I know it’s going to be a stellar day. We are going to ski at Oak Mountain again. You see, Oak is where my little ski addiction began and the reason that winter is now my favorite season. Oak Mountain turned my “I hate winter. I hate snow. I want t-shirts and shorts” statements into comments like “Sweet screamin’ monkeys...powder day on the horizon! Did you see the forecast?!”
Rewind to February 2015: I asked Michelle what she wanted to do for Valentine’s Day. She replied, “I want to go skiing.” Hmmm…I didn’t see that one coming. I was expecting her to say “dinner and a couple of drinks.” I had never skied full-time. I mean, I always liked skiing but I grew up on the ice. I played hockey from the time that I was old enough to stand on skates until my senior year in high school. Hockey left little time for skiing, much less the time required to really excel at it. I was excited to get on skis again but also a little nervous to say the least. I hadn’t been on skis in years. We (and by we, I actually mean she) planned a kid-free day for February 14, 2015. Michelle chose Oak Mountain as the location. We skied. She created a monster. The end. Okay, not the end. Read on.
Fast forward five years and two days later to February 16, 2020.
"Fire, Fire On The Mountain…" I happily sing to myself as I stumble my way to the coffee pot at 5:30 a.m. I’m in the mood to listen to the Dead but I know Bayleigh, aka Boo, and Elliot (9 and 10 years old) will not have any part of it…they don’t understand Jerry Garcia yet and I can’t expect them to. Nick (17 years old) is a ski bum also but he is sleeping in because he has planned to hike with friends later in the day. Teenagers sleep through anything anyway except, of course, Snapchat alerts and the aroma of Taco Bell. Michelle (wife, mother, organizer of life and basically a human Swiss Army Knife) has graciously put up with my non-stop Grateful Dead playlists for about a month now. I decide to cut them all some slack and crank up an alternative station on Pandora. Music means a lot to me. I never begin a ski day without it. It has been part of the ski day routine for a few years now. Dad (that’s me) awakens everyone with sub-par singing and loud music. Music, like skiing, is essentially family super glue…it bonds us. Everyone smiles and it’s all good.
The typical morning routine is in full swing and on the usual schedule. Clothing layers have been applied, Elliot and Boo bicker about who is the better skier. I interject with my stock five-word statement: “Okay guys, that’s enough. Chill.” I have filled the pellet stove, fixed our java for the road, and loaded all of the ski equipment (10 minutes). Michelle has made the bed, packed snacks, unloaded the dishwasher, folded a load of laundry and started another, fed the dragons (no, I’m not referring to the kids, we actually have two bearded dragons: Ziggy and Oscar), figured out how to create world peace, remedied global warming and did a lap around the house turning off lights (10 minutes also). Superwoman in ski attire, I guess. She could make Oprah or Bill Gates feel like a slacker. It usually takes an additional five or ten minutes to get everyone into the 4Runner and today isn’t any different. “Wait a minute Dad, I need my iPad.” “Mom, do you know where my mitts are?” “Sorry Michelle, just a second…I have to grab my wallet, my bad.” Get the picture? Welcome to our family. P.S. Yes, the kids were also fed. What kind of parents do you think we are?!
The early bird gets the best seats in the house
We made it to the Oak Mountain parking lot at 8:20 a.m. Right on schedule for me – forty minutes before the lifts start spinning. Elliot, our son and adrenaline junkie, lets me know that I’m being a “dad” after I comment that “we made good time.” What can I say? I like good parking and I like well-groomed corduroy or fresh powder when mother nature decides to provide it. I don’t necessarily need first tracks, but I’m totally cool with it when it happens! Pssst…snicker, snicker…it does happen a lot! Boo, our little free-spirited, hippie daughter, doesn’t add to his comments. She is just happy with the thought of scoring a muffin or donut at the Oak Mountain Café before her first run. Michelle gives me a little smile and eye roll after I proudly pull into a first-row parking spot. I’ll admit that I’m a total dork when it pertains to arrival time at any mountain. I’ll let you in on a little secret though: in addition to skiing the best possible conditions, if you arrive early you can leisurely spread out and put your boots on without practically sitting on a stranger's lap. I like my space. As we are unloading our gear, a car pulls in next to us. The couple exits and I notice that the man is wearing a hat from a brewery that I’m very familiar with. We strike up a little conversation about our favorite IPAs and wish each other a good day. Yes, this is Oak Mountain as I remembered it: warm and friendly from minute one. Good vibes were already present. Oak is also where Elliot had his first ski lesson. He was so tiny and hesitant. Now he talks about “ripping groomers” and “shredding the gnar.” Where does the time go?
We place our boot bags on a vacant table (shocker! I always get a vacant table. Insert a wink, smile, and a nod here) and then head over to the rental shop for our tickets. Good mornings and pleasantries are exchanged between ourselves, fellow patrons, and members of the ski patrol. Oak simply has a bit of a different atmosphere. Everyone is just a little friendlier and a tad more at ease than they are at the bigger mountains. It’s noticeable and a big part of why I love this little gem of a mountain. I even found myself being chattier than normal! The rental shop is old-school and I mean this in an absolutely respectful manner. The ski boot marks on the hardwood floor could tell a few stories and I’m hoping that I may have left a boot scuff on the floor for inclusion. The shop is already active with instructors preparing to give lessons and other employees assisting customers with rental equipment. Laura, the co-owner/operator, gives us a warm welcome and we get stickers! The kids are pumped with the additional helmet graffiti and I’ll be adding another sticker to my desk at work.
Ready to hit the slopes
As we ride up the chairlift, Michelle asks the kids which run they want to do first. Boo points directly below us and states that she wants to do this one (Ryans’s Run). Elliot wants to hit the TNT Glades first. The typical sibling bickering ensues and yes, I again give my “Okay guys, that’s enough...chill” response. As I looked around it was evident that it wasn’t going to matter what trail we skied first because the conditions were impeccable. Not a bare spot in sight. Nicely groomed corduroy. I was stoked. Skiing on a holiday weekend without constantly dodging people or the fear of someone running over my daughter was going to be a bonus. Oak Mountain is busy today but in a good way. There are many people on the trails and the lodge was certainly filling up, but there is plenty of room to navigate easily. If you have skied larger mountains in New York State or Vermont at peak times you will certainly understand what I am talking about. If not, Google some of the grainy, turn of the century footage of New York City when horse-drawn buggies and automobiles were present on city streets at the same time and traffic lights weren’t really a thing yet. We ski both trails requested by the munchkins in addition to four or five others before taking a break. By the way, Boo’s request to do Ryan’s Run first was granted. My, let's say, more mature (okay...older and more fragile, but I’ll never admit that to my kids) legs need a good warm-up before hitting glades!
It’s 11:00 a.m. and the base area and lodge are now a beehive of activity. People are still arriving with boot bags, parents are dressing their kids and taking them over to the tubing hill, and ski lessons are underway on the bunny hill. Smiles can be seen and laughter can be heard. This is a true family mountain! The Acorn Pub and Eatery is about to be invaded by George Jetson, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, and Jane, his wife…I know, bad “dad joke” but I’m okay with that. We order our food and take a look at some of the old pictures and Oak Mountain memorabilia that hang on the walls of the Eatery. After looking at an interesting framed piece, the kids are astonished that at one time, Oak Mountain could be skied all day for under five bucks! Our lunch arrives and we dive into some fantastic pizza and wings. Lunch is always a much faster process than what Michelle and I would like when the kids are present. “C’mon dad, we want to ski!” “C’mon monkeys, I want to finish my beer first!” Michelle is in agreement…her boots are still off and her feet are up. I tell the kids to take a run by themselves and we will meet them at the chairlift. They are better than average skiers and this is the first year that we have let them take occasional runs without one of us present. They know the drill: stay together, no glades without us, and be respectful to everyone that you encounter.
Ski days always go by too quick
After a couple more hours of skiing, we make our way into the lodge. Everyone is tired and ready to shed some layers. As we pack up and talk about our day, The Thing was voted favorite trail of the day by our family. It’s a fun, speedy black diamond. The terrain at Oak Mountain can suit all abilities. Greens, blues, and blacks are easily accessible off either side of the chairlift and we obviously skied enough of them today. We have the usual tired but happy post-ski look about us. It will never get old.
As I’m loading the 4Runner for the hour and twenty-minute ride back to Tupper Lake, I find myself smiling. We just had another sweet ski day. Everyone is buckled in and the kids are laughing and talkative. I know that the ride home is going to be peaceful though. It always is. Both kids will be snoozing in about five minutes. As we are leaving the parking lot I find myself reflecting on the day. There is a sign in our dining/kitchen area which happens to be the primary hang out location and gathering spot of our house. It reads EAT-SLEEP-SKI. We are a ski family. It’s what we do. Thank you Oak Mountain for being part of our story.
The kids are sleeping and I open up my music on my phone. Jerry sings: “she had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes…” I smile and sing along. Michelle shakes her head and rolls her eyes as she continues to drive. One more Grateful Dead playlist. I do love me a ski day!