Vacations are always enjoyable especially when I get to spend them with my sons. For the last 18 years the boys and I have spent the week between Christmas and New Years at a ski resort somewhere in the Northwest. Two years ago we enjoyed Utah but this year it was back to our old standby in Montana, Whitefish's Big Mountain.
I began skiing Big Mountain when I was still in college some 30 years ago and have seen a lot of changes in the past three decades. New lifts have been added, new runs opened as more and more people seek out the winter adventure.
This year, because the Canadian dollar has risen in value, there was the return of the neighboring Canadians wanting to get away for a weekend of fun in the states.
Whitefish's history on the mountain began in 1935 when locals shouldered their skies and hiked to the top the Big Mountain, paused to take in the view, then danced their way through chutes of powder, down the big, uncrowded runs.
Today, an efficient lift system with high speed quads makes the climb and we reap the rewards, about 3,000 acres of fluffy goodness, 90 marked runs and 2,500 feet of vertical downhill. I always love this time of the year because usually the valleys are socked in with a dense fog while the tops of the peaks glisten in the bright sun and the snow ghosts stand proud, encasing a fresh coat of new snow.
But the one thing that has really changed in 30 years is me. Back in the 70's when I was much younger I could hot dog it down the slopes and enjoy a day on the deep powder and tougher moguls. But over the years I graduated to the easier runs, smaller moguls, wider paths and less work. My youngest son is an incredible athlete and since he started skiing at about six years old he has been pushing the limits. Now at 27 he still amazes me with his speed and endurance.
It has become a family joke that at least once during the trip one of the kids would say, "come on dad, let's try this run, trust us, you can do it." I got suckered in enough times you would think I would have learned. But every year, it's a different situation and a different set of circumstances and as I follow the boys, I regret every minute of it. This year was no different, but it really wasn't the boys' fault that the run I am familiar with was closed and I had to embark off of what seemed like a 2,500 feet downward run. The trees were way too close and I traveled much too fast for my age and skills. But the new country offered dramatic scenery, incredible skiing and another view of the mountain I thought I knew so well but hadn't seen before. There were a few times I was sure I would crash and never be found until the spring thaw.
Because we enjoy skiing in the sun, most of our skiing this year was done on the upper slopes. These runs were familiar and with the half a foot of new snow it was ideal for all of us. The kids could enjoy their moguls, narrow runs through the trees and steeper runs and I could give up the notion that I was 25 again and settle into the groomed, well maintained runs where I was in control.
One thing hasn't changed over the years and that is my anticipation for the week the boys and I will spend together enjoying mother nature at her best. It seems as though December drags by, even with all the holiday events and activities, and then before I know it, it's over.
Another holiday is history, a memory stuffed into the memory bank with all the others.