Doug Thompson illustration
I married a skier. While this would be a bonus for frostbite-loving women, I was terrified of strapping planks to my feet and sliding down the steep face of a snowy mountain. My perfect vacation was lying on a sunny beach with a novel and a strawberry daiquiri. Before we had children, my husband, Ed, tanned happily by my side. But once we became parents, he was determined to make us a ski family. Living in Richmond, I thought I was safe from icy cliffs. However, I soon found out "Virginia skiing" is not an oxymoron. Ski resorts bustle less than two hours from home. If Mother Nature doesn't make the snow, giant machines will. Before long, we were regulars at Wintergreen, a resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I was too old and scared to learn to ski, but our two children were naturals. They even joined the race team, acquiring technical skills as good as any found out West. When I wasn't slope-side, cheering them on, I warmed up in the lodge, reading. At first, I thought I was getting the better deal. Unlike my kids, I understood the risks of combining high speeds and slippery slopes. But one day, as I smiled at the other lodge moms eating glazed doughnuts and nodding off between chapters, it hit me that I sat among strangers while my family formed memories without me. So at age 35, I decided to ski.
To my surprise, I fell in love. Skiing became a family affair. Most weekends found us swishing the slopes till sunset. Ed and I would ski together during the kids' morning practice; the four of us would meet for lunch, refuel, then take on the mountain as a unit. Everyone loved helping Mom; the kids would pull me aside in the snow to pass on their coach's latest tips, applauding as I improved.
Once I could handle intermediate runs such as Eagle's Swoop, I set my sights on the Highlands — the expert area my family loved, but where I feared to venture. I signed up for a weekend of private lessons and was paired with Hank, a ski instructor who believed all that was needed to triumph over the Blue Ridge Mountains was a bowl of fruit. He explained that for parallel turns, I should imagine an orange under each foot and "squeeze the juice out of it" by pushing my inside edge hard into the snow; my outside edge should "squish a grape," keeping it lightly on the ground; and for proper alignment, my body should bend like a banana. Our entire time together, I craved a smoothie.
Hank started me on easy slopes, instructing, "Squeeze the orange!" as I carved slow turns downhill. I steered through towering pines, over deer tracks and around moguls. The panoramic view was magnificent. Snow-dusted mountains stretched for miles, set against the bluest sky I'd ever seen. My senses filled so contentedly with nature, that I wanted to stand still forever, breathing in the clean, crisp air. Then Hank would inevitably shout out a command, interrupting my calm. Once in motion, the mountainside changed from living poetry to exhilarating fear to personal triumph.
When our time together was almost up, Hank declared, "It's time for Cliffhanger, Wintergreen's only double black-diamond!" After seeing the look of terror on my face, he reassured me, "Don't worry, you're doing great. Most moms would've quit long ago." Most moms? My heart sank. Couldn't he tell that strapping planks to my feet and sliding down the steep face of a snowy mountain transformed me? No longer a warm-weather-only-lodge-mom, I was a youthful, courageous athlete who accepted challenges, embraced life and literally conquered mountains.
I started down Cliffhanger ready to show Hank what this mom was made of, but I picked up too much speed. I reverted to a wedge, powerless on the icy patches. As I tried to recall what to do, squeeze the orange … bend like a banana … remember the little grape … my brain short-circuited. I wiped out, equipment flying everywhere. I blamed Hank. He jinxed me, calling me a mom. But being mature, I forgave him. I mean, motherhood is what got me on skis in the first place, and I was well on my way to getting the hang of this crazy sport.
Our goodbyes over, I set off to find my true meaning of Virginia skiing … being with family.
Sherrie Page Najarian is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in various local and natioanl publications.