It’s early Saturday morning, and I wished I were still in bed. Instead, I was making my way down and across a deserted Colorado mountain on my skis in a heavy snowstorm so that I could watch my 17-year-old daughter Reggie ski down a slope so steep and rocky that it’s been closed to the public for years.
I must be crazy, I thought, wiping snow from my goggles as I hiked through deep snow, carrying my skis to the remote, rugged area of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, where Reggie was to ski on the final day of the Saab U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Competition in 2004.
Sure, I’ve tried to raise my two daughters and my son to seek challenges. Like you, I’ve hoped that travel has shown them how exciting and exhilarating it can be to step out of their comfort zones. I’ve proudly watched them manage when confronted by unexpected obstacles, whether it was lost luggage, bad weather, illness or simply disappointment when the destination hasn’t met their expectations. They’ve learned lessons on vacation that translate to their everyday lives.
But I envisioned them confidently navigating a foreign environment or a new city, not flying down a mountain so steep that my heart caught in my throat when I saw the course Reggie planned to ski. The Hourglass, the steepest terrain on a mountain known for its steep, extreme slopes, hadn’t t been used in competition in years and was only deemed safe the year Reg competed because of exceptional snow.
Even Kim Reichhelm, a former world champion, said that Hourglass, with its jagged, wooded cliffs and 1,200 feet of vertical, gave her pause. “You don’t have to do this,” Reichhelm told my daughter, who had tears welling in her eyes after the practice run. She admitted she was more scared than she’s ever been, but she refused to quit.
She’s a suburban East Coast kid up against girls who have grown up in Western ski towns. One has her coach with her. Another is getting moral support from a father who’s a respected and well-known mountaineer and backcountry guide.
My daughter, who has amazed us all by making it to the finals, just has me, admittedly the worst skier in our family. It’s one thing to teach your kids to be adventurous, but I worry whether this time I’m letting Reggie go too far. Though she’s an accomplished high school athlete and a fine skier, she’s never competed in anything like this or skied such challenging terrain.
“Are you sure you want to try this?” I asked my daughter. “Do you think you can ski this?”
She nodded affirmatively.
The three-day contest has drawn more than 180 of the best freeskiers in the world to this tiny mountain town, a longtime favorite of ours. These young men and women live to jump off cliffs on their skis — the steeper the better.
It’s clear that their enthusiasm and excitement, broadcast on events such as the X Games, has made extreme and freestyle skiing, with its jumps and tricks, the new must-try sport for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers.
I can’t bear to watch. Two-time World Extreme champion and former Olympian Wendy Fisher acknowledged that her mom never liked to watch her compete. Fisher skied down the run ahead of the juniors, somehow making it look easy. But I notice the ski patrollers stationed in the trees. I once again questioned the sanity of allowing my daughter to head up that mountain. But at the same time, I was so proud of her spirit and her skill.
Travel can be such a great opportunity to introduce our kids to worlds and people different from what they know. Strangers just a few days ago, these young competitors from around the country have become fast friends, rooting each other on, comparing gear and technique.
Meanwhile, I waited nervously with other parents, as I have at countless track, cross country and swim meets.When Reggie came flying down the mountain, her orange parka at first just a speck amid the trees, I barely breathed . But not only doesn’t she fall, she skis beautifully, tackling the steep slope like a pro. Her triumphant grin at the bottom of the slope instantly erases all of my anxiety.
Reggie finished a close third in the competition, barely a point behind the winter. She got $100, a new jacket and ski poles for her effort.
That was seven years ago and Reggie still skis like a banshee, though not competitively anymore.
Every once in a while, she’ll take a run with me, coaxing me out of my comfort zone onto a steep run or a bump run or into the powder.
“Good job, mom!” she’ll say. “I’m proud of you.”
And I smile, remembering all the times when I was cheering her on.