January 9, 2022
Skiing is in my DNA – passed on from my Dad, who got it from my grandfather. As a Depression era Blue Collar worker for much of his life, I’m not sure how Grandpa Thomas became a skier and bought size 210 wooden boards with leather straps, but they ended up under my Dad’s ski boots in the early 1960s days of racing.
Displayed on our wall, we have a black and white picture of my Dad’s family at 49 Degrees North Ski Resort in Chewelah, Washington. It serves as a reminder of our heritage in the mountains.
When my parents bought a matchbox sized condo at The Red Cricket in the early 1980’s at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, skiing became our every weekend rhythm. I loved watching my Dad glide down the hill in giant, smooth slalom turns. It was as if he were composing music with the powder, the trees, and the sky as his orchestra. Years later I would follow in my Dad’s footsteps and click into my own racing skis.
Skiing is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle, a community, a fellowship of people who belong in the mountains. The freshly fallen snow on evergreen boughs, the crisp air, the creak of the chairlift as it climbs, the way the powder hits our faces as we let go and let the skis lead. These experiences bind us together and bring our souls to life.
Schweitzer sits far north on the map at the tip of Idaho, near the border. The amicable relationship between the Canadian and American skiers in this region has been longstanding. Some of my earliest memories are of the Canadians climbing the face of the mountain on New Year’s Eve, skis in one hand, a cold beer in the other, singing the entire ascent. Their torch light ski down was a reminder of the light and life perennially found at the mountain. At some point the tradition died out, but the memory never did.
So when the millennium neared, and rumors of self-destruction abounded, my Dad pulled from the spirit of the Canadians and declared we were going to ring in the year 2000 with a torch light ski. As the clock ticked forward during the final minutes of 1999, we climbed the face of the Ridge, lit our torches, and hollered “Happy New Year!” If the world was ending, this was no doubt the best way to go. We were together, led by the ski patriarch himself, on the mountain that was home.
Much to our surprise, the world didn’t end, the computers kept working, and life moved along normally. But something had changed for our family. An important ritual was birthed that night, another strand of ski DNA linked from one generation to the next.
To this day, while many kids are out looking for trouble, ours are climbing The Ridge in ski boots on New Year’s Eve. The feeling of exhilaration and unbridled joy is palpable as we ski down with torches lit, yelling “Happy New Year!” This ritual helps define us as a family and what we love. It has helped build who we are for 21 years straight.
I have a theory about traditions like our family’s Schweitzer New Year’s climb.
Traditions build family identity.
Family identity builds belonging.
And belonging is our deepest human need.
Traditions like this are that important and that fundamental.
Grandpa didn’t know how deep our ski roots would run – I think he would be very, very proud.