“Skihab”

 The holidays are about tradition…and exhaustion.

There’s the tree decorating, the cookie making, the constant eating, the family gathering, the present opening, the merry making.  By the time we work through all of this, I am always wiped out.

Hence, it is time for some holiday rehab…or should I say, skihab.

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This is our 10th year coming to Jackson Hole after Christmas to ski with four other families.  We are nineteen people strong, an extended family of friends.  Our children have literally grown up on this mountain, starting as toddlers who could barely keep their balance on the magic carpet and maturing into near-expert skiers who tackle the harrowing Headwall and steep chutes with agility and control.

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 It occurs to me that we have created traditions in Wyoming that are intrinsic to our holiday experience and are as important as those established in our individual homes.

First would be the group portrait seen above.  Nothing marks time better than these snapshots.  The kids used to stand in the front row in their onesie snowsuits with the adults towering over them.  Now the teenagers are taller than most of the adults, and we all must vie for space in the crowd.  I barely snuck in this year, sandwiched between my same-size daughters.

We are always at least “one man down”.  Every year an adult takes the hit for the team and gets injured.   There have been fractured shins, blown out knees, and hyper-extended muscles of all varieties.  My favorite “injury” was the hangover-induced dehydration that warranted a mid-mountain rescue via sled.  This year, Jeff took the hit on his first run on the first day and is now hobbling on a hyper-extended calf.  Is it any wonder that I “retired” years ago (though one could argue I never really started).

As usual, lot of tradition centers on food.  There is the Chicken and Dumpling Night when Miss Dana cooks up her specialty for the gang.  The kids all pile in around a big table and gobble up their hearty soup, leaving room for the banana pudding that always follows.  There is the group dinner at 3 Creek Ranch where the kids eat at an adjacent table and are always ready to leave just as the adults are served their first course.  The picture in front of the Christmas tree is always part of the deal.

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There is the annual adult dinner out in town.  This used to include over eating and over drinking followed by late night antics at the Cowboy Bar, playing pool and two-stepping with local cowboys.  Now, some diets are gluten-free and most evenings are antic-free.  Each morning used to be an assembly line of short-order cooks frying up the bacon or sausage, the eggs, and the pancakes.  Now we start the day in front of the blender whirring up a concoction of spinach + berries + lemon that our California friends insist is “liquid gold”.

I prefer the gold liquids that flow après ski.  When retiring mid-day, there is cheese fondue and tall lagers at the Alpenhof and heated slippers and robust red wines at the Four Seasons.  After the lifts close, there is beer to drink with the ski instructors at the Alpenhof Bar, bands to listen to at the Mangy Moose, and a packed dance floor at the Stagecoach’s Disco Night .  Before we know it, our children will be old enough to attend these festivities with (or most likely) without us.

The kids love the annual trek into town at the end of the day to go tubing at Snow King.  Despite freezing temperatures, the kids huddle together in giant inner tubes and bounce their way down the icy hill. Their reward is a visit to the Tshirt shop to buy matching JH logo gear and then to the Yippee-Yi-Yo candy store to stock up on treats of all varieties.  Back when they were little, Starburst and M&Ms were the only currency we could use to successfully bribe them to get up and ski.  Now, they get themselves outfitted and head out the door early to catch the first tram.  Cell phones, not candy, fill their pockets.

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There is the annual wildlife sighting.  Moose, foxes, and coyotes have crossed our paths through the years.  This year, Bob skied around a moose who was taking a stroll across the slopes, and I encountered a baby moose nestled in the woods along the Snake River and one lone moose galloping across an snow covered pasture.  We also watched two dogs playfully tackle a mangy coyote who was loping along a neighborhood road.  These sightings are reminders that we are mere visitors, sharing the beautiful landscape with its true wild inhabitants.

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After all this, we end by ringing in the new year together.  I can’t think of a better way to kick off a year than surrounded by great friends and family.

Like any good rehabilitation program, skihab leaves us all well rested and invigorated.

And as with all traditions, the place is valuable, but the people are priceless.

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