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Family Affair

Family Affair

Features
By Tama Janowitz
posted: 02/28/2006

With its endless ego-boosting terrain, fast lifts and abundance of slopeside lodging, Snowmass offers the perfect setting for mother and daughter to bond. At least, that was the plan.

"YOU SEE? THIS is why I didn't want to go on a ski trip. I NEVER wanted to go on a ski trip!

This is the first time I've heard that Willow, my 9-year-old daughter, didn't want to come. In fact, it seems to me, her excitement had been escalating for weeks about our ski trip. But one thing I have learned about traveling with a child:
On every trip there is that moment of The Meltdown.

This particular meltdown comes from having to drag our equipment, while clumping along in heavy ski boots, from the shuttle van over to the slopes. When Willow was little, I learned to control her by lying down on the ground next to her when she was having a temper-tantrum and doing the same. This immediately brought her to her senses: Every time, embarrassed by her demented mother, she would stop. But now that she's 9, it's not quite the same.

Moments later, though, out on the slopes, she is speeding with Paige Powell (a friend who's an expert skier and has joined us from the West Coast) down Fanny Hill, looking like a delighted Atom Ant from the cartoon. On the other hand, I seem to have regressed from the year before. I do a run with the two of them. "Mom, why are you going so slowly? Willow asks.

"Because I LIKE going slowly, I say, gritting my teeth. After I topple over, I can't get up. My spindly arms and upper body have no strength and I feel like a giant larva, body parts waving feebly. It takes both Paige and an embarrassed Willow to hoist me back to my feet. Then Willow firmly suggests that perhaps I should ski on the far side of the mountain, several ridges away from her.

And that is when, as a parent, you think to yourself, this is expensive, this is exhausting, this makes me want to give my kid away to the Ukrainian circus. Why the heck did I even bother?

I'm a lifelong skier who has never amounted to much on the slopes. So I decided to take a trip to Snowmass, Colo., drawn by its reputation as a family paradise, with sugarplums of long, intimate mother-daughter bonding days dancing in my head. I am not about to be banished by my kid, at least not quietly.

My Own Private Ski Instructor
For years I have been pleased with myself: I'm always the best of the beginner class. Since I have been a beginning skier my whole life, I am pretty much an expert beginner. Without patting myself on the back too much, I am pretty much The World's Greatest Beginning Skier.

This year, however, I am not skiing with a class: I have a private instructor. She's Maggie Cesada, and she is a beautiful woman from Argentina. Very gently, she tells me a few things I'm doing wrong. For example, my downhill leg is doing all the work and my uphill leg, well, it's just along for the ride. And I'm supposed to be leaning forward, which will make me go slower, instead of leaning back, which makes no sense to me.

Still, if there is one place on the planet where you don't have to be a good skier to enjoy skiing, it must be Snowmass. The snow is fabulous, and there are seemingly endless miles of greens and easy blues. Not just that, but all the trails I'm on are so wide and empty there's no danger of one of the trees that line the sides coming up from nowhere to crash into you, which I have seen happen many times. A big healthy tree smashing at top speed into a person is not fun to watch.[NEXT]Children's Ski School
At the end of the day, I go to pick up Willow from ski school. The parent or caretaker always gets a report at pickup time, and the teacher says Willow has done just fine. Still, Willow has a slightly peculiar look on her face that I've become too familiar with. There's another mother picking up a kid in Willow's group, and the teacher says, "You know, I don't think it is such a good idea for Zuleika (not her real name)o wear that backpack when she skis.



"Oh, says the mother, "Zuleika insisted. And it just has some water in it, in case she's thirsty.

"Actually, it has more than that in it, the teacher explains. "There's so much stuff in it I think it's making her, um, somewhat unbalanced. It's hard for her to sit on the chairlift. And it's not just in her way, but also in everyone else's. She's got books in it and nail polish and CDs and stuffed animals and...

"Oh, Zuleika's mother replies with a shrug, obviously thinking it's no big deal. "She must have slipped the stuff in later. I knew nothing about it.

A bit later on Willow confides that she and Zuleika fell off the chair lift. I'm alarmed. "Were you hurt? How high up were you?

"Oh, I don't know, Willow says. "A few feet. Maybe 20. Or 50?

"It was Zuleika's fault! I say. "The teacher said she had too much stuff in her backpack.

"Oh no, Willow explains. "We fell off because the chairlift was going way fast. Zuleika just brought books in her backpack 'cause she likes to read.

Fun with Mysterious Strangers: Evening Activities off the Slopes
There is so much more to do here than ski. For example, Paige, Willow and I pick up a man at the bar of Il Poggio, the fantastic Italian restaurant at the Snowmass Village.

Willow convinces him to give her his chair. I am not sure how she manages to do this, but she has always had her techniques, far better than mine. On the subway back home in New York, for example, she darts in at top speed and grabs a seat. Or she might simply whine, "Mom! I'm tired! I want to sit. Another method is to simply sit on the floor until some kind person stands up and offers her a place. Here, though, I am not sure what exactly she does.

By way of apology, we offer him a drink. He's a local resident involved, I think, in real estate. We agree to meet up the following evening, but when Paige telephones, Reggie (not his real name) says he is in Aspen. "I'm with my friend who just got in from New York, Reggie explains. Since we've decided to go into Aspen one night anyway, to have dinner, we tell Reggie we'll meet him and his friend for a drink after dinner.At the fancy hotel, the Jerome, Reggie is seated in the bar with a man who looks exactly like Jack Palance. It turns out the man has just arrived from Buffalo, N.Y. To me, based on the way Jack is dressed, Buffalo must have become a real cow town since last I was there. Jack is wearing a cowboy hat, buckskins and the rest of the accouterment.

After we chat for a while, Reggie gets up and departs for a few minutes. The Jack Palance look-alike turns to Paige. "Do you know who this guy is? he says.

"What? says Paige. "I thought you were his friend. He said he was with a friend who just got in from New York.

"Yeah, well, I just met him, says the man. "He told me that you two were a couple of his old friends who were joining us. What's with him? He keeps on buying me things, he insisted on buying all my drinks, and dinner...

"We just met him last night, says Paige. "For two minutes. At a bar. We don't know anything about him either. Willow rolls her eyes. "Mom, let's go!

[NEXT]Snowshoeing
Of course, a lot of people like to do things more attuned to nature than talking to weird men in bars, like snowshoeing and observing wildlife. It seems to me that if you're in a place where you can put on skis and go down the hill, why would you do things that require going uphill? But I put on snowshoes and go out with a naturalist and actually it's very very nice: There are fir trees hung with moss, and it's quiet.

I wish Willow were with me (she's in ski school) to learn all about the ways of the wild, but it's for the best: I know instead of listening she would probably just be throwing snowballs at the guide. And if there were any avalanches, I would think it was her fault.

We don't actually see any animals, but apparently there are—according to the naturalist—a lot of them out there. It's unbelievable, that there are so many animals in the woods—and all of them just brilliant at hiding, even in the overcrowded conditions.

I get back to the slopes in time to see a gigantic mouse—my daughter—skiing at top speed, still not using ski poles, leaning way way back and doing the snowplow. "Did you see how fast I was going? she asks when I collect her. "Ma, how come you don't like to go fast? I like to! I did the halfpipe and the bumps and we had lunch in the teepee. Mom, you sure go slow, compared to me!

Tube Town in the Afternoon
Next to our condo is "Tube Town, which I feel we have to try. The name sounds like something out of a Mad Max movie. You sit in an inner tube and get pulled by a ropetow up to the top of a gentle slope, where a teenager is waiting to give you a shove down a chute. However, when it's my turn and I'm at the front of the line, a little kid shoulders into the front of the line.

"Hey, I say. "Excuse me, but it's my turn.

"No, this is my tube, he replies.

"Yeah, but you can't just keep using that tube over and over—other people get a chance, too, you know. I can't believe I'm arguing with an entity that's no taller than my knees. I look around but he doesn't seem to have a parent to reprimand him. I can tell he thinks we're supposed to fight it out between ourselves. We glare at each other.

At last, the woman in charge of clipping the tube onto the tow grabs the tube and gestures for me to get in. Actually, I feel really stupid. But Willow is already at the top, waiting for me, and it seems like a wonderful thing for me to do, to show my child that I can have "fun, too.

At the top, I get out and wait my turn in line right behind Willow, waiting to get a push down the slope. More and more kids pile off the ropetow, all of them going in front of Willow, who doesn't protest. In fact, she seems content to just sit there in the rubber tube. "Come on, kid, you're from Brooklyn, I remind her. "Don't let them go ahead of you!

Then, after a pause, the same little troublemaker from the bottom of the lift, who was maybe 3 years old, comes over, dragging the new tube he's obtained. And he looks at me and says coldly, "It's not good when people cheat.

"I didn't cheat! I yell. "Everyone gets a turn. You can't just hog the tube!

The tot calmly steps in front of me, dragging his newly acquired tube, and goes to the front of the line and down the hill. "See! I say. "Now YOU'RE cheating. Cheater, cheater!

Suddenly, a second tot appears, exactly the same as the first. Dressed alike, too. What the heck is happening here? Then I realize they're twins. "Two against one, I shout, "No fair. How many of you little guys are there, anyway?

"Ma, you're humiliating me, Willow says.[NEXT]My Own Private Iditarod
It had always been my dream to go dog-sledding. Even though it's my fantasy, it isn't Willow's. For some reason, she's never had that wish.

Your average modern kid is, I guess, more excited about taking a roller coaster ride. She was only mildly interested in watching the video that came beforehand, in which we were told to be quiet and not to shout things like "Yoikes! or "Yee-haw! because the dogs might think we wanted them to go right or speed up or do both at the same time.

I intend to obey the rules, because many years ago I was given a little reindeer to drive whilst sitting on a sleigh—by myself!—only I quickly fell off and the reindeer ran home and I was 450 miles north of the Arctic Circle. So it doesn't bother me that here we have a musher who's driving. Willow and I climb into the dog sled and are tucked in together under a rug.

These dogs in front of us are very special: According to the literature, they're descended from the world-famous Toklat sled dogs, a mixture of three original sled dog types—malamute, Eskimo and Siberian husky.

However, over the years the operation's owner has, for some reason, decided to introduce somef them out there. It's unbelievable, that there are so many animals in the woods—and all of them just brilliant at hiding, even in the overcrowded conditions.

I get back to the slopes in time to see a gigantic mouse—my daughter—skiing at top speed, still not using ski poles, leaning way way back and doing the snowplow. "Did you see how fast I was going? she asks when I collect her. "Ma, how come you don't like to go fast? I like to! I did the halfpipe and the bumps and we had lunch in the teepee. Mom, you sure go slow, compared to me!

Tube Town in the Afternoon
Next to our condo is "Tube Town, which I feel we have to try. The name sounds like something out of a Mad Max movie. You sit in an inner tube and get pulled by a ropetow up to the top of a gentle slope, where a teenager is waiting to give you a shove down a chute. However, when it's my turn and I'm at the front of the line, a little kid shoulders into the front of the line.

"Hey, I say. "Excuse me, but it's my turn.

"No, this is my tube, he replies.

"Yeah, but you can't just keep using that tube over and over—other people get a chance, too, you know. I can't believe I'm arguing with an entity that's no taller than my knees. I look around but he doesn't seem to have a parent to reprimand him. I can tell he thinks we're supposed to fight it out between ourselves. We glare at each other.

At last, the woman in charge of clipping the tube onto the tow grabs the tube and gestures for me to get in. Actually, I feel really stupid. But Willow is already at the top, waiting for me, and it seems like a wonderful thing for me to do, to show my child that I can have "fun, too.

At the top, I get out and wait my turn in line right behind Willow, waiting to get a push down the slope. More and more kids pile off the ropetow, all of them going in front of Willow, who doesn't protest. In fact, she seems content to just sit there in the rubber tube. "Come on, kid, you're from Brooklyn, I remind her. "Don't let them go ahead of you!

Then, after a pause, the same little troublemaker from the bottom of the lift, who was maybe 3 years old, comes over, dragging the new tube he's obtained. And he looks at me and says coldly, "It's not good when people cheat.

"I didn't cheat! I yell. "Everyone gets a turn. You can't just hog the tube!

The tot calmly steps in front of me, dragging his newly acquired tube, and goes to the front of the line and down the hill. "See! I say. "Now YOU'RE cheating. Cheater, cheater!

Suddenly, a second tot appears, exactly the same as the first. Dressed alike, too. What the heck is happening here? Then I realize they're twins. "Two against one, I shout, "No fair. How many of you little guys are there, anyway?

"Ma, you're humiliating me, Willow says.[NEXT]My Own Private Iditarod
It had always been my dream to go dog-sledding. Even though it's my fantasy, it isn't Willow's. For some reason, she's never had that wish.

Your average modern kid is, I guess, more excited about taking a roller coaster ride. She was only mildly interested in watching the video that came beforehand, in which we were told to be quiet and not to shout things like "Yoikes! or "Yee-haw! because the dogs might think we wanted them to go right or speed up or do both at the same time.

I intend to obey the rules, because many years ago I was given a little reindeer to drive whilst sitting on a sleigh—by myself!—only I quickly fell off and the reindeer ran home and I was 450 miles north of the Arctic Circle. So it doesn't bother me that here we have a musher who's driving. Willow and I climb into the dog sled and are tucked in together under a rug.

These dogs in front of us are very special: According to the literature, they're descended from the world-famous Toklat sled dogs, a mixture of three original sled dog types—malamute, Eskimo and Siberian husky.

However, over the years the operation's owner has, for some reason, decided to introduce some other breeds—such as foxhound—into the mix, so now the dogs don't look so "typey. In fact, apart from the puppies who race alongside us with great excitement and resemble little wolves, none of the dogs resemble one another at all.

After the ride, we have lunch, which is your choice from a menu of varying kinds of wild meats, such as quail, bison, trout and other indigenous creatures. They tell us that all the leftovers get added to the dogs' diets.

No matter how many books you read about dog-sledding, like those by Jack London, or about the first Iditarod to deliver lifesaving medicine, there was one thing you would never know unless you were actually there right behind them. "P.U., says Willow. "These dogs stink! Ten dogs running at top speed pass an awful lot of gas.

What We Learned
Once you ski out West, you get spoiled and don't want to return to Eastern skiing. If you are a good skier, Snowmass is great. And what a spot for a beginner: huge, wide slopes, some so gentle they politely escort you down the mountain.

Good food, friendly people—in the end, this was just right for me. It no longer mattered that I was Never Going to Get Any Better; it was something physical—and spiritual, sort of—that I could enjoy. And share with my daughter.

It's always good to get a learning experience out of life. And when we got back, there was homework, such as essay writing. Willow had plenty of material: the highlight of the trip was, for her, when I woke her in the middle of the night because I was snoring so loudly. Her other favorite experience was when she fell off the chairlift.

Remarkably, this has also happened to me, at a similar age. Things were different back then, though: We had wooden skis and wool ski pants and everything had a name, such as Stem Christie and Schuss and Wedeln. So, though the equipment might have changed, falling off the chairlift was now a family tradition. That alone, I believe, is a mark of a successful mother-and-daughter mountain adventure. [NEXT "Snowmass Highlights"]Snowmass With Kids

There are two keys to a successful family ski vacation: enough options to keep your kids exhausted and enough diversity to engage everyone, from toddler to teen. On both counts, Snowmass delivers big. Here's a quick guide to family-friendly highlights.

1 Nature Tour Learn about the mountain and its critters while skiing with a naturalist. Tours depart at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from the Wapiti Wildlife Center, at the top of Elk Camp.
2 Makaha Park An intermediate park, a step up in challenge and features from Scooper. (See #7.)
3 First Tracks Ski like you own the hill during this free program on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Meet at the bottom of the Village Express at 8 a.m. to hit the slopes before the masses.
4 Snowcubs & Big Burn Bears Daycare Snowcubs (8 weeks to 3.5 years) and Big Burn Bears (3.5 to 4 years) free you up to make a few turns.
5 Zipline Impress your kids by launching off a kicker in style (and a harness). Soft landings guaranteed. Under the Village Express, daily.
6 Surprise Sculpture Ski instructors build a snow sculpture each December, then let the kids play on it all season.
7 Scooper Park Beginner terrain park. This is the place to start, from parent to park rat.
8 Children's Race Arena & Lizard Lodge The hub of the Snowmass youth race scene. The Lizard offers free snacks and room to chill out.
9 Rudolph's Run Check out the reindeer corral.
10 Pipeline Park Snowmass's fat-daddy park, with a superpipe and wide assortment of features for all abilities.
11 Mountain Orientation Tours Let the pros help match kid to terrain on this sprawling, 3,128-acre mountain. Free daily tours meet at 10:30 a.m.some other breeds—such as foxhound—into the mix, so now the dogs don't look so "typey. In fact, apart from the puppies who race alongside us with great excitemment and resemble little wolves, none of the dogs resemble one another at all.

After the ride, we have lunch, which is your choice from a menu of varying kinds of wild meats, such as quail, bison, trout and other indigenous creatures. They tell us that all the leftovers get added to the dogs' diets.

No matter how many books you read about dog-sledding, like those by Jack London, or about the first Iditarod to deliver lifesaving medicine, there was one thing you would never know unless you were actually there right behind them. "P.U., says Willow. "These dogs stink! Ten dogs running at top speed pass an awful lot of gas.

What We Learned
Once you ski out West, you get spoiled and don't want to return to Eastern skiing. If you are a good skier, Snowmass is great. And what a spot for a beginner: huge, wide slopes, some so gentle they politely escort you down the mountain.

Good food, friendly people—in the end, this was just right for me. It no longer mattered that I was Never Going to Get Any Better; it was something physical—and spiritual, sort of—that I could enjoy. And share with my daughter.

It's always good to get a learning experience out of life. And when we got back, there was homework, such as essay writing. Willow had plenty of material: the highlight of the trip was, for her, when I woke her in the middle of the night because I was snoring so loudly. Her other favorite experience was when she fell off the chairlift.

Remarkably, this has also happened to me, at a similar age. Things were different back then, though: We had wooden skis and wool ski pants and everything had a name, such as Stem Christie and Schuss and Wedeln. So, though the equipment might have changed, falling off the chairlift was now a family tradition. That alone, I believe, is a mark of a successful mother-and-daughter mountain adventure. [NEXT "Snowmass Highlights"]Snowmass With Kids

There are two keys to a successful family ski vacation: enough options to keep your kids exhausted and enough diversity to engage everyone, from toddler to teen. On both counts, Snowmass delivers big. Here's a quick guide to family-friendly highlights.

1 Nature Tour Learn about the mountain and its critters while skiing with a naturalist. Tours depart at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from the Wapiti Wildlife Center, at the top of Elk Camp.
2 Makaha Park An intermediate park, a step up in challenge and features from Scooper. (See #7.)
3 First Tracks Ski like you own the hill during this free program on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Meet at the bottom of the Village Express at 8 a.m. to hit the slopes before the masses.
4 Snowcubs & Big Burn Bears Daycare Snowcubs (8 weeks to 3.5 years) and Big Burn Bears (3.5 to 4 years) free you up to make a few turns.
5 Zipline Impress your kids by launching off a kicker in style (and a harness). Soft landings guaranteed. Under the Village Express, daily.
6 Surprise Sculpture Ski instructors build a snow sculpture each December, then let the kids play on it all season.
7 Scooper Park Beginner terrain park. This is the place to start, from parent to park rat.
8 Children's Race Arena & Lizard Lodge The hub of the Snowmass youth race scene. The Lizard offers free snacks and room to chill out.
9 Rudolph's Run Check out the reindeer corral.
10 Pipeline Park Snowmass's fat-daddy park, with a superpipe and wide assortment of features for all abilities.
11 Mountain Orientation Tours Let the pros help match kid to terrain on this sprawling, 3,128-acre mountain. Free daily tours meet at 10:30 a.m.

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