The four-day trip to Colorado's Copper Mountain was supposed to have been my annual "guy ski vacation." The holiday that my college buddy Chuck and I had taken one year earlier at Steamboat Springs had convinced us of the need for an annual pilgrimage to the slopes sans famille. We promised each other that nothing would prevent a return engagement.
Well, I kept my part of the bargain. But Chuck, only weeks before our scheduled departure, called to cancel. Something about the new baby driving his wife crazy.
How could I have my guy vacation, I brooded, without the guy?
I couldn't. But I quickly found another willing traveling and skiing companion -- my 5-year-old daughter, Eve. Skipping a couple of days of kindergarten was no problem. And my wife didn't know whether to laugh or cry at her sudden freedom.
Aside from stolen afternoons and one night together in a tent in our back yard, Eve and I hadn't spent much time together, just the two of us, since the birth of her sister almost two years earlier. Just having time alone with her has always been gratifying.
Traveling alone with a 5-year-old could present problems, I knew. It certainly wouldn't be the same vacation I had planned. But I hoped that a father-daughter ski trip -- our own little adventure, doing something we both loved in a faraway place -- would be a positive experience for both of us.
You don't have to be Dr. Spock to know that it's best to plan travel around a child's schedule. Because I had already purchased my ticket, however, Eve and I were forced to take a late-afternoon flight, and we didn't arrive in Denver until 6 p.m. mountain time -- bedtime on Eve's clock. Then we managed to miss the airport shuttle bus to Copper, 75 miles away. But Eve was a trouper throughout these delays, running with luggage carts and anxiously waiting for the next stage in her adventure to begin.
When I was learning to ski 25 years ago, the sight of a 4- or 5-year-old on the slopes was something to marvel at. Today, these little demons, schussing their way along beginner and intermediate runs, are ubiquitous.
Copper, like most resorts, has full-day ski programs for kids aged 4 to 6 and 7 through 12. Within each grouping, classes are divided by age and ability. The "Mitey Mite" rope tow is just a few steps away from the indoor facilities, where pre- and post-lesson games are played and lunch is taken. Eve, for whom a chairlift ride is no longer a source of excitement, raved about her warmup rides up the rope tow.
Kids are initially divided according to their abilities as described by parents upon arrival at the ski school, and then once again after a more objective slope-side appraisal by ski instructors. Eve does a mean snowplow and wedge turn, so she was placed in a class that skied on the beginner trails near the Union Creek chairlifts.
Although she's been skiing since age 3, Eve still insists on negotiating each step of the entire process -- from choosing her attire to the length of her stay in ski school. For me this was the most frustrating part of our trip -- all the more so because I was alone, and obviously overmatched by my daughter's bargaining skills. Eve knew that, in the end, I'd promise almost anything to get her out of the condo and into class by 9 a.m. -- a different hat or pair of gloves, one less sweater, a few chocolate kisses for snacking on the slopes.
While this haggling is typical of young kids (isn't it?), parents shouldn't underestimate the trauma when introducing them to a new ski school. We drag our kids away from a familiar and reassuring home setting and drop them on frigid, wintry days into an entirely new social situation, with new kids and teachers -- and expect them to have fun. That most of them do is a testament to the care provided by dedicated staff, and the sheer pleasure of the sport itself.
After we checked in at the ski school and labeled Eve's ski accessories, an instructor swooped her into the playroom and invited her to join in a pre-ski game of bowling. Eve lingered, tugging meekly at my arm. Would I come back to have lunch with her at the ski school? I jumped at the invitation.
After spending the morning on the slopes, I arrived back at the ski school before the noon break and was directed to a shuttle bus stop 50 yards away. Soon a bus pulled up, and out spilled Eve's class, trying their best to keep skis from tumbling out of control.
At Copper Mountain, there is no easy access from the main base area to the beginner trails used by the ski school for skiers of Eve's ability. This was a source of complaint by Eve, who along with her classmates had to drag her ski equipment to and from the shuttle on both ends of the short bus ride.
Aside from this inconvenience, ski school proved both fun and instructive. Because we were skiing during the low season, class sizes were small and lift lines nonexistent. Today, almost one year later, Eve remembers her ski instructor Nancy and the wedge turns they practiced over and over as the class snaked its way down Roundabout, Fairway and Prospector.
Eve and I stayed in a one-bedroom loft condominium a five-minute walk from the base lodge. We proved to be great roommates, my daughter and I. I never did see the loft bedroom because Eve insisted that we share the living room's Murphy bed, within easy reach of the television and the refrigerator.
Apres-ski consisted of some great television oldies on Nickelodeon, followed by an early dinner prepared with Eve, and lots of ice cream. In the evenings we'd read stories by the fire, or Eve would color while I sneaked a glance at CNN. On our second night, Eve buried herself in my arms and watched a "Bewitched" rerun for a while before nodding off to sleep. I never enjoyed Darrin and Samantha more than I did that night.
We also spent some time in the lodge's hot tub, the biggest one I've ever seen -- more like a small swimming pool. Eve is usually not permitted to use such facilities, but there was no swimming pool, the water wasn't too hot, and we were, after all, on vacation... .
And a wonderful vacation it was. We soon settled into a routine. In the mornings Eve would go to ski school and I would ski alone or with one of Copper's hospitality guides. Afternoons we'd ski together, riding the American Flyer, one of two fast chairlifts at the center base area -- or, when Eve was feeling less adventurous, skiing over to the Union Creek lifts.
As we skied together, I found myself admonishing Eve to stay with her wedge, slow down and turn. Then it dawned on me that she wasn't so much forgetting to turn as she was unconvinced of its value. Who was I to spoil her fun? We played games as we skied, spreading out our arms like airplanes, doing figure eights and running mock (at least on my part) races. On the flats, Eve liked for me to slow down so that she could coast under my legs. Most of these contests kept her speed under control and maximized her turning. But she was having so much fun that she didn't realize this.
And so was I. It wasn't the kind of excitement I've experienced looking down from a 12,000-foot summit into a bowl of virgin powder, or cruising through the bumps after a heavy snowfall. But skiing with my daughter, and enjoying the satisfaction of her unfettered playfulness and glee on the slopes, has won a singular place in my ski heaven. Ski school classes at Copper Mountain (P.O. Box 3001, Copper Mountain, Colo. 80443, 303-968-2882 or 800-458-8386) are conducted twice daily in three-hour sessions. Single sessions are $35, less if attending more than one session. A three-day child's package, including ski school, lift tickets and lunch, costs $129. Children age 12 and under stay free in their parents' room and ski free during the low season (through Feb. 14 and April 5 through April 26, closing day). Geoffrey Aronson is a freelance writer in Takoma Park.