Monday, January 4, 2010

Ski-at-home vacation

Hmmm ... last blog entry is dated Dec. 16.

Okay, so I've been away. Sort of.

Actually, we never made it away. My family and I had long been planning a two-week holiday visit to family in the upper Midwest -- a welcome getaway from our daily life here in the Animas Valley -- but the Christmas blizzard that whacked the middle of the country also nixed our planned getaway to Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

So with our plans dashed, we resigned ourselves to hunkering down here at home for our two-week break.

And we ended up having one of our greatest family vacations ever.

See, that perfect snowstorm that turned the Midwest into a scene from The Day After Tomorrow also added to the ongoing revival of Purgatory's ski season. After the thin and dry autumn, a series of light, cold, frequent, and fat snowfalls made the remainder of December a phat one for us here in the southern San Juans.

And, as unplanned as it was, we were here to enjoy it.

Enjoy it we did. Resigned to our not-so-terrible fate of being stuck at home for our holiday vacation, we passed our two weeks of freedom skiing. A lot. Damn near every day, in fact -- a string of ski days like my wife and I hadn't seen since we were ski bums in Winter Park back in the '80s. And a feat that our kids, despite having Purgatory ski passes for most of their lives, had never experienced.

And this unexpected and unscheduled ski vacation reminded me of some things that, sitting here at my desk, back at work in the New Year following our stay-cation, I now see as the greatest gifts I received this holiday:

First, I remember how much I love skiing. I mean the physical act. Oh, yes -- we already ski a lot (or so I thought), both backcountry and ski-area skiing. And, as I said, my wife and I have been getting our kids lessons and season passes since they were old enough to make a "slice of pizza" turn. And we, ourselves, deliberately built our married life around being near skiing -- that after meeting when we were both ski bums, and getting married at the base of a ski area.

But I think only this past couple of weeks' daily repetition of skiing really brought home to me how much physical joy -- sheer, wild, almost surreal joy -- I find in abandoning to both gravity and my skill at using that gravity to guide myself down mountains through snow.

Second, I remembered how much I appreciate having Purgatory ski area so nearby. Sure, it's loaded with funny and odd distinctive Purgatory quirks (Puirks?) that we all love to scratch our helmets over -- Why can't they figure out how to make liftlines work? Why don't they put up signs that say "Skip a chair" at the bottom of Lift 8, or "Make sure your chair is empty before loading" at mid-lift, so the lift-ops don't have to say those things over and over and over ... ? (More to come on that in a future post ...)

Overall, though, Purgatory is a blessing: A small, diverse ski area with good snow and a great climate. And it's a mountain built for telemarkers like us, with its broad diversity of terrain and aspects and limestone-bench pitches, and its many hidden stashes and lines that only those who ski there a lot really get to know.

Third, related to the above, this last few weeks have reminded me how thankful my wife and I are for having had those above things to share with our kids -- and the rest of our tribe of friends, and their young ski-bums-in-training. Having a place we all know, and sharing what we know and have discovered traversing this terrain over and over through an endless variety of weather and crowd conditions, binds us all -- as real "places" should.

Every day up there has its own conditions, personality, challenges, and storylines -- and those days act as threads that bind us all together. And a lot of that binding happens off the mountain -- and on the chairlifts. The lift rides on Purg -- especially on the "Backside," where lifts 5 and 8 are old and slow (and I mean that as a good thing) -- offer time rare and precious chances to rest our burning thighs while getting to just ... sit and talk. That time is something that is hard to carve at home, at work, or even when away at a family holiday vacation.

Lastly, I realized -- not "remembered" this time, but realized for the first time -- that these above things are going to play a larger role in my life. Especially after the kids leave us for their own lives out there. Sarah and I now see that skiing -- a lot, damn near every day, for as much of the year as we can muster -- is a path into that new future that is not so far away for us. And we realized that we are now looking forward to heading into that adventure, together.

And unplanned or not, those are the best holiday gifts I could've received.
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