Finding a crowd-free Tahoe | Reconnecting with family on the slopes
Special to the Tribune
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In the past I have used these articles to explore some of the reasons why skiing is such an important aspect to my life and (presumably) why it is fundamental to many Tahoe residents. However, over Christmas I came to see new depths in a life spent skiing, and it all came down to one guy wearing bright red pants and a matching Snowbird ski hat that is so old it has come back in style. This old skier’s name is John Miley and, among other things, he is my father.
Back in 1972, when John was a dental student at Marquette University in Wisconsin, he was taken to some rinky-dink ski hill by a friend. He remembers being able to ski right away, but stopping proved to be much more challenging. “I could get to the bottom of the hill no problem” he recollects, “but when I got there I would have to sit down on my butt to stop.” Despite a frozen rear, the experience left him wanting more.
When he moved out to California, John’s memory of that mole hill in the Midwest was dwarfed by the presence of real mountains. However, the joy and excitement that came from zipping down a snowy slope stood out. After he finished his residency in San Francisco, skiing became the family’s winter pastime. In fact, some of my earliest memories are filled with snow. Despite being raised in the Central Valley, trips to Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Shasta and the Tahoe resorts are the backdrops to many of my favorite childhood memories.
As I got older, I put some distance between those memories of skiing with the family and the kind of skiing I do now. First off, my father hasn’t skied for at least 10 years and I can’t remember the last time we rode the lift together. Also, the direction that skiing is going has many an older skier wondering if us “kids” actually know how to turn anymore. However, over the Christmas holiday I was lucky enough to connect these two aspects of skiing together.
Like many families these days, my kin are spread far apart (from Alaska to Tahoe) and living diverse lives that are at times an impediment to us coming together as a whole.
Understandably, my older siblings are busy with their families and with their careers. Yet this year we put our individual lives on hold and came together to celebrate and reconnect.
In the planning process, my Dad and I pushed for a day of skiing as a family activity to get us out of the house and off each others’ nerves. This is something that we hadn’t done together for at least 15 years.
Some members were a little wary of the logistical hurtles associated with getting such a large group (there were 11 of us) out on the hill for a day of skiing. But, I assured them that I would iron out all the kinks and keep it stress-free.
The 24th of December gave us the hoped-for break in the storm, and we all skied Sugar Bowl with a full snow pack in spring-like weather. It was perfect. There were few people on the slopes and the variety of terrain kept everyone entertained. Every time I got to the bottom of the hill there was another Miley there to ride back up with.
Grandpa John, as my dad is called these days, kept up the tradition of patiently instructing the newest skier in the family in the ways of wedging, turning and stopping (to avoid a frozen hiney). By the end of the day, Grandpa John had my niece Sarah making linked turns. It was pretty cool to watch as I thought back to the days when my dad would ski with me between his legs, holding my hands so I wouldn’t shoot away out of control.
I talked to my dad before I sat down to write this and he reminded me that he had me skiing by the age of 3. It’s hard for me to imagine that now that I stand a head taller than the old guy. This Christmas, my present was the remembrance that all this fun I chase down the slope came from my father. He made it possible all those years ago. And now, all these years later, the whole family came together and shared those experiences again. At the end of the day the magic of skiing was painted across everyone’s’ face. It was all smiles, laughter and story-telling on the way back to my sister’s house.
As I think about that day, so simple on its face, I can’t help but draw deeper connections. Skiing in all its different forms and styles is the pursuit of pure, unadulterated joy. Skiing is a bond that ties people together. Skiing is a gift. That gift was given to me by my father. Thanks, Dad.
– Nicholas Miley is a freelance writer living in South Lake Tahoe. He spends his free time exploring the Sierra Nevada and writing about his experiences.