Snow Sunday: When It Snows... Ski

It’s Thursday morning December 18th. There are four or five inches of new snow, and a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t be in the lift line at 8:45a.m: The Christmas cards I haven’t sent, the stack of papers I haven’t graded, the emails I haven’t returned, the bills I haven’t paid, the laundry I haven’t put away, the groceries I haven’t bought, the article I haven’t written and the dog I haven’t walked.

Yet, I’m in line.

It’s a small line, and I know most everyone in it. Folks are friendly and excited. It’s been a great December. I ride straight to Lift Nine with a friend and my husband. We head to Bushwhacker. There are only a few tracks in front of us, and as we ski, ephemeral white ghosts of snow stream behind us, lingering for a few seconds before disappearing into thin air. Those few new inches are like sugar on the rim of a champagne glass. They make what’s under them a whole lot better.

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The skiing is better than I’d thought it’d be and we ride Nine a few more times adding a Stairs and Mak’m. I become absorbed in the chairlift talk. My friend has just returned from a mountaineering expedition, and for the first time since her return, we catch up. I ask her about the trip; she asks me about my mom. Three 14-minute lift rides, with no interruptions. No cell phone calls, texts, kids, or televisions.

We head to Six and ski a few Apex Glades. Six has recently opened, and it’s deeper over here; there are barely any tracks. I ski through the upper trees of the Glade and come out onto the wide-open lowers. My tips descend into a fluff of snow and it blows up into my face. I giggle aloud and am grateful I’m here.

We head back to Nine for a few more. The chair climbs the last steep pitch above Mak’m, and we collide with the sun’s morning rays as they peak over Wastach Mountain. They illuminate us, and the snow below us, highlighting the individual crystals on the top layer.

I take a picture for my mom. It’s her 71st birthday and I’m pretty sure, one of the first in the last thirty years, on which she hasn’t skied. She’s in Denver at the University of Colorado Anshutz Hospital, eleventh floor, oncology. Third round of chemo. I post the photo on Facebook, wishing her a Happy Birthday.

Two days later, on my birthday, by 8:30 a.m., I’m also on the eleventh floor of the University hospital in Denver. My mom has a complication, infected lungs — an allergic reaction to the chemo. We’re both Sagitarius and every birthday, both mine and hers, we’ve skied. It’s what our family does together, it’s how we connect, how we communicate.

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This year, we hang out in the hospital, maybe for the first time in our 42-year relationship doing nothing. I show her the Christmas presents I bought for the family and wrap a few. She asks me how the mountain is skiing and I show her pictures and tell her what is open and what is skiing well. We rent a movie on the computer, This is When I Leave You, a great film to make a healthily dysfunctional family, like ours, realize we’re doing pretty well. I sneak in some wine, and eat cake. At 10:30 pm, I give my mom a hug and leave.

The day before, when I spoke to my mom on the phone, I knew I had to go to Denver and I’d be there on my birthday, instead of coaching and skiing on the mountain. Similar as it was for her two days prior, it is the first birthday, for as long as I can remember, that I haven’t skied. But, I have Thursday in my pocket, and I thank her for giving me her birthday powder.

Before going to bed, I check my Facebook page. Many friends have written messages wishing me a great day and imagining me doing something rad. They say, “have a great day on the slopes,” and “rip it up.”

I turn off the light and realize that I did do something pretty rad on my birthday, maybe one of the raddest things I’d ever done. I assure myself that my mom’s cancer, like the white ghosts that lingered behind me on Bushwhacker, will also disappear into thin air. It, along with this year’s birthdays, would be something we spoke about in the past tense.

I feel grateful and I thank my mom. Both for the powder on the 18th, and for teaching me, life is too short not to be in the lift line at 8:45 a.m. on a Thursday.

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