Recently I got the following “compliment” from a reader: “Your kids are lucky to have two crazy parents. My wife always says it takes one crazy parent to have a ski racer but two is ideal. Unfortunately, my wife isn’t crazy.”
He’s got a point. Ski racing itself—a sport where you rarely, if ever, win, often crash, and usually scare the bejeesus out of yourself in the process—is no picnic. And on top of consuming all your spare time and cash, parenting ski racers has you living in extreme (and extremely uncomfortable) circumstances from November through April. When both parents also fill their non-working hours coaching, as they do in our family, “crazy” does comes to mind. By late March things have fallen off the rails. I no longer remove my hat in public, the Crock-Pot has overuse injuries, my car’s exterior color is indiscernible and its interior nearly uninhabitable, the kids mockingly recite every radio ad on NHPR and—because laundry is somewhere below eating and showering on the to-do-or-die list—I have a clearly sculpted left and right ski sock.
This was not my vision of adult life. Sure, my husband and I grew up as ski racers. I was a Bay Area weekend warrior turned Squaw kid, while Chan came of age backstage in the Stratton Ski School, where his mother taught. But we moved on, or so we thought. Marriage, apartment in the big city, a baby, another one on the way... and then it happened. On one of our very occasional and totally unfulfilling new-parent tag-team ski weekends, a friend who lived in ski country looked at our toddler and said, “He’d fit into my kid’s stuff.” Tiny boots transferred from one tot to another, feet snapped into bindings, and someone gave my baby a push. I didn’t know it, but the hook was set.
We might have changed the timing of that first experience, but we could not have changed my son’s reaction. Any parent who has seen complete rapture on a child’s face knows what happens next. You do whatever it takes to give him that experience again, and again, and again until he says, “Please stop!”
Flash forward 13 years and he still hasn’t said it. Now we have two boys equally obsessed with ski racing. We live six miles from the Dartmouth Skiway, the tiny area that has been the epicenter of our social and recreational lives. Before our oldest was even old enough for the local Ford Sayre ski program, we were benevolently yet firmly conscripted as coaches, and we moved through the ranks coaching our kids and their friends at every level.
I remember, before my first day of coaching, lamenting the lazy mornings and free weekend days I’d lose over the next four months. Now, with a Colorado camp on the front end and a late-season race series on the back end, that immersion lasts closer to six months. But every year, I look forward to that first day of ski season and a stretch of full-metal family time. Family extends to the kids we coach, who feel like our own, and to their “crazy” parents, who are now our closest friends, surrogate parents to our own kids, and our entire winter social life. (Après-ski? Yeah, baby! Après 8 p.m.? Not so much.)
Only recently did I accept that I just might be the product of crazy parents. They didn’t start crazy. They just liked skiing and being with their kids. Pretty soon they were driving eight hours every weekend to work at our races all day and we were falling asleep at our school desks Monday morning. To give education a chance they hatched a plan whereby we kids could ski race and live with my mom in a rented cabin all winter while my dad ran the foundry that paid for it all.
While contemplating a similarly complicated living situation to accommodate our racing habit, I asked Mom if her sacrifice was ever daunting. “It was a lot, but it was so much fun!” she said, noting that it naturally selected friends with similar sensibilities—friends who to this day are the backbone of this big, crazy family.