What Our Family Learned Skiing Together
Despite all the costs, danger and hard work, there are 7 ways that skiing made us a stronger family
We’re a ski family. We put skis on all the boys by the age of 3, and never missed a season.
In Asia we started in Japan and New Zealand; living in Europe it was Austria and France; now in the US we’ve explored Tahoe, Utah, Colorado and Whistler.
We saved and made sacrifices along the way to fund our trips, and felt grateful each year we could afford to ski.
Half our family photos and memories feature white-capped mountains and happy, goggle-faced kids.
But when a friend with young kids asked me a simple question — “Should we teach our kids to ski?” — I didn’t know how to answer.
Before this, I’d never questioned why we ski, or has it really been worth it? Considering all the costs, effort, and physical danger, why do we choose the slopes versus any other place on earth?
So for any parents out there still making their minds up, here’s the napkin analysis I shared with my friend, starting with a few Cons.
First, it’s expensive. After you’ve factored in accommodation, ski passes, clothing, boots, skis, poles, helmets, goggles, gloves, travel, insurance, lessons and overpriced food, you need to budget several thousand dollars per trip. And then pray for snow.
Second, it’s somewhat dangerous. Skiing is the only sport where you spend an arm and a leg to break an arm and a leg. Only about 40 people die each year on the US slopes, but according to Johns Hopkins estimates around 600 thousand are injured (1 injury per 500 visits) and we often see bodies carried down on stretchers. In Austria I once had to ski down to the clinic carrying my 8 year-old son with blood spurting out of his eye-socket after a ski-pole accident. He kept his eye, but we lost a great deal of sleep.
Third, it’s hard work. As a parent of younger kids especially, you need to juggle it all: your gear, their gear; your fears, their fears; keep everybody warm and fed. At altitude. Below freezing point.
But despite the cost, danger and hard work, I can think of at least 7 ways that skiing has brought our family closer together, and taught us some valuable life lessons.
1. Undistracted time together
There are no distractions on the mountain. Just the five of us and the snow. There are no screens to compete with, or activities to rush to. We plan, ski, eat and laugh together. We sit and talk on long ski lifts. Or share a happy and exhausted silence.
2. Living in nature
The air is so fresh it melts in our mouths. Blue skies and snow-capped mountains stretch out below us. When it snows, our chairs float through the air in deafening silence. We glide peacefully through glades of evergreens.
3. Taking responsibility
Skiing is planning, and planning is taking responsibility. What gear do you need, and is it still with you? Where are you heading on the map, and which lifts do you need to take to get there? Even the 5-year old learns to carry her own skis.
4. No skier left behind
We once trailed behind the kids screaming directions and picking them up from wipe-outs. Now we lag behind because we can’t keep up. But the family still skis in a pack, coaching each other to overcome fears, and warning of obstacles ahead.
5. Calculating risks
A ski day is a metaphor for life, full of choices, and a valuable way to learn some painful lessons. Easy green and blue slopes, or potentially dangerous blacks and double diamonds? Hit the jump or ski around it? Luckily kids bounce and very rarely get hurt. If they’re not falling, they’re not learning. I once led my kids to the edge of a lethal cliff, and then spent the next hour backtracking to safety. We have learned together which risks are worth taking, and which aren’t.
6. Talking to strangers
Family ski groups often get broken up in lift queues, and we end up riding on separate chairs with strangers. A ten year old skier needs to quickly get comfortable small-talking with a CEO, a high school student or a 70-year old stranger, during each 10-minute ascent. It’s possibly the most important life skill.
7. The après ski
Hard to define, but definitely a thing. Not just the hot tub, gluhwein, roaring fires or boardgames. It’s the warm, fuzzy feeling of communal exhaustion. The feeling of having faced down our inner double-diamonds together, and lived to ride another day.
These are some ways that skiing has brought us closer together, and why for us, a bad day on the slopes beats a good day at work or school.
If sharing this helps just one family find the joy we’ve found in the mountains, it will have been worth it. Ski on, snow people!