Despite its inevitability there is no way to prepare for losing your Dad. A week after Buck took his final run bombing down to the Squaw Valley locker room, however, it is not loss that overwhelms me. Rather, it is a sense of abundance and gratitude for all that he gave to me, much of it through his uncompromising love for the sport of skiing.
As the calls, emails and stories flowed in, Buck’s favorite sayings surfaced, but one in particular stood out: “All snow is good snow.” This assessment of any skiing conditions, while similar to “a bad day of skiing is better than a good day of work,” was initially geared for the younger set. My cousin pointed out his suspicion that the line was employed, if not invented, to squelch potential whining. This makes sense. As weekend warriors my Dad could not afford to have picky kids who saved their A Game for groomers and champagne powder.
So yes, it was about the snow. But that simple statement says much more. To be sure, in the moment it says, “suck it up,” …as in “we crammed six people into the station wagon for four hours, chained up over the pass, hauled all the gear through the parking lot and wrestled four sets of feet into unyielding plastic boots—we’re going to ski and we’re going to like it!” It has a deeper meaning as well though, a reminder to be grateful for every day and every run, for the privilege of being outside and doing this sport with these fabulously fun people. Deeper still, it says “I know you’re with me. You’re a true skier, you’re one of us.”
This last part becomes crystal clear when the skiing community rallies around a cause or an event or a compatriot. Real skiers are a unique breed, dedicated as much to the type of people who share their passion as to the sport itself. One friend said it all when remembering Buck: “He was a nut. And I mean that in the best way.” Skiing needs its nuts, its champions who elevate it to a near-religious pursuit, and pass that pursuit to the next generation with sufficient reverence.
Coincidentally, when Buck made his final run I was preparing a short talk about the real gifts of sport. Number one on that list was friendships. Buck’s love of skiing became ours, and the people we met along the way became not only friends but an entire community built around topography vs geography. When I first moved east New England seemed a world away from California, until I found my way to its mountains and “my people.” That didn’t mean Buck totally approved. He was quick to remind me that the first corollary to “all snow is good snow,” is, “but some snow is better than other snow.” Despite the dig, he insisted on hauling his skis with him whenever he came to visit.
Yesterday Buck would have turned 86. It occurred to me he went to extreme lengths to get his family together for the occasion. As the living room filled with stories and hugs, laughter and tears, I felt him there, smiling at the wondrous web this one nutty passion had created. It snowed hard at Squaw last night. It warmed up and blew like hell in the East. Some skiers were hooting it up in the powder and others donned rain gear and dodged wet piles of muck. East, west and everywhere in between the true skiers clicked into their skis with a familiar, comforting connection and smiled, knowing that it’s all good.