Every time I go back to New York City to visit my folks, it seems that they’re in the process of clearing out another corner of the basement. The parents of three grown kids, they’re eager to get rid of whatever junk still remains from when the whole family lived at home.
The scene is usually mayhem, with piles everywhere; I’ve been handed everything from boxes of report cards and teacher evaluations from the third grade to my old cheerleading uniform and pompoms. Even though looking through these old, forgotten items always tugs at fond childhood memories, when the time comes to keep or pitch, deciding is usually easy.
But on my most recent visit home, I noticed a small gift box, yellowed and worn, sitting atop a bag of old clothes and blankets. My mom said it was just a pile of useless stuff that she was donating to the local thrift shop. For some reason, I was drawn to the little gift box. When I opened it, I was surprised to find antique ski patches that my parents had collected from places like Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen and Jackson Hole—exotic, wild frontier towns to an East Coast kid decades earlier. The patches, 25 to 30 years old and still sealed in their original packaging, were beautiful in every way, from their sense of history to their design to their muted colors.
Glad to rescue these treasures, I realized how special it is to hold on to a small piece of my family’s skiing history. I also realized we don’t usually pass down old ski items, as we would a silver serving platter or an antique sideboard. But we should. Skiing has been a part of my family for many years, starting when my parents were in their 30s and began taking night lessons at Stonypoint, a two-chair ski area in upstate New York, a few hours away from their home in Brooklyn. They left my two older brothers (I wasn’t born yet) with the grandparents and stole away with friends for burgers and some quick runs. “We only had a few hours before we had to head back home, my dad says.
My parents were quickly hooked and started taking family ski trips. The scene was classic: They’d load up the kids, the dog and some secondhand gear in the station wagon and chug up to the hills. Mount Snow, Vt., was their favorite trip.
By the time I came along and was ready to ski, eight or so years down the road, my family had started skiing in the West. I have lots of memories from that time. One of my favorite, most vivid ones is from Steamboat Springs, Colo., when I was 7 or 8. My parents enrolled me in all-day ski school, and on this occasion of being set free from their supervision for the first time, I remember waving goodbye with no fear. And as I rode up to the top of the mountain, I thought I had reached the sky.
This all came back to me when I found the patches in the basement, and I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t thought much about my ski roots or considered what an important part of my family history they are. I felt connected, but also a bit sad as I wondered where all my equipment and clothes and ski knickknacks had gone over the years. Whatever happened to my favorite goggles (rumor has it that I always wore them in the house) or the fluffy white muff that I used to warm my hands?
I know some things were passed on to younger relatives, but a lot of stuff undoubtedly hit the trash. My family does have some early photographs and some old home videos of my brothers and me skiing at Jackson Hole on our first big Western trip, but in later years, even photos became rare.
I think this is common. As with most sports, in skiing you usually replace your equipment, or at least a piece of it, every few years. And space limitations mean there’s only so much you can hold on to and store away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to garage sales and seen outdated ski equipment for sale. Just this past weekend, I dropped some donations off at Goodwill, and stacked in the corner of the receiving area were dozens of pairs of old skiss.
Where were they going? Where had they been? What stories of families skiing and kids growing up on the slopes could they tell?
I’m not much of a collector, so I’d be the last to suggest keeping every bit of ski gear and memorabilia. But remember, someday, some piece of it may be important to someone you love. And while it would be great for me to able to see my first pair of skis, I think it’s the small things, like those patches, that can tell an even bigger story. They don’t take up much space, but they’re packed with memories.
So keep taking photos, even when the kids are grown. And the next time you buy a pin, a ski-town sweater or some postcards or patches on your ski trip, think about holding on to them for the long haul. You never know who one day might be looking through your stuff.