Sweating. Winded. Frazzled. We finally made it through the queue and onto the tramdock. Instantly, people began to gawk. Some whispered. As the crowd pushed forward, an older man leaned in to speak to us.
“Son,” the man said, “are these your kids?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, proud.
“Pretty young to be on deck, dontchathink?”
Our children were young. And excited. They shuffled nervously toward the edge of the empty stall as massive cables yawned above. They were slack-jawed and speechless. Strangely calm and transfixed by the surrounding industrial magnitude. And hungry. Always hungry.
There exists, among the snow and wider outdoor tribes, a pervasive notion that having children will prevent you—on all fronts—from doing what you want and living how you want to live. More directly, the message so oft-repeated on early morning carpools and lift rides is that, well, having kids will ruin your life.
As a father, now seven-plus years in the game, the observation I am about to convey comes from day-to-day, hour-to-hour, no-limits parenting. Kids won’t simply ‘ruin your life.’ That’s too naïve a statement and lacks detail. What will children actually do to your life as you know it? You really want to know?
Let me be clear: They will burn that fucker down to its bare elements. They will empty their steaming hot diaper on all you deem holy. They will vomit—repeatedly—on your dreams past, present, and future. They will, alone or in numbers, turn a 100-day season of plundering first tracks into 17 half-days of power wedges.
The trajectory of relationships can be likened to a physical and emotional space odyssey whereby two people find themselves in an otherworldly blissful state. The moon and the stars are within reach. They view the Earth as one big romantic getaway to Italy or the island of St. John. They decide that starting a family would be a great idea. Soon after, they are bewildered to find themselves hurtling through the stratosphere, burning up. No landing gear. No parachute. No control. Full impact.
And here you stand. Torn down. Ragged. Laid bare to the judgmental whims of former bros, parents, in-laws, preschool teachers, neighbors, and late-night grocery clerks.
Yet it is here, armed only with the remnants of a once-good credit score and a 2004 Subaru Outback, that the sun begins to rise. Yes, upon this molten heap of your previous life, you will discover, perhaps, your most foundational purpose.
January 15, 2016. Seven hours of driving through a snowstorm saw us unload into a hotel room at 11:30 p.m. The morning dawned equally gray and blustery as we made our groggy way up Little Cottonwood Canyon. We ate breakfast in the truck—Mama packs a mean cooler—and loaded the bus to the base area. Conditions (deep snow) and weather (full storm) being what they were, we were advised not to take our kids skiing off Snowbird’s famous Aerial Tram. Although both youngsters had been on skis since they could walk, we conceded that maybe this was too much for day one in Utah. We heeded the warning and stood in line without our equipment, intent on at least rewarding our journey with a ride to 11,000 feet.
The line was long. “We should grab the skis,” my wife finally said. “Just in case.” She looked at me with the familiar, ‘this means you’ glance. I huffed. She was right. Why do we hate it when they’re right? We’d been skiing these mini-shreds pretty regularly for the last two to three years. Lessons. Family days. Nine-hundred hot chocolates. We were ready. They were ready.
I half-sprinted out of the line-up, through the crowds, lumbered down the stairs, and bundled a family’s worth of boards and poles into my arms. I offended people as I stumbled back up the stairway. I crashed through the doors onto the plaza and made my way back to our place in line. A few anxiety-filled minutes later, we spilled forward onto the deck as the tram approached. Seconds later, we were engaged in curious conversation.
“They’re 4 and 5,” I said to the old man.
He leaned his bristly mustache a little closer and nodded toward them.
“Kids,” he said sternly, “do I look old?”
The children were—at once—fascinated and slightly frightened by this buzzard giving them a talking to. For us, he was a welcome distraction from the chaos of the morning.
“I want you to know something,” he crackled. “I ski here every day. Every day for years and years and years. Maybe 35 years. Maybe longer than your mom here has even been alive…”
With this set-up, I was confident a very public ‘locals only’ indictment of our parenting was his next plot twist.
“…And let me tell you something,” he continued. “It has been at least 10 years since I’ve seen a couple of 4- and 5-year-old rippers wait’n for the tram on a powder day.”
The old man, with a wide smile, gave them each a quick squeeze and then reared back with laughter.
“Just look at these kids,” he proclaimed, waving to no one in particular. “So cool!”
Everyone around us grinned and chuckled in chorus. It was on. The doors to the tram slid open. Countless people bent down to tell our kids how proud they were of them. Of us. It was a hero’s welcome at the very beating heart of big mountain skiing in the West.
We unloaded at the top of Hidden Peak into full gale. We headed for Chip’s and cut powdery corners between the cat tracks leading toward Peruvian Gulch. The snow was as deep as it was cold. We found some cover in the trees and feasted on gummy bears and Swedish fish. We fell. We got back up. We watched as our groms gingerly adjusted to deep pow on a big day.
It was the new best day of their lives. Ours, too. Pure joy.
Sure, kids will eagerly tear down all you think you know and want in this life. On the flip side, the lesson these saucy little terrors teach is that you can do anything—because you would do anything for them. They will force you to recommit to the most essential promise of your life: Keep skiing.
No matter what.
Steve Metcalf was the editor of Powder from 2002 to 2004. He lives with his family in Park City, Utah. This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of POWDER (46.2), the Culture Issue. Subscribe now.