The Drevitches, Week 22: The Sledding Hill Workout

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

sledding picture gary drevitch

Benjamin, embarking on another climb up the sledding hill. Photo courtesy Gary Drevitch

I am profoundly ambivalent about my family's annual ski vacation.

On the one hand, I don't ski, at least not very well. I'd actually never tried the sport until a couple of years ago, when we started taking annual family trips during the February school vacation week. I took lessons and made my way down the bunny hill, but didn't make enough progress to be able to join my wife, Lynn, and the children -- who took to skiing quickly and impressively, as so many young, low-to-the-ground kids do -- at the top of the lift.

Also, philosophically, I find the sport to be ridiculously expensive, the equipment to be absurdly cumbersome, and ski resorts in general to be among the nation's least-convenient places to navigate. So there's that.

On the other hand, my family loves the sport with a passion. And so, there being no other hand, I go.

Last year's trip, health-wise, was a wasted week for me. I spent a couple of days careering down the lowest runs, but spent most of my time hanging out with my youngest son, Adam, then 3. He's great company, but the resort had no options for non-skiers -- no snowshoe trails, snowmobile areas, or fitness center. The little guy and I made snowmen, but otherwise I sat on my then much more substantial rump. (Shameless plug: I'm now down 38 pounds since Labor Day!)

This year, I asked Lynn to find us a site where I could stick to my Healthy Families Challenge commitments without having to ski. We settled on Vermont's Stratton Mountain, which has snowshoe trails as well as a gym.

Over our five days on the mountain, I worked out at the gym three days, and snowshoed the other two. My first day of snowshoeing began at the top of the ski lift and took me through deep woods until I emerged at the mountain's historic fire tower, whose four stories I climbed for spectacular views of the region. The second day I spent traversing the well-groomed trails of Stratton's Sun Bowl Adventure Center, hustling up and down the inclines over two separate one-hour sessions, occasionally stopping to watch in awe as cross-country skiers -- now these people are fit! -- raced up and down the course with ease.

But they weren't the most inspirational people I met at the resort. That title goes to Stratton's crew of older staff members. Driving the buses, leading group lessons or working information desks, these locals, in their 60s and 70s, often started up conversations with me about my snowshoeing, as it's a sport many of these lifelong skiers have taken up. But they don't stick to the trails -- no, they walk straight up the mountain, past the descending skiers, and then back down, which is faster but tougher on the legs. I can only hope that in 20 or 30 years, Lynn and I will be able to do half of what they can do.

My toughest workouts of the week were back at our rented house, on a property that backed up to a couple of small hills leading to woods. That's where we sledded on gear provided by the landlord. Going down was great fun. There's nothing better than careening down a hill with one of your children gripping your back, though I joked to Benjamin, 10, that if we landed in the deep woods we might have a 127 Hours situation on our hands.

Climbing back up, though? That was work. On our next-to-last-day of vacation, the area got a foot of new snow, and the backyard inclines were covered in the deep stuff. The exertion of climbing back up the hill -- the layer of solid ice under the fresh snow didn't help -- was extreme, a straight trek uphill either holding onto a floppy foam sled, or worse, lugging one of the heavy, hard-plastic ones. Adam couldn't do it without adult help; Natalie, 8, struggled mightily. And me? I made it up pretty well, feeling great about what a solid cardio workout it was.

Sledding: It's not just for breaking your neck anymore.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.