Sunday at Pats Peak
For most of this winter I debated whether to introduce my three-year-old son, Calvin, to downhill skiing. I consulted with friends. Is he too young? Some said wait until next year, others said just to go for it; just make sure he’s having fun.
But I was treading on personal territory. For years I’d kept my own careful distance from the sport. I lay the blame for that squarely on a ski instructor who provided me with an early, valuable lesson: Not everyone in the world is going to like you. This teacher had fiery red hair, big teeth, and packed a lack of patience for certain students who hated the T-bar or making a pizza wedge with their skis. We formally divorced one late winter day as I followed her down a gently curving green-dot trail. The descent was manageable, but the cliffs that dropped away on some of those wide curves were truly terrifying. They were made more so when my instructor told me to head toward a drop off if I started fall. At least, that’s what I thought she said. That evening I packed my skis in the basement and told my parents never to bring me back to the mountain.
But time can heal even bruised egos. So can the goading of a few friends. So, several years ago, I picked up the sport again. Without the red head instructor I found myself actually having fun. Eight years into it, I decided I wanted to get Cal out there with me. And wanting him to get excited about our new adventure I did the most logical thing any dad would do: I showed him Bode Miller skiing videos. He liked this one, especially.
My goal of course was to keep him upright and on both skis. Which is why on a recent Sunday we headed over to Pats Peak in nearby Henniker, New Hampshire. While Pats doesn’t offer the same kind of vertical thrill that you find up north, it uses its size to its advantage. It’s a family mountain, one that plays perfectly to kids and newbie skiers.
For Calvin’s introduction, I signed him up for a one-hour private lesson with the Ski School. His instructor was Delanie Kneeland, a high school senior who had a natural ease at working with young kids. She joked with Calvin, had him laughing often, and never felt the need to stick to some rigid lesson plan. When he refused to make the pizza wedge and learn how to stop, Delanie shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “Guess we’ve got a racer on our hands,” she said. From there she worked with him on getting to turn and pat the inflatable animals that marked the bunny slope.
By that afternoon, Calvin and I were riding the chairlift. He squealed with delight at being up so high, and beamed with pleasure as we slowly made our down the green dot trails. In all, he skied for a solid four hours, the day coming to a close only because I was the one who was wiped. We closed the day by sitting in the big lodge and tackling one of the mountain’s famously large cookies (seriously, they’re bigger than my face). We sat there quietly for a stretch and then Cal looked up between bites. “Can we go again?” he asked. It looks like I have a skier on my hands.