Late winter / early spring skiing: animal tracks and animated moods

The snow was sticky today.

It was a balmy -1C when my son and I finally got back out to the ski hill, with a wind chill of -5. Perfect blue sky with the half-moon faintly hanging above. Glorious. There were only four other kids skiing and snowboarding, so we essentially had the slopes to ourselves. I think I would have enjoyed myself more with colder temperatures, though, as crazy as that sounds after our long and bitter winter.

You see, sticky snow is a hazard. It catches up the skis, snagging them in unexpected places and tripping me up when I least expected it. I nearly wiped out (peed myself a little in the process, too) a couple of times, just managing to save myself from what would have been violent tumbles. I’ve never yet broken an arm or a leg but I’m pretty certain that today would have been the day — glad to have dodged that bullet! Although I should have remembered to wear the bladder protection padding . . .

But it was still gorgeous up on that hill, perfect views all around and the added delight of more animal tracks! I saw squirrel, rabbit, and I later learned, fox and lynx.

Jack had a great time also, taking enormous pleasure in following me directly down three or four runs and irritating the heck out of me. I told him, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s that if I get caught up and fall you’ll end up running me over and maybe getting hurt yourself!” Silly boy.

Jack had a great time also, taking enormous pleasure in following me directly down three or four runs and irritating the heck out of me. I told him, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s that if I get caught up and fall you’ll end up running me over and maybe getting hurt yourself!” Silly boy.

And of course, shortly after getting home, I had a lovely nap. Bridget went to a birthday party later on, her dad taking her so I could sleep, and had some fun bowling, and then Jack went out again to the local Twoonie Skate so he could practice his hard-stops, cross-overs, and spins.

The other day, one of my colleagues commented to me, approvingly and with some surprise, how active I’ve become with my kids. I said, I’ve been trying, for sure. It’s not only good for them (and I do feel like I’ve been playing a bit of catch-up to compensate for the years where we didn’t do much of anything — that refrain “The years before five last the rest of their lives” repeating through my head), but it’s good for me, too. I’m still twenty pounds over the limit of my dress pants’ waistband, and we’re not active every day, but it’s been on a steady increase. And I think we’re seeing benefits in both my son’s and my mental health as well — he’s experienced far less incidents of anxiety, or been better able to cope. I still take my pills, of course (mental note: replenish stock this week), but it’s absolutely true that getting out into the fresh air and sunshine fires bullets at my depression when it rises.

So why was it that I kept yawning on the way up the ski lift?

In which I try my first ski race and wax poetical about the coming change of season . . . with photos!

I spent my Sunday at the ski hill. My head is a bit sore, now, and my congestion continues, but the endorphins were lovely, the sun was shining (I think I might have a slight sunburn on my face!), the snow glittered as though it were covered in layers of tiny diamonds, or perhaps stardust . . .

  And I was in a ski race!

I came in dead last, of course. My first run down the hill was too funny: I lost a ski at the third pole! By the time that I hopped back up to it, figured out that the binding was still locked in position, and put it back on, my time was pretty much done. Two minutes and three seconds to cross the finish line (screaming).

That figure at the top of the hill? With the white dot that’s the helmet? That’s me! On my second run . . . still swearing a blue streak and screaming all the way down.

Well, scream-laughing, anyway. Had a good time. Of course, it was more challenging than I realized it would be, but I’d kind of expected that. I’d never been in a ski race before! The turns weren’t the hard part — I enjoy quick turns on a ski hill (although today my right hip was protesting a little). It’s that there were ruts in the snow around each pole, curving dents worn into the snow by the skis of aaaaallll the other skiers who had taken their turns before me. And like a car on a race track, when you’re moving and you hit that curve, it spits you out the other side at an even faster speed than before. Wasn’t expecting that, at all! My son raced, too, and he was the only boy in his age category, so he was his own competition. That’s not a bad thing, the first time out. He had a great time also. And we’re at this neat point where we can hold hands and propel each other forward down a trail that’s only slightly inclined, which was a nice way to end off my afternoon. In addition to enjoying the runs, I saw more animal tracks and took some pics. I really want to go snowshoeing with my proper camera to get some deep-trail photos, as well. But these I took with my iPhone:

I remember one day (last weekend?) I tried taking pictures of the tracks I saw along the T-bar lift, and I dropped my phone! A kind snowboarding instructor picked it up for me on his way up the hill, just a few minutes later. If you want to identify any of these in the comments, please do! I think that the top two are bunny tracks, and the bottom three are chipmunk because I don’t see the line of a tail, but I’m probably wrong.

There was also a very different feeling to the hill today. Maybe it’s just my own overly imaginative filter — I do this when I cross the border, when I go to a different part of the province, or even in stores — but some places have energy to me. Sometimes it’s not a good vibe, and I just feel uncomfortable. When I’m travelling, it’s as though the air just suddenly changes its texture. That happened when I went to New York State to visit my friend Tara: as soon as I’d cross the border, it felt as though my inner antenna or what-have-you was picking up on signals that I wasn’t familiar with. Just a different vibration. So anyway, I felt that change on the hill, and I realized it on one of my last trips up the lift. Maybe it was the presence of so many people having a good time, or my own endorphins and happy mood, but it seemed to me that there was something in the energy of the trees and the snow and the rocky ground underneath. Some might call it the forest stirring, waking up from its long sleep. I don’t know if it was exactly that, because I’ve seen / felt that, too, and it’s too early yet for that sensation. But it definitely wasn’t asleep, if you know what I mean. In the depths of winter, the wilderness of Northeastern Ontario is in a waiting period. It is numb, and unconscious, barely breathing with the freezing temperatures that tighten the soil and still the waters. In the spring, movement comes quickly, suddenly, and it’s dirty and messy, slushy and mucky, a very wet business of coming awake and brushing away the melting snow. This is that period in between. Spring is still just a dream for those trees and rocks and critters, even the ones who are venturing forth to replenish their cupboards. But it’s that kind of dream where you know you’re on the verge of opening your eyes to see whether it’s real. They’re listening for the drip drip drip of icicles turning into rivulets, the sliding slosh of branches losing their heaps of white in great soft clumps, the soft gurgle of brooks and streams and rivers breaking free from their covers of ice. The Northeastern boreal forest is listening for the real turn of the season and the return of the warmth, which could still be weeks away.

Can you spot the bird’s nest?

Yeah, made me all poetic-y. If I’d had my tape recorder, I would have popped it out and recorded my thoughts on the spot. Well, after getting off the tow, anyway. Thought about doing it with my phone but I wanted to preserve the battery . . .

So that was my day. It was a good one, for fun and exercise, but nothing else productive accomplished except the cleaning of Elizabeth’s tank. Her living space is substantially cleaner than ours, funnily enough, but then again, it’s also a fraction of the size of the human home and she doesn’t have papers, books, assorted craft detritus, and other clutter I shall refrain from naming here but that you know has to be bad because otherwise I would identify it. My house . . . oh, my house. I will clean you thoroughly on March break! I will not sleep the break away!

Might ski it, though. And I’m going to look again (hoping for end-of-season sales!) for my own cross-country skis and snowshoes, so I can go on the trails with the pooch and my camera without Skittles getting all barky like she normally does if she has to wait for me to get the rental equipment from inside the Complex. Time is running out to get the most out of the trails, and it’s good right now with the retreat of the freezing Arctic cold — apparently the bunnies are known for hiding close to the paths for snowshoers. One skier told me she’d almost stepped on one of them! Mind you, if I take Skittles with me, the critters will scatter . . . Like to try, though. Or do some late-night trail-walking, so I can try to get good pictures of the clear starlit sky. Again, it’s a good time for it. Once that spring weather starts in earnest, the trails will quickly become impassable until at least late June. The melting snow will cause thick, muddy morasses and running streams will cut new paths across them in the low places. Plus the return of the mosquitoes and black flies, horseflies and deer flies, and all those assorted lovelies. (shudder) No, now is a good time to get the most out of winter.

I’d like to say, “see you on the hill!” but tomorrow is Monday. Oh, dear, and I haven’t started my marking yet. My head still hurts. Why I even bother trying to bring work home with me on weekends . . .

How about now? Bird’s nest at 12 o’clock!

One of those days . . .

. . . when you just run out of patience with the individual resultant from the combination of you and your partner’s genetic material.

I had expected today to be somewhat difficult. It was a long and tiring week back at work after the holiday, and Bridget had a skating lesson in the morning. I had thought we would be late for it as usual, but surprisingly, I got up on time, had her eating breakfast and dressed in good time, and we arrived and had her rink-side with a little time to spare. Pleasant.

Got some nummies on the way home — breakfast sandwiches and hot chocolates for the kids, a chocolate chip muffin for me, as well as a dark roast coffee with cream and mint chocolate flavour — and after settling back in, did a little bit of cleaning (stressing the LITTLE) and chatting online.

Then I went to withdraw some funds for going to the ski hill and in a store afterward, discovered that in my zeal to stay on budget while keeping up with bills, I’d paid myself out of money.

Crappy.

You know, one of those moments where you’re at the till and using your debit card fully expecting funds to be there, but whoopsie! Embarrassing. Thankfully I had cash, but still, not the ideal situation. I mean, at least I paid my bills this month — so far — but it’s incredibly frustrating to think that one has remembered all the details by taking notes and making lists and then finding out that you’ve double-crossed yourself.

On top of that, the blower in my car wasn’t working all morning during -30 C temperatures. That’s super-fun.

Yin and yang all day. Get home again, load the car up with ski stuff and offspring, and happily, the elder child gets the fan working by tapping the bottom of the dashboard with his boot. Huzzah! We had heat! Left on time, picked up three more hot chocolates and a pack of Timbits for the road, and arrived on time at the ski hill for my daughter’s lesson.

Disaster.

I get her suited up, boots on and skis strapped, and while she’s waiting patiently and excitedly for her instructor, I duck back inside the chalet to check on her brother and put some money (precious little this time — better than zero, I guess, but still a bit of a let-down) on our memberships. By the time I come back out, five to ten minutes later, her skis are off and back on the rack; she’s covered in snow, her face streaked with tears, and refuses to do any more skiing for the rest of the hour.

What. The. Ever. Loving. Frack…

Here’s what I missed: she began her lesson by snowploughing correctly down the training hill but was about to crash into another child who had stumbled or fallen or slid into her path. She moved to avoid a collision but ended up “flipping” (her expression) head over heels, bonking her head (in its protective helmet) on the snow. And that was it.

My motherly patience warred with my fervent wish to get out on the hill myself and enjoy the afternoon. As a parent, I knew that I could stay with her and try to coax her. But did I want to do the whole helicopter-thing? How would that help, exactly? Sometimes she just listens better to someone else than her mother. If I left her to her instructor’s supervision and care, would that be the height of selfishness (I could feel the eyes of other parents — better parents — judging me), or a lesson to her to learn from her mistakes and accept the help offered by the professional? After all, the last thing I want to encourage in my children is a sense of helplessness, reverting to excuses rather than stepping up to the challenge.

So I gave her a pep talk, very briefly, and a hug, and then I told her that I would return at the end of her lesson. And I went to the hill.

With every run down over the next forty-five minutes, I could see her little pink snowsuit, still in the same place, where a friend of the instructor had moved in to talk to her as I’d skied away. She literally did not go anywhere. Later, she’d complain that her hands were like ice; I said to her, “What did you expect? You stood there for an hour and didn’t move, didn’t exercise. Of course you’re cold!”

The guilt of leaving her to stand there, miserable and stubborn, never went away. I thought to myself, regardless of whether she’s actually skiing, she’s outside and making choices. And I’m paying for the supervision at the very least. It’s only an hour. Meanwhile, my conscience wanted me to turn around and trudge back across the frozen pond to bargain, cajole, threaten, do whatever it took to make her comply and ski down that damned hill.

See, my rationale is this: I want this to be a family activity. I enjoy it and my son enjoys it, but my daughter is too young to be left on her own while we go participate. There is a nearly five-year age gap between them. I’m trying to make sure that I balance time with both of them, but at the same time, doing so requires finding activities that either both of them can do with me, or doing one with Jack while Bridget is supervised (e.g., spending time with her dad, grandparents, or with friends). They both like the snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, which is great, but I had noticed that she particularly loves going down the hills when skiing the trails, so I thought, hey, we might all be able to go alpine skiing together!

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right?

I have to accept that she just might not take to it. She tends to envision herself being wildly successful at first try with many things, and then quitting when they are too hard and she doesn’t feel up to the challenge. We went through this same pattern with soccer, swimming, dance, baseball, and karate. She nearly did the same with skating, but somehow, whether through luck or persistence, bribery (I call them “incentives”) or whatever, we got her through the initial hesitation and now she’s loving her progress.

So that’s fine. Maybe she’s found her winter sport niche. Terrific! But that leaves Jack and I out, since neither of us particularly enjoy that sport.

There isn’t a perfect solution to this specific parenting problem. We have no family closer than an hour and a half away. My husband tends to work weekends driving cab. I am determined that this will not be another winter where we sit inside all weekend, being couch potatoes. For my mental health and exercise, for my teenager’s physical and mental well-being, for our continuing bonding and growing process as a family, especially considering that Jack may pick a post-secondary institution that’s far away when he graduates high school in five years or so, we need to make these Saturday afternoons at the ski hill happen. Even if that means Bridget sitting through an hour’s ski lesson without actually skiing. At the very least, she’s supervised and outside, and after her time is up, then I can chat or play or whatever with her while her brother has an hour to himself or with a friend on the runs. I will find a way to make it work out, and then this crummy feeling in my heart will ease. Hopefully.

Three deep breaths . . .

Skiing: 1988 vs 2015 . . . Good times. Shy times. Better times.

One late winter day last year, I stuck my feet into downhill ski boots and strapped on the skis for the first time in a little over two decades. The first run was terrifying, but with guidance from a friend and colleague, I made it down the hill alive and unbroken (though screaming most of the way). I remembered how much I’d enjoyed swooshing down the hill and determined to do more of it. I managed a second venture back to that ski hill, this time bringing my children, but it was more stress than fun: my daughter didn’t take to the lessons well (part of the issue being the instructor’s accent — my daughter doesn’t speak any French — and the steep grade of the hills), but my son loved it, even going on after his first up-close-and-personal encounter with a tree.

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On the lift at Mont Kanasuta last year (2014).

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Dig that view! Absolutely stunning.

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Bridget likes the concept but struggles with the reality. I know she’ll get the hang of it with her lessons this year.

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Renting skis for a day or two was a great way to reintroduce myself to the sport. Very glad I found my snow pants for this year, though. The splash pants help, but don’t prevent snow from getting crammed up the back of your sweater when you wipe out!

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My teenager quickly getting the hang of his skis. Attaboy!

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What a good sister to lend her big brother a helping hand!

So this year, I decided for my own mental and physical well-being, and to encourage my kids to enjoy the great outdoors in our long, northern winters, we’d each get skis and a membership at Larder Lake Ski Hill, which is only 30 minutes away from home. This brought back a lot of memories, including being given my first new-to-me pair of skis when I was 11 or 12. 

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Me, in my fabulous faux-fur coat, ready to hit the slopes! Although, in this pic, I might have been going cross-country… 😛

I have tried to keep in mind what it’s like to be a child, trying to recall my perspective when I was my children’s ages and how baffled I sometimes was by my parents’ behaviour. It’s much easier to recognize now their motivations (and levels of exhaustion). So I understood that my son was a little dismayed by the scratches and faded colours of his new-to-him skis, picked up for a bargain along with a set of boots. But they work, and they were very, VERY affordable, and they let him fly down the hills. Plus, they’re safe.

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My almost-14-year-old ready to fly! We both enjoy the little speakers in his helmet, letting him listen to his tunes as he goes. 😀

My first set of skis in 1988 were blue and green in colour, and although they gave me speed, my parents didn’t know at the swap meet that they were unsafe. The rules of safety on the ski hill had changed without their knowledge, and I didn’t find out until I had nearly outgrown them that the leash on the bindings was basically illegal. The design was meant to keep one’s skis from running away down the incline in the event of a wipeout, but it had a terrible side effect of banging the skier painfully about the head during the wipeout. Happened to me the second time I bombed down a steep hill, in fact.

Oh, yeah. At that time — 1988 — we didn’t wear helmets. Those skis hurt. A lot.

Poles were also considered standard for everyone back then, but I remember at one point deciding to leave my poles at the chalet and taking on the ride without them. I loved it! So it didn’t surprise me when I was told last year by the instructor, and this year, that kids are no longer taught to ski with poles. My husband still finds it a bit hard to understand, but I get it. They’re optional, after you’ve learned to balance and shift.

Adolescent me didn’t wear a helmet, occasionally used the poles, had leashes about my ankles that threatened me with more pain than necessary, and outgrew the equipment quickly. By the time I could no longer coax my feet into the boots, my family had moved too far from most ski hills to make purchasing new equipment worthwhile, and when we went back within a comfortable driving range, I had lost interest. My head and legs probably still remembered those damned leashes, though I missed that terrific swish and swoosh downhill.

10885178_764408086974251_2962209519960220687_nAdult me isn’t growing anymore, though. My main concern now is making downhill skiing (and outdoor activities in winter) a healthy habit. If I can do that, it will make purchasing brand-new skis a worthwhile investment. It feels a bit funny to wear the helmet, still, but I’ve known people to get badly hurt smacking into a tree or a hard patch of packed snow, so I might just put effort into decorating my helmet in order to personalize it for myself. And it’s like wearing my helmet when I’m on a bicycle (darn, another item I need to replace since mine was stolen three years ago . . .) and with the kids: it’s a good example for them.

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I still feel kind of dorky, and I have to remember to take that “Medium” sticker off the front. I should look into knitting patterns for helmets . . .

Plus, the helmet is incredibly comfortable and warm. I mean, sometimes with a hat on you get a slight breeze or it flies off and you’re downright cold. But a lined ski helmet is downright cozy when you’re flying down that hill. Definitely worth the money.

It’s funny, but walking into the chalet brings back memories of shyness and anxiety. I remember feeling so out of place when I was an adolescent, perceiving glances as unspoken questions like “Why are you here?”; now, though, I’m able to walk into the chalet and meet others’ eyes with a smile. Maybe it’s the difference of twenty-odd years, the experience of growing up, the necessity of considering whether my children are feeling shy and wanting to set a good example for them of how to cope, or a combination of all these things. One thing is for sure: I love the atmosphere of the Larder Lake Ski Hill chalet more than any other I’ve experienced. It’s happy, friendly, and welcoming. Of course, it helps to see familiar faces, but there is a vibe in that small building that I didn’t experience at the Tri Town Ski and Snowboard Village, Blue Mountain in Collingwood, or Mont Kanasuta in Quebec. It’s possible that they are friendly and welcoming, and I’m filtering my experiences through my own lack of confidence in my skiing abilities, problems in my own social skills, and issues with my self-esteem.

But I’ve been riding the endorphins ever since the first run this afternoon. We all went to the hill last weekend — my hubby included, although with surgery needed on his knee skiing is out of the question for him for the time being — and I managed one run before my feet went numb because I’d buckled my boots too tightly. This afternoon my son and I did about an hour’s worth, had a great time, and resolved to try to get back again tomorrow. And next weekend my daughter will start afternoon lessons with a terrific instructor I know. The thing I like, too, about making this a family activity is the time it gives us together to talk about whatever is on the kids’ minds, get away from being couch potatoes, and make the memories that I know will last for years and years.

For now, I will continue to bask in the recollection of today’s fluffy, creamy white powder, fresh-fallen and still coming down; how it squeaked under my skis on the lift and slid in puffs away from me on the way back down. The whisper of snowflakes on my skin as I whisk past them in the cold air, and my son’s gleeful laughter at seeing me buzz past him. Today was a good day.

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