We weren’t built to fly. We can do it, but we shouldn’t be surprised if it feels a little unnatural.Picabo Street
Lucy isn’t afraid to fly. Why, Lucy would ask when we tried to explain how to make a piece of pizza with skis to slow down and to stop. She wanted to point them straight down the mountain and that’s how it’s always been. She first buckled into Rossignols at 20 months and has been pointing her tips in front with a giggle for speed ever since. She’s gone off tiny puffs like jumps and either landed in awe or crashed in tears. But up again she bounces, ready for speed. Thank goodness she’s got a helmet, a solid balance to her stance and a love for snow.
Lucy is all business on the slopes as long as it’s her business. If you’re out of peanut butter sandwiches, yogurt covered raisins and granola bars, then, well, it’s time to call it quits. A pocket full of snacks are essential to the start of a successful run. So is a backpack for regular boots — tiny toddler feet can only handle ski boots for so long. Now that she shows balance, the harness is off and her body is left to figure out direction and control. We tied her tips together for the first few days, which helped her from ending in a complete yard sale at run’s bottom.
We’ve built our family around fun, and aren’t surprised the projects we leave behind to enjoy life greet us unfinished as we return with hearts full and pockets shallow. A week at Whistler has always been a dream since we landed in the Pacific Northwest ten years ago, so when the opportunity came up our luggage came out of our dark dormers. The trip dates fell upon school days, a shingle-less roof and nearly-Christmas Eve. But memories are memories and when they need to be made we bundle up and make snowmen with our time.
When we vacation with friends, we’ve found it helps if they have children or an open heart to them. It’s wonderful when the choices they make as parents are in line with our own. It’s fabulous when our children are best buddies with theirs and even better when we love them as much as our children do. It’s great to have the time to sit in the stillness of five children asleep (aged six and under) while we sit and sip wine and PBR and exchange the stories that make up our pasts: engagement, births, travels.
Ceremony Circle was out condo’s front door. The big pedestal by the bucket truck held the 2010 Winter Olympic flame. We thought about how neat it would have been to be amidst the action a year ago; how funny it would be to watch all the games on condo’s tv since all events were so, so expensive.
In the evenings, after hot cocoa and hot tub, the Village lights would cast shadows on our snow-dusted mitts, sniffly-icicley noses and snowflake lip-glossed smiles. The sound of snow crunching under boots was so satisfying as we’d stuff our hands deep into pockets and follow games of Red light/Green light up snow banks to kid-friendly resturants like Mongolie Grill, and the Old Spaghetti Factory. The sound of snow scraunching underfoot sounded all the better en route to a mama-only meal at Sachi Sushi.
The sound of snow squeaking under soles is so satisfying and as familiar to my childhood as cicadas in New England summer or dolphins in Bahamian shores.
In the evenings, the Olympic rings were perfectly lit, perfectly snow- kissed.
We prefer mom and pop ski areas with snowmobile parking and Carhartt coverall dress codes to diamond stores and fancy fur coat sightings. At Whistler Blackcomb it is another world. And at Whistler Blackcomb, it may not be a mom and pop ski area but it is down right mouthwateringly fantastic. On average, the mountains are covered in almost 35 feet of snow a season and extend to 8,100 skiable acres with over 200 trails. It’s impressive, massive and addictive. Glossy-eyed in vacation’s half reality we considered trading our island life to raise our family on the slopes. We dreamed of a season and a season’s pass with days on skis above 7,000 feet and nearly a mile of vertical drop. With five magic carpets, kids are free to step on, ride up, ski down, repeat.
Condo’s front door opened to a Starbucks and a phenomenal playground. Vacation gives way to simplicity with absent to-do lists and flexible nap times. With mochas in hand our babes enjoyed sledding snowbanks, climbing statues and burrowing in snow caves.
I’m not going to lie. There were parts of our family-centered trip that had me wishing we were on an adults-only snowy escapade. These thoughts typically struck in the first two hours of the day spent wrangling our own three children into breakfast chairs, long johns, helmets, fleecy layers and zipping, snapping and bucking outerwear while all three sniveled about being too hot, too bulky or too ready to go while others weren’t. We had so much gear walking with diapers and snacks and tiny skis and six little hands that I was missing my Ski Tote from the 80s and missing a time when my hubby’s hands weren’t full of babes and, instead, full of my gear and/or my hand as I held bags and skis and poles and a tiny hand.
By the second day we learned you can’t expect a toddler to walk a half mile (round trip) in ski boots and have them carry their own gear without a constant stream of tears. You also can’t expect a kindergartener to walk with her gear if her sisters and their gear is being carried. The next day, we packed ski boots in a backpack and used a sled to pull our gear to gondola’s door.
Betty and her best boy buddy were so excited about a play date on the slopes their laughs and snow-ball making ski-boot dancing was infectious, all dimples and bindings with ski bum dreams.
When they spring break in Tahoe or Steamboat I’ll have to dig out this photo.
All the stresses of getting ready fell (time: one hour) and then the journey to mid-mountain with a gondola ride (time: another hour) gently fell away as our girls slid, upright and confident, down their first successful ski run of the season. Giggles from the girls and complete tears of joy from Luke and me. Top that with a little lady Olive June strapped to my back silently singing ski, ski, ski, ski, ski, ski, ski as she watched and waved and, eventually, slept.
Olive began her ski hobby as all the other girls. Sparse days here and there spent at a lodge and worn on a back, slopeside, after a long car ride to the ski area and before, no doubt, a long car ride home. With her sisters, we often talk about skiing in summer and read a lot of books about skiing. We make it family time, always add sledding around the lodge before hot cocoa and watch and learn as a unit on the slopes. Before marriage, it’s something we said we’d do with our kids. Now, Luke and I ski backwards or wear snow boots to assist our babes. Sure, in days when it seems hard to bump their level, it would be nice to enroll them in a ski school. Just the dreamy image of Luke and I skiing from the summit time and time again is something I like a lot. Whistler Blackcomb had an amazing program and, maybe, when they’re all old enough to benefit from it is something we will do. But, for now, our family-based ski school will continue as part of our winter fun. It will make that day when all five of us ride the lift to the top a pretty amazing one. But, for now, we’ll be the island family that skis together whenever we can.
We take slopeside breaks and talk about what it means to have fun, tricks to turn (holding an imaginary steering wheel) and we talk about the sad dolls and stuffed animal friends who couldn’t join us.
My friend Michelle and I got to take one massive run together. The mountain is so huge it took an hour. One run was perfect. Perfect. Besides, our bodies had not spent the past seven years living out of a van in a ski area, catching first chair. No, we’d been mama-ing our babes into the greater world while our gear got older and older and older. Telemark turns had me cursing thigh fire and woobly knees. I pushed through the good pain and remembered how much I love to ski. With each true turn, I decided I needed to do this more all the while my body reminding me in the subtle ways breast feeding tells secrets that Olive needed to eat. Still, we laughed and moved through the snow storm and, eventually, back to our babes in the lodge.
Like the first time your child remembers the words to Twinkle, Twinkle and sings along, it’s a proud moment when you see skiing click. Love her to pieces and so proud to be her mommy.
Betty loved the magic carpet, believing Princess Jasmine and Prince Aladin must have honeymooned at Whistler Blackcomb since it was such a super cool place! Betty loved everything about skiing and said it was her new favorite thing to do. She’s sure to say that at summer’s beach building sandcastles but, for now, we’ll celebrate the present.
Lucy was so proud of herself when she figured out how to get on and off Jasmine’s magic carpet. I’m not sure I fully took in how adorably down-fluffy cute she was the moments skiing clicked for her. I could just scoop her up – little Lucy ski bunny.
When they skied their first green run, I trailed behind with Olive asleep on my back. This was a moment I wanted to bottle for longevity. Perfect image. Luke and I agreed some time later we’d be proud if they took a year or two and devoted it to skiing, this photo on a wall somewhere at high elevation:
Perfectly still, snow gently sliding off evergreen limbs, a constant hum of a chair lift, the soft scrape of an edge and the ever-constant giggles of the ones I love.
The dream of Luke and I with ski tips at summit became a reality for an entire afternoon. It was ideal. The last time it happened for over an hour was easily seven or eight years ago. It felt like the days of season’s pass and limited responsibilities. When hungry, we skied into Whistler’s Roadhouse Lodge at 6,096 feet and ordered, ate and even took a potty break in nine minutes. Nine minutes! Amazing how much longer it takes to eat with three tiny ladies.
We rode an amazing gondola. Some have a glass floor, but the bubble of window’s glass in the not-so-ordinary ones were just fine. The Peak-2-Peak gondola connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It’s a world record-breaking 4.4 kilometers (that’s almost 3 miles) and isn’t for the faint of heights. My Lineman husband who always has wire-span on the brain was awestruck at both marvel and title as longest unsupported span of wire and longest continuous lift system on the globe.
Turns out, it does feel a little unnatural to fly. But, what an experience the Peak-2-Peak is.
We flew 436 meters (that’s nearly 1,500 feet) above the valley floor.
Blue skies on the other end of our eleven minute ride were appreciated.
Late afternoon’s moon rise gave way to the perfect ski date. I felt like a kid again. Skiing just might be the only thing I’ve done for twenty-five years that continually shakes me into a silly-smiling mood. Sure, I let my ski tips fly and got a little out of control. But, I landed each time. Sure, my body felt crazy out of shape. But, I felt like a ski date in BC on a stellar day doesn’t come along very often so we better go all out. We raced on an Olympic run – the same trail of the 2010 Super G. It doesn’t matter who one and I’m not even sure we finished without coming to a sudden stop in giggles and short breaths. It felt great to feel like a kid again. (A sore, out of shape one at that!)
Lucy didn’t mind the cold and would have moved into the Whistler Peak lodge if we asked her to. This picture takes my breath away. I didn’t Photoshop it at all. It’s just my middle lady, all bright pink and sunshiny roses loving on a good ski day.
I wish we had more time to savour British Columbia’s mountains. But, we had a border to cross and a ferry to catch. We plotted a sailing trip up to Alaska, through snowy peaks and evergreen waves. The snowy week had us itching to travel north.
[These are some of the last photos taken on my trusty camera. I have loads of photos on my new dslr. I was nervous about skiing with a large and new expensive toy, but I did take a few on the trip with it. Whistler Part II contains photos not slope side, but pool side, sledding side and condo inside. Stay tuned.]