The Pandemic Changed How I Approach Ski Trips
With far-flung travel off the table, I learned how to enjoy the meandering flexibility of a road trip
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On the southern edge of Packwood, Washington, past where the suburbs slip into the foothills of the Cascades, my partner, T, spotted a string of fairy lights faint on the horizon. “You want to stop for a beer?” he asked. “It’s not like we’re in a rush.” He was right. We were on a ski road-trip loop from Seattle with a week to burn and no plan other than a list of resorts to check out. I finished the slice of takeout pizza growing cold in my hand as he pulled the van up to Packwood Brewing Company.
In the morning we would wake up in the parking lot of White Pass, a mountain we’d be exploring for the first time. But for now, we grabbed pints and headed toward the fireplace, where we sat, sipped our drinks, paged through books, and planned our day.
Sometimes, in the scramble of tracking storms, finding lodging, and coordinating schedules, I forget that skiing can be the least remarkable element of a ski trip. Often, the parts I remember aren’t the floaty first tracks or the rail-to-rail groomer arcs. They’re the moments in between: goofy lift-ride sing-alongs, après conversations with strangers who become friends, beers and books on the back porch of a backwoods brewery. They’re the things I would have missed if we had rushed along—if we hadn’t pulled over.
I am not inherently good at slowing down or diverting from the plan. I often speed through towns and lift lines. Last winter changed that. Amid fear and heartbreak, COVID-19 slammed the brakes on so many kinds of forward motion. In my life, there were no flights to foreign powder-chasing adventures, no meetups with friends in the Wasatch or the Wallowas. Instead, T and I brainstormed smaller, closer plans. We hit the road in our van.
From our house in Seattle, we’d drive toward the Cascades or into the Olympics with a loose agenda for the weekend. The day after Christmas, we wound through the burn scar of the Beachie Creek fire to the Hoodoo ski area and finished the day in Sisters, Oregon, at Boone Dog Pizza with the best food-truck slice of my life. In February, I watched a friend’s toddler figure out French fries. I found a new favorite parking-lot shower facility (Mount Bachelor) and a preferred place to dip in the Deschutes River down the hill from those showers. Time expanded as the miles slowed down. I took in more—things I might never have experienced if I hadn’t given in to the baggy timeline of a road trip.
Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I am tentatively planning bigger ski trips for the coming winter. Yes, I’m excited about heading to the spiny mountains of western Canada. But I’m also thinking about the hot springs, tiny towns, and secret stashes I’ve yet to discover along the way.