Taking Benjamin Skiing, Just the Two of Us

Benjamin and Brian skiing

Ever since we found out that Andrea was pregnant, one of the moments I was most looking forward to was being able to get our child on the slopes, sharing the sport that I love the most. Of course, before you’re a parent you have a very delusional and unrealistic view of how life is going to be with a child. That’s probably a good thing, because if we really knew, I’m not sure how many of us would give up a selfish, simple, DINK-y lifestyle.

I’m certainly not bitter about finally becoming a father, the opposite, really. It has made me realize how much my actions matter now. Not just matter, but how many of the things that I used to value so highly were just self-indulgent, foolish wastes of time. One example of this would be spending hours a week researching the best new beers and bourbons. Then, spend more hours driving around procuring these beers and bourbons. Concluding with even more hours spent consuming (and then recovering from) said beers and bourbons.

Wasn’t this supposed to be a story about you taking Benjamin skiing for the first time? Oh yeah, ADD, or something. Andrea has been sick the past few days, and having a high-energy 2-year old does not provide many opportunities for relief and recovery. I did my best to get him out of her hair on Saturday, but there was only so much to do on a gloomy Saturday in February. I had the idea in my head that I was going to take him skiing on Sunday. Not first thing in the morning, I was going to let him nap in the car on the way up and then we’d ski from 2-5 in the afternoon.

Preperation

Mind you, this was my first time taking this little monster skiing on my own. I had to mentally prepare and get a checklist in my head of all the things I was going to need to make this happen. My skis and boot bag (containing boots, helmet, goggles & gloves) his skis and boot bag (containing boots, helmet, goggles & mittens) and my backpack containing snacks, water and something to carry his skis on our way to the slope.

Since we live at the beach in NJ, we don’t have a lot of options for day trips, so our plan was to go to Campgaw Mountain, in Mahwah, NJ. It’s called Campgaw Mountain, but lets be real, it’s a hill. That said, they’ve got a nice big parking lot, wide trails and good snow-making, so if you’re just getting started, it has everything you’re going to need.

We got there around 2:15 and the place is obviously packed. It’s Super Bowl Sunday and most people are trying to get in some turns before heading home and feasting upon chicken wings and tapenade. We find parking, Benjamin wakes up, we gear up and head over to the hill. One thing about Benjamin at this age is that he is, as are most children at this age, a bit clingy. I knew this would happen which was why I planned to carry his skis in my backpack because I knew I was going to have to carry him. Some might say I’m babying him, but those people either don’t have kids or you are very German.

Here’s where the planning (and working out) was going to pay off. Benjamin said, as he adorably and incorrectly does “Daddy, carry you!” That means I had to pick him up. So with backpack on containing his skis, and carrying my skis in my right hand, over my right shoulder, I squat down and scoop him up w/ my left arm and carry this geared-up 40ish-total-lb. adorable little monster over to the hill. It was trying and I was dripping sweat but we got there.

My whole mission with these ski days is to make sure he only has positive experiences so that way, when he gets older he’ll be excited about going skiing. Before we even got our lift tickets he spotted the snow cats parked alongside the lodge. I had to put my skis down and we took a detour to check out the snow cats. He knows that Piston Bullies are red and that Tuckers are orange, so seeing a red Bombardier was a bit confusing. The only way I was dragging him away from sweet machinery was by telling him that we would check them out again after skiing. Luckily that worked and we were able to get our lift tickets. As all parents know, distractions, ain’t just a river in Egypt if you know what I mean.

Before we were able to get on the mountain, I had to use the bathroom. A lot of coffee was consumed on that drive up to prepare for this adventure. As all skiers know, the bathrooms at all older lodges are always downstairs. There must have been some quantum leap in plumbing science in the past 20 years that has allowed newer lodges to have bathrooms on the main floor, but at older ones, you’re always taking the stairs.

As a grown-up who has decided to spend their leisure time partaking in an athletic endeavor such as sliding on snow, this is, at most, a minor inconvenience. When doing so with your 2.5 year old, you have to be strategic. After carrying him down what seemed like 9 flights of stairs I needed a plan. The urinal was not an option for a few reasons. First, I was holding him and there were no dividers, so he would be in an elevated position and likely start talking to the person next door, or even better start asking questions like “what’s that?” while looking down at the urinal. Not everyone loves a friendly kid, especially at the urinal. There was also no way I could put him down. He’s a flight risk on a good day, but even within arms length, this kid could reek absolute havoc. The first thing he would do was put his hand on the lip of the urinal. Next, he would do one-of-three things 1. stick his hand in the urinal water, 2. stick his hand in my pee stream, or 3. (and sadly, most likely) put his MOUTH ON THE URINAL LIP!!!!

So the urinal was not an option.

There was an open stall available, which was perfect. With both of us in all of our ski gear it was a tight fit, but I was able to use this to our advantage. Keeping the door open and him in my left arm, I was able to pin Benjamin and my arm against the open door so that I could use my right hand to take care of the rest of my business. Boom.

If this is TMI, you obviously don’t listen to our podcast.

Finally time to go skiing.

Having grown up in the era of the rope tow, I’m pretty apathetic about the magic carpet. I understand that it’s safer, easier and less chaotic than the old rope tows, but I think it almost makes it almost too easy and causes and unearned sense of confidence. You walk over, you stand, you think you’re ready for skiing. On a rope-tow, you had twist, grab and hang on for dear life in order to get the privilege of being able to attempt to ski.

For some reason Campgaw decided to have a pretty significant drop off after getting off the carpet which lead to frequent carpet stoppages and ensuing pile-ups.

Since it’s Benjamin’s first season, we’ve been using the Ski Trainer from Lucky Bums. If you’re not familiar, the main harness looks like a backpack and there’s a handle at the top near the top of back. It’s great for redirecting him and getting him on and off the chair lift. On the harness itself, there are two eyeholes where you connect the leash so you can hold and control your li’l skier’s speed and distance.

The big negative is that in picking him up and carrying him, it gave the chance for his legs to flail about. On several occasions, this caused him to lose a ski. When you’re skiing by yourself, it’s pretty rare that you need to look down and make sure that you have both our skis on. If you were to lose a ski, you’re gonna know pretty quickly. Also, if you were to lose a ski, most likely someone skiing past it would stop, grab your ski and ski it down to you.

Not on the bunny slope at Campgaw.

Jaded Jersey Brian says that’s because they’re selfish, Jersey a-holes. Happy Hippy Brian says that they’re all just beginners and just trying to survive out there, man. They just aren’t able to help. Consensus was not reached.

If you’re out there by yourself and you lost your ski, you’d just have to hoof it back up and grab your ski. When you’ve got your 2.5 year old, you have to make a choice – do I leave him there and go back and get
the ski or grab him and drag him up the hill with me? Leaving him meant making him an open target to the demolition derby on snow happening all around. Odds are, he’d have at least 90 seconds of wide open exposure which meant 45 out-of-control skiers and boarders would have the chance to lose control and barrel into him.

Of course, I dragged him up the hill with me to retrieve the ski.

This happened multiple times and I was ready to crank up the DIN on his skis, but knew that was probably the wrong solution. After two runs, I started letting the leash get loose enough that Benjamin was out beyond my skis. He had his balance and was bombing down on his own, occasionally shouting “wheeeeeee.”

It was time to graduate to the chair lift. It was not his first time on the chair lift, but it was our first time on this chair lift. As a skier, your first experience on an old and unfamiliar chair lift should be a bit intimidating. How fast is it whipping around? How high or low is the actual chair? What’s the exit like?

Fortunately for us, this lift gave us a lot of time to get in place and prepare for boarding. As we assumed the position, Benjamin did his patented “hi!” to the lifties, who got a real kick out of him. We watched the chair approach, counted down 3-2-1, I hoisted him up by the strap on his harness and we were passengers of the black chair lift at Campgaw Mountain.

Benjamin loved the chair lift ride, saying “so high in the sky,” and pointing out all of the ski resort infrastructure and machinery that we take for granted, like the lift poles, the lift chairs coming in the opposite direction and the sleeping snow guns (due to the 46 degree temperature, not abundance of snow).

I didn’t realize is until we got to the mid-station that this lift had a mid-station. Another interesting discovery when taking a lift for the first time. From the bottom, it looked like that’s just where the lift ended. Again, the lifty at the exit got a kick out of Benjamin and as we did getting on, did a 3-2-1 countdown and I yanked him off the lift and to prevent ski tangling and any loss of skis just held him in the air until we coasted down and out of the immediate chairlift disembarkment area.

The top of this hill, which is actually a blue trail, was probably 2x the vertical of the bunny slope and a significantly steeper pitch. I started by keeping the leash pretty tight but Benjamin was well-balanced, comfortable and having fun so I gave him more leash. After a few run, I had no pull in the leash and he was just going for it!

We repeated this 7 times, taking the lift and going down this trail. For the last 4, I would ask him, “do you want to go home and have Cheddar Bunnies, or go on the ski lift again?” Every time he answered “ski lift, again!”

(For those not in the know, Cheddar Bunnies are Annie’s Organic’s high falutin’ version of Goldfish and a Benjamin top-5 snack choice.)

During the last two runs we did have a few crashes. It appeared to me was that Benjamin was getting too comfortable and not paying attention to where he was going. He kept talking about the green chair lift and looking in every other direction except right in front of him. On the last run, he even started picking up and moving his skis around. I’m not sure if he was trying to turn or just wanted to see what happened if he picked his ski up. Well, you’re going to lose balance, spin around and crash, which is exactly what happened. Luckily, I was able to stop before hitting him in the face with the tip of left ski. Parenting is a game of inches, where careers (and marriages) are made and lost. It was after that run, we decided we’ve tempted fate enough for one day and that is was time to head back to the car and finally have those Cheddar Bunnies.

Conclusion

Getting to spend an afternoon with my son, just the two of us, and sharing with him the sport I love was something I had been dreaming about ever since he was born. We were lucky enough to go 3 times together to Campgaw this season, each time getting a little easier. But that first time, despite the crowds, small vertical and warm conditions, I have to say, it was one of the best ski days of my life. I had no idea what to expect and how it would turn out, but it was fantastic. While the weather on the east coast (and convid-19) has shut down the season early, we’ve had a great start to Benjamin’s ski career and can’t wait to see how we build upon it next year.

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