How to become a ski parent (I think)

There I was. Kneeling on the carpet of the Claybrook Hotel. Ski boots on my feet. Helmet on my head. Diaper in one hand. Wipe in the other.

It was almost time to ski. But first, my 9-week-old daughter, Willa, needed a hand. And in that moment—changing her diaper in my ski gear—I realized just how much my life had changed.

As new parents, my wife, Hayley, and I had many concerns about our first family ski trip. First and foremost, would our stuff even fit in the car? (The skis, the snacks, the stroller, the basinet, the white noise machine, the humidifier, the books, the toys, the diapers, the wipes, the pacifiers, and the other white noise machine.) Would Willa be happy on the drive from Maine to Vermont? Would she be too cold at the mountain? Would the hotel be too loud for her to sleep? Would the whole damn thing just be too much for a 9-week-old?

Our hypothetical questions were endless. But they were also pointless. The sun was shining, our 10,129 belongings made it safely to the quiet hotel, the diaper was changed, and all was well. Hayley plopped Willa into the stroller for a tour around the base, while I made my way up North Lynx Peak, then higher onto Castlerock Peak, and even higher onto Lincoln Peak.

The terrain was all foreign to me; I’d only been to Sugarbush as a kid for ski races—largely stuck between gates on Inverness. But as I gazed upon the Valley down below, it all felt wonderfully familiar. It was down in the Valley, after all, where Hayley and I were married in 2018. And it was down there, at Green Mountain Valley School, where Hayley spent four special years. Some places help you really appreciate the ground beneath your feet and the air within your lungs. The Mad River Valley is just that for us.

As I approached the summit, I sent Hayley an obligatory photo from the lift and checked in: “How’s it going?”

“Perfect,” Hayley texted back, alongside a photo of Willa bundled up in the stroller.

I tucked my phone in my pocket and, for the first time in a while, I let myself relax. The first 9 weeks of parenting had been hard for me—a monumental shift in lifestyle. I’m not afraid to admit that. And up there on the mountain, I was finally able to reflect on it all. I zipped down smooth groomers, popped off lively knolls, found hidden gems in the trees, and spent every lift ride taking in the views. 

Though I expected to ski alone, I quickly crossed paths with friendly locals who were eager to show me around—locals who were quick to point out that life’s just better up north. (I grew up in Southern Vermont, so it was a frequent topic of discussion). The highlight of it all: an impromptu run with the youth freeride team. They skied with such simultaneous confidence and playfulness, like they had designed the mountain themselves. I started imagining Willa on the mountain one day, with a little colorful helmet, and I couldn’t stop grinning.

I eventually made my way down to the base, where Hayley was grabbing coffee with an old friend from high school. They were so happy. So was I. And there we all were, on our first family ski trip. It was all coming together.

That afternoon, we went for a scenic drive through Waitsfield and Warren. Willa was fast asleep in the back—her pudgy cheeks bouncing up and down with each frost heave in the road. I turned up toward the barn where we were married, through dirt roads we’d never found before, then back to the hotel for bedtime. 

Once Willa was tucked in, I picked up food and drinks from the Mad Taco. Then Hayley and I sat by the fireplace—clinking our glasses, celebrating that we really can do this whole ski family thing after all. 

Willa turns two this winter, and her skis are already picked out. Boots, too. She’s not sure what helmet she wants yet. Maybe a blue one. Maybe pink. Maybe yellow. She asked about finding one with llamas on it.

I’m not sure where we’ll find a helmet with llamas. But I do know where we’re going skiing.

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