Mom knew it was good stuff—she’s a CU (Ski-U) grad, after all. So every year following my first high at age 6, a jones for the white stuff would start around Thanksgiving and peak about the time hockey games broke out on the pond down the street in January.
Forget Santa and Christmas, winter meant skiing. And sure enough, my parental connection made it all good when they tied me off for a china-white ski vacation; I would make it another year. At that age, I had no choice.
Surviving the drive and everything in between was easy, given the reward of the waiting mountains. But the annual expectation of deliciously familiar sights and sounds from those ski binges has left track marks on my psyche. The first glimpse of peaks around Limon; eagerly searching for the clam house and bison herd west of Denver, along I-70; stepping back in time while tucking into a rainbow trout at the Red Ram in Georgetown; the wheee-ee, wheee-ee, wheee-ee of the pulley wheels on the lift towers; and the deafeningly soft silence of skiing trees.
The early excursions are the most vivid and intense. The memories linger as ideals—those first, glorious trips—and taunt me, even now, to try and come close to reassembling the exciting high that got me hooked in the first place. The sport I craved, the lifestyle I mythologized, compelled me to pin up the racy Lange, K2 and Nordica ads from my Ski and Skiing magazines on the tired burlap wallpaper of my bedroom; to join my high school swim team to get in ski shape during my Missouri off-season; to blow off college and go work with The Pup at Breckenridge Ski Rentals and to eschew decent paying jobs for ones that kept me snugged up against the mountains I so loved to play on.
And to think it all stared with me getting off the Olympia Chair with my mom at the top of Winter Park that first year.
I had spent two days taking lessons at the foot of an immense mountain buried in white and tucked up against the still existent lodge at the base. (A lodge where extra hats and goggles and bags of peanut butter sandwiches and Thermoses of hot chocolate would rest untouched under a table until we returned for lunch, but that today is sadly eclipsed by hulking Condos With Views that sit empty for most of the year.)
Being a first grader, I had mastered the snowplow and was hungry for more. Bundled in mittens, hat, goggles, a snow suit and a green Sears parka complete with fur-trimmed “snorkel” hood (a la Kenny from South Park), I looked down at the snow-covered mountain I was standing on—the one that extended from the tips of my Hart Javelin rentals out into an immense distance filled with countless more snowy peaks—and I almost peed myself with excitement. I couldn’t believe where I was or what I was about to do and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
They say that your first hit of crack or your first heroin fix is a high so intense and visceral that you can never replicate it—the attempt to do so being the engine of hopeless addiction. To an extent, that’s true for me with skiing. I never again almost peed my pants since that first big run from the top of Winter Park; my bladder control is better now. But skiing continues to be as fresh and new and thrilling as ever. Whether it’s carving up some corduroy with my nephews or cutting up the north face of Torreys in the springtime with Old Jim and Wing Commanders Aretin and Ripper, the fix still satisfies. And good thing, too, because as drugs go, skiing really hits the vein.