Words by Megan Collins
This is our winter ritual: Friday morning, I start organizing our gear as soon as I get back from dropping the kids off at school. In the laundry room, I line up pairs of gloves, jackets, ski pants, socks, and multiple under-layers. I take an inventory of the helmets, ski boots, skis, poles, and hand warmers. I stuff all the gear into duffle bags. I plan the weekend's meals and head to the grocery store. I return home and jam everything into the trunk of the car. By the time I have it all loaded, it's time to pick up the kids.
As I wait in the school pick-up line, a friend sees my packed car.
"Going skiing again?" she asks.
“How do you deal with that drive every weekend?" she says half joking, half serious. "What a hassle…three kids and all that ski gear? Not to mention the cost… No thank you."
I laugh off her comment as my kids hop into the car. I hand each of them a bag full of snacks and I ask if anyone needs to use the restroom.
"Once we are on the road, I'm not stopping," I declare.
We merge onto the highway and begin the three-hour drive to Vermont.
Even though it is the middle of the winter, the East Coast is experiencing a few balmy days. But as I drive through rural Massachusetts, the fog settles in. The visibility is down to 10 feet by the time I reach the Vermont border. Cars swerve off the highway. With the salt cover from the snowstorm the week prior, the road lines are barely visible. As the sun sets, I exit the highway and get onto the back roads. Without warning, a series of "check engine" lights appear on the dashboard.
"Mom, can you see the road?" my daughter asks from the third row.
"Of course, honey," I lie.
Truth is, I can't see the line in front of me. I flick on the hazards and keep my eyes fixed on the taillights of the car in front of us as it disappears into the thick fog.
We finally arrive at our rented condominium. The weather has added an extra hour to our drive. I take multiple trips to and from the car to unload all of our gear. I turn on the oven and pop in a frozen pizza. As the kids eat, I make the beds and organize the remaining groceries. I down a hefty glass of red wine and get the kids to head upstairs.
"I call the top bunk!" my daughter yells.
"No way! It's my turn!" responds my son.
I think about my friend's comments as I assign beds and sift through the bags for everyone's pajamas. We all change, brush our teeth, and settle into bed. A few hours later, I wake to the crunching sound of tires to snow as my husband pulls into the driveway. He throws his gear by the door and hops into bed.
"Crazy drive," I mumble, too tired to talk.
The next morning we wake up to a downpour of rain. Ignoring the weather, I lay out the various layers of gear for everyone.
"Really, Mom? We are skiing?" my 11-year-old complains. "It's pouring out there!"
"We are East Coast skiers," responds my husband with a smile. "We ski in all kinds of weather. It makes those powder days even sweeter!"
Arriving at the mountain, we open the trunk, load everyone up with gear, and trek up to the base area. My 7-year-old trips over a snow bank and lays spread-eagled on the muddy ground. I pick him up, wipe off as much mud as I can, and head for the lift. The five of us ride up the mountain in silence, keeping our heads low to avoid the rain that is spitting in our faces. The first few runs are miserable; raindrops cover our goggles as we try to carve turns in the wet snow. The kids moan about the poor conditions. My husband and I stop at the top of a trail and contemplate cutting the day short and heading in. But by mid-morning, the rain fizzles out and the temperature rises making conditions spring-like. From behind the clouds, the sun peeks out as we race down the hill. Halfway down, I stop and watch my kids ski. After doing this routine for five seasons, all three of them are confident skiers. I watch them speed down the mountain in complete control. When I reach the bottom, they are waving their poles at me.
"What took you so long? We could have been up and back down by now," my son declares as he smiles at me.
The rest of my family chimes in about my slow pace. I protest the taunting aloud but inside I love this new dynamic. More people arrive at the mountain and the lift lines grow. To kill time, the kids monitor the chair numbers as other skiers load onto the lift.
"I hope we get the golden chair," my son says through his neck gaiter.
Back on the lift, we watch a man in jeans, a Patriots jersey, and no helmet wipe out below us.
"Yard Sale!" My kids scream and laugh as they point at the skis sliding down the trail with the man tumbling behind.
In the ski club, the five of us huddle around a table meant for two eating squished peanut butter and honey sandwiches and barbeque potato chips.
"Can we hit the terrain park?" My youngest asks.
"Please! We never get to go there," my 10-year-old son adds.
We shake off our wet jackets, throw on our gear, and get back at it, doing laps under the quad while the kids hit the rails and boxes. We ski until last chair when the demands for hot cocoa out number the trail suggestions.
Back at home the following week, I run into my friend at the grocery store.
"So how was the weekend?” she asks.
I tell her about the long, foggy drive and the rain-soaked runs.
"But then it cleared and the conditions weren't actually too bad," I say.
"Really? What a schlep. That kind of skiing can't be worth it," she says as she pushes her shopping cart.
For a fleeting moment, I agree with her. It was a hassle and the skiing was not ideal. I wish we could have hopped on a plane and spent the weekend skiing in Jackson, or Alta, or Squaw. But then I think about the time we spent as a family, time spent outside on the mountain, skiing together.
"Believe it or not," I say, "it is totally worth it."