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Northern Rockies

God Bless the Little Old Ladies Who Rip

One writer finds inspiration in a ski day well spent—even if it ends at 2 P.M. with a Montucky Cold Snack at the base lodge cafeteria.

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Between stopping for photo ops with her many adoring fans and reapplying her deep-blush shade of Revlon lipstick, it takes us no less than 30 minutes just to get out of the base lodge at Bridger Bowl. Earlier that morning we had been dropped as close to the door of the lodge as we could get, just a short flight of stairs from the ski locker room where she’s laid claim to one of the coveted metal boxes for some 25 years. The current plan? “Cruise the blues and done by two.”

So, who is this royalty gracing me with her presence on this chilly morning at Bridger Bowl, you wonder? No, not another celebrity, starry-eyed with the West, nor the next big reality TV persona come to put northwest Montana on the map. Nope, not a ski-lebrity with 200K Instagram followers and a top influencer status. My ski companion is far more impressive.

Indeed, today I’m following the lead of my favorite little old lady: my grandmother.

We call her Mumsie, as per her affection for posh whimsy, and she is hands down the coolest thing to have happened to me. Her influence is formative, her example I follow, her advice I seek; though she always tempers such guidance with things like, “be a good girl! Oh, wait, no, just be whatever you want.” 

Mumsie wasn’t always a ski bunny, only learning the art of the schuss from her college boyfriend on the slopes outside of Missoula. An avid skier himself, my eventual-grandfather made weekly pilgrimages to his “Church of the Mountains,” and Mumsie, ever the eager disciple, learned stance and form—and every après ritual and drinking song that followed.

Once a member of the ski patrol (because husband and progeny were busy instructing all day, why not?), Mumsie has since become the quintessential fair-weather skier. Our ski days are not about frothing at the mouth and sweating through our long underwear in pursuit of the fresh. Instead we aim for happy leisure—with the requisite Montucky Cold Snack in the base lodge not a minute after 2 p.m. (But not before we inhale checkered paper boats of chili fries for lunch in the same mid-mountain lodge where Mumsie celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary back in 2000.)

She’s truly a wonder on the slopes. Following Mumsie’s little red helmet down the cat track I marvel at her waist-cinched ski jacket from the late ’90s—replacing the practical one-piece of 1987. She’s been on the slopes long enough to appreciate good innovation when she sees it: She actually owns—and still uses—a Rear Gear fanny pack; her snow boots are simple velcro-closure like preschoolers wear. (Who needs all those laces?) Yet she also remembers a time pre-Gore-Tex, when skiers got by without sidecut, pit zips, or heat-molded boot liners.

At the end of the season, Mumsie sold her Dalbello boots and Icelantic skis (she’s always been cooler than me), bequeathed her ski locker to a local family, and procured her $10-for-octogenarians season pass for ceremonial purposes only. 

Mumsie’s skiing days may be behind her, but her legend will always precede her. After all, this is a woman who sewed her own down jackets when she couldn’t find one warm enough for Wisconsin winters. She hand-stitched the rip in her son’s ski pants, torn by a broken tibia. She lived vanlife in a VW with four toddlers way before #vanlife was a thing. And she taught her granddaughter that moxie is one of life’s most valuable traits—both on and off the ski hill.

Tess Wood lives in Jackson, Wyo., but travels to Montana as often as possible for 5 p.m. margs with Mumsie.

Originally published in the December 2018 issue of SKI Magazine.