Our Christmas Present

I’m looking better this January not wearing those worry lines I usually carry over from Christmas. We simplified the holiday this year and instead of presents bought a family season pass at Chester Bowl Ski Hill. That was it. No robot hamsters, ipods, or American Girl dolls. The checkbook balance isn’t red, there aren’t as many small pieces cluttering the floor and the family is physically healthier. Happier? Most definitely.

The majority of our kids okayed the skiing in exchange for presents. Ellen was reticent, but John convinced me that the best gift would be if we did this as a family unit. That’s when the gift became a risky endeavor. I haven’t skied for twenty years. I am so much older and wiser and scared now than I was twenty years ago- I am genetically practically a different person. However, when 13 year old John described our family floating down a hill of fluffy snow, enjoying each other’s company, looking robust and rosy-cheeked, I couldn’t resist his salesmanship.

That’s the problem with kids; they’re always making you have fun.

If you haven’t been a part of this program before let me explain how it works. In late fall there is a Chester Bowl Lottery. Clued in Duluthians meet on a specified night, drop their names in a bucket, and Thom Storm, director at Chester Bowl, pulls names for people to schedule ski fittings. Ski equipment is rented at a discount, but part of the trade off is that every family will volunteer time at the park. The goal is not only to get people skiing; the bigger picture is to build community for the benefit of all involved.

So I showed up at the lottery, and within a month we all were outfitted with skis, boots, helmets, and poles. Even our foreign exchange student was able to get ski gear. The only vitals missing were snow on the ground and for a couple of us to learn how to ski.

Christmas day completed our gift by giving us a deep snow cover. Despite fear and cold, we did learn to ski. Six year old Annie went to an hourly ski camp for a week in below zero temperatures. I had to bribe her with hot chocolate to get her out on the slopes, but as I write she has become a full fledged skier who goes down the big hill accompanied by watchful cadets.

I too have conquered my fear. It would have been easier for me not to ski. In fact, almost everything inside me begged me not to. I’m afraid of falling; I don’t like cold or snow; somebody needs to stay inside and watch the kids—but those are excuses for not having fun. The biggest problem for me was doing something new. That’s how we stay young, you know, challenging ourselves to do new things. At least that’s what I tell myself as I slowly snow plow down the hill.

But imagine a 1950’s postcard from Minnesota. Picture a warm, sunny chalet at the base of the ski hill. People inside sit around in Nordic sweaters playing cards while family members traipse in and out from the slopes. Adults are in charge. Kids are behaved but having a lot of fun. Neighbors and co-workers greet each other over hot chocolate and the fresh faces of active children. Everyone is in a good mood because they have been exercising in the fresh air. Even strangers new to town are welcomed into the fold as soon as they sit down at a table with that grim look.
“Do you have a kid out on the slope?” I asked a woman across the table from me. She was frowning out the window, looking stressed.
“Yep. This is his first time down, but he’s with a cadet” she said anxiously.
“Are you new to Duluth?” I asked. She was and pretty soon we, both transplants, were expounding on the warm community we found ourselves in. Pretty soon she wasn’t watching the hill quite as intensely.

So now I have a new friend, a new skill set (downhill skiing), new muscles that hurt (skiing does wonders for the inner thigh and buttocks), healthy and active children and a new community to give to and receive from. I didn’t expect all those things from a Christmas gift.

SE Livingston

Duluth, Minnesota