A letter written to Powder Magazine in tribute to my grandfather after he passed away in September 2001. It was printed in the January 2002 issue.
My Grandpa taught me how to ski when I was six years old. It didn’t seem too special at the time because he taught just about everyone in our family how to ski. He gave me a pair of old boots and second hand skis that he bought at a junk store. He took me up the mountain and taught me how to turn and how to keep warm.
I can imagine his simultaneous sadness and happiness as his family grew, and his grandchildren started speeding past him down the mountain. I remember how surprised a clerk at the lift ticket window was whenever my Grandpa told them he was over age 70. That means you get to ski free.
I’ve been skiing many times in my young life. There were frustrating days when I fell numerous times and came home injured. I still get indescribable feeling in my stomach right before I drop into a soft, powder filled line. I remember that grin from ear to ear I had on those rare storm days when it seemed like the snow would never stop. I cannot forget that day I made it to the top of the mountain peak after a strenuous hike just as dusk was breaking. I floated down the mountain with the setting sun behind me in the orangish-pink snow and felt more warm and alive than I ever had before.
My Grandfather taught me there was much more to the sport than a flashy ski suit, the latest equipment and the price of a lift ticket. He taught me to not be ashamed of brown bagging your lunch, or duct taping old gloves so they hold out until the end of the season, or hiking in the back country when you don’t have enough money for a lift ticket or a season pass.
The anticipation of the coming winter feels different for me this year. I’m excited as always, yes, but no matter how good the snow is or how many sick days I use because of an immense storm, this winter will be the coldest one in memory. Just recently, my Grandfather lost his long battle with cancer and passed away.
I carry with me the burden of grief and sadness; but I will also have the memories of that old man in the bright yellow parka, the sunglasses, the orange and brown hat, and the skis he bought for 5 dollars at the junk store coming down the mountain with a giant smile on his face. Not only did he teach me to ski, he taught me the most important lesson in life: To enjoy the things you love and love the things you enjoy.