Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Volks Ski Fest, Part III: Family dynamics on the Gunflint Trail

When my father turned sixty, the whole Slade family met at a Colorado ski town for a luxury weekend of skiing and gourmet meals (ever paid $25 for a drop of grappa?): two sons, one with a wife and me with a serious partner (Sally was the only one to enjoy the outdoor hot tub, a fact she reminds me of to this day); and two daughters, in from urban grungy Seattle. It was fast and furious, and the dynamics of the Slade family, for good and for ill, made the rest of the experience -- of mountains, snow, outdoor fun -- really just scenic background, nearly irrelevant to the family drama that had been playing out for decades.

This weekend, as part of Volks Ski Fest, I stepped right into the middle of another family's Dad-is-60 celebration. Instead of luxurious Snowmass, this was the luxurious Bearskin Lodge. But it was the same phenomenon.

Conditions were excellent, as the map showed. Bob, the Bearskin owner, knew we were coming and had groomed the Oxcart Trail for us just that morning.

For my guided trip, the participants were seven members of a very nice Twin Cities family. The birthday Dad was a corporate executive, and happy to talk about his childhood in Duluth and his work making envelopes. His wife was really fast on the trail, partially because she wanted to get back in time for her 12:00 dogsledding appointment. The boys were goofy and had a lot of fun together, racing, showing off their moves. One daughter (in-law?) was pregnant and dressed for downhill skiing, complete with a matching white outfit and a fur ruff around the hood.

I tried, tried to keep them all together so they could be part of my naturalist interpretation. Lake-effect snow? Whitetail deer ecology? What's not to love about that?

But they were on their own schedule, and split up along the trail according to their abilities and speed. One brother coaxed his partner down the fun and curvy hills of the Oxcart Trail.

So I gave up on nature stuff and worried instead about safety. The pregnant daughter (in law?) and her husband were slower, the wife and one son (there's some step- action in there somewhere) were fast and gone. I asked the mid-speed folks if I should worry or wait. They said, "Nah." I tried not to worry, but I still did.

Everyone made it back fine...I think. Each one scattered to their next activity as soon as they got back to the Lodge. It turns out that the fastest of the sons, the one without a partner, skied the loop twice and caught up with the slow, pregnant couple. I got a nice fist-bump thank you from one of the sons. And then they were all gone, off to dogsledding or nap time or whatever.

Family is great. I love being out with my boys. But the more it's about family and family dynamics, the less it is about the place you are, or the activity you are doing.

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