For the first time in a decade, I did not partake in the fall ritual of ski-fitting. My boys have grown up. Spirit Mountain passes in hand, theyâ€™re off to black diamond runs, snowboarding terrain parks, and afternoons in the chalet with their high school friends. Iâ€™m practically tearing up just thinking about it.
The snow has not even flown, and Iâ€™m longing for the days of dropping them off just a few minutes from home, a couple bucks in their pockets for a hotdog and a hot chocolate. My sweet little slope-bombers, who literally logged hundreds of hours each season on Chester Bowlâ€™s compact runs.
Charlie and Ben first strapped on skis at ages six and four, and Chester Bowl immediately became the center of their childhood. Their many friendships, their sense of confidence, their sense of responsibilityâ€”so much of who they are now as young men, as teens, can be directly traced to the endless days they spent exploring their abilities and their relationships at Chester. First as skiers, then ski cadets, and finally working in the summer camp program as â€œIncrediblesâ€ to earn their Spirit Mountain passes.
To have such a place, where kids can be outdoors and active and hanging out and challenging themselves and really independent and still under the watchful eyes of thoughtful adultsâ€¦ can you even think of another such place in this day and age? When these kids are having families of their own, Iâ€™ll bet this will be the measuring stick by which childhoods will be measured. And it will tough to measure up.
My affection and gratitude for Chester Bowl is also selfish. I would have gone full-out batty in winter with those kids locked up inside. I shudder to think of what kind of parent I would have been had I been forced to contend with two rammy boys and a long Duluth winter. Or ten. Nor can I imagine how I would have funded winter fun without the rental program. I was able to give those boys a lifetime sport that was well out of our financial reach. I even skied myself a few years!
I expect my boys will still show up a bit at Chester Bowl this winter. The hill will look smaller to them again this year, and the little kids will seem to take up all the room on the chairlift. But this place is home to our family, and weâ€™ll be backâ€”on the slopes, at the fundraisers, and hopefully, for the last day of skiing, when the frozen pond is topped off with water and the kids fly down the hill and do spectacular, hypothermic wipeouts. (Thatâ€™s my favorite day of the season!)