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Southern Rockies

Why Dragging Your Kid On a Ski Trip Is (Almost) Always a Good Idea

On a road trip to Crested Butte, a mom makes the happy discovery that her teenage daughter still needs her. Just a little.

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I still have time.

I’m standing at the top of Crested Butte’s Headwall with my 14-year-old daughter, Cate, in fog so thick we can’t see anything but each other. The slope rolls off into the cloud, and we know there’s a cliff band lurking somewhere below. “This is our warm-up run, Kim?” She calls me by my given name sometimes these days, which is either part of the individuation process of adolescence or, in this case, just to accentuate an excellent point.

To my ever-dwindling credit, I was aiming for the short groomer off the High Lift T-Bar that, with the few inches of fresh that fell early this morning, looked enticing. Although this is our 10 zillionth run together, it’s our first run here at Crested Butte and my first serious test of a new Achilles tendon, so I was all-in to keep it mellow. Apparently, however, we were supposed to get off at the midway station, and now the Headwall appears to be our only way down.

“Well, honey, par for the course,” I reply.

I am an only parent, and she is an only child, which means the two of us have a long history of dancing either with, or, in the case of sharing our only bathroom, around each other. We learned early how to recover when toes get stepped on. When it came to skiing, though, the dance was always more of a mosh pit—from which both of us emerged whiplashed and sometimes with vomit in our hair. (“Just leave me here to die!” she once proclaimed atop a mogul on Vail’s Ouzo.) A few years ago, however, she found confidence in her edges—the very things that used to tear it down—and we finally found our rhythm.

“Typical,” she replies, and stares down into the unseeable. I listen carefully for fear in her voice. I hear none, and think the only vestige of her former self might be the long, blue acrylic nails hiding underneath her Hestra mittens.

This, like all things related to parenting, fills me with a tangle of emotions. Love, pride, and loss. I had anticipated this trip—her eighth-grade spring break—to be the one that flipped the script. Because, despite finally being cleared to ski, my injury still gives me pause at stepping off a curb or getting out of bed in the middle of the night. And because she’s finally stoked to ski runs that are basically places where the snow sticks to cliffs, I imagined that this time, she would be the one coaxing me down.

Skiers on Headwall in Crested Butte
(Photo: Taylor Ahearn)

But now, as she waits for my first move—a kick turn at the top to head left for the trees, where at least we can see what’s immediately underneath, I feel a warmth in my chest. I still have time.

Just after checking into our condo, which thankfully has self-parking (I have never not been mortified at the valet desk by the thought of a stranger getting into the rolling gym locker that is my car), the first thing we do is call around to find out which restaurants deliver. We had driven most of the day from our home in Denver, subsisting on Cheetos and Smartfood, and we are starving. Multiple calls and Google searches later, we realize two things: 1. The opening hours of restaurants in Crested Butte must be based on some kind of celestial occurrence, the pattern of which would take a master’s degree in physics to understand, and 2. Closing times, on the other hand, are far too easy. They are always, without exception, before 8 p.m.

I sigh and dig through the snack bag, pulling out Clif Bars, the rest of the Cheetos, and my box of wine. Cate flops on the pull-out sofa and turns on the TV. I sit down at the table and jot down some notes about our drive. Between clipping her nails, flossing her teeth, and singing along to Mac Miller songs that are surely making us dumber, she used the empty car time as a window to ask questions. Do the animals in nature recognize its beauty? Can a parent’s absence have more of an influence on a kid than their presence? Why is your sense of direction so bad?

And then, a conversation about the counterbalance of the two of us. She is reserved, with a sarcastic wit that hides the shyness. Getting to know her takes time. I, on the other hand, am outgoing, spontaneous, and open to a fault. She needs to be brought out; I need to be reeled in. Nature or nurture, this is the way of things.

She calls to me from the pull-out, remote in hand. “Mom, what’s the ‘adult zone’?”

“Honey, I’m not sure what concerns me more—that you know, or don’t know, what the ‘adult zone’ is.”

This naturally devolves into a conversation about what people use the video-call function for on Instagram (“penis-time?” I suggest) followed by a reprimand (“Mom, that is so unnecessary”). I crawl into the pull-out with the trail map, and we go over all the stuff we want to ski. So far, the only thing she’s nervous about is the hiking. She does not want to do any hiking. That, she insists, is something she may never grow out of.

I wake up early. It’s our final day here, and it’s bluebird. But when I come back from the bathroom (my own bathroom), it’s snowing not only sideways, but upwards, too. What the hell. I check the snow report. One measly inch, just enough to barely hide the rocks. I get back into bed with my New Yorker and let Cate sleep.

A couple hours later, I go into the living room and pull open Cate’s curtains to let in the sunny-again skies. Our condo is a mess, like we dumped out the contents of every bag we brought. Which, of course, we did. I see her slender body stir.

“I’d like turn-up service, please,” she says, eyes still closed.

“Oh yeah?” I say, laughing. “How about this,” and, when she opens her eyes, I slowly turn up my middle finger. She laughs, and I bring coffee and raspberries to her in bed.

We have the lay of the land now, which means we have finally figured out where the many elevators in our condo go. (“Have we, though?” asks Cate when I hesitate in front of one.) We also know the chalkiest snow is in a little chute called Powder 8 off Headwall and on the ridgeline before Spellbound in Phoenix Bowl, and we definitely know where it is not. (If you see a run with no tracks at this place, it is for a very good reason.)

Skiers on slopes of Crested Butte
(Photo: Taylor Ahearn)

The Banana Funnel side has been closed since we got here, which is a bummer because it looks badass, as has Spellbound Bowl. Teocalli, though, has been skiing great, and Cate’s even happy she did the Teo 2 hike, despite it being twice as long as I told her it was. (“Kimberly…”)

We head up the North Face T-Bar, by now accustomed to its lurches. We laugh at the warning sign about loose clothing, because once you’re on the T-bar, what, exactly, are you supposed to do about that?

“Honey,” I say, “you’re my favorite person.”

“Aw,” she says. “Sometimes you’re mine, too.”

At the top, there are a group of littles in ski school, their lollipop colored helmets bobbing as they follow the instructor. We reminisce about the all-too rational fear that kept her from participating in regular kid stuff, like playground slides, riding a bike, cartwheels, and, of course, skiing, all of which she declared “a bad idea” around age 2 or 3.

The instructor hoists up one of the kids on the ground like a chihuahua on a harness.

“Mom, I want you to teach my kids how to ski,” she says.

Happy tears prick my eyes, but I don’t want to ruin the moment. “Clearly I haven’t made you do nearly enough hiking,” I say, laughing.

“Noooo, Kimberly,” she says as I push off toward Hawk’s Nest, the moguls at the top bigger than both of us put together. She follows and I listen for her edges, always five feet behind me.

Back in the mud parking lot at the end of the day, as she hands me gear to put in the rooftop box, she points out the long line of scratches on the car from skis we always rest against it.

“We should make a meme about this,” she says, knowing I have zero idea how to make a meme. We load up the rest wordlessly, our pattern familiar and our comfort with each other complete. I think about how, when she was little, I felt so alone and anxious that my chest always hurt, feeling like a rag that was being wrung dry. Now, I don’t feel alone at all. But I also know that my time in this magical space is finite. The college clock is ticking.

Mother and daughter ski road trip
(Photo: Taylor Ahearn)

Then Cate calls for help pushing the bikes back up onto the rack—we’re heading to Colorado’s Fruita desert next—and I have a comforting thought. I am only beginning to teach her how to mountain bike. I still have time.

We get in the car and she puts her foot up on the dash, mirroring me exactly. We’re quiet. I don’t know anyone else I can be my full self with, and I think she feels the same. Then “Rock me, Mama, like a wagon wheel,” comes on the stereo, and we both start singing on the same verse. The miles slip by. There is so much behind us. But still so much ahead.


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