She didn't sleep well the night before, not that she would admit that to me. The woman who taught me to ski, pushed me out on the ski slopes at every possible opportunity growing up, was now anxious about skiing. I assured her she had done this thousands of times before, that muscle memory and experience would kick in when she got on snow. I carried her skis and helped her with her bindings, just I had done with my kids, and she had done for me four decades ago.
As I made those first few gentle turns in sparkling soft snow under brilliant blue sky at Big Sky Resort, my mom followed. I looked over my shoulder and there she was gliding beautifully, in perfect form and a pretty smile on her face. She was feeling the joy of being back on skis, at 74, and I had happy tears inside my goggles. I had always looked up to my mom as the powerful, positive skier, fearless and energetic, and flawless in her ski technique. To think that she'd been apprehensive seemed silly now. But her Florida friends had sent her off to Montana to meet me with comments like "don't break a leg," and "you better come back in one piece."
We went on to enjoy four fantastic days of skiing Big Sky's gorgeous groomed runs, Mom had her favorites like Sacajawea and Ambush. We skied with my son and husband, three generations, all of us ski instructors - three past and one present. We talked about the change in ski technique, gear and form, and laughed about crazy lessons we have all encountered, but mostly we had fun. I can't think of another sport we could all enjoy together, ages 74 to 21.
Just like with my kids, I controlled my mom's ski environment during our week in Montana, leading her down ego-pleasing, well groomed runs. I was the over-protective parent, the roles had reversed. Our last day brought glittery fluffy pow and she skied it like a pro. Her huge snow loving grin said it all. "I have never skied such amazing powder," she said. I bet she had in six decades, this woman skied on barrel stave skis with barrel trap bindings after all.
At each ski day's end, we enjoyed our apres ski toddy and toasted to the fine legacy of skiing. Mom talked about the satisfying fatigue in her quads, and the sense of accomplishment a great ski day brings.
I will admit to feeling immense relief at her final fabulous turns, returning her rental equipment and putting her on a plane safely back to her cynical friends in flat Florida (in one piece, no broken leg). I am so grateful to her for introducing me to the sport of skiing, encouraging me to ski, to keep up with the boys, when I was scared or cold. And I am glad we can continue to treasure this sport that means the world to our family, past, present and future.
Big Sky Resort Montana photos by Greg Burke
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.