Sitting in the base lodge he was leaning toward my table as he shared his reflection. His comment brought a hearty laugh from his dad and a grimace from his mom who were sitting nearby. That’s when his dad turned and asked if I’d care to join his family over lunch. His wife quickly echoed the invitation.
As an adventure travel writer, I couldn’t resist.
The dad explained it was true. All true.
Our conversation began, as many do in lodges, about equipment. In this case he explained that my boot bag looked unique and he wondered if I knew if it was available locally. After I explained that it was an early prototype test bag from Transpack he said he was still using a backpack he had used while skiing in college. That’s when I had politely inquired if he had skied much as a student.
“I wanted to ski at a big mountain,” he explained. “We skied in Vermont weekends when I was a kid and I looked for a nearby college. Honestly, my major didn’t really matter to me at that point. Then, starting in my freshman year I largely took classes each fall and took as few as possible each spring. Sometimes, most of the time after my first year, I elected not to take classes in the spring and I worked part-time in the ski school. That’s why it took me 10 years to earn my degree. But, honestly, it really was the best time in my life.”
Apparently one winter turned into another, and another.
“I was afraid he’d never graduate,” explained his mom. “I wanted him to be happy and we’d see him weekends but after a few years I really started to worry. I really wondered if he’d ever graduate and get a job. And as he got older and older I wondered if he would ever be able to actually support himself. You see he still lived with us each summer.”
“I don’t recall anyone else skiing that much,” he explained. “A bunch of guys took classes Tuesdays and Thursdays and skied the other days but I think I skied more then the others. Some raced too of course but that’s didn’t really grab me as much as freeskiing.”
Finally I asked about his current life.
“I work in New York,” he explained. Then, he laughed. “Now I ski weekends with my wife and young son. They’re at our condo. I met my wife after a decade and I guess I was ready to move on. Someday I may teach weekends but for now I’m just another weekend warrior. But, man, that was a great decade!”
Later that afternoon, as I sat in the lodge, I idly listened as college students, they were all over as it was college ski week, spoke about the day, the snow, and their experiences. Sitting there in early January lots of college students were visible. Many were apparently enjoying a mountain escape before spring classes. Some spoke about plans for graduate school. Others were talking about professional internships and credentials. One fellow said he was studying accounting. Another was pre-law.
Students, of course, select colleges based on multiple variables. Faculty credentials impact some choices. Others look at labs and equipment specific to certain majors. For others finances and sometimes sports impact decision-making. In New England, as example, basketball players, male and female alike, know that the University of Connecticut is the big gun. Still this fellow chose based on location.
Sitting in the lodge listening, it’s also clear most college students who ski are content to ski during college breaks and on various weekends. Some proudly had memorabilia - caps and sweatshirts - from their schools. A good many spoke about returning to classes in late January and it was also clear that their majors were as varied as the schools. With schools ranging from colleges in New York and New Jersey to schools in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, the diversity was impressive.
The groups were upbeat. Some folks, of course, were inside because they were cold. Others just needed a break. No one was complaining. Looking at the boots it was evident that some were on skis. Others were riders. A few were with boyfriends and girlfriends. Some spoke about renting condos while it sounded like others were in local area hotels. Still, I didn’t hear anyone who had signed up for the 10-year plan.
It was clear that skiing can add a good facet to life.
“Truly, sports can enhance your life,” notes Robert Leve, Ph.D., ABPP, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. “Skiing and sports can offer a nice balance to academics and add a great balance in life. I, myself, balanced a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University with active involvement in sports.”
“A weekend escape can be excellent,” adds Denise Lafromboise, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice near New York, and a former Yale University post-doctoral fellow with interests involving women’s issues and body image. “Learning to balance academics and skiing,” notes Laframboise, “can be good practice for learning to balance home and work issues in later life.”
Ten years skiing while in college may not personify balance.
Today, of course, college tuition is increasingly expensive. Partly, as a result, some students choose to live at home and commute to schools near the family home. Others remain in-state to take advantage of in-state tuition. Still I also heard students who were attending private colleges and who spoke of small classes. Listening to a few I guessed were in business I heard two talk about spring internships they were convinced would lead to a job.
No one was planning to ski 10 years.
Still, the fellow I met seemed happy and explained that after he graduated he took a position in Stamford, CT. Nowadays, though, like his dad, he works on Wall Street.
“He secured that position without any connections,” explained his dad.
“ I actually did well as a student,” our skier explained. “And in my case I didn’t want to make my career in this (ski) business. I just loved to ski. And I taught mostly because it helped with my season pass and I made a little money to help with my equipment costs. I also liked having a locker for my skis and gear at the mountain. I’m not sure why I didn’t move out West but I guess it was because I grew up skiing in Vermont. It seemed as good as any place.”
Taking a few runs together before parting ways – he was heading off to see his wife and son – it was clear he possessed the kind of skiing skills only honed through years skiing on a big mountain. He carved each turn smoothly. He looked thoroughly at ease on his skis. And, yes, he was still smiling.
Taking off my boots late that afternoon, glancing around the room, I wondered how many folks have spent their lives wishing they had spent some time pursuing some great adventure. Pursuing some dream. For my wife Cheryl, after years working, her dream involved attending law school. That day in the lodge I heard a child tell his mom he’d love to go to Disney. Dreams vary. For some it may involve Disney. For another it may mean something else entirely. A young friend of a friend, a fellow presently attending the University at Albany, SUNY, recently told me he is spending a week this winter helicopter skiing in the Canadian Rockies. That’s a dream he held.
Listening to the fellow I met who skied throughout the 10 years he attended college, and listening to various students talk about different colleges, different majors, and different dreams, I felt inspired. In the end, it’s your call. I’ll confess that I’m somewhat struck by that skier. Then too, I was also enthused recently by a fellow I met whose dream was to work in the Peace Corps after graduation. Honestly, I guess in the end I’m often motivated by people who turn dreams into reality.
Maybe, even if we just spend a day trip on the mountain with friends and loved ones maybe we, each of you who are skiing and riding, actually are living our dreams.
Savor your mountain escape. From that first run to that last run.