A season to remember
It was a good season.
As the Highlands patrol was stringing up the last “closed” rope for the year, I stood at the top of the Bowl with my two brothers trying to convince myself of this: Together, the three of us have skied more than a hundred seasons in Aspen. This winter was the first time we skied any of those thousands of days, tens of thousands of runs, or any of those millions of vertical feet without our father, Max.
I avoided Aspen Mountain for the first few of weeks of the season. He loved that mountain.
I finally went up one day in late December. As I glided down Ruthie’s, all the snowguns were running full
blast. Through the silvery mist, I saw the familiar outline of my dad riding up the chairlift as I had many times before. I blinked and the figure was gone.
My eyes filled with tears to the point where I could no longer see. I pulled off to the side of the run and sobbed. I was glad that my wife was there to hold me. Those tears ended a drought of sadness and the mountain was open to me again.
In February I went up to the Sundeck to look at the toboggan that the ski patrol had painted in memory of Max. I couldn’t speak for an hour afterward.
I skied in silence to Walsh’s, where my sister-in-law Charlotte hugged me. “You made great turns,” Steve told me at the bottom.
I did not ski the Bowl until just three weeks before it was closed for the winter. The last run I ever skied with my father was right down Ozone.
I didn’t have the strength to go back for a long time. When I finally did, I couldn’t stay away, regretting that I hadn’t spent more time there, now that the season was almost over. My mind filled with memories and my eyes with tears every step of the hike up and every turn on the way down.
I never did skip out of work at 2 o’clock, my favorite time to ski. I always seemed to meet him at that time of day at the bottom of Lift 1A. Those late-afternoon runs were when we really got to know each other, father to father.
There are times when one man can’t tell another that he loves him, or that he’s sorry, or even just how he’s feeling – not in those words anyway.
But, there’s always “Man, this is a great pair of skis,” “I think the snow is more forgiving in Silver Queen today,” or “I think you’re skiing better than ever before.”
I look back on all the cups of coffee my mother and I shared in the early-morning hours this winter. We spent lots of time talking about powder, bumps and the occasional ice that’s so hard to ski well, but somehow you get through it. It’s funny that she thought I was showing up to support her.
I didn’t get a chance to ski with many of my friends this winter. It was just one of those things. I know they understand.
I skied by myself a lot. That’s just the way he did it most of the time. I wonder now what precious memories he might have been silently replaying and whether those long rides up Bell Mountain helped ease some of the pain that always comes with them.
I spent a heck of a lot of time skiing with Lucy, Max and Jane, my children. They wouldn’t leave me alone and pestered me all the time to go up on the Big Mountain. Grandpa took them down their first double-black diamond run there last year, and they’ve been hooked ever since. It was Corkscrew, his favorite.
In the front yard we built a jump where they learned to catch the air they were already good at chasing.
Thank God for small miracles. Sometimes I get the feeling that it’s not the skiing my children love so much, but me.
On the final Saturday of the season, I ran into my buddy, Joe. We talked like old friends talk after not seeing each other for a long time, the same as if we had seen each other the day before. We discussed raising kids and making a living in this town. We also talked about sidecut, tip width, and the best way to get through the thick crud.
If there was one thing my dad taught me, it was how to get through the thick crud. You have to stay relaxed, be strong and work your way through it. If you can get through the crud, everything else is easy.
It is ironic that my father’s last year of skiing was also my youngest daughter’s first. The circle remains unbroken.
I looked over and saw him in my brothers’ faces on top of the Bowl a couple of weeks ago. I recalled seeing his smile every time I looked at my kids’ rosy, cold cheeks. I felt his strength in my mother’s resolve. I found his compassion in my wife whom his tender heart had infected. This year I skied more with my father than ever before.
This winter I learned what they mean when they talk about skiing as a way of life. It isn’t really about skiing. That’s just something we do here. It is about life.
It’s about family and friends. It’s about loss and gain. It’s about a cloudless powder day in the other half of the world where heaven was gained and life never ends.
It’s about a little girl making first turns on a slope in her back yard. It’s about her older sister, who is as close to college now as she is far away from the crib, falling in love with a sport she can always come home to.
It’s about a son sampling the waters of manhood by skiing S1 with his dad, a wife with natural grace on and off the slopes, brothers taking a legacy to unknown heights, a sister who is moving back to start skiing again, and a mother finding new strength while showing me that faith is enough.
Yes, it was a good season.
Roger Marolt’s father, Max, would have turned 68 years old today. He owned more than 60 Aspen season passes himself.
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