Perfect Christmas Gift

By Beacon Staff

At the end of the runway in Boston’s Logan Airport, the pilot and co-pilot had gone through their check off list before departing. As the twin jet engines on this Boeing 737 began to rev up the passengers were gently eased back in their seats by the 25,000 pounds of thrust generated by each of the twin engines.

This was the beginning of a fantastic Santa Claus sleigh ride. When the plane touched down four hours later at the Yellowstone Jet Center in Bozeman there were 20, four-wheel drive SUVs lined up with their engines running. The passengers and their children were escorted to their individual cars. With the luggage sorted out and delivered to each car along with Christmas presents that the passengers had brought along with them. Loading the wrapped, shiny red bicycle was about the only problem that came up. On the trip were 20 children and 43 adults, two of which were closing on the purchase of a retirement condominium.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the families on this dream machine the next night at dinner in the lodge. When we started talking it turned out that they had just completed construction on a new home. The family stayed in their old townhouse the first night and when they finished skiing the next day, instead of leading their three children back to the old home, they stopped in front of their new house and said, “This is your Santa Claus surprise! Santa couldn’t get it in his sleigh so he delivered it here early.”

I was very lucky to first come here and ski in 1996. There were no roads into these clear-cut areas so we got to fly in to ski from a helicopter. There have been a lot of changes since then but was hasn’t changed is the freedom that skiing has to offer. It makes no difference where or when you do it. Here in Montana there are 16 ski resorts with 106 different ski lifts to choose from.

You can arrive here as that chartered 737 did or you can fly commercial into Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell or Billings and it is a short drive to great resorts. If you want a leisurely trip take the train from Seattle or Chicago and it is a nice overnight ride to Whitefish. Or you can drive it, like my wife and I do, with the dogs, the computers and all our files.

The most important decision you will have to make is not where to go skiing but when. Mark out a week in your winter calendar and take control of your own destiny by spending time making turns and enjoying freedom down the side of a mountain. I’ve been doing just that since I got out of the Navy in 1946. All of my friends and relatives thought I was certifiably crazy to spend those first few winters sleeping in a trailer in the parking lot of several different ski resorts. If I was crazy then I certainly am a good candidate for the nut farm now, 73 years of doing the same old thing every day all winter. Fortunately, I no longer live in a city that is far away from ski resorts. I live my winters right in the heart of one.

How well I remember all of those jet airplane rides to ski and film yet another ski resort and, yes, a lot of propeller-driven airplanes, too. A lot of good trips and the occasional bad one, such as an engine dying in the middle of the Atlantic and an even scarier trip when two engines died on another flight. For the rest of the trip I hoped all camera gear I was carrying was not too much weight for the two remaining engines.

I just checked with the family and all three children have sent a FedEx package to Santa Claus telling him of their new address. While I am in a bit of a dilemma because ever since 1948 when I carried a torch in the parade down Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley (when I was first a ski instructor there), I have celebrated Christmas at a ski resort so I am sure that Santa Claus knows my address. All I want from him for Christmas is a strong dose of another decade or two of good health.

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