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Monday, January 31, 2011

Dispatches from a Parallel Universe

Racing Buddies

Sometimes it feels like we really do live in another world and not just because we have four foot snow drifts surrounding the house and people get around on snowmobiles in town. (I know that doesn't help to dispel any stereotypical images you south of the border may have of the Great White North but where I live it really is true for four months of the year) I feel this way because we inhabit this strange little planet of parents of ski racers. Most of you might be familiar with skiing the way normal people enjoy it where you take a holiday and go to a fabulous resort like Vail or Whistler or even somewhere closer like Killington or Sugar Loaf but we in southern Ontario only have what is geologically known as the Niagara Escarpment to conquer on boards. It is a ridge that runs from Niagara Falls to the top of the Bruce Peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay and due to the two bodies of water and cold air masses from the Arctic we get a lot of snow dumped on us with great regularity. The height of this ridge you ask? Well, at its peak it is about 900 feet. Yes, that's feet, not metres even though we in Canada converted to the metric system sometime in the 70's but because it sounds even punier in metres we still refer to our mountain in feet. Along the escarpment there is one public ski resort grandly called Blue Mountain and then there are five other places to ski but only if you are a member or guest. These ski hills are private clubs much like a golf or country club. It's great if you were lucky enough to be born into a family that were already members thanks to the foresight of your parents or grandparents and which makes you, as we like to call it, a member of the L.S.P. or Lucky Sperm Club. Otherwise if you want to bypass the long lift lines and various yahoos and yetis careening down the slopes at the public hills you have to pony up quite a swack of cash. My family, as you might have gathered is a member of the L.S.C. on both sides as my Other Half and I met as teenagers at our club. Our children are able to ski four out of seven days a week and as my cousin says, "the first run is really expensive and the rest are all free." We get our money'sworth out of our membership especially now that we live up here and can head over to the hills whenever the school is closed and the roads are open.

But back to the parallel universe. What do we do on these short little hills day after day, week after week, all winter long? Well, once you graduate from the snowplow to french fries and can get on and off the chairlifts by yourself (about age 4 for my boys) you start to race. At age 7 they become Nancy Greeners (named after a famous Canadian skier from the 60's) and they train all weekend and compete four or five times a season. As for the parents, if you aren't a weekend warrior and stuff your middle-aged body into a downhill suit to hurl yourself down a race course trying to recapture your youth then you drive from ski club to ski club with your little racers and stand at the bottom of the hill cheering them on for the 35 seconds or so that it takes to make it through the course. You might even strap on a pair of skis yourself and carry their coats because at these speeds the racers don't want any excess drag on their aerodynamically-designed bodies. They would rather freeze their little patooties off than wear a coat while racing. At age 11 they are allowed to put on downhill suits and subject themselves to the beginnings of low self esteem if they don't have the body of ... well ... of an 11 year old boy. Woe to the kids, boys and girls who have a few pounds of baby fat still clinging to their frames while their friends are all spindly arms and legs.

My Other Half - The Sherpa

The thing about ski racing, unlike hockey or soccer, is that it is all about you. Number One Son is a goalie on his hockey team and he is never as upset about losing a game six - nothing as he is about not placing in the top 10 in a ski race. He can slough off a losing streak because he knows it's not all his fault but when it is just him at the top of the hill and he doesn't beat his time in the second run (they get two chances on the course) he is inconsolable. So I tell myself that this is all character building and that doing both team and individual sports is going to help them later in life and I truly think it will but it doesn't make it any easier when you are trying to comfort a 10 year old who has just fallen halfway down the course and has bruised his ego more than anything else. Or managing the expectations of an 8 year old who is faster than most of the 9 and 19 years olds (his brother included) and is beginning to become one of those cocky kids who you swore yours would never be.

So in this parallel universe that we inhabit from December to March that no one in the world, other than a few hundred other crazy parents understand, where we spend thousands of dollars on equipment that the kids out grown every year and hours on homework trying to keep the kids caught up because of all the school they miss for training and hours consoling disappointed children who don't make it to the Provincial Championships because they had a bad fall in a critical race, it is sometimes hard to remember that outside this bubble other people ski for enjoyment, a few days a year. They go to resorts and enjoy the apres ski as much as the skiing itself and then don' spend their evenings sharpening and waxing six pairs of skis.

I love the fact that my sons are outside getting lots of fresh air and exercise but sometimes I wonder what we are doing this all for. I certainly don't think that ski racer is a viable career path. Most people can't name a single alpine racer except maybe during the Winter Olympics and any sponsorship deals they might get only pay for their equipment. Shaun White is the exception but he is a snowboarder not a ski racer. So why are we doing this again? Well, it is what my husband did as a kid (I, on the other hand, carried coats for the racers in the hopes of getting noticed so I guess that worked since he did marry me) and they will form life long friendships since the kids they hang out with every weekend will, for the most part, grow up and raise their children at the club. There really is a certain comfort and continuity in recognizing the last names of your children's friends. My boys are third and fourth generation members at our club and I know that if they get into trouble someone will recognize their names and tell me about it. This gives me that omnipotent parental power which freaks every kid out when we know what they have bee
n up to practically before they do it.

Number Two Son waiting for his turn

So despite the crazed mothers who let their kids miss far too much school so that they can get the edge over their competitors and the gear head fathers who buy their 8 year old the latest and greatest equipment and are found waxing skis at the top of the hill even though it won't make a hundredth of a second difference in a 50 pound kid's time, I will continue to support my boys as long as they want to do this, as long as they are having fun and making friends and learning those life lessons. I will be at the bottom of the hill to wipe away the tears and high five them after a great run and I will toast them with a very large glass of wine whether they make the podium or finish dead last 'cause in any universe, parallel or otherwise, that's what good parents do.


  1. This was an interesting insight into what really is another world for most of us . For what it's worth, it sounds to me like you and your Other Half have a very healthy attitude towards your sons' involvement in that world and the 'real' world!

  2. What a great take on the ski race biz! I try to explain to people that it's sort of like being a soccer mom . . . with more driving, in the snow, more expensive equipment, etc. But the real deal is that we're all out there doing it and loving it. When was the last time you saw a family playing soccer?

  3. So true, that is what I always say when people ask me why the boys don't all play hockey. What would you rather have your kids doing - spending time outside getting exercise or sitting around in an arena watching their sibling play a sport. Yesterday I got to ski with all three boys and they even slowed down a little so I could keep up.


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