By the time Hatcher, his buddy, Quinn, and I reached the Nevada-California border, Doritos and Monster Energy farts saturated my nose-hairs, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton hammered my eardrums, and I fantasized about driving 13 hours back to Colorado. It was June. We’d loaded the Rogue with our gear. We could’ve done the job at nearby A-Basin. But back in April, when Hatcher’s life took a nosedive into bad grades and bad behavior, I invoked our family’s motto.
Ever since Hatcher and his two siblings could understand the concept of bartering, my husband and I have parented by the maxim “Give a little, get a little.” It means do what you’re told, try to be good, and contribute positively—to your family and community—in the hopes that your family and community will respond accordingly. Of all the kids, Hatcher had lived the motto. From first grade on, he’d been an overachiever. But last winter, our rule-following, authority-pleasing son had morphed into a rule-breaking, authority-ditching displeaser.
Coincidence or not, it started with November’s election. Soon after, he fell into what my friend correctly named an “existential depression.” The manifestations: ditching class, dropped grades, and a behavioral issue that landed him a three-day suspension. As punishment, Shawn and I thought to take away his one true love, skiing. But when I asked my therapist for her advice, she said, “Instead of punishing him, why don’t you give him an alternative narrative? He thinks the world is bad. Why not show him some good?”
Our family’s core narrative—as simple as it sounds—is that skiing makes people better. “Do what you’re told, be good, and contribute positively until the end of the school year,” I told Hatch, “and I’ll take you on a skiing road trip.” His eyes lit up. He said, “How about Mammoth?”
I’d envisioned somewhere closer, but three months later we’d made it to Mammoth. On our first night, Hatch and Quinn left me to go “scope chicks” at the skate park. The following morning, they lapped the beginner terrain park over and over—and over and over—while I soloed Cornice Bowl.
I followed them to the park on day 2, hoping for a peek into their “inner world.” I’m gonna say it—watching them was pretty boring. Hatch slid rails while Quinn snowboarded alongside him, filming him with his iPhone. Then Quinn slid rails while Hatch did the same, again and again. The one time I found them endearing was when they lost it at the top of the lift after realizing that they were surrounded by the kings and queens of corks and spins that frequent Mammoth’s Unbound Parks in summer. Shaun White had ridden in front of them. “Follow him to the big park,” I said. “Go watch him!” They both squirmed. “No WAY!” shouted Quinn. “We’re not GAPERS!”
But that moment was a window into something—their innocence. They sounded 14, looked 14, and expressed a view on the world that was so 14. It warmed me to them, and for several hours, I shadowed them in the beginner park. I did the same the final morning. And I think my stick-with-them-ness meant something.
On the ride home, as Quinn snored in the backseat, Hatcher opened up. He told me he’d been depressed because he’d lost his faith in adults. I took it to mean me, too, and started there and then to parent more carefully. But this ski trip, and my effort to show Hatcher that I both worried for and loved him deeply, had already made him a little more solid about his place in the messed-up moment.
We went home, and I saw actions solidify behind his words. He’s been our kinder, more affable Hatch, who still finds hope in skiing more than anywhere in the world.
Originally printed in our 2018 Resort Guide. Tracy Ross is a National Magazine Award winner and the author of The Source of All Things: A Memoir.