Seven inches of snow had just fallen and the lodge was jammed with dozens of parents leaning over their children’s ski boots. And over there, in the corner, I was struggling with my own boots — what an ordeal! — when the woman beside me, Karin Tenney, 47 years old, of Dover, N.H., let out the insight of the ages:
I wish I had my mom here to help me get dressed.
Did I ever wish that, too. In the days when my mom actually was here — in this very spot in the bowels of Mount Cranmore, in North Conway, N.H. — the act of getting ready for skiing was a whole lot harder. Lest my own children read this and groan at this story — with apologies to Nathaniel Hawthorne, this is, in our family, a twice-told tale — let me remind you that there was a time, within living memory, when there were no buckle boots.
Now, in an age when no one even uses the term “buckle boots,” it is appropriate to inform the schussers of today that ski boots once were like skates, tightened with laces.
So there — a generation ago — was my mom, who had illusions of high social standards and thought that it was essential to dress with style for air travel, on her knees, lacing up not one child’s ski boots but boots for four children: David, Jeffrey, Peter, Cindy, each one of us hurrying to the slopes but waiting for mom’s efforts at the laces.
Only now, years after she is gone, and many decades since those early ski days, do I recognize how difficult it was for our mom to dress us for skiing, and then to tend to each of our ailments, complaints, critiques and desires. And only now, years after my own daughters have grown and gone off to Wisconsin and San Francisco, do I realize how much I enjoyed my labors as a ski dad, and how much I admire my wife’s work as a ski mom.
Our girls moaned — no, they yelped — when the 6:30 ski alarm went off. They found every excuse known to humankind to sleep for a few more minutes, just as mom and I found every imprecation to get them to the breakfast bar and then into their ski clothes. But the results were worth it: They skied like Suzy Chaffee, and we preened like tennis parents, though not like Stefani Graf’s father, who earned the sobriquet Papa Merciless. On the few occasions they deigned to ski with us, we marveled at every turn. And even when they rode the chairlift with us in the sullenness of the teen years, every moment was a gift.
What I would do to have that gift again.
Now back to our own mom. She was a Montrealer and adept at the arts of the mountain, having conquered Hill 69 and Hill 70 in her Quebec childhood. (Maybe the key was that her own mom had skied. I have a picture of her — my grandmother — skiing in St. Sauveur in a year in which my mother was a toddler. I wish she were alive today, if only to ask her what the hell she was doing on a ski mountain with a little girl at home.)
Our ski mom made lunch for the mountain, and she made dinner for the ski crowd, and skied herself. Today I regret poking fun at how she moved across (but hardly down) the hill, a realistic imitation of how a hedgehog lunges for shelter amid rocks and bushes. Instead I should have expressed wonder that she actually got to the hill at all. The very day Karin Tenney had her “mom” insight, I moved across the Skimeister Trail atop Cranmore much like a hedgehog myself, accompanied by the unflattering huffs and puffs of a hedgehog. I’m 66 years old and I huff and puff like, well, my mom on skis.
These days there is ample talk about soccer moms — this was particularly virulent in the months before the New Hampshire Primary — but insufficient appreciation of ski moms. They dressed us, they prepared us for skiing, they got out there themselves, and they taught us to love our winter sport. For all those things it is well past time to express our thanks, belated as it may be. For all those things, especially for the love of the sport.
It was only a part of a mother’s love, to be sure, but an indispensable part. And yes, I wish I had my mom here to help me get dressed.