This essay was originally published in the Travel section of Moms Don’t Have Time To as “The Value of a Grown-Up Gap Year.”
I was skiing my way onto a chairlift at the Crested Butte ski resort in Colorado when a fellow masked and ‘single’ rider asked if he could join me. After unloading, we sped down to the bottom and ended up riding together a few more times, both appreciating the friendly conversations that chairlifts bring about and the beautiful outdoors. He was also from ‘back East’ (an expression that always struck me as funny, implying it’s where we all began, or maybe it’s where we’ve all left behind), and he and his wife had just moved to town permanently. He must have heard the envy in my reaction and sensed a kindred spirit because as parted ways he handed me what looked like a business card. Instead of having a profession listed below the name and contact information, however, it read “Certified Ski Bum.”
I’m not printing new business cards just yet, but I’ve certainly been test-driving the lifestyle. This winter, with our kids all out of the nest, parents are gone and no longer in need of care, and the good fortune of being able to work virtually, we decided to make the most of our newfound flexibility. On January 2, we loaded the car to make a pilgrimage west.
There’s something about going “out West” that signals expansiveness in our collective cultural myth, but life on the road in winter 2021 was also filled with moments of smallness. My husband did his conference calls from the car, hotels, and Airbnbs and I revised my novel-in-progress and did a lot of reading. We lived out of suitcases and crafted each rented landing pad into a well-sealed bubble. I credit the early quarantine “turtle life” for having me well-prepared. My daily routine had become so ingrained, I carried it like a shell on my back. Emotionally, home was wherever John and I were together. We carried with us the essentials, which included our two dogs, favorite foods, a nutra-bullet smoothie blender, yoga mat and roller, my journal, my laptop loaded with content, iphone, kindle, a bazillion forms of chargers, and a smattering of paperbacks.
Moms might not have time to travel but sometimes you get a chance to try out wild ideas on the back end.
Based on the number of ski racks, out-of-state license plates, and Sprinter Vans we encountered on the road, it was clear lots of folks were doing the same thing we were this winter. The relatively new phenomenon of multi-mountain ski passes added to the boom. (Are you IKON or are you EPIC? Sort of like did you get Pfizer or Moderna?) In Utah, another chairlift conversation had a new friend explaining he’d been a ski bum “back when it was a thing.” He meant, of course, in his twenties, the kind of time we’d now refer to as a ‘gap-year’ — except back then we hadn’t yet coined that forgiving term. No, back then it was a defiant and rebellious thing to do.
A gap year was the last thing John and I would have chosen at that age, a wild idea. You see, we were serious, extremely careful, so intent on our futures: analyst training programs, business school, working around the clock, marrying young, buying a house, taking on a mortgage, saving, having three kids in four years. Life was like a race to the finish line: our futures were the prize and we were determined to get there first.
When we finally relaxed about our own futures, it was time to worry about our children’s.
Our road trip this winter got me thinking a lot about what constitutes a misspent youth. Whereas I used to think…