Magazine by Sandy MacDonald) Maybe it’s because I didn’t stay in college long enough to deserve one. My excuse is that it was 1968: I was too busy inhaling, cohabiting and, incidentally, working my tail off so that I could tell my parents to take a hike (in somewhat more colorful language). So 35-odd years later, I figured I was overdue for a spring break. Feeling a bit like John Cheever’s aging “Swimmer” as he plowed through the pools of suburban Connecticut, I mapped out an ambitious two-week, 10-mountain circuit of Utah, Montana and Wyoming.
I was determined to make up for lost time. Another key experience I’d missed was the chance to explore the West on my parents’ tab. My daughter Laurel, now 22, is brighter than I was at her age. Though it was the spring of her college junior year and she had more enticing prospects involving fun people, young people, she jumped at the chance to ski-or rather board-with me (and my MasterCard).
She only had a week off, so I arrived in Utah early to try to ramp up to something approaching her speed. (She left me in the dust while a pre-teen.) My preference was “Fast!” I boasted at a ski-school ski-off at Sundance, before being cast among the not-quites and never-weres. As I careened down Utah’s Snowbird, Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, my ski-ego suffered the usual roller-coaster ride: hot one day, pathetic the next. By the time Laurel caught up with me, I was as good as I was going to get for the season, and probably the remainder of my life.
We hit The Canyons and Deer Valley before heading north. My plan was to segue into Montana by first visiting a modest resort near Bozeman. Wrong! Bridger Bowl, though puny, is tough. Moving on to Big Sky with more than my ego bruised, we recovered in the hotel’s jacuzzi, where Laurel recognized an acquaintance from L.A. (He looked it, too: Who swims with shades on?). My eyes lit up: an age-appropriate playmate for my daughter! “Yeah,” she said dismissively, “he’s a dealer”-a career path confirmed when the elevator we shared instantly smelled like a Bob Marley tour bus. Ah, sweet aroma of my misspent youth!
Laurel spent the next day sleeping (college, as I never took time to discover, can be taxing), so I occupied myself pseudo-training for a Nastar race-I’ve now spent several decades vainly going for the gold. It was not my moment of glory. The attendant had to give my posterior an inelegant but necessary assist up the ramp, so I could blow off a ski in the first gate.
Laurel, poor baby, was due back at school, but I had two more mountains to go. Let’s just skip Grand Targhee, Wyo., where, on my first catskiing outing, I managed to plant myself headfirst in the untracked powder like a turnip. At Jackson Hole, I had to resort to snowplowing. In two weeks, I managed to achieve 100 percent devolution.
Still, it was a blast. One of the best parts of my spring break, oddly, was the van ride back to Salt Lake City, where I was thrown in with a group of 20-somethings who traded notes on their treks through Burma and Botswana. After we arrived too late for our flights, one of them, a local, offered floor space for all-including me, the token mother! I was touched by the gesture, even as I opted for the predictable comforts of a Holiday Inn.
That’s one of the nice things about being a grown-up: The adventures come pre-cushioned. You can flail into the unknown, but you have the means to crawl back. I’ll keep that in mind when I head out again this spring.
Sandy MacDonald (Barnard College, ’70-almost) is a travel writer based in Cambridge and Nantucket, Mass. She’s enjoying her 50th season on the slopes.