I watched the heavily laden SUV with sagging springs park a few cars away and mom, dad, and five kids started pulling out skis and stuff.
The oldest kid had a newly hand-knitted sweater and the younger the kids were, the older the hand-knitted sweater they wore. Next to get unloaded were seven pair of skis, seven sets of poles, seven pair of ski boots, and a bag of gold to trade for the lift tickets for all seven of them.
It was the O’Reilly family up for another day of fun in the sun and the snow.
I don’t know what Mr. O’Reilly does for a living, but he is obviously very good at it because he is up here skiing every weekend and we all know what seven of anything that has anything to do with skiing is very pricey. But the O’Reilly family has it pretty well figured out financially.
In September and October they start making the rounds of the ski swaps where nearly new skis go for as little as ten percent of a new price.
I was lucky. When my three kids were growing up, I was producing ski movies and could buy almost any ski equipment wholesale. By the time Vail opened in 1962, our station wagon was so overloaded with five sets of everything that I started hauling a trailer along so there was enough room in the car for the five of us and someone to take care of the kids and tutor them at night. I always told their teachers that a day in the snow was better for them than a day in a geometry class.
I always had to be on the lift early with my skiers so we could get untracked powder snow shots. My oldest was old enough to tag along with me in my long traverses to get that right location for the wide shot of Sun Up Bowl when the five skiers were making first tracks.
In Sun Valley we would eat breakfast in the Challenger Inn at 7 a.m. so we could get the first bus to Baldy at 8 a.m. For some unknown reason I always had to get in as much skiing as possible in any given day. I think the reason came from trying to make the most of any sunny day that came along for me and my cameras, so I only got to actually ski on cloudy or snowy days.
My kids and I always ate lunch together and spent a lot of cloudy days making turns together.
I think I tried to live the business community’s sponsoring of a “take your son or daughter to work day.” I did that a lot of days. My oldest son became a cameraman/director, my daughter has become a very good still camera operator, and I sold my film company to my youngest son. (Of course, he resold it in ten years and retired. What did I do wrong?)
I think this was because I always got them up early to have a day of freedom on skis.
I think too many parents do too much for their kids once they get to the parking lot and start unloading five or six of everything. They buy them their lift ticket and their lunch and give them a ride back and forth to the resort. Give me one good reason why they shouldn’t carry their own ski or snowboard gear?
As my children got older, I learned they would be able to ski as well as I could for only one day of my life and the next day they were better. I was lucky because they waited for me at the bottom with smiles on their faces.
A smile is the single most important thing anyone can own and display while your skis or snowboard are moving down the side of a hill. I think that sunburned gums are the sign of a great day on the mountain.
They go right along with those owl eyes from your goggles on a spring day.
Your days of skiing with your oldest son are over when Marty shows up in the predawn darkness for a ride to the local mountains with you. Marty turns out to be a leggy, good-looking, long-haired brunette who rides a snowboard as if she is a world champion surfer. She actually isn’t, but her dad was and her older brother is currently ranked in the top ten worldwide.
It is a bit scary later in the afternoon when Marty rockets by you, closely followed by your son on a rental snowboard. There will no longer be any “wait for daddy at the bottom of the hill”, no more listening to dad’s lessons on how to keep your feet together, because your son has found his freedom chasing his new best friend Marty down the hill. Chances are that in a few years he will return to a pair of skis, but in the meantime you will just have to buy his ski lift tickets and let him go ride with Marty and the rest of their friends.
Face it, dad, your oldest is a lot more interested in his new best friend Marty than he is in you and his little brother and sister. Kids grow up and want different things than they used to want. But now Junior is going to have to get a job to support his habit that you supported for the first 14 years of his life.
The good side of it is that you spent all of those great times skiing together until he started to find out about girls and snowboards, in that order. You taught him everything he knows on snow and the transition will be a lot harder for you to make than it was for him to make.
My best suggestion is for you to go to a different ski resort next weekend where no one knows you. Rent a snowboard and enroll in a snowboard class. If you can survive the bone and muscle-shattering crashes when you catch an edge and suddenly realize that both of your feet are strapped to the same thing. It really hurts when you catch an edge; it is the real moment of truth when you either show up for the afternoon lesson or go dig your skis out of the back of the car and resume business as usual on the side of a hill.
I was almost 60 years old when they finally let snowboarders ride ski lifts in America. I couldn’t figure out how to carry a rucksack full of camera gear and climb over to that ridge to get that special shot while strapped to a snowboard. Maybe there is, but so far no one has ever shown me how to do it.
I was able to teach all three of my kids how to enjoy the scenery and the freezing cold mountain air. They are still skiing 50-plus years later. I just hope you can give your kids that same gift of freedom and keep them in sight on the side of a hill.
If it gets too hard to keep up with them, start going to a mountain with less vertical rise. They won’t have as good a time and neither will you, so it might be better to just realize you are getting too old to try anymore and settle for the occasional lunch with them as long as you buy.
Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Freedom Foundation)