Nostalgia and the Family Ski Trip

As my husband, Michael, stuffs a bag expoloding with iPads, ear buds and enough Apple paraphernalia to cover a mortgage payment, I’m making sure that we have enough ski socks. I’m foraging through the drawers in our guest room pulling out all types of fleece, fleece that used to fit my daughter when she was 8 and maybe even 10, but now at 12 years old, it doesn’t reach her elbows. But somehow, it’s all still here, remnants of ski seasons past. There are piles of gloves and pilling long underwear — all too small now for my kids. The clothes remind me of when our little people would shriek as we maneuvered their tiny feet into terribly unforgiving ski boots. And for no logical reason, I just can’t give it all away.

There is something about our annual ski pilgrimmages that makes me evaluate time. Maybe this is what other families do at Thanksgiving when they pass around the sweet potatoes and notice how much their children have grown and take stock. For me, it’s the ritual of packing the ski boots and ski pants when I realize how the years are whizzing by and notice how my daughter’s ski boots are suddenly bigger than mine.

I had always wanted my family to be a ski family, this was probably because I am from Miami and I never saw snow until I went to college in Chicago. But I had envied my friends’ families who had those iconic family ski photos perched on their pianos or built-in book shelves. The blue skies beckoned, the snow capped mountains looked like they were Photoshopped out of a fairytale. If “Frozen” had existed when I was a kid, I would have dreamed of being Elsa dancing amidst that beautiful, dreamy white wonderland. As a Miami girl, all I knew from was humidity and mosquitos. Our family trips were to Disney World where they thought fake snowflakes would make winter feel festive. On the “It’s a Small World” ride, I wanted to be one of those girls from Austria or Switzerland outfitted in wool hats and scarves skating around an ice rink, with goats and a quaint alpine village in the background. It all looked desperately romantic and blissfully fun.

So when I met my husband, who was from Buffalo, and had never put on a pair of skis either, I suckered him into my fantasy and he agreed that one day we would become a ski family. We made this pact even before we were married, but first, we needed to learn how to ski.

Living in New York, we were told we had to head West for “real skiing,” and West was where we went, winter after winter until we were solidly intermediate skiers. Twenty years later, we are a legit ski family and each year we pack up and head out West to ski the good stuff, or at least hope that there is good stuff to ski.

This year, we went to Keystone, a mountain about two hours from Denver and 30 minutes from Breckenridge, that we had heard was a local favorite. It’s a bit off the radar for tourists maybe because it doesn’t have the fancy reputation of Aspen or Vail. There are no Bogner stores or ladies sporting Chanel snowboots or Latin American tourists decked out in fur. If you’re looking for elk for lunch, this may not be your jam— although we did find a Wine Spectator-recognized, restaurant at the top of the mountain that specialized in roasted pheasant and rabbit. But the menu at the Alpenglow Stube, was a little fancy for my pasta and pizza-eating kids, so we skipped it for the lodge food, which was perfect for all of us. Keystone isn’t just about chili and chicken fingers, there are some upscale restaurants for dinner like the Keystone Ranch located in a charming 1930s original homestead. It’s elegant but still kid inclusive and dessert is served in a cozy room next to a fireplace, where they will also serve you a lovely Scotch.

But aside from a few high-end restaurants, Keystone truly is a family ski resort with all the kitsch that kids and families adore. They have Saturday night fireworks, which are pretty impressive, sleigh rides to a cowboy dinner, ice skating, igloos with slides, tubing, cookie decorating, 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, and good old fashioned family fun.

This was exactly the kind of place I had imagined when I was plotting a family ski trip before I had a family and before I could even ski. Truth be told, my kids have outgrown some activities like decorating cookies, although they still like eating cookies that are decorated. But the beauty of a ski trip, unlike the beachy vacations we often take during the summer, is that here we are forced to be off the grid. With a base elevation of more than 9,000 feet and the summit reaching higher than 12,000 feet, we are skiing at altitude and there simply is no Wi-Fi service. For my kids, who spend their days tethered to their devices Snapchatting and Instagramming, removing my kids from their phones is already a victory.

From the moment we leave our lovely 3-bedroom in the Red Hawk Townhouses, my kids are mine again. Phones are left in the room, which means that my kids actually have to talk to me and my husband on the gondola. This is a novelty. For years, my kids have done ski school, but this time we are in family ski land and instead of sending my kids off to their kid classes, we do two days of family lessons with Will, a spunky, spirited guy from Minnesota, who skied in the junior Olympics. Will keeps reassuring me that despite my hesitation to ski moguls or black diamonds, I am a badass on the slopes. “You’re killing it,” he shouts out to me, even while I was trailing the rest of my squad by five minutes. But skiing is definitely fifty percent confidence and the adorable Will wants to make sure that I have my mojo, so for 5 hours he smiles and tells me of my total awesomeness. And I love him for it.

Keystone is massive. At more than 3,000 acres, having an instructor guide us around the mountain is pretty amazing. It is also amazing to see how much better my kids now are at skiing than I am.

Keystone also knows its audience and does everything to make the whole family ski thing really work. They get that it’s a drag to be the ski sherpa handling all of the kids’ gear, so conveniently, there are red wagons everywhere to help you schlep your stuff. It has a crazy terrain park that you can see from one of the chairlifts and watch people flipping and spinning and practicing for the X Games or at least producing some excellent video content for their YouTube channels. Will mentions to me that his three concussions have him taking it easy now on the jumps and that it has also affected his ability to do math, but nonetheless he is training to teach at the terrain park and has a big, scary exam at the end of the season. I envy Will’s fearlessness and his young knees.

At the end of each day we check our Epic ski pass to see how many miles we skied. It gets competitive. My husband, who is not exactly the first tracks guy, is determined to ski more than all of us.

There are few things that families can do together that are active and entertaining and exhaust you to a point of wanting to soak in a hot tub and drink hot chocolate or hot chocolate laced with some liquor. And it’s these end of day activities that my kids still look forward to.

But the best part of Keystone is that kids 12 and under ski free. Honestly, skiing is a fortune. You need to sell a kidney to be able to afford a family ski vacation. There was a reason my family didn’t grow up skiing, it was expensive and we couldn’t afford it. Taking the sting out of the price already makes skiing more palatable, and well, more family friendly.

Soon we will reach the point where the ski boots don’t get any bigger and new jackets don’t need to be bought every two years. I don’t miss the tears of shoving the kids’ feet into stiff boots, but I do long to slow down time and hang on to those tiny fleeces forever.