Tom Kelly: The joy of skiing… with kids
It was zero dark thirty when the van pulled into the driveway. My neighbor, Kam, hung my skis in the back as I climbed on board, taking off my shoes and grabbing a seat on the rear bench. The three kids were in the car seats, still in their pajamas – awake but not alert. But they still managed a hearty greeting for me.
Something inside me said, ‘Hey, are you crazy? This is Saturday of Christmas week, probably the single busiest day of the year. We’re going to tackle Park City Mountain with a family of five?’
Yeah, why not?
There is something simply joyous about skiing with kids – especially little kids who can rip.
One of my most memorable ski days was 30 years ago when Mother Nature dropped 84 inches of fresh, light powder on Little Cottonwood Canyon in mid-May. I took a friends’ daughter, Becca, to Snowbird. She was just eight. It was fun navigating the Gad Chutes with this little girl who was just over half the height of the snow depth. But she floated a mean line through the trees.
Our neighbors are the quintessential outdoor family. I had been looking forward to this outing. Dad, Kam, is a robotics professor at the University of Utah who builds skis for fun in his backyard shop. Mom, Allyson, is an entrepreneur, running a grassroots company that sells products for home ski builders, The Ski Lab.
Every Saturday is family ski day.
We pulled into the lower lot at Park City Mountain around 7:40 a.m., slipping into a frontline spot just steps from First Time. It was still dark with pre-dawn light starting to illuminate the ridgeline.
You could see the routine as the kids unbuckled and grabbed a seat at the table in the back of the van. Mom passed around cereal while dad grabbed the bagels. It was family time, joking with the kids who were waking up quickly. Eight-year-old Norie negotiated with her four-year-old sister Ara over the freeze-dried marshmallows in their cereal. After breakfast, Norie and her seven-year-old brother, Phirin, broke out their knitting.
It was a relaxed morning, far from the hustle-bustle as cars began streaming into the parking lot outside. Inside the warm van, dad broke out the tubs of ski gear. The kids slipped into their snow suits and stepped into ski boots. It was now 9:00 a.m. – time to walk to the lift.
The five family members and I made a perfect six-pack for the day. Norie held out a ski pole to pull her little sister to the lift. We split up for First Time then slid onto Payday together and headed up. It was cold. Little Ara couldn’t wait until we hit the sunshine at the top. Norie pointed out her favorite run: the nasty bumps of Nail Driver. It was at that point that I knew I was in for trouble.
Pushing out of the Bonanza chair at the top of the mountain, the fun really began. Phirin was the speedster, zooming down Home Run. Norie linked some nice parallel turns.
I skied up on little Ara, her tips tied together with a smile of wonderment and confidence on her face. Ara had unquestionably learned the steering wheel turning technique. It really worked. The glow in her eyes you could see the joy in her heart as she felt the wind on her face.
But the cold soon took its toll. Time for a stop at Summit House. The cure for cold is hot chocolate … with marshmallows.
With toes thawed, we ventured back out. It was time for Blaster. Ever see that metal sculpture off Home Run on Mid Mountain Meadows? That’s Blaster. Norie and Phirin led us through the trees on a twisty-turn path, then down the bumps and berms of Blaster. They were in heaven.
As adults, we tend to whisk down the runs, laying our skis on edge – oblivious to the fun the kids are having in the trees. But I gave it a try, dodging aspens on my run through Blaster – eventually letting the kids know ‘Hey, I’ll take pictures.’
As we headed down to the base, I still had Nail Driver on my mind. Maybe Norie had forgotten. Ha, not a chance. Fortunately, our pathway took us only lower Nail Driver – not that the bumps were any more forgiving, but there would be a bit less pain.
Norie proudly posed by the black diamond sign.
I knew I needed a way out. ‘Hey, I’ll take pictures from the bottom.’ Mom went with her adventurous young daughter. Phirin and I took Blanche.
All of us have our routine days on the mountain, arcing turns on our favorite runs. We love the speed and the exhilaration. But sometimes we miss the joy – the simple happiness on a child’s face as the steering wheels her way down the hill.
Go out and ski with a kid this weekend. You’ll be glad you did.
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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What are the best ski films of all time? It’s subjective, sure, but columnist Tom Kelly takes a crack at forming a list you can turn to “next time you’re stuck at home for a couple days while it’s dumping outside.”