Backstory: Father, Son and Seven Continents

Tanner Flanagan and Jeff Ledger find a bootpack is better when shared in Jackson, Wyo. [Photo] Jay Goodrich

To put my relationship with wintery mountains into words is too great a task. The same can be said for my relationship with my son.

For him and me, skiing is as much a sport as it is a family unifier. Skiing throughout the East has become a common thread between our family’s grandparents, parents, children, cousins, nieces and nephews. Christmases and weekends spent in Stowe, Vermont are the cornerstones of our family’s time together, and memories of trips out West with cousins are imprinted into my mind.

I grew up as a skier, transitioned to snowboarding in my early 30s, and, over the last decade, have telemarked my way down countless mountains. As the decades pass, and as I near the not-so-tender age of 60, the urge to accomplish and experience all that I can on snow feels even more pressing. My son, Matthew, a 23-year-old student in Montreal, embraced skiing like his grandfather and I did before him. His passion for the sport is strong, but university life and location limit his opportunities.

Five years ago, his mother and I separated; Matthew was 17. Tension and anger ran high between the two of us. He blamed me for tearing our family apart. It was a sad and emotionally searing time for me, and especially for him.

Around this time, news of Japan’s legendary snow began filtering into the U.S. Touring had also entered my life several years prior. I decided to take Matthew ski touring on Hokkaido, the northern Japanese island. The opportunity to be alone together, away from all the poisoned emotions at home, may not have been the main reason for this trip, but it definitely played a part.

Deep snow, traditional onsens and mouth-watering sushi filled our days. Maybe it was the struggle of powering up snow-laden skintracks, the cold Siberian winds biting our skin or the opportunity to sleep beside each other on simple tatami mats in traditional Ryokan lodges. But through those challenging climbs and bad kickturns and the ecstasy of each run, we developed a respect for each other that hadn’t existed before. Matthew saw my strength, and I saw a pained 18-year-old struggle and succeed. I also saw a young man fascinated by the culture around him and who related so well to our travel companions, a diverse group of Europeans.

As we continued traveling together, an idea took hold: to ski tour on all seven continents. From a trip to Patagonia, Argentina to a sail-and-ski tour through the fjords of Svalbard, Norway and our travels on the remote M’Goun massif in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, our respect and admiration for each other grew.

The beauty of these trips to distant places and cultures didn’t just lie in the snow—it poured forth from experiences and interactions with each other that kept us going back for more. We skied powder at 13,000 feet in Africa and frozen crust in Argentina, where we slept on Patagonia’s Cerra Lopez (7,178 ft.), overlooking the stunningly blue Nahuel Huapi Lake. We skied glaciers and couloirs in the Arctic and battled whiteouts and rejoiced in blue-sky conditions in New Zealand’s Arrowsmith Range.

Throughout each trip, the snow became secondary to the level of satisfaction and fulfillment we felt in exploring these places. All that mattered were new experiences gained in a foreign location and by facing times of adversity and triumph—together, side by side, father and son.

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