This weekend a band of merry members of Anchor Yankers from the Mississippi Alton Pool swapped their boats for ski equipment. We drove to Dubuque, Iowa, a vibrant community that boasts river boating, skiing, five car garage homes and the new distribution center for Bacon Bits and Spam (the Godonlyknowswhat food stuff invented during WWII). Saturday’s daytime temperatures hovered around 12º (-10ºF wind-chill). Thick snow obscured the river valley and cemented dripping noses with upper lips. Sunday’s mercury climbed to a balmy 21º with pristine skies and 4” of fresh powder. Humans aren’t meant to hibernate – we played games in the snow.
Summer visitors from northern US states to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, west of Great Salt Lake often feel chilled rather than fried, as they should. Their brains are trained to recognize wide expanses of pure white terrain as snow and ice, not blistering desert sand that’s white as angel wings.
Our family’s first ski trip to Dubuque set off a similar disorientation. Our skiing experiences were in New England where skiers ride lifts up mountains in plain sight. George and I were confused to arrive at a farming region with rolling hills, no apparent snow and no elevations that could even mildly be described as ski territory. We were more befuddled when we arrived at Ski Sundown and looked down the river bluffs at the maze of well-groomed ski trails.
The Olympics’ motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) represents athletes’ aspirations to demonstrate personal bests – the ultimate upper limit of their speed, grace, and strength on ice and snow. This year Bode Miller earned the honor of being the oldest alpine skiing medalist in Olympic history. He’s only 36 and is considered an elder athlete. Society is weird. It expects skiers to stay fit until age 70 so they can pay reduced Senior Ski Rates but entices 60+ year old people with Senior Reduced ticket prices to sit in movie theaters snacking on buttered popcorn.
This year George and I, Sharon and Don (Woelbling), elder but not yet senior clan members since the beginning reminisced about our decades of trips to Sundown. Faster, higher, and stronger effects of the sport include a blown knee (darn moguls), a broken nose (darn edge boundaries that separate the slopes from the wild), elegant style (we girls don’t wear darn hats because it musses our hair), updated and stylish ski gear (darn ski shops’ end of season sales), stolen skies (darn bar tender gave me a free beer and didn’t even offer to store my skies in the free, locked corral). We watched the third generation stretch their limits on the Bunny Slope. We spat out mouthfuls of snow while trying to keep pace with last year’s novices. We’ve celebrated kids’ graduations, weddings, and careers.
As life would have it, we’ve also mourned the loss of a spouse, two sons, and a granddaughter who had boated and skied the river.
The Winter Olympics gather athletes from around the world to take part in games where winning really matters. When my daughter at four years young first tried Ski Wee she melted down and didn’t want to go back for lessons the second day. Sharon took her aside, ever the schoolteacher, and firmly explained, “Here’s the deal -our families boat in the summer and ski in the winter. Unless you want to be home with a babysitter while we ski, you’d better get back into Ski Wee so you can always be with us.” Great advice. Families who have things to do outside and play with friends are truly blessed. They grow together faster, reach higher aspirations, and savor stronger bonds across generations. Our Dubuque ski trips aren’t about winning. The informal motto of the Olympics is, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” Skiing down river bluffs beats sitting home, eating spam on any winter weekend.