Ode to Spirit Mountain

Standing at the top I see the river in the distance far below
In between this mountainside is covered in a heavy coat of snow
My poles are in my hands and my favorite purple skis are on my feet
My mouth begins to water like it’s waiting for the taste of something sweet
Slipping from the edge I feel a smile slowly slide across my face
‘Cause skiing down this mountain is the closest that I’ll ever come to grace

I wrote this little ditty years ago after a day of skiing at Spirit Mountain.

I moved to Duluth in the fall of 1974 — the same year Spirit Mountain opened. I didn’t get up there that first season. I didn’t know how to ski. But the second season, having put in enough time at my job to qualify for a weeks’ vacation, I decided to use it to learn how. Must have been late January of 1976 before I got up there. Using rental equipment, and stubbornly refusing to take a lesson, I attempted the beginner hill, falling and rising again, time after time. And day after day. I think it was the third day, when I had finally gained enough skill to do some primitive parallel turns, and the snow was fresh and soft, that I had what I call my “Yahoo Moment”: when you let yourself go, and gravity takes you, and you experience the shear exhilaration that downhill skiing can bring. And I was hooked.

Since then, that’s what my winters in Duluth have been about: skiing at Spirit Mountain. The rentals quickly gave way to buying my own used equipment. I struggled through tough economic times, when my income barely covered basic living expenses, by selling blood plasma twice a week in order to buy that lift ticket. I remember what a milestone it was when I was finally able to afford a season pass.

When I met the woman who became my wife, for our first Christmas together, I bought her her own set of skis, telling her simply, if you want to see me in the winter, you’re going to have to ski. And she did. And when our daughter came along, we had her on skis almost as soon as she could walk. Throughout her growing up years, that’s how we spent our Sundays. To the point where I remember her asking, “Dad, do we have to go skiing every Sunday?” I looked at her incredulously. I couldn’t imagine anything one would rather do.

Spirit Mountain wasn’t the only place we skied. We hit other hills around the Midwest: Lutsen, of course, and Giants Ridge, and a number of hills in the U.P. And later we went on a couple of the Ski Hut sponsored trips to Bozeman, Mont. We even made one unforgettable trip to Innsbruck, Austria.

It was my daughter’s boyfriend, now turned husband, who first brought us out to Colorado. He’s a snowboarder, so it’s a bit of a mixed marriage, but I’ll give him this: He proposed to her at the top of a ski lift in Breckenridge.

All the ski trips we took were just that: trips, adventures, explorations. Trying new places, testing our abilities. Spirit Mountain was — and is — our home hill. Where we know the slopes, know the people, build up our legs and work on our skills so we can tackle the next adventure — or not.

Our daughter no longer lives in Duluth, though she’s not too far away. And we recently learned that she is expecting a baby. Our first grandchild, a boy, due in August. So I have a new goal in life: to live long enough, and keep my health good enough, to bring this boy to Spirit Mountain, put him on skis. Or even a snowboard, I’d accept that. And maybe, someday, when I’m with him, he will have his own “Yahoo Moment.”

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