Skiing With My Father

The icy, East Coast runs of his skiing youth had one man dreaming of hitting the Jackson Hole slopes, family-style
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Apr 6, 2015 | By Michael and Kevin Koczwara

t took two months to persuade my father to go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But I knew the only way I was going to get a chance to cruise down the Teton Mountains was with him — so I had to keep working him, testing him, and teasing him in order to push him to go. 

Our family didn’t go hiking or camping growing up. We were busy with three boys playing three seasons of sports and, moreover, my parents aren’t big into the outdoors. And they’re not huge fans of trips to places like Disney World — the lines, the sweltering heat and humidity of central Florida, the forced magic. Instead, we routinely went on ski trips in Vermont or New Hampshire for a few days. One memorable year we even went to Colorado to ski the Rockies. 

My father grew up skiing. He went to college in Vermont and spent most of his time on the rugby field or on the mountains. His school offered students discounted lift tickets to Smuggler’s Notch and Stowe and he and his friends would schedule their classes out so they could spend most of their week on the icy east coast slopes. He developed an easy-going, almost effortless style of skiing on those trails. His body barely seems to move as he glides down the mountain and short turns; “Letting the skis do the work,” he says. In his trademark red one-piece ski suit, he looked like someone out of a ski movie, and not our father. While everyone else on the beginner and intermediate trails around us struggled, he pulled up the rear of our family train as if he was on a leisurely stroll. 

But time had done him in a bit. As we grew up those trips became fewer. The lives of me and my two brothers took over our family’s rhythm, and we were always at one practice or game after another. February vacation was now a time for high school hockey and basketball games. For the past 10 years or so, skiing has been on the back-burner for my father. Now, I wanted him to go a mountain that showcased skiers jumping off of cliffs and flying down shoots. 

He didn’t think his graying body could handle the extreme terrain of the mountain. I knew he could do it, but it took some pushing from my mother to get him to finally commit. I went ahead and got a quote on a travel package — flights, car, hotel room, and lift tickets — just to see what the cost would be like. It took two months of nearly constant joking and slight pestering, but he finally, slowly, was starting to turn. And then word came down: he was in. There was no turning back now. He reached out to the travel agent I had spoken to before (and who had given us a more than reasonable quote). He booked the trip. We were going.

I had been dreaming of climbing those powdered trails for years and carving down the mountain on my snowboard (I moved away from skiing in my teens and towards snowboarding). The East Coast has its fair share of quality runs and mountains, but powder isn’t a thing we get to enjoy often; instead, we often find ourselves fighting our chattering edges against the packed snow and ice as we carve up runs. I’d skied the Rockies as a kid, but I was just that, a small fearless child that my dad had to hook a harness too. I was kicked out of ski school because it bored me. I wanted to take risks. This trip was my chance to unhinge that harness and break free.

After leaving Boston with our gear in tow, we were scheduled to fly to Chicago and change planes to head to Jackson Hole from there. It was a long and uncomfortable flight. We were in the rear of the plane and without our stuff because, as has become custom on planes, people had filled the overhead bins with their oversized carry-ons before we even boarded. 

When we landed in Jackson Hole, the mountains were coated with a small layer of snow and steep cliffs loomed in the distance. I’d spent months staring at pictures of those mountains. I’d watched every YouTube video I could find. My girlfriend had gone on a trip to Jackson Hole with a friend of hers a few weeks before me and her photos made me jealous. Now, here I was. We climbed off the airplane and onto the tarmac and collected our belongings, but the thin air and altitude put me in a dizzy spell. I had to stabilize myself. 

We arrived at our inn and got to planning our daily trips: we'd be up at 7 or 8 am to be at the mountain 15 minutes before it opened at 9. We'd do our hydration and gear check at the ski lodge and then we'd get onto the gondola for the 2,000-plus foot climb for a day of unbridled joy on the slopes. The best run was the Amphitheater Bowl; it took a bit of effort to get there, but once you arrived, it was wide open and perfect for any level of skier. We’d find ourselves trying to hit high speeds while racing down the slope. The trip was short — we only had three days on the mountain — but we were exhausted before 4 pm every day. Locals and regulars complained about the icy conditions, but we, the East Coasters, reveled in them. 

My father is a man that can take some convincing. He is cautious when it comes to making decisions, even when those decision are about going on vacation. But it had been a long time since we’d done anything like this dream ski trip to Jackson Hole, and it was something we both needed. There are only so many chances you get in life to pack up everything, go out into the wilderness, and fulfill a dream on a mountain. 

Our relationships to our parents and mentors change overtime. We may grow up and go off on adventures and make our way through school or our work, but we still find ourselves leaning on those that raised us. And then, eventually, we’ll have to take care of our elders. It’s the cycle of life, and we'd better enjoy it before time runs out. There’s a lot of the world out there before us, and there’s really no better person to see it with than our father. 

And when we came home the trip to Jackson Hole? It was all we could talk about. My father is already itching to again, and I’m saving up for when he’s ready. [H]

Images by Michael Koczwara, story by Kevin Koczwara; a freelance writer for the sports quarterly Howler. You can follow him on Twitter.