Skiing With Dad

How to adjust when your parents slow down

Dads, a daughter's lifelong ski partner. PHOTO: Max Santeusanio

Dads, a daughter’s lifelong ski partner. PHOTO: Max Santeusanio

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of The Odds Are Good, a semi-regular column by Heather Hansman about real life stories in the ski world and things like beards, living in shacks, and getting adopted by a ski town.

My father is in town for 48 hours. For his one evening, I convinced him to go night skiing. We drove up Snoqualmie Pass in a downpour and crossed our fingers the temperatures would drop. He changed into his ski gear in the car, and we headed out into the just-below-freezing snain as the lights came on.

When my dad first helped me latch my hands around the rope tow, I don’t think he knew how deeply skiing would take root for me. In college, he bought me a telemark setup and, in the dark before my first tour, he helped me cut my skins—wobbly edged and uneven—under the dome light of his car. When I moved to the mountains to submerse myself fulltime in the uphill-downhill world of skiing, my dad would plan work meetings in Denver around storms and drive up I-70 to crash on my couch like one of my low-budget friends. He’d take my roommates out to dinner to alleviate the weirdness of couch dad.

There was a point, sometime around then, when I became a better skier than he was. It felt odd to worry after a few minutes when he didn’t show up at the bottom. But he was always tougher. After I got soft and would only ski for a few hours, he’d still be at the lift early on scratchy, low temp days, PBJ in his pocket, ready to burn bell-to-bell.

skiing-with-my-dad-pq1

You have three lobes in each of your lungs. Last October, they found a pea-sized nodule in one of the lobes in my dad’s right lung. In December, they sliced out a whole lobe to make sure they got all of the cancer. I flew east for Thanksgiving and stayed, not caring that the first storms were starting to stack up in the Cascades. By the end of the first week after surgery, he was up and walking. Each day, he’d try to push it one more block. The doctors told him he could move, as long as he didn’t fall and rupture the stitches in his chest. By Christmas he was back on snow, ignoring their advice.

But he has slowed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—his tele turns have become smoother and rounder—but you can hear a rasp in his lungs when he breathes.

The first time I realized my dad could get scared was in a whiteout. I was working at A-Basin, and he tacked a couple of days of skiing on to another work trip. We dropped in to the steep bowl off the backside just as the clouds socked in, milk-pale and impenetrable. Above treeline, without anything for contrast, it was easy to get vertigo, and we had to turn by feel, hoping we wouldn’t accidentally ski off a little cliffband. We traversed hesitantly, trying to pick our way to the bottom, not quite sure if we were going downhill or up. “I’m a little out of my comfort zone here,” he said, shaky, when we stopped for a second to brace ourselves against the howl of the wind.

Now, when he is not as fast or as strong as he used to be, he is quick to find a reason: the light is flat and the snow is heavy. I know what he’s doing because it’s the kind of thing that I do, too, when I’m scared and don’t want to say it.

I am not totally sure how to deal with both how to treat my dad as he slows down and with the fact that at some point he will slow down completely. I think that’s part of why I forced him up to Alpental, even though it was sleeting and we didn’t have much time.

Your parents, or whoever taught you to ski, will stop at some point. And before it reaches that point, there’s not a lot you can say besides, “I love you. Thanks for coming with me tonight.”

So last night, we just went skiing. “I can’t see shit,” he said, a layer of rime coating his goggles. For the first time in my life, he was the one who called it.

Last time on The Odds Are Good: When you blow up a shack on a ski hill, you destroy a whole lot more than plywood.

Add a comment

  • B-E

    Lovely

  • Ethan Kanning

    snaine? rime? I have no idea what these words mean and I’m sure I’m not alone. perhaps a glossary in the footer makes sense?

    • Dale

      snow rain

    • Haley

      Maybe you should ski in the cascades more…..

  • http://twitter.com/kaufmanwithak AK

    Very nice.

  • Big daddy K

    My 6 yo saved me at Snowbird this year when a picker slammed me and fractured my tibia 1500 vert feet above help. With no cell signal I sent her and her 11 yo brother down Chamonix Chutes to get me some patrol assistance. As an alpine Patroller , dad and ski buddy…… It’s our pleasure to see our kids blow past us…… Thanks for waiting at the bottom, cause we may be slower but we are always good to buy lunch.

  • Erik

    This hits home so hard. Great article!

  • Snow

    When I slow down completly I will enjoy see your pictures and hear your storys about good powderdays.

  • Alison

    What a great story! Thank you so much for sharing this. Your dad sounds just like mine! And I have had a very similar experience with my father – he taught me how to ski when I was 2 and we now ski together each winter when he comes to visit me in the Cascades or we meet at Jackson Hole. It is hard to see him slow down but skiing together is one of my favorite things to do. He comes alive on the mountain and since I moved to Washington and became more obsessed with skiing myself, he has followed suit. I wish you and your father many more memorable ski days in the years to come!

  • Kyle

    Great article but I just wanted to point out only your right lung has 3 lobes the left lung has 2 lobes.

  • Dio

    Thank you Heather. For linking the story of all our lives to the passion we all share. Enjoy your seasons together. I know your dad does and will do as long as he’s able. Thanks again.

  • Morgan

    Nailed it. Still remember the first time I beat my dad down the mountain. At first I was stoked and wanted to brag (I was a teenager), but then it made unmeasurably sad as I had this same realization. No matter what though dad is still every ski chicks hero.

  • ronprich

    Beautiful story. My daughter is nearly 15 and has been outskiing me for a couple of years. I’m almost reluctant to go with her and always try to get her to bring a friend. But maybe just being there with the old man can be nice.

  • http://batman-news.com Erika O’Neill

    Great story, brings back many memories of the many different adventures I took with my dad. The photo is actually a picture of my daugter and husband taken at Cannon Mountain in Franconia NH (a true small town with a skiing problem). In your story you mention A-Basin…which is where our daughter was conceived back in 2008 on the Old Man’s birthday (aka my husband). Thanks again

    • Heather Hansman

      Erika, this is great! And I actually grew up skiing Cannon, so that makes it even better. Thank you.

  • Molly B

    This made me smile. Thanks for the words Heather.

  • Lisa Belleville

    My Dad hasn’t slowed down one bit at 74 years of age! On the last day of skiing this year, my Dad & I are going up the T-bar together and he says, “Just when a person gets his “ski-legs” the damn hill closes!” Love skiing with my Dad!

  • Erika Hoddinott

    Thanks for this article Heather, I remember the last runs I took with my dad at Sugarloaf 6 years ago. I was maybe being kind of smug about being faster than him and the fact that he called the day early. At the end of the day we had a beer and a burger and dad said “you might be faster than me now, but you still look like gorilla when you ski. Pick yours arms up for chrissake. Where’s your form?” Point taken, Dad. Hope you’re doing well! love your writing!

  • Laurence Johnson

    Thanks for this. I’m taking my daughter to a small local hill every second Friday to pass on my love of skiing. I never experienced it as a child and didn’t realize my deep love of it until my mid 30′s. So I amnot the greatest skier out there.

    I love seeing the excitement in her eyes as she raises her comfort level and tries more difficult terrain. She turns 11 this summer and we have shared three great season’s together. I know that in a few short years she will be beating me to the bottom and leaving me in her dust. But I look forward to that day.

    Thanks so much for your article. It is great to read how much it means to a woman that her dad taught her to ski (and skied with her). I just hope I have the opportunity to crash on her couch in a ski resort town (hopefully Jasper) when she is older.

  • Alison G

    My Dad taught me to ski at 18months in Northern NH, he diligently drove me every weekend to my 7am race starts and walked me down the “aisle” at the base of Squaw Valley last September. Just when I saw a glimmer of surpassing him out on the hill, he goes and retires. Which means the old guy racks up more days in one season than I see in several winters sitting at my desk during the work week. He continues to kick my butt out there. I welcome it. Proud to part of his legacy and share the stoke with our future ski racers. Thank you for sharing Heather, we are lucky daughters!

  • moablivin

    Very nice article, I have an almost 5 yr-old and 3.5 yr-old little bunnies who I’m hoping to make similar memories with. Not looking forward to being slower but I imagine it’s inevitable. Thanks for this piece.

  • Stephanie M

    My dad taught me to ski at Alpine Meadows and we got to share the joy of moving to the mountains together to fall more in love with the sport. He’s the reason I became an instructor for my off year before grad school, and my love of the mountains helped me select my school.

    He got diagnosed with Leukemia almost 2 years ago. While he doesn’t seem to be slowing down yet (and is as ornery as ever), I’m dreading the day when we meet up for skiing and he finally shows his diagnosis.

    Last year was the season where he said I was a better skier than him, and honestly I’ve never been more proud of myself in my life. We talk at least a couple hours a week, usually spending a lot of time discussing a recent ski edit, new gear, or terrain we have or want to hit.

    This article echoes my experiences with my dad perfectly, and is articulated beautifully. Thank you.

  • Sam

    Love this article – reminds me of my dad. When we were kids and complained about being cold, he’d say we clearly weren’t skiing hard enough. It came as a big surprise when he was the first one to admit he was cold enough to have to take a lodge break a couple years ago. Guess even dads stop being invincible at some point. Doesn’t make skiing with them any less awesome though!

  • Chris

    Great article, I have been bringing my daughter every weekend since she was 3. At 11 now she has been outskiing me for a few years, we raced a double gs together last month and she smoked me by 4 gates, made me proud.

  • Tahoe Brit

    As a kid my dad would wake me at 4 am to drive 3 hours to the nearest slopes. When we stopped for gas he would fill my pockets with candy bars and warn that we would not be stopping for lunch because the conditions were going to be epic. Today my 67 year old dad underwent heart surgery and the doctors were shocked that he had just been skiing days before. Thanks for your great article!

  • Lisa Morse Cooper

    Thanks for this article. I am from Franconia NH and grew up skiing with my Dad Steve Morse who is well known at Cannon and skied there every year until last year. My dad is 73 years old and skied 80 + days this year at Squaw Valley CA. We got him to move out here for the winter. I love skiing with my Dad.

  • Doug Phillips

    As a father of a 10 year old girl who has been skiing since she was 4 multiply how cool it is for you to ski with you dad time 1000 and maybe that will give you and idea what it feels like to a father to ski with his daughter.

  • Cassie

    This article makes me sad, as my grandfather was still skiing when I did my first season. He came down to ski at a near by resort and I ditched him for my friends. That was the last year he’s skied and I’ve regretted not going along for a ski with him ever since.

  • skeediva

    I read every single comment. All I can say is . I’m now a wife . A military wife. We met in paradise :) Hawaii. He is my world . My biggest love before this was skiing . I competed and coached at a high level.

    During our second (non courthouse) wedding my parents were set on hiking a waterfall . We never did that (long hot and super non conditioned)
    I promised my sister and girls to do the famous pillboxes. My fAve
    (Super STEEP ) FIRST HALF THEN uneven dry terrain along old military lookout over my beloved lanikai . Steep , dry, and hard as shit!

    My dad said whole am I’m doing it (right ? He skis a few times a year now :( and is aging … yeah dad you are out a shape! )

    Well we dropped mom at the beach and my kick as father said let’s got !! … I tried all my tactics
    STUBBORN. .. THOUGH.. AND FREAKING AWESOME my dad hiked the FFRICKEN PILLBPOES!!!!!

    (Btw I thought I lost him at one point by falling but he’s got Frick en magic in them hula shorts!)

    Thank you all for sharing .

    As a man that I rivaled and fought . We still do. But we have learned we are one in the same.

    We have not been blessed enough to ski in a few
    But I will make it a point to make it happend.

    When I saw my dad this trip … only been a few months killed me. His muscle tone and re silence is not there ( has a few spinal disorders post manual labor years ) broke my heart . Time is now not quite here

    Love your people be outside and freaking smile

    You never know if this is your last season

    <3 you all

  • J

    enjoyed the article.

    My son is 21 months and can’t wait to get him on the hill. When we go to Vermont, he loves being outside and playing in the snow.

    Looking forward to him skiing better than I do. Is that possible? ;-)

  • John Hansman

    I love you. Dad

  • ktbski

    My father has said for years that the best and worst day of his life was when my sister and I became better skiers than he. For reference, he was a pro patroller at Alpine Meadows when I was born, but I’m now a PSIA Cert II instructor, and my sister does backcountry patrol in Tahoe. We passed him in ability years ago, but there’s almost no one I’d rather ski with.

  • Jim Krodel

    After years of teaching my son to ski, at age 11 we were at the top of a black diamond that was caked with white ice and a 20 mph howling wind. I was hoping he would take the side cut route because I really wasn’t interested in picking up ski equipment at the resultant yard sale I expected at the base. But before I could say anything, he bolted down the slope…. I’ve been looking at the back of his skis ever since and wouldn’t want it any other way. ….Great article Heather…

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