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Counting winters

Roger MaroltAspen, CO Colorado

Farmers and skiers mark the years by the weather. It’s a comfortable way to keep track of time.I go to register my car, and the clerk asks me when I purchased it. I pause and recall that I bought it in the springtime after I had to dig the old one out of a snowdrift in the driveway four times in February! “It’s a ’95,” I tell her. “Front-wheel-drive.”My father used to love to tell me that the year I was born the snow was still hiding the 4-foot fence that surrounded our house, at the end of March.The first time I might have ever seen my wife was during a 1980 Crested Butte blizzard. Flakes fell so furiously that a beam of light couldn’t make it across the finish line, so they canceled the event I had traveled there for. Instead, we raced through powder holding our breath for fear of suffocation. (In those days, on thin skis, you didn’t have to crouch down and pretend the snow was up to your waist.) At night we flipped and flopped off the false-fronted buildings in town into snow as thick as our bravado, to the delight of tourists below.Upon hearing me tell this story, my wife remembered that she had been there with her family on vacation during that storm, that month, that year. Our tracks may well have crossed on those slopes, many winters before we met.No one who was here could ever forget the horrific drought of 1976. That was my first year in high school. Every morning, for each month of the fall and early winter, we woke to cold, blue, angry skies that wouldn’t produce a cloud, much less snow. We golfed on Christmas Day in frigid, dry air. The slopes didn’t open until the end of January, and the skiing wasn’t any good until the season was nearly over.January of 1982 was incredible. I got my ’68 Chevy with the 327 V-8, and it snowed nearly every day. Some local teachers hiked up and made turns down the face of Red Mountain. There were fewer estates there then.As good as that was, it couldn’t compare to the winter of ’83-’84, my last year of college. That set the benchmark! I arrived back in May and immediately headed into the mountains with my friends, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. We jumped off a 30-foot-high cornice on Mountain Boy Gulch! I haven’t seen it half as big since. It was an exciting time of my life.The year they put in the gondola, the town began to change in earnest, and I landed my first real job in the city. In 1990, it snowed like hell, and I came back.Watching the seasons drift by calms my anxiety about the future. A large chunk of life comes, and it will also go. I see my own children falling into the rhythm of the snow.My youngest daughter is 6 winters old. She is benefiting from the seasons of ski experiences I’ve had with the older two kids. I teach her less and enjoy each turn more. She doesn’t know how to ski any more than you or I know how to walk. She just does it. She attacks the mountain with all the determination, intensity and focus of a kid lost in play atop a giant snow pile. It’s an incredible joy to see skiing as a game, as it was intended to be played.I have a 10-season-old son who oftentimes finds himself chronologically, physically, and emotionally sandwiched between sisters. At the beginning of our progression of ski seasons together I was clearly his father, alternately wiping his nose and teaching him how to carve a ski. Now in our seventh season on the mountain together, he has made me into the brother he will never have. I fall into that role easily after my own youthful years of practical application.The change is temporary, however. My son is getting better. This year I will remember as the year he began to keep up with me through any terrain, any conditions. The Yellow Streak is his favorite run, one of the most difficult anywhere. There is nothing he can’t ski and very little left that I can show him, except exercising more caution. I am becoming his father again. In the seasons to come, if I have taught him well, he will wait patiently for me, once in a while.My oldest daughter is 12. This is a difficult age for fathers and daughters skiing together. While we’re on the slopes, she is still the little girl that enjoys cuddling on cold lift rides and giggling at my corny jokes. But, she enjoys the company of her friends more these days and is shifting the weight of her attention toward turns with them. She is beginning to let me go. She is doing it gently so that I might not notice. Each new picture of a slightly older face on a season pass has been a progressively poignant hint that I am extremely grateful for. That’s why I started saving them.The great irony is that in this painful and inevitable process of saying goodbye, through nine seasons of plowing through tree trails, spilling hot chocolate, climbing around in Fort Frog, collecting Nastar medals, and now mashing moguls, I have formed bonds with my children that will keep us together for our lifetimes.We will always have these seasons. Big snowstorms and drought, memorable runs and forgettable crashes will help us to recall all of the great moments that we increasingly are thankful for. They are a collage of our journeys in concert. We will get together after we are all apart and share the images in the different hues and ways in which we have cropped them. We will remember, and be happy for the seasons that are never forgotten.Roger Marolt sees the days growing longer and another ski season getting shorter. Tell him how to slow it all down at roger@maroltllp.com.


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