Close

Member Login

Logging In
Invalid username or password.
Incorrect Login. Please try again.

not a member? sign-up now!

Signing up could earn you gear and it helps to keep offensive content off of our site.

PRINT DIGITAL

Over the Hill

Over the Hill

Features
By P.J. O'Rourke
posted: 02/02/2004

Having children takes the fun out of skiing. If you time your child-having right, this can save your life. Father children late. I'm 55 with two daughters, ages 5 and 2 1/2. At Park City, Utah, last winter I got in only a few solo runs. Actually, one. I begged a moment of solitude from my wife. I took the Payday lift and found a slope named (honestly)Widowmaker. I crested a mogul as high as private school tuition. I thought, "Oh boy! This is fu...uh-uh-uh..." Thump. Yard sale. Twenty-five years ago, I didn't belong on Widowmaker. And now, thanks to the near-vertical drop, I was on it no longer. I was sprawled in the middle of the Treasure Hollow intermediate trail. Little schussboomers the age of my eldest daughter, Muffin, sped along, giving me the glance of bored paleontologists bypassing a common fossil.

I returned to the bunny slope. "Daddy is so much snowier than you," said Muffin to her mother, with staunch loyalty to pater familias.

I didn't start skiing until I was over 30, and it shows. Learning to downhill ski in middle age is like most of what you learn in middle age. It's all downhill. I wanted to spare my progeny the sad fate of ski tips crossed due to invisibility under one's paunch, thus an early introduction to the sport at Park City. Never mind that we had so much snow back in New Hampshire that people were searching for their SUVs in the morning with tomato stakes while in Utah last year's dandelion tops were showing through the base.

When Muffin was 4, I'd taken her to our local ski area, Mt. Freezeoff. It was an unusually nice day by icing conditions similar to the moons of Jupiter). I got Muffin onto a pair of midget boards. She was promptly blown away from me. I wasn't sure whether she'd fallen or not. She was wearing so many layers of microfleece that she was the same height prone as she was vertical. "Point your toes, Muffin!" I shouted into the gale.

"I don't know where they are!" cried Muffin. "I can't feel my toes!"

In Utah the sun shone. Daytime temperatures rose to a point where New Hampshire natives would have been on their Lawnboys mowing those dandelion tops, snow or no snow.

Getting fitted for boots, skis and helmets at the Legacy Lodge rental shop was a hit with the girls. Half a dozen adults were suddenly willing, unnagged, to play dress-up. Tromping around on rubber mats in Rossignols was at least as interesting as wobbling around in mom's heels. "I love skiing," said Muffin. "Can we go home now?"

Taking dress-up outdoors, freezing it and putting it on an incline was not an improvement.

For years I'd watched people ski with their children, mystified at what was supposed to be enjoyable about this. If the kids don't know how to ski, there's whining. If the kids do know how to ski, there's breakneck behavior that you'd think would bother parents. Although I guess it depends on how tired they are of the whining. I've seen some parents take their children skiing in a manner that resembled a campaign for retroactive abortion rights. And I've heard a lot of parents yelling, sometimes in the same breath, "Damn it, don't do that!" and "Damn it, try!"

Muffin and her little sister, Poppet, were very much in the second damn it category. To me, the most thoroughly enjoyable part of skiing with the children was handing them over to a private instructor.

Maybe a family ski outing is like a sailboat. You can't experience the full, true joy of getting rid of the thing until you've had it. I'd had it after 20 minutes of telling Muffin to point her toes. She pointed them-straight downhill. Off she rockets, screaming in terror, arms flailing wildly. I'm in an awkward wide stance, gaining too much speed, trying to come up behind her. I catch her ski helmet in the pit of my stomach.

Meanwhile, my wife is holding the armpits of Poppet, who refuses to even set ski upon snow. My wife says you haven't been kicked until you've beenicked by a sturdy toddler with a yard of steel-edged fiberglass on the end of each leg.

Enter Tom Marshall, 23, ex of the Dartmouth cross country ski team. The girls regarded Tom with fascination. He exuded the quality of being not-a-parent. They gravitated to him like small, shedding white dogs toward a visitor in a dark suit.

Tom suggested taking one ski off Poppet. After all, it's not like she walks very well yet. And, with only one foot sliding out from under her, skiing, for Poppet, was now what walking is for her most of the time. She was delighted. Although, when asked if she liked skiing, Poppet insisted she was ice skating. In fact, that's actually a good idea. A mandatory downhill segment would enliven pairs figure skating competition, especially if the whole panel of judges were sent down the glassy slope on a bobsled beside the competitors.

Tom did not tell Muffin to point her toes. "Pizza slice," he said. She intuitively understood. And I, somewhat less intuitively, understood that when I'd told her to point her toes she'd been thinking of the Angelina Ballerina PBS cartoon show (Dancing mice. Don't ask.) and had been trying to go en point.

"When you're hungry, you go slow-big pizza slice," said Tom. "When you're not so hungry, you go fast-skinny pizza slice."

"I just had a big breakfast," said Muffin. She headed down the bunny slope with considerable speed and even some control.

I put Poppet back on two skis. "Pizza slice," said Tom. Poppet doesn't like pizza."Noodles!" said Poppet and aligned her skis like strands of uncooked spaghetti. Off she rockets, screaming in terror, arms flailing wildly. I retrieve her, catching her ski helmet, painfully, somewhat lower than the pit of my stomach.

"Ski backward," Tom said to me. "That way you go ahead and can catch them in a reverse snowplow."

Poppet went with my wife. Muffin went with Tom. And I went, with great force, butt-first into the foam padding around the base of a chairlift cable tower. There is a knack to skiing backward.

Of course, I'd skied backward before-and upside down for that matter, just hours earlier on Widowmaker. But I'd never done it on purpose. You've got to keep challenging yourself if you're going to be serious about skiing. Yet there comes a time when having the ski patrol toboggan you off the mountain isn't the kick it used to be. Flirting with the emergency room nurses is going to require intravenous Viagra. You're pretty sure your AARP health plan won't cover a new pair of skis as "physical therapy medical appliances." And it's not the same, telling buddies the hair-raising story when hair is getting thin and buddies are too deaf to hear you. Now, however, I'd found a way to challenge myself at two miles per hour.

In reverse, every 3-degree grade became a back country headwall plunge. There was plenty of excitement having senior moments, forgetting my "V" and returning my skis to "pizza slice" configuration. I've been told that when you ski all day and don't fall you're not pushing the limits of your abilities. Skiing retrogressively, my abilities were those of someone in an aluminum walker pushed backward down a handicapped access ramp. (Although, if you think about it, a ski slope is nothing but one big X-treme handicapped access ramp.) But face plants didn't hurt as much when I already had my face up my ass.

Skiing backward does work. It gives tykes something safe to ski into-a large, soft pile of dad. And it provides older children with entertainment. "Yo! Rewind!" Eschew poles, however. They are a recipe for kid-kebab.

The secret to a happy middle age is keeping the thrills in your life. Skiing is about thrills. And thrills are about setting off the sweat gland sprinkler system, the orifice surge protector and the Pacemaker smoke alarm. Skiing backward won't really do that. But taking your wiggling two-and-a-half-year-old on a chairlift in your lap will.

Before I had kids I would have said that Park City's "First Time" lift isn't very long or high above the ground. But, with the fruit of my loins squirming madly on loins still tender from taking a ski helmet hit, I can tell you that the ride on First Time takes an eternity and leaves the atmosphere of the Earth.

Poppet: "Whee!"

Me: "Hold on to Daddy."

Poppet: "Where are we?"

Me: "In geo-static orbit over the bunny slope."

Poppet: "I want to see the bunny."

Me: "Hold On To Daddy!"

Poppet: "Is the bunny way down there?"

Me: "HOLD ON TO DADDY!!!"

And, speaking of raw fear, I could see, from my perch miles in the air, my wife and Muffin headed into the world's most expensive ski clothing store that's not in Aspen.

Poppet: "Where's the bunny???" (Stifled tears.)

Me: "Where's my VISA card???" (Stifled tears.)

On day two Muffin went to ski school-without whining. How this miracle was accomplished by the Park City ski school staff, I do not know. Muffin is an Olympic gold medal whiner. And that's at least as good an idea as Downhill Pairs Figure Skating. The bench is deep with talent among modern athletes in the whining field. Anyway, if they gave a medal for Complaint, Muffin would be hopping from step to step on the winners' podium, furious that she hadn't been also awarded the Silver and the Bronze and disappointed, besides, that she wasn't getting the sympathy accorded to the losers.

The ski school instructors are happy and enthusiastic. They're young. They haven't had their proven reserves of cheerful attentiveness pumped dry by the energy crisis that is parenthood. Or maybe they're carrying Pout-Away pills and Mope-No-More inhalers in their fanny packs.

But I doubt the use of drugs. Park City is a wholesome, family-values resort. For example, at Park City's snowboard school children do not get their first tattoo, first body piercing and first Linkin Park CD.

While Muffin was at Ski School my wife and I took Poppet skating. She insisted she was skiing. That's a good idea, too. Poppet is now fully prepared for the snow at Mt. Freezeoff.

In the afternoon Muffin returned, aglow.

"What did you learn in ski school?" I asked.

"I learned that Nicola has a pink Slalom-Barbie ski jacket and Claire has a Slalom-Barbie ski jacket that's purple and I want a pink Slalom-Barbie ski jacket and a purple one, too, and one that's yellow."

"Did you ski?"

"I think so."

And Muffin took off via a pizza slice skinny enough to be allowable in the all-protein Atkins diet, with me wrong-way-round in pursuit. I was the Domino's delivery man backing at speed through the herbaceous border of novice-skiers. Muffin could make turns now. And stop herself. And she'd started to do the one thing most beloved by younger skiers -making fun of how older people ski. "Turn around, Daddy," said Muffin. "You look silly."

A family ski vacation nurtures the feelings children have for parents, and the feelings are, mostly, embarrassment. Imagine how embarrassed Muffin would be if she were six or seven years older and knew what thoughts were conjured in the minds of her parents by the big, inviting Jacuzzi in our Park City condo rental. That is, until small hands dumped therein an entire quart of bilious pink Hot Tub-Barbie bubble bath with romantic Bazooka Gum scent. Cubic yards of redolent foam cascaded through the apartment. The elegant, tapered fingers of my spouse ceased their caress of the champagne flute and grabbed a mop handle.

Editing the sexiness out of skiing-like removing the expert terrain-has its advantages for those who have crossed the meridian of life. The Jacuzzi could have led to... me in my sixties still doing stern-forward stem Christies. That said, family ski resorts may be more of a pickup scene than you'd think. There were lots of cute young mothers in Park City. And they had their hands full. Offering a little assistance with the snow urchins might get you further than any piña colada you've ever sent to the other end of a bar. Try it on my wife's "First Time" lift isn't very long or high above the ground. But, with the fruit of my loins squirming madly on loins still tender from taking a ski helmet hit, I can tell you that the ride on First Time takes an eternity and leaves the atmosphere of the Earth.

Poppet: "Whee!"

Me: "Hold on to Daddy."

Poppet: "Where are we?"

Me: "In geo-static orbit over the bunny slope."

Poppet: "I want to see the bunny."

Me: "Hold On To Daddy!"

Poppet: "Is the bunny way down there?"

Me: "HOLD ON TO DADDY!!!"

And, speaking of raw fear, I could see, from my perch miles in the air, my wife and Muffin headed into the world's most expensive ski clothing store that's not in Aspen.

Poppet: "Where's the bunny???" (Stifled tears.)

Me: "Where's my VISA card???" (Stifled tears.)

On day two Muffin went to ski school-without whining. How this miracle was accomplished by the Park City ski school staff, I do not know. Muffin is an Olympic gold medal whiner. And that's at least as good an idea as Downhill Pairs Figure Skating. The bench is deep with talent among modern athletes in the whining field. Anyway, if they gave a medal for Complaint, Muffin would be hopping from step to step on the winners' podium, furious that she hadn't been also awarded the Silver and the Bronze and disappointed, besides, that she wasn't getting the sympathy accorded to the losers.

The ski school instructors are happy and enthusiastic. They're young. They haven't had their proven reserves of cheerful attentiveness pumped dry by the energy crisis that is parenthood. Or maybe they're carrying Pout-Away pills and Mope-No-More inhalers in their fanny packs.

But I doubt the use of drugs. Park City is a wholesome, family-values resort. For example, at Park City's snowboard school children do not get their first tattoo, first body piercing and first Linkin Park CD.

While Muffin was at Ski School my wife and I took Poppet skating. She insisted she was skiing. That's a good idea, too. Poppet is now fully prepared for the snow at Mt. Freezeoff.

In the afternoon Muffin returned, aglow.

"What did you learn in ski school?" I asked.

"I learned that Nicola has a pink Slalom-Barbie ski jacket and Claire has a Slalom-Barbie ski jacket that's purple and I want a pink Slalom-Barbie ski jacket and a purple one, too, and one that's yellow."

"Did you ski?"

"I think so."

And Muffin took off via a pizza slice skinny enough to be allowable in the all-protein Atkins diet, with me wrong-way-round in pursuit. I was the Domino's delivery man backing at speed through the herbaceous border of novice-skiers. Muffin could make turns now. And stop herself. And she'd started to do the one thing most beloved by younger skiers -making fun of how older people ski. "Turn around, Daddy," said Muffin. "You look silly."

A family ski vacation nurtures the feelings children have for parents, and the feelings are, mostly, embarrassment. Imagine how embarrassed Muffin would be if she were six or seven years older and knew what thoughts were conjured in the minds of her parents by the big, inviting Jacuzzi in our Park City condo rental. That is, until small hands dumped therein an entire quart of bilious pink Hot Tub-Barbie bubble bath with romantic Bazooka Gum scent. Cubic yards of redolent foam cascaded through the apartment. The elegant, tapered fingers of my spouse ceased their caress of the champagne flute and grabbed a mop handle.

Editing the sexiness out of skiing-like removing the expert terrain-has its advantages for those who have crossed the meridian of life. The Jacuzzi could have led to... me in my sixties still doing stern-forward stem Christies. That said, family ski resorts may be more of a pickup scene than you'd think. There were lots of cute young mothers in Park City. And they had their hands full. Offering a little assistance with the snow urchins might get you further than any piña colada you've ever sent to the other end of a bar. Try it on my wife and I'll kill you.

Day three, Muffin spent the morning with Barry Wackwitz, a fellow more of my own era. Barry has been instructing since pandas could feast on the material from which ski pole shafts were made and skis were the length of those sailboats that guys our age have gotten rid of.

Poppet stayed with mom and dad, yelling "Noodles!" and resolutely refusing to learn to stop. She shows a talent for freestyle events, if knocking your parents into midair somersaults counts for extra points.

Muffin came back from her tutorial at about 30 miles an hour. "Go get one of your ski poles, Daddy," she said. She held the pole like a dumbbell. "Press down on one end and you turn," she said. "Press down on the other end and you other-turn." She was paralleling. And her back was straight. Her knees were bent. By comparison my form resembled... "You ski like Donald Duck, Daddy."

Barry Wackwitz is a genius. What was Barry's secret? I asked Muffin, "How did Barry teach you all this?"

"He has Tic Tacs," said Muffin. She out-raced me to the First Time liftline. She sat on the lift chair with aplomb, my trembling arm extended in front of her. "Don't wiggle, Daddy," she said. "We'll fall off." At the top I reached over to help her out, but she was already gone, and I was the one who took a spill.

"Come on, Daddy," said Muffin, "I want to show you something." She cut along an access trail at the head of the Silver Hollow run and stood on the lip of something that, given our difference in height, was to her what Widowmaker was to me. "Watch!" she said and away she shot.

And then I experienced the kind of pleasure that no young, single, family-free skier will ever know. As Muffin pumped and turned, I was ecstatic with pride. I was uplifted in joy. I was transported by the vision of a Title IX Women's Ski team full-ride college scholarship. My heart was full, and, with luck, my wallet would be, too. wife and I'll kill you.

Day three, Muffin spent the morning with Barry Wackwitz, a fellow more of my own era. Barry has been instructing since pandas could feast on the material from which ski pole shafts were made and skis were the length of those sailboats that guys our age have gotten rid of.

Poppet stayed with mom and dad, yelling "Noodles!" and resolutely refusing to learn to stop. She shows a talent for freestyle events, if knocking your parents into midair somersaults counts for extra points.

Muffin came back from her tutorial at about 30 miles an hour. "Go get one of your ski poles, Daddy," she said. She held the pole like a dumbbell. "Press down on one end and you turn," she said. "Press down on the other end and you other-turn." She was paralleling. And her back was straight. Her knees were bent. By comparison my form resembled... "You ski like Donald Duck, Daddy."

Barry Wackwitz is a genius. What was Barry's secret? I asked Muffin, "How did Barry teach you all this?"

"He has Tic Tacs," said Muffin. She out-raced me to the First Time liftline. She sat on the lift chair with aplomb, my trembling arm extended in front of her. "Don't wiggle, Daddy," she said. "We'll fall off." At the top I reached over to help her out, but she was already gone, and I was the one who took a spill.

"Come on, Daddy," said Muffin, "I want to show you something." She cut along an access trail at the head of the Silver Hollow run and stood on the lip of something that, given our difference in height, was to her what Widowmaker was to me. "Watch!" she said and away she shot.

And then I experienced the kind of pleasure that no young, single, family-free skier will ever know. As Muffin pumped and turned, I was ecstatic with pride. I was uplifted in joy. I was transported by the vision of a Title IX Women's Ski team full-ride college scholarship. My heart was full, and, with luck, my wallet would be, too.

reviews of Over the Hill Write a comment
Your Comment
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed

More information about formatting options

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.
All submitted comments are subject to the license terms set forth in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use