Seriously, Sam? Mountain Mama

Seriously, Sam? Mountain Mama

Seriously, Sam? is a monthly column that takes a lighter look at suburban life.  This month, Sam takes us through her love hate relationship with skiing.

I have spent the first half of my 40s stripping away the affects that I’ve layered on over the years, and finally, truly, accepting myself for who I am. So why is it that I cannot decide whether I am or am not a ski person?

My therapist would probably say that my challenging relationship with skiing is rooted in some childhood trauma. Perhaps she is referring to the years when, every other Friday afternoon in the winter, my dad and soon-to-be stepmother would pick me up from my mom’s apartment in New Jersey (divorced parents, 70’s-style) and take me to Vermont, for a full weekend on the slopes.

Some of my recently surfaced “memories” of that time include:

* Listening to America play on the 8-track, as I tried to sleep but instead slid around the back seat of the car (since, obviously, there was no seat belt)

* Snot running down my nose as I sobbed hysterically when they dropped me at “SkiWee,” the ski school I hated so much I was sure it was called “SkiWaaaaah”

* Being paralyzed by terror whenever I was NOT in ski school and, instead, standing at the top of a run that looked like a steep, narrow sheet of ice with a drop off to death over the side, and that my dad called “perfect for my level.”

As a kid, I hated skiing. Period. I was not athletic. I didn’t like the cold. And I am pretty sure I exited the womb risk averse and in need of control. But my dad was a terrific skier. Skiing was one of the ways he had transformed from a nice Jewish boy from Long Island, into a super cool dude who drove a Porsche, sported a Magnum P.I. mustache and was photographed for the cover of a book (see Exhibit A). And he was determined to give me — his pudgy, uncoordinated, nerdy daughter — exposure to hobbies that he knew would hold social capital for the rest of my life.

Dad was on to something. In my 20’s, ski trips were the thing to do, especially for my fancy friends who went places I had never heard of like Telluride or St. Moritz. The nerd in me yearned to be included in everything, all the time. So, I re-cast my childhood ski dread as mountain devotion, and myself as a ski junkie, to snag invitations from my friends to join them in the destinations that were the diametric opposite of the cold, icy, slopes of Vermont. On these trips, I learned the secret about skiing that my dad already knew — this sport was not just about being terrified, freezing and bundled in more gear than one could possibly carry on one’s own; it was an excuse for a lot of partying, indulgent eating and, if you were really lucky, travel to luxurious places. Plus, I really liked boys, and many of the boys I liked really liked skiing. In fact, I hooked my husband, in part, by pretending to be an avid skier. (These were the days of “The Rules” when it was normal to try to get a guy by pretending to be something that you were not.)

Once we were engaged, I stopped skiing “because I didn’t want to injure myself before the wedding.” And then because I was pregnant. Then I had a toddler. A second pregnancy. A second toddler. I stayed away from the sport for 6 years and was pretty sure that my days on the slopes were firmly behind me. I prepared to fully come out as a beach person. Until I discovered that what the party ski trip was for single 20-somethings, the family ski trip was for affluent, middle-aged people with kids – The Ideal Vacation.

Since I was lukewarm about skiing, at best, I was reluctant to embrace the family ski vacation. I had done such good work putting my skiing days behind me. Plus, if I did ski, my Vermont childhood trauma meant I would only want to go “out West,” the bougiest of locations; and that stirred up all sorts of inner conflict about being a wealthy suburban housewife. But some of my favorite people, ones I trusted and respected, were raving about ski trips and inviting us to join them. And I knew my husband would be over-the-moon if I suggested it. So, I traded in my outdated baggy pants for stretchy ones, my straight skis for shaped ones, and braced myself. I was going to be a skier again.

It turns out, there are a lot of reasons why adults with kids like to go on ski trips. First, you never wake up to “what are we going to do today?” or, its corollary, “I’m bored.” Second, you get loads of guilt-free adult time if you dump the kids at ski school (no wonder I hated SkiWee.) And finally, if you ski as a family, being on the slopes is amazing quality time (plus it exonerates you from policing screen-time later, because you’ve had so much device-free fun together all day.) Then, if you, like me, are one of the really obnoxious (I mean lucky) families who go out West, you also get other-worldy views, ice-free, wide-open runs that go on for miles, and no pressure to work out because you burn so many calories just being at 10,000 feet, let alone skiing there.

With all of these perks, why the inner conflict about skiing, you ask? Well, as much as I like the surround of the ski trip, after a few days on the slopes, when my husband is still jumping out of bed to get first tracks or ditching me after a storm because there are “no friends on a powder day,” I feel content to sit at home and read a book. Or take a walk. When I do ski, my preference is to start late, have a long snack break, and finish with at least one bottle of wine during a leisurely sit-down lunch. My husband and my dad would say that this doesn’t make me a real skier. I think it makes me an adult who can make her own decisions.

Seriously, Sam? Mountain Mama
My family, at the top of my 7-year-old’s first black diamond, (after the hysterical breakdown and a bribe of unlimited skittles)

And I can tell you, unequivocally, that the best day of my recent vacation (other than the one where everyone went out skiing and left me alone, in peace and quiet, for eight straight hours) was when my whole family skied a black diamond together – my 7-year old son’s first one. When I proudly texted my dad a photo of us at the top, he sent back a YouTube video of “Ventura Highway,” and promised to come ski with us next year. Since he’s in his 70’s, maybe I’ll send him to ski school for supervision.

About Samantha Woodruff

Samantha Woodruff holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She spent most of her career at Viacom’s MTV Networks, where she oversaw Strategy, Business Development and Consumer Research for Nickelodeon and a host of other brands.

After becoming a mom and moving to the suburbs of Manhattan, Sam left corporate America and made being a mom to her 7 and 9 year old kids her full-time job. In her free moments, Sam teaches yoga and takes classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. She is working on her first novel and writing essays that take a lighter look at the life of a former type-A executive turned suburban mom. Her work has been featured in Read650 and she contributes a monthly column, Seriously, Sam? to Suburbs 101.

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