Lineage is a film following Ingrid Backstrom and her family on a ski trip across the West. For more information about the film and tour dates, click here.
THE FULL MELTDOWN SNUCK UP ON US. In retrospect, it was only a matter of time. We were on the last leg of a winter's worth of road trips to find the best ski lines at ski resorts across the Western U.S. and Canada with our ll-month old daughter, Betty, and our dog, Buddy—ski and baby gear crammed into every inch of our minivan, which at this point smelled strongly of spoiled milk. My parents, Steve and Betsy, avid skiers and babysitters, followed in their Dodge Charger, along with another car stuffed to the gills with skis, film gear, and Hennie and Evan, two very patient, kind, and weary filmers meant to document this whole junk show.
It was my husband's birthday, March 29, at Aspen, Colorado. Jim and I had just finished our first lap on Highlands Bowl in 10 inches of sneaker, bluebird powder. We were shrieking with that gotten-away-with-robbery giddiness of a surprise epic day, only to discover Aspen was hosting customer appreciation day and grilling free hot dogs at the bottom of the Deep Temerity lift. Jim stuffed a dog in his face and yelled, "Bluebird pow day AND free hot dogs on my birthday? You gotta be kidding me!" He loves hot dogs. I smiled.
Despite the hectic nature of this massive road trip with three generations, I was nearly patting myself on my backpack as I skied down after a few bowl laps to trade off with my folks on baby duty. I felt like we might actually be able to pull this crazy thing off, this trip we'd always talked about, and finally we were REALLY DOING IT—minor meltdowns, countless friends hosting us, sleepless nights, deep powder days, and middle-of-nowhere Chinese buffets (no offense, Creston, BC). While my parents and Jim skied that afternoon, Betty and I found a closed petting zoo at the end of the Highlands road and had a grand time watching the llamas and goats. At the end of the day, all of us ate dinner at a tasty burger spot on the way out of town and hit the road toward Silverton. When they gave us free soft-serve ice cream after dinner, I should have known that this day was all just a bit too good to be true.
I have been a professional skier for nearly 15 years. For about 13 of those, my priorities have been: skiing, chasing snow, or being outside, all while scheming up the next ski adventure. Deep down, I had always hoped I would have a chance to have a family, but for years the lure of the mountains overrode any tendencies toward normalcy or settling down; it was always about the next trip, the next season, and which activity I could do to wear myself out while simultaneously feeling adrenaline. And then, almost suddenly, after 12 years of a glorious, heartbreaking, and exhaustive pursuit of skiing, it was like I woke up and knew in my heart that if family was something I wanted, it was time to turn the ski blinders off, or at least shave them down a bit. Shortly after this whammy of a revelation, complete with a "Who am I?" Zoolander-esque introspective montage, I met Jim in Alaska. A few months later, we were dating. For the first time, I could actually picture a family happening in my mind's eye naturally, rather than trying to force a potential future that I could never quite see.
Jim was a handsome ski guide living in his RV. At first I was wary of dating another ski bum—believe me, it takes one to know one. But he was different. For starters, he was an adult male in the ski industry who was able to talk openly about his desire for having a family, which was near shocking in my experience. He was hilarious and quirky, earnest and thoughtful. Once, while I was visiting and he had to work, he dropped me off on a dirt road with a cruiser bike and directions to a four-mile loop running trail, then a mostly downhill 10-mile cruise to an organic blueberry farm. Best. Day. Ever. (Without being on skis, I mean.) The guy just understood me. I was living in Squaw Valley, California, at the time, but the decision to move to Leavenworth in Washington to be with Jim was a no-brainer.
Five years later, we were driving a minivan to Silverton. (I would also like to point out that the minivan was his idea, although I have to admit it was pretty sweet, especially on this road trip.) I sat in my customary spot: the backseat next to Betty. While giving Betty some dinner and relishing the Colorado sunset—dusty golden light cupped by the gray-purple hills—I casually began searching our hotel options for that night on my phone. Six adults, one baby, one dog, one of the rooms with two beds for the filmers, please. The website wouldn't let me book anything, so I dialed the phone number.
"Don't mention the dog," Jim cautioned.
The friendly hotel booking man was about to take my credit card number when I mentioned the dog. Instantly, the man became all business and said they didn't allow dogs on the premises, not even in the parking lot, and then hung up on me.
I logged on to a different travel site and in my haste, promptly booked and paid for rooms. Except, I mistakenly entered dates for August, five months from tonight. This coming AUGUST?! I panicked and called customer service, waiting hopefully on the crackling phone for the hotel to refund my money.
Jim, driving silently in the front seat, suddenly turned around. "You need to get us a hotel room right now," he said, serious. I explained to him that I was going to cancel this one, then I'd work on it. "No, you need to do it right now. See that canyon up there? We lose service there and don't get it back for at least an hour."
He was clearly very frustrated: "I'm pulling over," he said. He parked on the side of the road and walked back to the rest of the caravan—my exhausted parents and our equally exhausted friends, the filmers who had been traveling with us for close to 40 days of action—to explain that we still didn't have a place to stay for the night. I spooned yogurt for Betty and pleaded with the customer service guy until he kindly refunded the money. Then I resumed calling hotels in Silverton, except now no one was answering, including my dog-hating friend from before. I even called from Jim's phone in case no-dog-man was screening my number, but I had run out of luck.
Jim got back in the car. I told him no one was answering. He looked at his watch and said, "Well, yeah, of course. It's after 7. They've all gone home."
"What do you mean they've all gone home? They're hotels!" I said.
Jim addressed me like I had about two working brain cells. "Yeah, but Silverton is at the end of the road. People aren't just passing through there; they're either there by now or they're not."
That hadn't occurred to me. My last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants nature didn't allow for possibilities like this. In the past, I could have figured something out, called up a friend, crashed on a couch, slept in the car, or continued driving until I found a hotel. But now, it wasn't just me. There were seven other beings dependent on my planning or lack thereof. Betty began asking for sweet potato, which was in the cooler, buried under a mountain of gear. The dog was licking me. It was past his dinnertime, too. Betty began whimpering, and I dug for the container of sweet potato, racking my brain for how to fix this mess I'd gotten us into. Prior to meeting Jim and having Betty, my entire adult life was built on being a full-time skier, basically the opposite of a responsible adult. I felt like an utter failure, trying to do too many things and not quite getting any of them right in this moment. Turns out all those years of last-minute pack jobs, showing up to the airport late—only occasionally knowing which airline I would be flying—had not exactly prepared me for traveling with a tiny, dependent human.
Deciding to "remove the goalie" had been an easy decision for Jim and me. Biology is a force not to be underestimated. We both wanted a family, and we were no spring chickens any more. But it was also a terrifying decision at the same time. Skiing was my purpose; all decisions ended with skiing. When life had been scary or overwhelming, I responded by turning to the familiar mind-numbing effort of the skin track, the scary comfort of nailing (or at least attempting) a difficult line, or lap after lap on KT at Squaw Valley until my legs nearly collapsed. Skiing had also become compulsory, something I did out of habit, and I sometimes wondered how deep the connection went anymore. When we were thinking about having a child, I wondered who I would become. Would my former purpose be eclipsed by this new, immediate, and obvious role as a mother? Would I still love skiing as much? I wasn't sure I would still be myself. But I was ready to take that chance and see who I met—both me and her—on the other side.
Betty was born on March 15, 2016. She turned out to be a sweet, sassy, opinionated baby who liked to be held nonstop and mostly only cried if she needed something. For me, being a mother was more than I could have ever hoped. It felt like I had been searching for a missing piece of myself my entire life without knowing it, and this was finally it. Jim and I were exhausted zombies, existing on oxytocin and caffeine, our clothes doused in spit-up and our furniture piled high with clean laundry that I couldn't be bothered to fold. I skied exactly once that spring after she was born. And yet we felt ecstatic with joy.
Sitting dejectedly in the car on the side of the road in Colorado, wondering how I could be such an idiot, I couldn't help but feel some of that joy as I looked at Betty. I fed her sweet potato and sang her songs, and seeing her cheeky smile I knew that regardless of these occasional frantic meltdowns, I was a good mother, and a good mother gets her child a place to stay that night—ideally by 10 p.m., so her husband can get some sleep, too, after he moves all of the gear inside, sets up the pack'n'play, and takes the dog out, all very quietly and in total darkness because the baby is being nursed and rocked back to sleep.
I called a place in Ouray, an hour from Silverton, and booked three rooms—didn't mention the dog—and we kept driving, in silence. Yes, it would be an early morning, and yes, I would be apologizing heartily in an hour or so, but for now, Betty began to doze off in the backseat and I climbed into the front with Jim, content to just sit and watch the last rays of sunset as we cruised up the pass.
The weeks after Betty was born, I felt no urge to ski. I began to wonder if that purpose had, indeed, evaporated. But then one day I woke up and thought it might be pretty awesome to go to the hill and make a few runs. That first day back on skis, I walked away from Jim and Betty and I felt like a crazed, feral animal. What were these things on my feet? I'm sitting on a chairlift by myself. I'm all by myself! There's no one attached to me! Maybe I am still a person? I called Jim to see how they were doing. "Um, we're just fine," he said. "You left five minutes ago. Go take some runs." My skiing form felt awkward, but sliding on snow felt like the most natural and familiar thing ever, except perhaps for returning back to the base after a few runs and pulling Betty into my arms.
Now, a year later, after an early wake-up in Ouray and a coffee stop in Silverton, I was comfortable leaving Betty with my folks for the morning so I could fully turn my attention to the powder day ahead. The tension of the night before had dissolved, and Jim and I were back to lining each other up for pillows or powder lanes and racing for the next lap. He pointed out one air that seemed big to me; I definitely hadn't hit anything that large since the winter before becoming pregnant with Betty. I nervously told Jim I would check it out, but I told myself I probably wouldn't do it.
When I got to the top and looked down, though, I felt more confident. Jim assured me the landing was perfect, that I could nail this. I felt that old familiar desire to ski fast and soar into the air. I took a few deep breaths. Yes, I have a kid now, but I am still a skier, and she's only made me stronger and better. The air went clean, and as I brushed the trees with my arm on the runout, I couldn't help but grin. I don't have to choose: I can just be myself, a mother who is also a skier.
For more information about Lineage, a journey with Ingrid Backstrom and family, and the Pacific Northwest tour stops and dates, click here.