This past winter, I became that mom posting epic family photos from Tahoe. Adorable children decked out in their ski clothes striking cocky poses, parents beaming with pride, honest smiles beaming from all five faces.
Friends, family members, and vague acquaintances scrolling through their Facebook feed couldn’t help but be impressed by this family with three young kids skiing down the mountain together. Heck, it was impressive. I’ll own that.
But what the pictures fail to illuminate, is what lay underneath our goggles – five pairs of puffy, exhausted eyes. Because skiing with kids is fucking hard work.
Mom friends have asked me how we did it – ski with the kids in Tahoe all winter. I have avoided responding in detail, just as I have avoided writing about it until now, probably because I acquired some PTSD from the season that needed processing.
The season did not start off well as we were sick for the month of December and didn’t even make it up to the snow until January. Day 1 did not start well either. After three hours of driving, we finally arrived at the mountain, and learned that we forgot the roof rack key. But thanks to the kindness of strangers (and a locksmith), we eventually got the kids onto the magic carpet. It certainly wasn’t a seamless beginning, but that obscenely warm day at Heavenly kicked off an awesome season.
Any possible weekend, including several Fridays of playing hooky, we took off for the mountains, either crashing at a generous friend’s house or booking the smallest, dumpiest studio on offer at Kirkwood.
Routines became plentiful and finely tuned – sleeping in base layers the night before, hitting the road by 7am, breakfast in the car, followed by three hours of screen time for the kids, where to fill up the tank and go potty, where to drop me and the kids off depending on the weather conditions, which snacks to keep in our jacket pockets, and countless other details stored in my exploding head.
My week prior to a ski trip involved meticulous meal and snack planning, trips to multiple grocery stores, highly organized food packing, and specialized beer buying (because certain beer tastes better in the snow). I ducked into the library for videos to watch in the condo and downloaded a dozen Daniel Tiger episodes and a few Harry Potter movies onto the kids’ lifesaving Amazon devices. I reminded my second grader to bring her headphones home from school. I made sure everyone packed one-two stuffies
I packed and packed and packed. I bought sanity-saving bins at Target to keep me organized. I clipped season passes to helmuts. I clipped mittens to one another. I kept track of everything. I never put the gear away; I just lay it out to dry and put it back in the bin. Likewise, clothes were washed and simply repacked for the next trip.
And then came the hauling – the hauling of skis, snowboards, boots, and kids, let alone the food, Gatorade, and beer. Fortunately I am married to a sherpa, who at his best can carry three sets of skis, two snowboards, and one squirmy toddler.
By far my biggest challenge, a borderline deal-breaker, is getting the kids dressed to ski, which always involves tears, negotiations, bribes and threats. Putting three kids into the appropriate layers, then pulling on their mittens (with that damn thumb hole), before tugging on their jackets, then enforcing the wearing and buckling of their helmets, and finally applying their goggles, boots, and sometimes neck warmers, inevitably leads to multiple tantrums. To be repeated every time someone goes potty.
But when my sensitive 5-year-old crashes while trying one of his first black diamond runs, and as soon as he finishes shedding tears of fear and frustration, says “I want to try that again;” or my 7-year-old snowboarder finally makes that monumental shift from fallen leaf to heal-side turns down a steep-ish nemesis; or my 2-year-old sings a made-up song about the “Ditch of Doom” run while skiing between my legs, the struggles of the morning are forgotten.
And the fact that I never sleep well at altitude or that during a coughing fit my 5-year-old puked all over our 300-sq-ft studio that we were staying in for three more days, or that my husband doesn’t see the value of hanging up wet clothes – these annoyances all fade into the background.
When Wynton, who can hardly walk or sit in a chair without falling over, skis 19 blue and black runs in one day; or when Zara, despite her aversion to storms and the cold, ventures out in a blizzard to try out powder riding; or when Juno squeals with joy as she hits a jump, this time skiing between her dad’s legs; or when I get an hour or two to myself on my board to feel strong and free, I start planning the next trip.
The Facebook photos also don’t pick up on the grey hair that arrived on my head this winter. I made it to 41 without so much as a single grey strand; it took skiing with my kids all winter to trigger the color change, and I’m not surprised. It was so so so stressful, but I’m already making plans for next season.