It was skiing that made my best friend Julia breastfeed my first son Scout.
This happened in February 2002, on a Thursday, in Julia’s one-room condo overlooking the Safeway in Fraser, Colorado, near Winter Park Resort. Julia and I had been friends since meeting in Alaska five years earlier. She was the reason I’d moved to Winter Park. An instant sister, she’d gotten me a job at the local bagel shop, directed me to the season pass office, and convinced her real sister that she should let me spend the winter sleeping on her living room floor.
Four years later, Julia and I were coming off a long run of skiing our brains out while doing everything possible to continue skiing our brains out. We worked jobs with flexible hours, at or near the resort. We lived on beer and mashed potatoes so we could spend our money on more important things like more beer and climbing skins. We picked our boyfriends based largely on how well they could huck a cliff and then ski away without wrapping themselves around a tree. Somewhere along the line, two of those boyfriends took. And now, at the ages of 31 (me) and 43 (Julia), we were both recently married and the proud new mothers of two sons, Scout (mine) and Shane (Julia’s), born a scant five months apart.
Through the summer, sleep deprivation and love at first sight had kept our minds focused on our mewling, puking babes. But as the first winter of our ski-mommyhood kicked into gear, we were feeling the full impact of our progeny on our five-day-a-week powder habits.
It was Julia’s turn to watch the boys so I could squeeze in a few laps at our home hill. With Scout situated in his bouncy chair, I nearly broke the sound barrier trying to get to the resort, suit up, smash through the singles’ line, and straightline a dozen runs in the three precious hours I’d bought in exchange for watching Shane later that afternoon.
It took seven laps for the weight of responsibility to float up through my body and out the top of my head. But when it finally did, I managed to spend at least two minutes basking in the brain-freeze of powder snow billowing over my boot tops and blasting me in the face. For a few brief seconds, the unapologetic skier girl I used to be embodied the phantom-umbilical-cord-trailing mommy I now was, and it was better than any feeling I’d ever had.
And then the daydream was over. On the way back to Julia’s, I jammed the gas to sound-barrier-breaking speed again, knowing that I had kinda-sorta misled my soul sister into believing that Scout had finally started taking a bottle (the truth: He hadn’t, and it wasn’t the first time I’d lied to go skiing). I spun a half doughnut into my best friend’s driveway and post-holed to the front door. Anticipating the ear-splitting shrieks of my starving child, I stopped. I listened. And I heard … complete silence.
Inside, Julia was kicking back in a beanbag reading Allen and Mike’s Real Cool Telemark Tips, Scout, wrapped in her puffy jacket, slumbered next to a pile of old sleeping bags. I looked around, puzzled by the maternal glow emanating from Julia’s face. Still staring into her book, she announced, “I hope you don’t mind, but Scout just had a nibble off my left breast.”
It’s irrational, of course, letting your best friend nurse the fruit of your loins. But if you were a skier before you became a mommy, you get where I’m coming from. Long before any of my friends were mashing boiled carrots, we’d proclaimed ourselves Skiers for Life. And babies or not, that’s what we’d remain.
My fanaticism began even before Scout was born, when, upon learning I was pregnant and about to double in size, I immediately co-opted my husband’s bibs. When Scout was little more than a self-rising bread loaf pushing into my spleen, I telemarked five days a week, easing off big mogul lines only when my knees began knocking into his head. With no obstetricians in Winter Park, I chose to have my maternity check-ups in Steamboat Springs (as opposed to the closer option in Denver), so my husband and I could spin post-appointment laps on Rabbit Ears Pass. I was, as they say in the ski industry, living the dream.
Then Scout was born—with bright blue eyes and no brain damage—on May 18, 2001. I immediately began introducing him to the slopes. All summer I loaded him into my front pack and hiked 1,700 feet up Winter Park Mountain, to the 10,700-foot-high summit. Battling hypoxia, I pointed out protrusions and dips in the terrain that, when snow-covered, would become jumps and secret powder stashes. Facing into my chest (where he eventually learned to nurse while we hiked!), Scout couldn’t see where I was pointing, but I promised to show him my secrets again when he was old enough to understand.
And Scout has come to understand the importance of skiing in my life, even if I’ve forced it on him. Before his third birthday, we’d skied Winter Park, Steamboat Springs, Wolf Creek, Targhee, Jackson Hole and Bridger Bowl. At six months old, he was cross-country skiing in my backpack, and at a year and a half he rode his first chairlift, screaming “Mo Dee!” and punching me in the knee pad when I told him it was time to leave. (That same day his two-month-old brother, Hatcher, got his first taste of skiing too—or at least of the ski resort parking lot, where I swilled beers with my buddies while he snored into my Goretex.) I’d bet money that Scout and Hatcher have spent more sun-drenched, adrenaline-filled family time than the sum total of people on the last 10,000 Carnival Cruises.
As much as I hate to admit it, eight years after Scout’s birth I’m not the skier I used to be. The good news is Scout and Hatcher don’t care which mold I’m trying to fit—Skier for Life or Mommy Who Skis—as long as they’re getting their ski time too. At eight and seven, they’re little rippers, sliding mini fun-boxes in the terrain park and straightlining through the bottom of the Super Pipe. When the snow flies this winter, they’ll join a dozen little “shred demons” (Scout’s term) on the Eldora ski team every Saturday, and learn to bash gates, zip through moguls, and maybe even spin a 180 off a kicker with a three-foot drop.
Meanwhile, Julia and I will use those Saturdays wisely. We’ll drive her van to the top of Berthoud Pass, where we’ll get out and start hiking, looking for the next superfresh line. Judging from the past, I’m predicting we’ll feel free and unfettered, happy that for the moment there are no mouths in need of an urgent, impromptu breastfeeding. •
National Magazine Award-winner and Backpacker senior editor Tracy Ross was never so happy as the day she was positively diagnosed with ADD (“it explains everything”). Her memoir will be published by Free Press in spring 2011.