Instead of tilling soil, ski area managers are farmers who till snow. Christmas vacation is harvest time. Young kids, college students and their families have a window of extra time granted by the holidays to head for the hills. The slopes tend to get a little crowded during the last two weeks of the year.
That’s why the best day to go skiing or riding during Christmas vacation is Christmas Day. Of course, the snow has to be good. But a majority of even the most avid skiers and riders are happy to spend Christmas morning at home, warm and cozy in their pajamas, unwrapping gifts.
Not me. My Christmas tradition is to unwrap a gift that falls from the sky. There’s nothing I would rather do more on Christmas than go skiing. But this year, everyone on my list of reliable accomplices opted for warm and cozy over cold and snowy. My motivation flagged. I hit the snooze button. Then hit it again. And again.
My natural holiday inclination began to stir with the first cup of coffee. Warm and cozy will always be there. Christmas only happens once a year. What’s more, I had not yet clicked into my skis and the season was well underway. If I didn’t heed this inner voice, I would spend the day wishing that I had.
A little more than an hour later I was walking toward the lifts at Mount Spokane, skis over my shoulder. A couple of inches had fallen overnight. The scene was flocked in the purest white. Flakes sifted down from above. Visibility was not an issue. The air was very cold, but calm. In summary, conditions were very good.
Best of all, I had finally found my accomplices. People who ski and ride on Christmas feel a special bond. Skiers and riders are a collegial group as a rule, but there’s something about choosing to do something on a day most people don’t that enhances the value of shared experience.
Goodwill and well wishes can be expressed and felt without saying a word. Just being there is enough. Strangers you never have met can feel like old friends after a sharing a chair with them for 10 minutes on Christmas Day. Even though there were no lift lines to speak of, I still called out “single” to see whom I could meet next. On this day people didn’t think that was weird, as far as I could tell.
I celebrated the holiday with a farmer, a banker an architect and a bartender – to mention a few who cordially welcomed me into their company. I asked them all why they come up to the mountain on Christmas. For some it’s a family tradition. Some like to beat the holiday crowds. One person made me laugh when he said skiing was a great excuse to get away from the in-laws for a few hours.
The best answer came from someone who was skiing on Christmas Day for the first time. She loved that everyone was smiling. Everyone seemed grateful to be there. For her, Christmas seemed like a magical time to be on the mountain that she would always remember as one of her best ever.
Until I heard her perspective, my most unforgettable Christmas involved about two feet of fresh powder a couple of years back. The coverage and snow quality on Christmas Day 2017 at Mount Spokane was modest in comparison. But I realized that sometimes skiing can be about much more than simply the snow.
Later that day, gorging on an Alaskan king crab feast with family, I felt a stronger sense of fulfillment than I usually do after a day of skiing. My good fortune enabled me to live the best of two different worlds. It was a Christmas I’ll always remember.