“Passing it On: Healing, Growing, and Making Sense of it All Through Skiing”
I am very excited to announce the publication of my personal essay in my favorite magazine – Powder: The Skier’s Magazine.
Here is the essay, published in the current January, 2016 issue. “Passing it On: Healing, Growing, and Making Sense of it All Through Skiing”
It began in 1971, when a colleague took my father skiing. One day, and he was hooked. He knew it was something he had to share with his family.
My father was a psychiatrist, and so fun-loving and goofy that people often thought that he had been drinking (he never had a drop). He used to ski with a multi-colored clown wig, and he was affectionately known on the hill as “Doc”. If not for his winning personality, I think he and his buddies would have been in big trouble when they came down the last headwall on their stomachs in large plastic garbage bags!
We grew up spending every winter weekend in the ‘70s and ‘80s skiing at Big Boulder and Jack Frost, in the Poconos, where my sister, Debbie, brother, David, and I were on the freestyle team. We loved those days of goofing off in long lift lines, skiing in jeans and gaiters with our Mother Karen jackets.’
After college, my father was sad to see me go, but he supported my adventure to Vail to join my brother for a season. The mountains pulled me to Colorado, but a romance brought me back to New Jersey. My father became very close with the man who was soon to become my fiancé, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer just three months into our engagement. Seven months after his diagnosis, he passed away after the most valiant fight at the age of 27.
After my fiance’s death, my father and I talked a lot about death in order to help us process our profound loss. During one conversation, my father said, “You know, if I have it my way, I am going to die on a chairlift.”
He was not a religious man, but he said that is where he felt the most at peace and the closest to God, breathing in the cool mountain air. Two weeks later, he died alone on a chairlift from a sudden heart attack.
He spent the day before his death getting ready for the ski season. He was taking an early winter trip to Vermont. He took out all of his equipment and wore his ski boots around the house most of the day. He proudly showed me how he fixed the rip in his ski pants with duct tape, and we talked about our upcoming voyage to Squaw California, to visit my brother.
The ski patrollers told us that they had seen him skiing that fateful day, so we were comforted that at least he got some good runs in before he passed away on the Okemo Mountain chairlift. He had an unusual and unforgettable way of skiing that exuded happiness. Skiing casually with his arms out, listening to his tunes. I don’t think he was in his multi-colored clown wig that day. He was simply recognized by his happy skiing.
The kind patrollers also drove his Bronco down to NJ from Okemo. My sweet mother prepared them dinner, and we all had a meal together in my childhood home. I am sure that this was a ski patrol responsibility that they did not sign up for, and one that they may never forget.
To heal my wounds, I turned to the mountains for comfort, peace, and to breathe in that cool mountain air that made my father feel so alive. He loved to tell me how one of his favorite memories was when I was ten years old and I leaned back on the chairlift with my face pointing toward the sun and said, “This is the life.” Not only did skiing foster the wonderful relationship I shared with my father, but it also brought me to my husband, my sister to her husband, and my brother to his wife. We all met through skiing.
Life has come full circle, and now I enjoy skiing at the same small mountain I grew up on, with my own children. Not a ski day goes by that I do not silently remember or pass along a skiing story about my father. It is because of him that I am out there every minute I can, that my sister does the same with her family at Roundtop, and that my brother is living the good life at Squaw with his wife. I am so grateful for every day on the mountain, and especially the ones where Jack Frost’s bald eagle soars above my head.