Parents are told, repeatedly, that a healthy family is one that makes the time to sit together at the dinner table. If sharing a meal can have such a positive impact, imagine the benefits a family can reap by riding a chairlift together. The chairlift is a place that's at once social and personal, stimulating and serene. Ride a chairlift with a kid and you're confined with each other, with an endless array of things to talk about or to share silently. There you can sit—patiently waiting for the perfect snowflake to land in your lap, following animal tracks that weave through the trees, contemplating the clouds above or the fate of the guy below who's about to crash—and feel connected to nature, and to each other.
Of course, it's seldom easy. Getting to the mountains requires advance planning and deliberate action. You can bet there will be whining, fighting and foiled plans along the way (this is a family vacation, after all). And, at least at first, you'll need to contend with more buttons, buckles, straps, zippers and miles of Velcro than you'd have imagined possible. But the payoff for parents and kids who ski together is long and rich.
Skiing is a great way to show our children, and to remind ourselves, that there's more to fun than showing up tobe entertained, more to parenting than chauffeuring, chaperoning and cheering from the sidelines, and more to bonding than sharing a platter of spaghetti. You progress from propping up your kids to holding them back against gravity, to coaxing them down the steep section, to begging them to slow down before the jump. Skiing with your kids is not just a metaphor for life as a parent—it is parenting, distilled to its essence, stripped of distractions and full of reward.
Skiing's paradoxical gift of togetherness and independence stems from the fact that one shared slope delivers a unique experience to each skier, neither dictated by another's schedule nor constrained by another's abilities. A toddler towed around in the driveway senses the possibility of speed. A 4-year-old feels the first rush of freedom, then delights in endless opportunities for exploration. Older kids gather speed, confidence and new friends. Meanwhile, parents can share in the moment from a perch close enough to give comfort or far enough away to foster independence. At every age, the mountain is our kids' own, just as it's ours, and however the family may wander and roam, we always reconnect on the chairlift.