On Skiing: Blessed at Birth

Some hereditary traits are OK to pass on to your kids.

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Addiction has a nasty reputation. Understandably. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, double-bacon cheeseburgers: You name it; people abuse it. And they often become hooked—frequently resulting in a lot of pain, misery and reduced life spans. But there are good addictions, too. Playing the guitar. Philanthropy. Skiing.

Last season, my oldest daughter, Esmé, was in fifth grade, so we signed her up for Colorado’s free skiing program. Of course, being a lifelong skiing addict, I had already tried to get her hooked, along with her sister, Adriana, two years her junior. And to my endless frustration, I wasn’t having much luck.

So I have to say, ski industry folks are on to something with these fifth-grade “ski free” programs, found in just about every ski state. It seems that fifth grade offers some sort of harmonic convergence for taking up the sport. Kids at that age are old enough to be physically equipped for the challenges of skiing but still young enough to not have their days filled with athletic practices, social obligations or chronic adolescent sullenness.

Esmé officially started skiing at the age of 2. (OK, I mostly carried her down the slope.) But it wasn’t until last season that she really started to crave the skiing high. In recent years, she was strictly a fair-weather skier: hit the slopes at 10, enjoy a few runs, take two hours for lunch, then do a few more runs before heading in. Subzero temperatures? No way. High wind? Forget it. Snowing? No thanks. In other words, not a ski junkie.

Last year, though, Esmé finally started to get hooked. She wanted to get up early with me, be the first one on the lift, take a quick lunch break before the crowds got thick, then ski until closing time. While her kid sister and her mother lollygagged in the lodge, Esmé and I were out on the slopes. One day at Vail, we were among the last skiers out of Blue Sky Basin. We next headed over to Lionshead for a couple of late-afternoon runs, then rode the final chair up the Pride Express lift. She told me it was the best day of her life.

As with most addictions, I think the passion for skiing is, in part, hereditary. There are approximately 25,000 genes in human DNA. I’m guessing that one of them wears skis.

This is my mother’s 60th season of skiing. She and my father met in the University of Colorado Ski Club, heading up from Boulder to Arapahoe Basin, Loveland or some other neighboring ski area almost every weekend. They made sure to pass their habit on to the next generation. I first got on skis at age 4—the year my parents moved back to Colorado after a misguided five-year stint in Minnesota. My sisters and I spent every winter weekend on the slopes. I can’t really say why my parents ever thought it was fun to drag three kids into the snow and fuss with their lace-up ski boots and cable bindings, parkas and hats, gloves and goggles—you get the idea. Could it be they were junkies, and would tolerate skiing with cold, crabby young kids if that was what they had to do to get their high?

Whatever the reason, they got me hooked. I’ll never match my mother’s 60-consecutive-seasons record (I took several winters off during my impoverished 20s), but I still prefer skiing to just about any other activity. And now I’m passing the addiction on to my own kids. Granted, cable bindings and lace boots are irritants of the past. Still, there are plenty of lost mittens, jammed zippers and cold kid fingers.

As an addict, none of that fazes me. Now that I’ve handed the habit down to my fifth-grader, I’m looking forward to sharing my dependency—er, hitting the slopes—with her this season. Look for us. We’ll be the first ones on the lift, the last ones off the mountain, and we might even skip lunch. And next year, when Adriana is in fifth grade, I’m betting there will be three junkies on the lift.