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It was sometime in mid-August a year ago when I discovered I was pregnant. Immediately, before taking in the weighty issue of parenthood, my mind scrolled forward to ski season. With an April 25 due date, the ski season-the very backbone of my sanity-suddenly didn’t look so promising. I know, I should have had a better perspective-things as mundane as recreation should mean little when compared to creating a new life. But I also know that every skier can relate to my concerns. At what point, I wondered, would I be relegated to waddling? Six months? Seven months?
First I sought the counsel of my mother, expecting her to be on the conservative side. She had taken up skiing only a few years before my birth and surely would have exercised proper care. “Well, I don’t remember exactly,” she pondered, “but I know I didn’t ski past your due date.” So much for conservatism. I soon learned that pregnancy protocol has everything to do with where you live. Ask mountain dwellers and they supply legends to accompany their business-as-usual philosophy. “My mother was skiing moguls the week I was born.” “My wife skied the day before our daughter was born.” “I went mountain biking when I was overdue.”
Meanwhile, my urban friends were under the spell of the pregnancy police, the self-appointed experts who stalk you with advice and worries for nine months. “Don’t do anything with your arms above your head or else the umbilical cord will wrap around the baby’s neck.” “Don’t jog or you’ll bounce the baby loose.” And above all, “Don’t ski because you might fall.” Any form of recreation, it seemed, was tantamount to child abuse.
I decided to ignore all advice and trust my doctor, whose casualness had immediately put me at ease. “No scuba diving or sky diving,” she explained, “but other than that you can do everything you did before. Just dial it back a notch or two.” She stuck with that pretty much to the end, so I did too.
A disclaimer may be in order here. Skiing for two isn’t for everyone. First, I had a very easy pregnancy; second, having spent 31 of my 34 years on snow, I am far safer on skis than I am walking down the street.
My ski season started in early December, at four months pregnant, with a sense of vulnerability I’d never experienced on skis and a need for more personal space. I became acutely aware of fast skiing, something I had previously viewed as one of man’s inalienable rights. As the season progressed, I learned to ski early and get the hell out.
By Christmas, in Squaw Valley, Calif., I was loving the fact that my personal skiwear style had always leaned towards maternity chic. Amorphous anoraks make great camouflage. A word here on maternity ski pants: There are none.
Fortunately the pants I always use are low-tech, pull-on, lightly insulated all-weather running pants with an elastic waist-no zippers, straps, high-waist, powder skirt or other annoying “technical” features. (Like all such favorites, however, they were discontinued by the manufacturer. After last season, I’ll guard them like gold.)
For New Year’s, my husband and I went to visit his parents in Jackson Hole, and on our first run down Rendezvous Bowl we learned about pregnancy physics. With the extra front load, pressuring the front of the ski, and thereby initiating a turn, is a snap. But balance is tricky, especially in challenging terrain that demands aggressive skiing. Normally on steeps or at high speed, you can gain control by driving forward. But try that with a bowling ball in your belly and you’ll do an endo.
I learned to be aggressive by maintaining a seemingly unnatural balance point on my heels. Surprisingly, steeps are easier than moderate terrain, because gravity is the main balancing force. Shorter skis are helpful because they create less of a lever in the snow, and less of a hazard when you lose balance. Once through the rough stuff and onto the flats, the leadbelly momentum made me untouchable. In a way, thhis keener awareness of technique was actually improving my skiing. And I was discovering that skiing was my salvation. Not only does it somewhat mask an expanding frame, but it is also the most forgiving form of recreation. Most sports make a pregnant body feel unwieldy, ever-exposed and confined. But skiing still flows. Working with gravity, even a plump body can feel coordinated, agile and liberated. Junior, for his part, seemed to be rocked to sleep by the activity, and only awoke on tram rides.
In February at the World Alpine Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, schedules and intense socializing conspired to make my skis mere vehicles to lunch and snacks. Like the perfect Vail skier, I was content to sit back and let the corduroy pass underfoot. The biggest challenge was fending off schnapps-bearing Austrians, who interpreted my Bavarian barmaid girth as a sign of kinship.
As the months progressed my concerns became more practical than hypothetical. As more of your body is invaded in pregnancy, the lungs are compressed into mere hackeysacks, and breathing at altitude is a chore. Buckling the boots is done entirely with pole baskets, picking up skis is a one-legged, oil-rigger-looking move and there is no room to slump on the chairlift when Junior is kicking you in the ribs.
My last swing west was at 71/2 months. By this time I had boycotted Saturday crowds and vowed to stick to social skiing on cruiser runs. But I had hit a rare window of beautiful weather in a year of epic snow, and couldn’t help glancing up at Squaw Peak and the face of Headwall, wind-buffed and bump-free. It was too good to pass up. The rationale, if the pregnancy police caught me, was that this would be Junior’s last time on Headwall for at least 5 years.
The season officially wrapped up on Easter Sunday at Stratton, three weeks before my due date. Winter was on its last gasp. Finally, everyone else on the mountain was in the mode I’d been in all season-a couple of runs, a couple of beers (or hot chocolate as the case may be). It took all season for everyone else to catch on that this pregnancy pace is the way skiing ought to be.
Once off snow, the inactivity allowed the pregnancy police to mess with my mind, especially when the doctor predicted two weeks out that I’d have a small baby. Had the bouncing and jostling affected the baby’s growth? Would there be a fold in its body where I flexed too far in the moguls?
My fears were put to rest with the arrival of an 8 1/2 -pound boy who, in his first week, could arm wrestle me into submission. I’ll never know what he was doing in there all winter, but I have no doubt that his grip, and penchant for perpetual motion, were developed somewhere on Rendezvous Bowl and Squaw Peak.