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Why We Do It: The Family Ski Trip: Why Do We Do It?

Like death, weddings and moving, a ski trip wields awesome power to threaten anything in its path: the bonds of marriage, the positive balance in a bank account, the patience of those who are asked when we are going to get there, and those flat land muscles that wake up arguing against another day on the hill.

For starters, who among us lives near our playground? You neither? Then you are familiar with the gothic delights of traveling with the amount of gear usually handled only by roadies. By car, doable. By plane? Only for the certifiable.

First there’s the waiting for your outsize ski bag to arrive in baggage. (Or not.) Renting a vehicle big enough to accommodate your bunch and their stuff includes a high-season tariff that is a reminder of mark-ups to follow. The drive to the off-mountain condo is exciting enough (you’re looking at the mountains, after all) but the place where you end up might remind you of college, and not in a good way.

Then there is the final drive to the mountain followed by the drive back because one of the kids forgot one of her boots. And after you find a spot in a distant satellite lot you will get on the shuttle to get in line to buy the tickets before joining the feral scrum for a spot in the lodge so you can buckle your child’s boots before you buckle your own. (Have these ski pants shrunk since last year?) Finally, it’s off to the lift line during morning rush. Oh wait, the 8-year-old can’t find one of her poles …

So why do we do it?

Because, like generations of skiers before us, we will eventually push off, leaving behind not just all that schlepping, but the weight of Newton’s laws as well. Gravity becomes our friend. The sullen teenager lights up, the 8-year-old stops whining, and your spouse is no longer a parent, but a fellow skier. We will each take our own route, but we will go down the hill together.

Like many Americans, pulling off a ski vacation is kind of a caper for our family, with cut-rate airfares, lift packages and peanut butter sandwiches on the hill instead of $12 bowls of chili. We are more off-peak than off piste, almost always on budget and rarely on-mountain.

We have done all versions of the ski vacation. I remember a friend innocently suggesting over a dinner in New York that we should come and stay with her and her boyfriend in Truckee near Lake Tahoe. Two months later the five of us spilled out of our rental in front of a tidy little A-frame: Joads on skis. We skied seven different mountains in seven days, and it was mind-blowing. We have done the same thing in Salt Lake thanks to another willing family, though come to think of it, we haven’t been invited back to either place.

We have also forgone the airfare and driven up to Killington, Vt., where we stayed at the bottom of the hill, just the way the rich people do. The week was a ski-in, ski-out glory, as promised by the brochure, but there were no fairy tale dumps of fresh powder and not much of the scary majesty that makes skiing in the West such a trip.

Despite the money, the logistics, the danger, inconvenience and the cold, how does one get here? How does one become a ski family, albeit not the kind with season passes and a chalet halfway up the mountain? For some of us, it’s not a choice.

Not long after we reproduce, we begin sizing up our offspring as potential skiers. A day of sledding with a toddler invariably leads to speculation about what will happen when we strap her into skis or a snowboard. Won’t that be fun?

It will.

It’s hard to describe the joy when that day comes. After a morning of face plants, ski school or both, our nascent skier, bundled beyond recognition, will be at the top of the bunny hill and slide away from us. As we watch, there is the turn around the poor lady who has collapsed in the middle of the run, the veer close toward the lift pole and then, miraculously, she will slide to a somewhat controlled stop and look back up the hill at you. Look what I did!

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