “The Scanlans are sort of the nucleus of the team’s community,” says Graves. “You’re excited to see them show up in the morning and they have real friendships with the coaches and the other families. Sometimes we take extra laps with them at the end of the day.”
The dedication required to fully participate in an every-weekend ski program is substantial. Fifteen weekends amounts to 6,000 miles and a minimum of 98 hours of drive time. The program costs $2,100 per child. Add in season passes for Pete and Rebecca, a locker at Alpine, the price of gas, a condo shared with two other families, and all the other expenses incurred during a ski season, and the financial commitment is quite significant too.
Is it worth it?
“We have a passion for the mountains, which we want to instill in our children,” says Rebecca. “Learning to ski early in life will give the girls a confidence like none other. Standing at the top of the mountain and knowing I’ve got this.” That feeling will translate to every aspect of their lives.”
(Photos by Rachid Dahnoun)