My First Ski Mentor

Remember where you started, where you are now, and where you hope to go. Remember to consider your struggles, your achievements, your processes and finished products. This is what my father gave to me.

“Do you think this is what it’s like to live in a snow globe?” My 6-year-old face turned, questioning, up to my mom. The question felt silly as it tumbled from my lips—almost as ridiculous as the way flat, wide snowflakes landed just as perfectly on my gloves as they did on my nose. 

The author with her father as a child. Photo courtesy Dani Reyes-Acosta

“Come on, mija. Let’s go find your Poppy,” she responded, as she slid forward to poke her ski tips off the groomer into the powder awaiting us. As we arced through low-angle trees, I heard his voice booming in the distance: “Here she comes, my little champion.” Tucked behind a stand of pine trees, my dad and sister waited. Kika, the faster of his two daughters, patiently ate a snowball as Mom and I caught up.

We raced to the bottom and down several more runs: We needed to work up our appetites for the big dinner that awaited us at the Mammoth Inn that Christmas Eve. Softly fluttering snowflakes, hot chocolate, and a morning full of presents: Life in this snow globe was everything a child could have wanted.

Give It the Old College Try

Joaquín Enrique Acosta Jr. first began skiing after his interview for a teaching job in Big Bear, California. Recruited by teachers from a rival school who’d seen him coach another Inland Empire High School football team, he confidently stepped onto the snow in borrowed gear.

He’d been a college football player, an Eagle Scout, and Air Force pilot. “How hard can skiing be?” he probably thought.

Whether those cojones came from obstinance, perseverance, or the resilience he’d formed as a dark-skinned man growing up on the edges of west Los Angeleno’s privileged circles, my father loved skiing. The wide grin and perfect turns he styled showed that love. Maybe he found this love for frozen water just as holy as the ocean he’d known throughout his childhood. Could it be that this transformation from ocean lover to mountain man paralleled water’s own transmutation?

The author’s father in the Air Force. Photo courtesy of the author.

When I was a child, my parents took us weekly to Mass at St. Anastasia CatholicChurch, where I first learned the importance of community as much as communion. But, annually, we’d take a holiday in the mountains near Southern California to ski, where I saw the presence of a higher power in action. 

These experiences, flowing between mountains and oceans, laid the foundation for smoother sailing in later years. The unadulterated joy of alpine vacations with my family echoed throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, long after skiing as a family came to an abrupt halt in my sophomore year of high school.

It’s impossible to forget the reverberations of my father’s voice booming through snow-laden trees as fluffy flakes landed on our own tiny outstretched hands. How he had pulled my sister back onto the chairlift when her notorious 5-year-old wiggles went a little too far. How he’d hollered “Just tuck and point it,” when a windstorm threatened to push Kika and I, our tiny Brown bodies, backward up a scoured ridge. 

He was handsome, athletic, and always the life of the party—but now he’s gone, and has been, for over a decade. Up until his final days on this Earth, Poppy went full send, or as he might’ve said, “gave it the old college try.” The echoes of his laugh don’t disappear, though: Every year, it gets a little easier to remember to celebrate the life that he lived, embodying the best of what I remember. And in many ways, that means going full send.

Échale Ganas, Mujercita

Multicultural children often struggle with identity. Torn between past and present, tradition and the modern, we’ve historically had to pick a lane. Society still doesn’t treat the children of immigrants kindly, even if their lineage predates Anglo colonization. After my father passed, I struggled, for years, to understand who I was and where I fit. Only after electing to study abroad in college, to go to Spain and begin unearthing the lost stories of our past, did I start to wrap my head around who Joaquín had been. Cobwebs often obscure the door to your family’s history.

I learned the phrase “échale ganas” in Spain. My friends screamed this at soccer games. They wanted to see players win, expending maximum effort without fear of failure. Confidence in the Hail Mary goal almost always translated to a much-needed point.

I wondered if my father knew that phrase—he must’ve. He spoke fluent Spanish, after all; he just didn’t teach it to me. Assimilation was the game he’d had to play over the years; this is how he found success in business, our mostly-Anglo neighborhood, and in our church. Why would he have taught me differently? When I took a fancy marketing job at a corporate giant in Portland, I made a conscious choice to return to the mountains. I showed up, solo, to Skibowl for night skiing or Mount Hood Meadows for weekends. I was alone in a strange city, trying to find a new kind of joy after leaving the ocean and a painful romantic relationship behind. Weaving through trees, l wondered, often, if my father would have skied with me even though I’d swapped my skis for a snowboard. I still giggle when I remember him heckling snowboarders when I was very young.

The Author in Wyoming, photo by Sofia Jaramilllo for OUTLIER film series

Those silent nights, carving turns or ducking into the warming hut, I remembered the closeness my family had held during those happy years. I’d sip a Tripel, slowly, before facing stormy Oregon nights again.

For nearly three years, I gave my heart and soul to my corporate bosses. Driving change marketing at a global scale was addictive, if not tiring. My weekend adventures in the mountains, though, pulled my heartstrings. M83 lyrics played a soundtrack to my life: “Send your dreams where nobody hides/

Give your tears to the tide.”

In my stressful day job, I constantly feared failure. Our matrixed organization pinned my role’s headcount on constantly shifting project budgets. I could lose my job at any time; why was I still in Portland? My parents had traveled the world as entrepreneurs ahead of their time… maybe I could figure something out, just like them. I may not have been a lobbyist or consultant for international recycling projects, but I had faith. My parents, both of them, had shown me that hard work, an open mind, and kindness can take you far.

“Dale, Dani,” I affirmed to myself. “Échale ganas, mujercita.” I knew I could do this something… different.

Sending It

If empowerment is the pursuit of a dream without regard for the obstacles that might stand in your way, then that’s what I was the day I boarded the plane to Santiago, Chile. Over the next few years, as I rebuilt my life to focus on my priorities, my family values, I remembered: Faith in community, kindness toward others, and feeding my inspiration to give back to the land that’s given me so much would get me exactly to where I’d need to be.

I like to tell myself that I’m living the wildest dreams of my father, who will never get to come to my first ski film premiere, see the homestead I’ve cultivated with Johnny, or hear me acknowledge him in an award speech. High on the mountaintops, though, and every November, I’ll find him. He’ll greet me with open arms: “Mija, estoy tan orgulloso de ti.” Daughter, I’m just so proud of you.

And that’s all a girl wants, isn’t it? 

Cover photo: The author in the Wyoming backcountry, photo by Micheli Oliver for OUTLIER film series

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