Despite his mustache, I SKI sunglasses, and wind shirt, and even though he owned one of the first Subarus in a town full of Camaros, my dad was never much of a skier. A second-generation Italian American from Quincy, Massachusetts, Pete Peruzzi ("Peatah" to the micks) played high school sports as a youth and helped out around the lot where my grandfather cut gravestones. An outdoorsman he was not. He took up skiing because my Irish mother was a skier. Somehow he kept the ruse alive for 20 years.
We skied Black Mountain, New Hampshire, a mom-and-pop hill with a spider's web of whoop-de-do trails in the trees to keep the kids busy. It was here that my dad gave me the only piece of outdoor survival advice he would ever proffer. "If you get lost," he said, "never take your skis off—you'll sink in the snow and freeze to death."
At seven years old, I was the youngest boy in a group that today would be mainlined with Ritalin. We held mock machine-gun battles at full speed in the woods. On this day, though, I was skiing with my father. When I saw the older kids cut into the forest ahead, I pleaded with him to let me go. He acquiesced, wanting nothing to do with the luge track through the low branches. I promised I would reconnect with him down the trail.
Except I didn't. The kids had gapped me. Moving fast, I took a hard left, dropped over a gentle ridgeline, and entered another world. Within a few minutes, I was a mile or more away from the ski area. Then I stopped gliding.
For the first time in my life, I went for a backcountry tour. Across the fields, into the woods, following a contour line in the direction of the ski area. Onward I plodded until I came across a brook, water bubbling under and over the jumbled ice. I almost made it across, but the opposite bank threw me back. My skis broke through into the stream. I thought about releasing them, but if I took my skis off I'd be a goner. My father had said so. I began to scream. The story ends with a patroller hearing my cries and rescuing me. My mother, needless to say, was wicked pissed.
Now I find myself teaching my kids to be safe in the mountains. At ages seven and nine, Ada and Jake know they can sideslip any steeps. They execute workable ski-pole self-arrests on ice. They partner up in the trees and stay clear of tree wells. I've even given them the "keep your skis on" talk. "But if you get stuck," I tell them, "don't just sit there and freeze to death. Click out of your bindings and get moving." That, and I've clipped rescue whistles to their coats.
Funny thing is, although my dad's survival advice may have been half- baked, maybe he was speaking in metaphor. As it turns out, I've kept my skis on my entire life. Thanks, Peatah.
Marc Peruzzi is the editorial director of Mountain magazine.