“Keep your knees bent, son!”
I remember well those early days of skiing at Snoqualmie Pass with my father, Don Nelson. Don was a Boeing engineer and an avid weekend warrior on the slopes of the Washington Cascades. I was his young sidekick, the eager pupil trying to master his teachings.
“Let the rope slide through your hands… Now grab on!”
Back in those days, rope tows were common. At first, he would put me between his legs and help me up the lift. As I got a little older, I got the hang of the shoulder-straining rope and how to ride it all day long.
“Hey! Be careful — don’t ski straight down the mountain!”
As I got older, Don took me to see a movie about Stein Eriksen, the Olympic champion who skied so beautifully. Stein was my new hero, and I wanted to ski just like him. I stopped snowplowing and kept my feet together just like Stein did, but unfortunately, I didn’t know how to turn like Stein.
I would go straight down the mountain with my feet together — looking beautiful, like Stein — and then crash in a heap at the bottom. My dad was mortified.
“Take a sip, son. Not too much!”
I was a 10 years old now, and Don would take me night-skiing. He carried a bota bag filled with blackberry brandy for those cold nights. Occasionally, he would give me a sip of the body-warming, sweet elixir. It was our little secret.
“Wait for me at the bottom, son!”
By the time I was 13, I had surpassed my father as a skier. I was reckless and fearless, and he couldn’t keep up. Over time, I found my own ski buddies, and my days on the slopes with Don became fewer and fewer.
But as I look back on the influence of Don Nelson, who died at age 93 earlier this month, I give him credit for introducing me the beauty and thrill of the mountains in winter. He’s the reason I love to ski.
I still practice many of Don’s principles: Get there early, get the most out of your day, pack your own lunch. Most of all: Have fun.