How to Raise a Jojo: Teaching Josephine to Ski

There are some activities that I’m sure make aliens scratch their heads and marvel at the stupidity of humans. Chicken races, gambling, skydiving… Skiing also probably makes its way onto that list, too. We wrap ourselves in clothes that ALMOST keep out the cold, ride on glorified swing sets up beyond the clouds, and strap unwieldy sticks to our feet and hands. Then, we stare directly down a cliffside, swallow hard, and turn those awkward sticks towards the village below.

Every time I take that plunge, I oscillate wildly between ecstasy and terror. But as soon as I reach the bottom, I shimmy back over to the nearest lift and ride back up to the very tippy-top – because it’s just SO fun. I presume many of you know the feeling. And then there’s the après ski…And the camaraderie, especially when you go with a group of friends, musing late into the night about aches and pains, powder and ice.

One of my earliest memories of traveling with my parents is of clambering into a giant rental car in Denver (not sure how giant it really was since that was way before SUVs). Rays of morning sunlight were just beginning to poke through dark winter clouds. Just before we entered I-20, we saw an orange sign, advertising fresh donuts. We pulled over, and our family friend, Pete, went in. He came out with a pile of bear claws and cinnamon twists. My memories of laughing and joking on the way to Aspen are forever permeated by the smell of fresh pastries.

I want Josephine to have similar memories. I want her to experience those same thrills. But I also want her to do it safely, and I think that it’s so much easier to learn to ski as a child than as an adult. So, three times in the past two winters, we’ve loaded up the ski gear and gone to Colorado.

Our first trip was to Aspen with my lifelong best friend, Jennifer, and her family. She has a son who’s just a few months older than Josephine, and I thought we could teach them to ski by dropping them off at ski school. After all, that’s how I learned to ski, right? Or maybe it wasn’t…Imprinted in my mind is a vivid nightmare of failed attempts at pizza and french fries and of certain death as I drifted towards the edge of the trail, too unskilled to change my trajectory. Would the ski instructors have noticed my absence? We’ll never know, but Josephine had roughly the same outcome. She did five days of Snowmass ski school and learned basically nothing.

This year, we decided to do things differently. Our friends told us what we’d erred in the past; we needed to bite the cost bullet and put Josephine in private lessons, and that we’d see marked changes in a matter of hours. So we headed to Beaver Creek, which has a family-friendly reputation, where I skied when it first opened in like 1982 on another family trip with friends.

From the moment we met up with her ski instructor, Jay, I had a good feeling. And by the end of the day, she was taking lifts to the top of the mountain and coming down on trails through the trees. By the end of the long weekend, she was skiing greens with no worries and blues with only minor trepidation.

For spring break, we were able to link up with some of our closest friends from Houston and go back to Beaver Creek, where we spent another week and put Josephine in even more lessons. It was absolutely phenomenal to see Josephine cruise down the mountain with her pals and even better to cook, laugh, and play cards with their parents.

I feel certain that it will become an annual pilgrimage for us, taking Josephine to ski with a group of families and enjoying the trip on so many levels. I also feel confident that Josephine is building skills that will last a lifetime. She will be comfortable going on ski trips with friends in college and beyond, and I won’t have to fret nonstop that she’s going to get hurt. (Josephine is no risk-taker; she’s scared of your basic playground slide.) And the shared enjoyment of a sport will give us another way to connect with our child as she gets older. Maybe even in the gloomy times, when she thinks we’re the downright worst, she’ll still have fun strapping on skis, navigating moguls, and gliding through powder with us.