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Chairlift: Don’t come this way

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | February 14, 2024 1:00 AM

Dad started smoking when he was 12 years old. Lucky Strike was his brand and the package, a white rectangle with a red circle, was ever-present while I was growing up. 

Each one of his eight children, at one time or another, asked him to stop. They knew the dangers of cigarette smoke and implored him to quit, to no avail. 

Turns out, what he needed was a ski trip. 

My parents, inspired by a ski trip my sister and her husband had taken, went skiing in Canada when Dad was about 50 years old. It was his first ski trip and thereafter, he was hooked on skiing. 

On that trip, Dad determined that he did not want to smoke on the chairlift so he quit smoking. Just like that.

He continued to ski another 30 years and share his enthusiasm for the sport with his kids and grandkids.

Was it the feeling of riding on a chairlift that caused the shift? Was it the freedom and fresh air afforded by downhill skiing that flipped a switch? Did he find in skiing a love greater than what he once felt for that red and white package? We’ll never know.

For me, a chairlift ride makes everyday cares drift away. It provides space and time to consider only what run to take next. It’s a relief to have nothing in mind, other than the next trip down the mountain.

On one of our family trips to the Big Mountain, sometime in the 1990s, Dad and I were skiing together at the end of the day, trying to find our ski-in, ski-out condo, the Kandahar Lodge. We’d traveled skier’s right as far as we could, but the way was not evident.

A cat track to our left looked promising, so I went to reconnoiter the option, leaving Dad at the junction of the trails. After skiing down the corduroy for about 80 yards or so, I realized I was on a driveway of sorts that led to a garage for the grooming machines.

I turned and shouted uphill to Dad, “Nope! This isn’t right. I’ll be right there.”

He motioned that he couldn’t hear me. 

“It’s the wrong way! Stay there,” I shouted again, louder, but he still could not hear me.

“I can’t hear you, Jule,” he said as he started to ski toward me.

While I had been a bit concerned about a three-ton piece of equipment driving uphill on the narrow trail, I was more afraid of my dad skiing to me, only to find we’d have to sidestep up many yards, with legs weary from a full day on the slopes, to return to the original run.

“Don’t come this way!” I yelled in desperation, shaking my head theatrically left and right.

But he was already closing the gap and stopped by my side.

“Uh, this is the wrong way. We have to sidestep out,” I told him, shaking in my heavy Lange boots.

He handled the news with no sign of anger. It seemed he enjoyed the adventure and was just happy to be on skis. I was not only relieved at that moment, but I learned something about the transformative power of skiing.

We eventually found our way to the lodge and shared our story with the rest of the family, much to their amusement. Thereafter, the phrase, ‘Don’t come this way’ entered the book of family ski lore along with a dozen other favorites.