NASTAR Nationals – March 2017, on skis for 3 months.

23 days.

 

23 short little days.

 

What happens in 23 days?!

 

Snow-making at Loveland happens.

 

I catch myself laughing incredulously at the mere fact I know this, or have any emotions about it.  Never in a million years did I think I would give a single rat’s ass about when snow-making would begin, or hell, if it would begin at all. Now, it is my business to know; it is my job to tell my little ski-obsessed 5 year old how many more days he has to wait before he can do what he loves.

 

It is time to tell Drake’ story from my point of view.  

 

His story starts nearly 3 years ago. It was the 14-15 winter. One day out of the blue, he announces he wants to go skiing. Drake has always been precocious with his language. He could articulate things at a young age; him saying he wanted to do something was no surprise; for it to be skiing, however, was a shock. At that point in time, Drake didn’t watch T.V. and we didn’t hang with any skiers. As a matter of fact, skiing was NEVER mentioned in our house. I have no idea where he came up with the idea, and I am quite sure I laughed at him when he said it. We told him he would have to wait until he was older because ski schools started at 4 years old.

 

He never stopped asking.

 

This past summer (2016) he began asking again – earlier than normal. We decided we had no more excuses. Most ski schools would take him now – we had to buck up and take this kid skiing.

 

We did and our lives haven’t been the same since.

 

I did my research before I picked a resort. Dustin and I haven’t skied since our youth – that meant over 20 years ago for me! I didn’t enjoy skiing all those years ago. I was terrified to go again. I selected a small mountain with no crowds, Ski Cooper. In October, we rented gear from a local shop, Mountain Equipment Rentals (Loveland). I should have seen the sign of what was to come then.

Drake said as we left the shop, “I cannot wait to make my skis fly!”

Fast forward to December. Drake had his first lesson as a Panda Cub in mid-December. We took off for a few weeks and went back for the new year when he had his second lesson. During that lesson, he started working on parallel turns and was able to ride the lift; his instructor informed us he was beyond the bunny hill, adding, “don’t get too excited, but he is a good little skier.” I laughed not knowing what she could possibly mean by getting too excited…

First day, December 10.

First day

Jan 22nd during his lesson. Carving after a jump.

Jan 25. This was his favorite run for awhile because of all the jumps.

March 1st

 

We kept him lessons, enrolling him in a 5 week course. He was moved up to the older kids class during his first session. He skied with Coach Dan for 5 weeks and loved every minute of it. Coach Dan had them skiing bumps and doing jumps. He believed in those kids and let them choose what they wanted to do. Coach Dan was fantastic. It was Coach Dan who first told us we should consider GS for him; Dustin and I looked at each other – what the hell is GS?! Over the next few weeks, Coach Dan would mention racing to us at the end of every lesson; he wasn’t the only one. Many people approached us talking ski racing.

 

Drake heard Coach Dan. He told me, “I want to be a ski racer!”

 

To be honest, I was a little taken aback by people commenting on Drake’s ability and what we should do. I didn’t know how to navigate it; he was 4 years old for crying out loud! I reached out to a mom, the Brave Ski Mom, I had found through the Hike Like A Woman Podcast. She offered me a breath of fresh air and awesome advice.

 

I would need her advice two weeks later.

 

We arrive to Cooper one February morning, a race morning. We see the sign-ups. Drake knows what is going on. He asks to race. I called back to my advice from Kristen, let him run some NASTAR and see if he likes it. I listened. Damn you Ski Cooper for having an ATM! We withdrew some cash for registration and signed-up our little 4 year old to go down a race run….all by himself.

His first race, February 19.

 

Terror shook me to my core; however, I couldn’t let him glimpse it. I needed to keep the terror contained. After all, skiing didn’t terrify Drake. It terrified me. He is better than I. I simply needed to trust him.

Tears stung the corners of my eyes as I watched my little guy in his huge jacket and tiny skis line up at the Start House. In that moment, he looked so small, yet so grown up. A gentleman came up and said something to him. Drake smiled. I had no idea who that man was or what he said, but Drake seemed to like it.

 

That unknown man became a pretty big deal to my little guy.

 

Before this day, Drake had never skied around a gate. Coach Dan had tried in previous weeks to get the kids on the course, but was turned away. This was it.

 

Drake had no idea what he was doing.

 

We had no idea what he was doing.

 

All I could do was ski in the run next to him and hope for the best. The snow was falling at a rate that hindered my visibility. Thoughts of him falling and getting hurt, with no one to help him, consumed me. An eternity seemed to pass before I saw him in the clearing. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I cheered him on until the next opening.

 

He finished, unscathed.

 

We high-fived, celebrated, and offered encouraging words, although I am not sure he needed them. He was on cloud nine. We repeated the process for his second run.

After the race, we free-skied until the end of the day. We returned to the lodge to pack up to go home and someone told us, “you guys will want to come to the Awards Ceremony!”

At the awards ceremony, Drake won a silver medal.

 

He had done it. He had made his skis fly and became a ski racer.

 

He fell asleep smiling.

 

A ski racer

Assuming that would be the end of it, I breathed a sigh of relief. The season would soon be over and I wouldn’t have to stress about him flying down the mountain again. Well that assuming made an ass of me. Two weeks post-race I receive an email from NASTAR. Drake had qualified for Nationals.

Huh?!

I stared at my laptop in disbelief. There is a National Championship for this sort of thing?! How in the hell did Drake qualify? I immediately decided I wasn’t going to tell Drake or let him go, which completely contradicted my parenting style.

Needless to say, I wrestled with the decision. I KNEW I wasn’t doing the right thing. I asked friends I trusted and my step-dad what I should do. Of course the answer was, let Drake decide. After all, we let Drake decide on pretty much all the things.

 

I bet you can guess what Drake decided.

 

We were headed to Steamboat.

 

Steamboat deserves a post all its own. It was a whirlwind of a week. I wrecked the car. We couldn’t find a rental vehicle (Spring Break in CO…gotta love it). I worried Neva would hate the doggy day care. My mom arrived and struggled with the altitude. There was a snow storm.  Even now, with a quiet house, I can’t seem to recall the details of the NASTAR event; it still seems surreal. A week where I operated outside my body. A week that blasted the doors off my comfort zone.

Drake went into this Nationals event with zero race instruction, rented gear, and only 3 months on skis. What in the hell were we doing there?! Drake’s grandparents bought him a race lesson at Steamboat for some last minute instruction. Due to the slushy conditions, they couldn’t do any race training. It turned into a fun free-ski lesson, with Drake skiing with two other kiddos there for Nationals. Coach Moon, his instructor for the day, heaped the praise on Drake after class. He was blown away that Drake was 100% parallel; nary a pizza in sight. He was flabbergasted Drake had only been skiing for three months. Coach Moon wasn’t the first person to tell us we had a great little skier on our hands, but it seemed suddenly more real when he told us. This is the moment it began to sink in that this skiing thing might not go away anytime soon.  

At the Fuxi shop in Steamboat. Photo courtesy of Franz Fuchsberger.

 

Drake raced in the afternoon that first day. Conditions were like none he had ever seen…slush! With only skiing at natural snow resorts, he had only skied on fluffy powder or hard ice. Drake prefers ice to any other surface. The slush intimidated him. It got in his head. He was nervous. He skied slow, and careful. As a mom, I am tremendously proud of Drake’s ability to always ski safe. If he feels out of control, or feels he is too fast, he stops or slows down. He has been great about that from day one. Even though his times weren’t great that first day, I was proud he skied in a way that felt good to him. After all, he has years to throw caution to the wind.

 

While I was proud of him, Drake was not so proud of himself. He was down, low low down.

 

Remember that unknown man, well he turned out to be Franz Fuchsberger, or better known as Fuxi.

 

I am sure it was this weekend that Fuxi became Drake’s hero. He is Drake’s hero because his confidence in Drake never waivers. There is no negativity. He gives Drake wings. He introduces Drake as a future US Ski Team Member, or the boy that never pizzas. He puts flash into Drake’s life…and he made sure that Drake was riding high that next race morning.

Decked out in orange and blue, with confidence (and a race suit) fueled by Fuxi, Drake flew down the course. Given it was an early morning race, the snow was hard and fast, just the way Drake likes it. He had the fastest time that day, despite his short, rented skis. He came from the back of the pack and earned himself a silver medal.

NASTAR Nationals

NASTAR Nationals

Skiing seemed secondary during this event. When we were on the hill, all folks wanted to do was stop and chat about the kid in the red coat and yellow pants. All kinds of different people stopped me to chat about Drake. I had Ski Patrol stop me. I had instructors stop me. I had coaches stop me. I had a former U.S. Ski Team member stop me. All had comments on Drake’s natural ability to get down the mountain. They threw out words that meant nothing to me. I am not a skier. All I could do was smile and nod.

Our family bonded with Fuxi during the week. He helped us navigate the craziness and made us not feel quite as overwhelmed and clueless. He also always had a hug and cheer waiting for Drake. He made sure our little man raced with confidence and flashy style. I think we spent as much time soaking up all the good vibes from Fuxi and his crew as we did on the hill. I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

It was a week of learning.

 

It was a week of extreme highs and lows.

 

It was a week that could preview our life to come.

 

Much like before, I assumed this race would be the last of the season. We only had a few more weeks left at Cooper before closing. When would I learn my lesson?! This only added fire to Drake’s insatiable desire to ski. He gave an immediate yes when asked if he wanted to do the Fuxi Combi at Ski Cooper.

Locked at Loaded

At 4, Drake was the youngest racer by 5 years.

In the Start House. Photo courtesy of Franz Fuchsberger.

Watching the Top 10 make their final runs at the Fuxi Combi.

The Fuxi Combi wasn’t as kind to him as the NASTAR Nationals. He received his first DNQ by missing a gate. There were so many tears. Fuxi was there to save the day again. He always has the right words and right insight to share with Drake. There is a bond between those two that Drake and I don’t have. He gets Drake in that way. I don’t.

Drake and Fuxi

Drake was Fuxi’s shadow that entire weekend. He did course inspections with him for the Combi and the Masters Race. He skied with Fuxi between runs. If he wasn’t his hero before, he most certainly was now. Drake got to meet and talk with some really talented racers; he made a friend with a kiddo one year his junior. A friend he still talks about being excited to ski with to this day.  Fuxi introduced Drake to a host of outstanding skiers. Drake was extended the opportunity to be on the Cloud City Ski Team for the 17-18 season. Fuxi sent me home with books to read and a video for Drake to watch…homework if you will. I truly couldn’t believe how our lives were changing…how I was going to have to embrace this strange, new love my child had found. 

Unable to let the season go, we continued skiing into April at Copper Mountain and Loveland. April and May are normally big-time fishing months, mind you! Drake had graduated to longer skis, and I simply could not keep up. He topped 50 mph at Copper Mountain while skiing behind Fuxi. I really could have done without hearing that tidbit. At 4, with 3 months on skis, our son could now out ski us. Drake began to tell us we looked like lift towers and that “flat skis are slow skis.”

 

Yeah, I can’t get on my edges, but my 4 year old can. What world am I living in?!

 

Every week he was faster, stronger, more confident.

 

April 2017. First day on longer skis. He rocked them.

Monarch in April.

Loveland in May.

Copper in April.

At the beginning of the season, we chatted with a ski instructor at a gear shop. He told us Drake would be at most doing greens by the end of the season. Boy, did he totally screw up my expectations. By April, I had to throw out the white flag. I had to let him go. I had to trust him. I was holding him back. We started to ski separate, meeting at signs. He loved those hard, fast spring morning conditions. Greens…ha! He hadn’t wanted to do greens since February. Every day became the Best. Day. Ever. on the Best. Snow. Ever. He did runs at Loveland that made me take my skis off. I am not above saying it. I wasn’t in to dying that day. Drake, well, he did that crazy, narrow run full of moguls and was better for it. The difference between a skier and a mommy following behind. What a way to end the season.

I assumed again that summer would bring a waning interest in skiing. He would lose it a bit. He wouldn’t be as driven. He would forget. I didn’t learn my lesson. I was wrong…boy was I wrong. If anything, he has become more consumed. He wears his Fuxi Racing headbands every day. He asks to watch videos from Mt. Hood. He asks to watch his World Cup video. He complains about the scorching heat. He pines for winter. He asks how much longer summer is. He can’t wait to see Fuxi. He can’t wait “to tear up that mountain.” The kid is in love.

One of Drake’s favorite skiers, Marcel Hirscher. Drake’s favorites in order are: Fuxi, Marcel Hirsher, and Lindsey Vonn.

Our pocketbooks are empty…four ski passes yet to be bought. A subscription to Ski Racing Magazine purchased. Instead of backpacking and fishing an alpine lake, we will attend our first first ski swap this weekend. We will learn about boots and skis and brands and all those other things of which I know nothing. I’m nervous and still finding myself pushing back a little. Drake on the other hand cannot wait to see his hero and pick out the colors for his race suit.  

To this day, I still don’t know from where this passion for skiing came. I can spend time questioning it, or I can spend time embracing it. I can spend time being proud of how my little man found a thing all his own. I can learn about it. I can learn to love it. I can be a ski mom. I can encourage him to follow his passion. I will always be in his corner, even if it is uncomfortable. And, Drake, well, he can go right on making those skis fly, just as he has wanted to do since he was 2.5 years old.

 

23 days.

 

23 short little days.

 

Here is a sampling of progressive videos throughout the season. We have hours of footage; Dustin took some great film with the GoPro. I need to learn to video edit!

Written by Stephanie Mullins

1 Comment

Professor Joel

Beautiful. Dustin has me a truly unique man in Franzi. He has true passion in his heart and soul and he is as natural as a human being can be! There will never be another Fuxi !

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