My wife turned fifty last week. Her dream present was a family ski trip to Colorado. I’m not Jewish, but a two-letter word immediately came to mind when she first laid this idea on me a few months ago:


Why? Because I’m not big on skiing. For one, I’m terrible at it. My skis are always way too far apart. Friends and loved ones have said I look like a drunken sailor as I plod my way down the mountain. Worst of all, I always feel like I’m two seconds away from tearing my ACL.

But fifty is a big birthday so I sucked it up and off my wife, three kids, my daughter’s friend and I flew to Denver. A huge plus was we got to spend the week with my best friend from college at his beautiful town house in Winter Park. Major bonus there.

So, what mindfulness challenges arose? Where to begin…

Adventures in ski rentals

Since I led with the skiing, let’s start with that. First up was getting the kids going with ski school. That meant getting up at the crack of dawn in order to get all the rental equipment set.

A quick digression here about an aggravating factor in all this — altitude. We went from sea level (literally, we live a few miles from the ocean) to 8,500 feet in a few hours. I drank tons of water so as not to get dehydrated, but I still got PHS (Pounding Head Syndrome — yes, I made that up) and HPD (Huff and Puff Disease), where I breathe heavily after taking three or more steps. Bottom line is that I’m dealing with all this kiddie rental rigmarole while my entire respiratory system is on strike.

Ski boots from hell

Here’s just one vignette. My six-year-old gets her ski boots on and immediately claims they’re too tight. They hurt. She starts bawling her eyes out so, in order to get her to the ski school area, you-know-who picks her up and carries her the 150 yards so she doesn’t have to walk in the boots. This of course throws my PHS and HPD into overdrive. Needless to say, Daddy was not a happy camper.

Once there, an instructor checks out her boots and says they’re new and that’s why they’re so tight. Sooooo…I pick her up again and walk back to the boot guy who gives me a sheepish “Oops,” then sets her up with a pair of old, comfy boots.

How I managed it

What was my mindful strategy for dealing with this mental and physical challenge? I did my best to stay in each moment and not allow thoughts of “Oh, great, this is what this whole trip is going to be like. One long torture session…”

Nope. Just each moment. Sure, lots of those moments were uncomfortable, but that’s life. It happens. The key is to accept those moments and not allow them to metastasize into a sob story.

With Boot-gate resolved, my wife and I rented our gear and headed for the gondola. After a few hours of skiing with my Princeton pal Danny, he left and my wife and I grabbed some lunch and a beer.

Then it started snowing. Heavily. We thought Winter Park would shut everything down, but they didn’t. It’s 2:15 and ski school ends at three so my wife says, “Let’s go for a few more runs! It’ll be fun!” NOT!

So we take the gondola up and have a nice ski down…to a trail ending in a chairlift. We missed a turn that would get us to the bottom, our guide Danny no longer able to lead the way for us.

The chairlift to outer space

We had no choice but to take the chairlift up…up…and into the stratosphere. Which would be great if it were sunny and 40. But it was snowing and colder than a witch’s you-know-what.

Mind you, it was getting later in the ski day and because of the weather, the slopes were pretty barren. So not only were we freezing on our interminable lift to the North Pole, but once we got there, we weren’t confident in our ability to find our way to the bottom. So all the way up we battled with the two big F’s: freezing and fear. Not a fun combo.

What did I do? I stayed with my breath as best I could. And, like before, tried to stay in the moment. One moment of cold is totally bearable.

What’s much harder is when we allow our minds to take over and say, “Holy crap, I’m freezing! And this lift ride is going to take forever. I’m going to freeze to death!” No. Just one moment of cold. Then the next moment of cold. Then the next…

We finally did make it to the top and a nice couple gave us good directions to make it down.

3 quick kvetches

I could write 3,000 words on all this so I’ll gloss over 1) how impossible it is to take off ski boots (I’m a decent athlete in good shape and I swear it took every ounce of energy I had to pull them off…literally); 2) how expensive skiing is ($239 for a lift ticket? Really?); and 3) our takeout Indian food order that, upon our arrival, we were told would be 25 minutes later than they initially told us, which we finally got and took home…only to find out they’d given us the wrong order, so back we went.

Again, breathe… Don’t let the ego go to, “Just my luck. I’m hungry as hell. My head is pounding and the idiot gives us the wrong order! What else could go wrong?”

No. Just stay in the moment. Each moment isn’t so bad. Breathe…

Abused by my kids

Let’s move on to the parental abuse I suffered at the hands of my kids on the trip. First up, my precious, adorable six-year-old. She didn’t love the skiing so the two of us went tubing on day two. I held her as we flew down the hill at what seemed like 120 MPH. It was beautiful and we both had fun.

We then headed down to a café where we had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Tons of whipped cream, the whole deal. Everything was perfect until…

She asks if we can play “I spy with my little eye…,” a game where you look around, find something of a certain color, then ask if the person can guess what it is. Here’s how it went:

Me: “I spy with my little eye something pink.”

Violet: “My ski jacket?”

Me: “Yes!”

Violet: “I spy with my little eye…something yellow.”

Me: “Hmm…I don’t know. What is it?”

Violet: “Your teeth!”

Me: Stunned silence as my soul struggles to breathe, like a smallmouth bass flopping on the dock…

We have a great time tubing then the best cup of hot chocolate she’s ever had and that’s what I get. Brutal, right?

Later that night my 12-year-old daughter entered the Who Can Be Meanest To Dad Sweepstakes. She’s watching The Hunger Games moviewith her friend as I enter the room with two glasses of water that they requested. After receiving said liquid, my daughter looks at me and, apropos of nothing and out of the blue she says,

“Dad, are you pregnant?”

Both girls giggle uncontrollably. My response echoed Marlon Brando’s final words at the end of Apocalypse Now,

“The horror. The horror.”

While I do have the makings of a Milwaukee Tumor, what we native Wisconsinites call the unofficial medical condition of a man with a bulging belly (it’s the beer capital of America, mind you), it’s not massive. Truth be told, I could stand to lose fifteen in my midsection, but that’s for a different article.

I’m sure my son slammed me too, but I’d rather not comb the recesses of my traumatized memory bank any further.

Snowshoeing in the woods

On the bright side, we did do something really cool: Danny, Steph and I went snowshoeing in the middle of the woods. I loved it.

This is where I put my mindfulness muscles to work to enhance a positive experience. Instead of constantly stopping and commenting and conceptualizing on how cool the whole thing was, I drank it in. The peace. The beauty. The quiet.

I’ll wrap this up by copping to the fact that I’m sure I come off as a whiny a-hole in this piece. After all, I spent a week with my family in one of the best places in the world to ski. And stayed at a beautiful house with a fantastic human being who’s been a steadfast friend since 1982.

I’ll confess that part of it comes from the most important writing tip I learned in my 18 years in Hollywood: Without conflict, a story will bore audiences to death. In other words, there’d be no story if I related how everything came up roses on the trip.

On the other hand, it is true that I physically felt not-so-great all week because of the altitude and that I truly am not a fan of skiing. And also that my mindfulness came in handy on multiple occasions.

The takeaway

What to take away? First, that mindfulness, the ability to remain anchored in the present moment, helps in all manner of life experiences. From trying to remove impossible-to-remove ski boots and freezing on a chair lift headed to outer space, to dealing with your boyfriend breaking up with you. Do your best to remain present, whatever the situation.

Second, unless you’ve got skin as thick as a rhinoceros, never play “I spy with my little eye” with a six year old. At least not this one…

Violet Sue Gerken — Photo by Dad