It’s the middle of February during a banner ski year, and my teenage son, Scout, and I are climbing a hill at Eldora Nordic Center. Scout’s far ahead of me, as usual, but I notice when he stops abruptly. Another skier is approaching from the opposite direction—and I wait for it to begin. When the lanky skier in a Birkebeiner jacket reaches my 17-year-old, Scout waves, flashes a smile, and practically shouts at the man, “What a day, huh?!” And “What about this snow?” And, “How’s your wax?”
Scout’s yellow-lab-esque exuberance on the trails is just the tiniest bit like fingernails on an ice-covered windshield to my senses, probably because I’m more of an extroverted introvert. I know it well because I’ve lived with it for several seasons. The unbridled enthusiasm wasn’t always there, though, because Scout didn’t always love Nordic skiing. When he was younger, I’d often lure him with promises of Sour Patch Kids if he could just…keep…moving. But even then, he’d ski a few strides, stop, and stare into space. Despite his reluctance, I kept taking him out because I love XC deeply and because I believed one day Scout would love it with me.
And, eventually, he did. Scout fell hard and fast for kicking and gliding when, as a high school freshman, he realized his newfound aptitude for cross-country running might translate to XC skiing. We started going out together, and soon, something happened: Scout would power himself over the hills of white and wax poetic about the monasterylike quiet of the trails. A cardio junkie, he also loved how a Nordic ski session had the ability to give him “an even better runner’s high.”
As a parent, I was experiencing a different kind of high. The benefit of Scout’s teenage-onset obsession with my favorite winter sport was that it brought us together for extended periods of time in some of Colorado’s most majestic and remote (read: cell-service-less) places. There was no texting. No Instagram. No distractions. It was just us. And I loved it.
The nature of our ski dates has varied over time. Sometimes we do fitness intervals; sometimes we ski in silence. My favorite—and his, I think—is when we ski slow enough to chat. It’s one of the great benefits of XC over alpine. You can actually enjoy your company and the activity simultaneously. Scout talks about his life, telling me long stories about a girl he likes or an essay he’s writing in school. Because he’s sweet enough to ask, I tell him long, dramatic stories about a publication that won’t pay me or a story I want to pursue.
Before we know it, we’ve skied for two hours. We’ve worked our bodies and cleared our minds. Best of all, we’ve done it together—me and my teenage son, whose exuberance, now that I think about it, might actually be his best quality.