I’ll Always Give Up a Powder Day to Go Skiing with My Kids

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How one skier's relationship with the sport evolved over the course of her adult life—and how it shaped her perspective, marriage and priorities

I came late to my powder addiction. I grew up with a single mom on a shoestring budget in Colorado Springs, which meant the runs of Vail and Breckenridge were out of our reach, despite the resorts’ proximity to our home. College was more of the same. I was a scholarship kid at a New England liberal arts school that had its own ski hill and cultivated world champions, but until my roommate gifted me her used gear, I steered clear of the slopes. I had nothing against skiing. I just didn’t know how to do it, and my life didn’t seem incomplete without it.

I might have been the only person who didn't move to Jackson to ski, but if I was determined to stay, I’d better learn to love it.

Then I landed my first post-college job, which happened to be in Jackson, Wyoming, home, at the time, to skiing greats like Doug Coombs and “Sick” Rick Armstrong. Within 15 minutes on my first day as the environmental reporter at the Jackson Hole News, a co-worker invited me to hike and ski Snow King, the local hill. It was May, there was plenty of snow, and we had lots of ski-toting company at the summit, my first real clue that I’d landed in a ski-obsessed culture. Five days later I followed my boss up Mount Glory from Teton Pass for my first foray into backcountry skiing. That night, as I counted the bruises resulting from my many falls, the reality of moving to a ski town sunk in. I might have been the only person who didn't move to Jackson to ski, but if I was determined to stay (which I was), I’d better learn to love it.

It was an easy command to follow. I bought a used telemark set up (this was the late ‘90s and tele gear was still cheap), and discovered the joy of exploring the Tetons on skis. To make a long story short, my learning curve was steep, but after one season in Jackson Hole, I was just as eager as the next dude with duct-taped ski poles for winter to return.

As I developed a healthy appreciation for powder snow—and skiing in general—I found a crew of like-minded skiers who welcomed me into their circle. They taught me (or pointed me to the right classes) about safely traveling through avalanche terrain. They took me on Idaho yurt trips and then on adventures involving helicopters and big peaks in British Columbia. About three years after my initial move to Jackson, I realized how set my priorities had become. I chose subsequent jobs based on the quality of nearby skiing, and I never hesitated to call in sick on a powder day.

We love skiing so much, we skinned to the top of Independence Peak in May 2007 and got engaged. Photo: Jeff Walker

Not surprisingly, I met my husband through skiing. It was November 2005, and we were both at a “Beacons & Beer” party organized by a mutual friend. We were giddy with anticipation of the oncoming winter. Our similarities struck us both as wonderful coincidences: two young singletons in Boulder, Colorado, who loved to ski and who thought a Friday night spent looking for hidden avalanche beacons in a snowless meadow was perfect? Clearly, we were destined for one another.

Our courtship began on skis a month after that party. We ski-toured local spots—Allenspark and Caribou, Berthoud and Loveland passes. Three months into dating, we drove to Jackson, biked into Leigh Lake on the freshly plowed Inner Park Road (which was closed to cars for the month) and skinned up Paintbrush Canyon. We camped for eight days, climbing up and skiing down north-facing powder runs or, later in the morning, south-facing corn. On another trip, we camped on an Alaskan glacier for ski mountaineering, and before we decided to start trying for a family, we did more of the same in Italy’s Ortler region. We seriously contemplated eloping and going heli-skiing instead of hosting a wedding, and I still question our choice to go the traditional route.

With mixed feelings—coveting motherhood, coveting powder—I questioned our family planning choices.

Discovering powder changed my life. Powder snow has grounded me and pushed me and rewarded me with elation time and again. And when I got pregnant after a year of marriage, my due date sometime in mid-February, prime powder season, I cried—despite intentionally trying to get knocked up. It wasn’t hormones that conjured the tears but my fear that a child would put an end to our winter adventures and that in the absence of powder-induced endorphins, my husband’s and my love for one another might falter.

To present-day me, mother of a five- and seven-year-old, this sounds ridiculous. But back then it was beyond real. I had finally found my thing and now I was introducing what was sure to be a disruptive, squalling, demanding person into the mix. With mixed feelings—coveting motherhood, coveting powder—I questioned our family planning choices. When I confided in my husband, he replied that he wasn’t worried. He couldn’t think of anything more adventurous than kids.

I had never felt so alone.

Henry, age 2, thrilled to be riding the gondola at Vail in January 2013. Photo: Jeff Walker

Fast forward to about a year after that conversation, and we were the parents of a joyful baby boy, blond and bouncy and adorable in his onesie snowsuit. He couldn’t quite walk, but still, we schlepped him up to the mountains where we took turns skiing while the other watched the baby. Or we’d go cross-country, towing a sleeping baby in the Chariot on skis. We didn’t realize it then, but we were indoctrinating Henry into our favorite environment, acclimatizing him to the mountains we both loved so much. The following winter, Henry was strong enough to click into small skis, and we strapped him into a harness attached to a long leash. Before we’d even shuffled toward the lift line, our toddler was clapping his hands and screaming in glee.

If standing on skis was good, the magic carpet was even better. His eyes widened as the moving walkway took us uphill. At first, none of us could master the leash, so we took turns skiing down the bunny slope with Henry between our legs. And that bliss he experienced on the ride up? It was nothing compared to his glee at going down. Henry’s wide-open mouth froze into a beaming smile and my cheeks hurt from smiling along with him. That’s the moment my perspective on skiing shifted and I basked in the alchemy of all I loved—my little family, the elements, the sport—syncing together.

For me, becoming a mother expanded my definition of love—in ways both warm and fuzzy and stressful.

People say that having a child changes you, and before I became a mother, I didn’t doubt them. It seemed the most obvious statement in the world. But I thought they meant having kids changed how you spent your time. I was thinking logistically. Have a baby, procure a crib, diapers, and bottles. Toddlers like to say “no”, I thought, so work on patience. Your elementary school kid probably needs crayons and a backpack. And so on.

Now I understand how nuanced that change can be. It involves identity and emotion, pure love and complete exhaustion. For me, becoming a mother expanded my definition of love—in ways both warm and fuzzy and stressful. A lifetime non-worrier, I was suddenly terrified of tragedy befalling my offspring. I was constantly thinking about my babies. Were they warm? Hungry? Dry? Sleeping? Happy? Dealing with those relentless concerns gave my life structure, but they were also noisy and demanded lots of brainpower.

I remember feeling the most complete I had felt since giving birth.

Somehow, that first day we took Henry out on skis, everything got a lot quieter. My worries receded and the mama/baby checklist became unnecessary. All three of us—Jeff, Henry, and me—were completely in the moment and engaged, which is exactly the same feeling I have when I ski powder. The mental relief was immense. I loved that we spent three hours outside without tears and that Henry was wild with excitement. I remember he ate and slept well that night. I remember feeling the most complete I had felt since giving birth.

Silas Walker, age 2, on skis for the first time, January 2014. Photo: Rachel Walker

It’s been five years since that first day and in that time we’ve added another boy to our brood. These days, Henry can bomb on his skis through trees with his little brother Silas hot on his heels, and we spend most winter weekends on snow. Not every day is as sublime as that first time with Henry, but for the most part, our days spent skiing as a family stitch into a quilt of cohesion.

We’re a unit at the whims of nature, and we work up appetites and make sure everyone can keep up.

When we ski, we’re not distracted or looking at screens. We’re not badgering the kids to do their chores, and my husband and I aren't bickering about who does more laundry. We’re a unit at the whims of nature, and we work up appetites and make sure everyone can keep up. We check in and take care of one another. Skiing makes us kinder and more fun to be around. And even if it’s a blower day up high, if the kids are with me, we’re skiing together.

I hope they love the sport like I do. And I hope they don’t have to wait as long as I did to cultivate their own powder addiction. This is partly selfish. As much as I want them to experience that thrill, I also want to share it. Because if both of those things—skiing with my kids and skiing powder—are sublime as stand-alones, imagine what will happen when they come together.

Jeff, Silas, Henry, and Rachel Walker riding the lift up. Photo: Jeff Walker

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