This is the second essay in the ongoing series, Skiing as Craft. This story appeared in the November (42.3) issue of POWDER.
Every Saturday at 6 a.m., during winters in the late ’60s, my grandmother dropped my mom off at the parking lot of Southwest Portland’s Sunset High School. A single mom, my grandma didn’t have much money. But she had been skiing a couple times in California and encouraged my mom to go to the mountain, anyway. So my mom took her borrowed leather boots and the sack lunch my grandma prepared for her to the bus that Mr. Ackerman chaperoned. It left when it was still dark, and wouldn’t return until it was dark again. The students slept on the way up to the mountain, and, as my mom recounts with fondness, played strip poker on the way down.
“Those were my best friends,” she says now. “Romances developed on the ski bus.”
Like a lot of people that love this sport, I owe my life as a skier to a yellow school bus. My mom’s ski bus went to Multipor Ski Area, a 500-vertical-foot hill on the flanks of Oregon’s Mount Hood with an A-frame lodge operating as a base area, a rope tow, and a T-bar. After countless pileups and torn gloves from that rope tow, my mom got good at skiing. She loved moguls. She met my dad in college, and then they too took the ski bus, from Corvallis to Central Oregon’s Hoodoo Ski Area near the summit of Oregon’s Santiam Pass. They fell in love, and they fell in love with skiing. Ultimately, they shared the sport with me and my siblings.
About 40 years after my mom first learned to ski, I became the chaperone of my own Portland ski bus for underprivileged high school kids. We went night skiing every Friday, so the grab-ass happened on the way up, and the zzzz’s on the way down. Before the bus left the parking lot, students would stock up on two-foot-long sandwiches from Winco. They didn’t understand that they needed to wash their layers each week, so the bus smelled like a mix between locker room, ham, and Axe.
The students skied in hand-me-downs, jeans, or whatever I could dig up for them from my parents’ old gear closet. One year, it rained nearly every night. They didn’t bother with lessons—just went straight to the top and did their best to figure it out. When they did and made it down without falling, they laughed, and told me all about it. When they didn’t, and they fell, they still laughed, and told me all about it. Once a year, the students staged a shirtless run from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
Like they are for my mom, the memories from my bus are some of my favorite skiing moments. Not for the skiing, but for their earnestness and innocence. Every week, I got to watch young people fall in love—with the mountains and sliding down snow on skis at the end of a long yellow school bus ride—just like Mom and Dad.