What I’ve learned from skiing with my 60 year old shredding dad

Kate and her Dad making memories in Wyoming.

The earliest memory I have of skiing with my father is a vivid one. It was late afternoon at Charlotte Pass Snow Resort; a small, family-friendly resort in the New South Wales ski fields. The groomers were hardening as long shadows began to grow over the hill.

And I, a gangly 12 year old wobbling over my skis like a baby giraffe learning to walk, was getting up from yet another bruising fall on the ice. Day one on skis: energy stores were low. My first trantrum was brewing.

I was about to erupt when I looked up and saw two dazzling green lights bopping down the hill towards me. They became larger – green beacons flexing and extending side to side in the strangest motion.

Soon enough they bounced to an abrupt halt in front of me, a spray of snow pattering my lower legs, and a voice that was audibly grinning called out, “How’s it going?”

It was my Dad, and the beacons were the legs of his fluorescent lime ski pants powerfully carving a path through the moguls underneath Charlotte Pass chairlift. I stood agape. What was that?

Whatever that smooth, electrifying motion was, I needed to learn how to do it. Just maybe without the embarrassing 70s-style pants.

Fast-forward 16 years and I’m standing at the bottom of a gnarly, almost vertical run at Jackson Hole ski resort, watching a very similar scene unfold.

It’s 2020 and Dad has finally traded in the iconic lime greens (thank God!) for some blue Spyder pants and an orange jacket that actually – I hate to admit – look kind of cool. He’s just one month out from his 60th birthday, but I’m watching him dance through the moguls like a fit 21-year-old.

“Hey, your Dad can ski!” says Paul Boillot, a level three instructor at Jackson Hole who is showing us around the mountain for a day.

Damn right he can.

My Dad, Mum, my brother, boyfriend, two family friends and I lugged multiple pairs of skis, boards and boots across the Pacific to celebrate Dad’s milestone this year – his 60th birthday. We decided to party by skiing a few iconic North American resorts that have captured Dad’s imagination since the days of the lime green ski pants.

Jackson Hole is one of those places – a resort that holds mystique for many Australian skiers and particularly for Dad. For years he watched friends and his retired parents ski Jackson Hole’s famous ‘steep and deep’ terrain while he was busy raising three children.

Dad forewent many ski seasons to push prams through the park and, at the same time, build his own small business as an architect in Bowral in the Southern Highlands.

It’s an expensive thing to take three kids skiing in Australia when you run a small business in a country town. But finally, when I turned 12, Dad convinced Mum (also a skier, but not as mad for speed or moguls) to take my brother, sister and I to Charlotte’s Pass for three days.

We ate home brand cornflakes and rationed one-ply toilet paper to save for the trip.

Dad kept himself to a strict allowance of $20 per week to spend on ‘incidentals’ (mostly, treats for us kids at petrol stations after Saturday sport). He put in long hours at his office in the weeks leading up to our first ski holiday in the knowledge no one was paying him annual leave while he skied. But he made it work.

Kate and her Dad, Jim. 1994.

“If you work your whole life, you’ll be the richest woman in the cemetery!” Dad grinned at me as he packed his father’s (my grandfather’s) hand-me-down lime green pants into a suitcase.

Sure enough, my siblings and I immediately caught the ski bug Dad had been itching to pass on for all those years. After three days in Charlotte Pass – during which Dad showed me how to turn my skis from a pizza shape into train tracks in what was then called a ‘stem christie’ turn – we were hooked. None of us has missed a season since.

My sister, Steph, has gone on to work in the media team for Perisher resort. Tim, my brother, began a lifetime of ski odysseys around the world between contracts as a locum doctor around Australia. And I started travelling and writing ski and snow articles as part of my journalism career.

Dad, meanwhile, made his own dreams come true when he put his own architect career on hold, this time for eight weeks, to train as a ski instructor in Canada in 2016.

He passed the level two CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance) course in Big White, British Columbia. He returned to Australia to take up a position as a casual ski instructor at Perisher during Australian winters and now works there for at least two weeks every July.

His architect’s office doors stay closed; with a proverbial sign up that says, ‘Gone skiing’.

Anyone who has worked as a ski instructor, or started a small business, or spent all their savings on a ski holiday, knows you don’t do it for the money. Dad certainly won’t be the richest man in the cemetery.

But as I watch him burning down a double-black diamond run in Jackson Hole with an empty savings account, my heart is full.

He is the richest 60-year-old I know.

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Kate Allman is a Sydney-based journalist who writes for a range of ski and travel publications including news.com.au, Escape and the Law Society of NSW's LSJ magazine. She has skied around the world in Japan, the US and Canada and calls Perisher resort her home slope (for now). She is also currently accepting donations to her yet-to-be-realised heli-skiing dream trip. Be generous.