When I Grow Up

Mother's Day from the Mountains

“I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up,” my mom told me. At the time, she was in her 50s, and I was in college. I was baffled. Didn’t adults already know exactly what they wanted to do in life? Or better yet, didn’t they kind of have to at that point?

My mom and I are lucky to spend a lot of time in the mountains together. When I was in high school in Washington, we both learned to backcountry ski outside the resort boundaries of Crystal Mountain. We’d been alpine skiing as a family since I was a toddler, but I still remember the day we both discovered the magic of skiing untouched powder—after a short inbounds hike to Crystal’s Southback area—and how we immediately looked at each other and decided that we needed to do whatever it took to get more of that. 

Skiing together in the backcountry was a turning point for our relationship. Learning how to move through the mountains, discovering new terrain and sandbagging each other on ski tours (it always takes longer than we think it’s going to), we became more than a mother-daughter duo. We became partners in the mountains; her teaching me to pace myself, fuel properly, and never shy away from a challenge. For me, it was the first time I felt like I could give back and take care of her like she’d taken care of me all my life. 

We’ve logged a whole lot of deep powder days together, as well as full-on meltdowns, tantrums (me), bonks (also me), getting lost, bootpacking in the skintrack, and hiking on dirt in the rain with our skis on our backs (totally her fault). 

As I’ve navigated life’s twists and turns, I often think back on my mom’s statement about growing up. How we never really have to decide exactly what we’re going to be. Not because of a lack of commitment, but because we’re never too old to learn something new. We’re never too old to challenge ourselves. To go deeper into the mountains, to ski more, to never accept that something is out of reach. 

My mom is 60 now, and she’s training to be a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain. It’s a job she decided to embark upon just last year, in her retirement from her career in nonprofit farmland preservation. All of it is hard, the medical courses, the on-hill sled training. Skiing the worst conditions on the mountain to get the job done. Sometimes she calls me and wonders aloud if she can do it. I know she can, because to me she’s a superhero. But it’s not just my bias, or because everything comes easily to her. It’s because she knows how to put in the work to get to the finish line. 

For years I’ve gotten to watch her work through self-doubt, which mimics so much of my own apprehensions. Our processes have (unsurprisingly) become very similar: an initial large appetite for something hard, then the heavy weight of uncertainty, wondering if we should give up. I’ve felt that way myself countless times, whether it’s taking a big step in my career or skiing a line that scares me. But skiing with my mom has taught me to embrace a challenge. To throw myself into something I care about. To look at something big and decide: that’s what I’m going to do. 

And it’s not just the hard stuff she’s after. She’s taught me to prioritize fun. To say yes to a spontaneous ski day. To have the absolute best time flying down a snowy hill. To scream and shout from the depths of your soul. To jump (no matter how small) and get some air in the middle of your run. You’ll hear her before you see her, whoops and hollers echoing around the biggest valleys as she flies down the hill. 

We don’t get to ski together quite as much as we did when I was young, but when we do, it’s the best. I still don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up. But I do know that I’ll take every chance I can to ski with my mom. 

Editor’s note: Happy Mother’s Day to all the rad mamas out there. I hope you know how much you are loved. 


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