The ghosts of wintry fathers past lay sublime amongst the crystalized crunch of hard packed snow. A deep breath in. A deep breath of visible air out. A glance to see that a legend has appeared mystically shrouded in Gore-Tex and a Cowboy hat. You push off into the dreams of the past and for the time being, you forget about the future while embracing the startling wind in your face and the adrenaline in your veins.

You are skiing with Billy Kidd down Buddy’s Run at Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

But, today, as I click in, I have become the wild heart and wandering spirit of my father. I am him on a champagne powder charge.

I threw rocks at the sign in our front yard. My folks had gotten some sort of quickie real estate license and were selling our small home in Hingham, Mass. I was seven turning eight, and I had never heard of Colorado. I was into riding my yellow banana seat Schwinn with the neighborhood second-grade ruffians. We never wore helmets and never told our parents where we were going. We patrolled the quarter-mile street like a band of vigilantes looking for dirt jumps and unsuspecting squirrels at which we’d hurl rocks. When my brother and I were told that the plan was to sell our house and move to Steamboat Springs, it was the equivalent of telling a kid that he was going to have all of his friends taken for a ride in the Goodyear blimp and then have them pushed out and into the Grand Canyon.

Steamboat Springs? Colorado? What? There wasn’t a condo available on Mars?

Why was this happening? Why was this happening to me? I didn’t know that my father had reached the end of the line selling oil filters for Purolator. The company wanted to move him to Albany. I grew up thinking Albany was literally the worst place on Earth. You know what? I’ve been there and it must be at least on the list.

I didn’t care that he had taken a 3:00 a.m. shift at the post office delivering mail to make ends meet. My grandfather was the postmaster – looking back on it, you would’ve thought he could’ve given dad a better shift. I didn’t care that my father had his own dreams of finishing a novel and becoming the next Hunter Thompson. I was reading books about Thomas the Train, not books about a homeless guy living at Logan Airport (as I remember, I believe that was Thompson’s protagonist).

I cared about my friends, which I had a ton. I cared about playing soccer, which I wasn’t very good at during that time. I cared about my baseball future (look out Butch Hobson, I’m coming for you!). Everything that I cared about disappeared as we packed our entire lives into the tight confines of a puke-yellow Cougar, backed out of our tiny driveway that was fronted by a garage that held a basketball hoop in which I had drilled thousands of layups and free throws, and took a right-hand turn out of Hobart Street and journeyed across America.

When we pulled up to the Ridgecrest Apartments, I was totally confused. Where was my house? What’s a condo? I thought everybody lived in a house. We had just driven across the country with an eight-track tape of K.C. and the Sunshine Band repeating about 10,000 times. I felt like taking the actual tape itself and fashioning a noose for myself. At least K.C. and the Sunshine band would have a minimal positive impact on society if that happened.

We climbed up the torturous four flights of high altitude stairs and I promptly passed out. I’m sure this was somewhat of a distressing moment for my parents to have their relatively healthy eight-year old (I had a birthday right before the move) actually collapse at their new home simply by trying to get to the front door. The condo itself was small, but the view was spectacular. Out the living room deck, we were perched just a couple hundreds yards up the hill from the Christie Lift at the base of Mount Werner. This elegant, rounded ski hill was named after ski hero and three-time Olympian Buddy Werner.

There is no bigger local legend than Buddy, who was born and raised in Steamboat. He competed in both Nordic and Alpine events. In 1964, at age 28, he was killed in an avalanche while filming a ski movie in St. Moritz. The next year, Storm Mountain was renamed for Buddy. At the top of the hill stands a statue in tribute that marks the beginning of the best top-to-bottom ski run in Colorado – Buddy’s Run. For years and years and years, fellow Olympian and close friend Billy Kidd would lead a 1:00 p.m. run down Buddy’s Run for whoever would like to join him in his elegant tribute to a small-town hero.

When I met Billy Kidd as a kid, I was intimidated. My dad seemed to be falling all over himself telling me how special this guy was; he regaled me with tales of how Kidd barely lost a gold medal to Austrian Pepi Stiegler in 1964. He told me how Kidd, at age 20, won the first Alpine medal in U.S. Winter Olympics history. This guy was it.

But I just saw a sun-drenched, worn, tan face with his eyes hidden by dark sunglasses and wearing a feather-filled cowboy hat.

“You ready to go, son?” Kidd said to me.

I nodded while slowly creeping behind my dad’s leg.

“Okay, let’s do it!” Kidd yelled. And whoosh! We were off in a large pack of about 20 or so smoking this classic blue groomer.

I may have skied more than 100 days that year. Although I had been on the slopes before, I probably fell down 20 times the first run in mid-November. By late March, I was ripping powder stashes and bombing down Heavenly Daze. There wasn’t a jump I wouldn’t take and not a day that I wouldn’t want to be on the last lift.

My parents – those poor souls – actually had to work. My dad couldn’t find promising employment, so he got a job trying to find other people jobs. It was a tad hopeless in the late ‘70s. As a man, either you worked in a business connected to the ski industry or you worked in the coal mine in Craig. Amongst the heady days in this champagne-powder enclave, there were loads of regular folks just trying to get by.

As for me, what did I care if someone had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to breathe in coal fumes? I was having fun. I found myself enjoying Mrs. Stanko’s third-grade class. Of course, during the winter in Steamboat, you were only a part-time student. Every Tuesday and Thursday, kids who were willing to give up recess were piled onto a school bus for afternoon ski lessons. I Billy Kidd you not. We would do whatever third graders were suppose to do – learn cursive handwriting and basic math – I think I was in some sort of spelling bee at some point. Then two days a week, we did what Steamboat Springers were born to do – ski for three or four hours a day.

My mom had a dreadful but meaningful job as the head of nurses at the old-age home. My best memory is that she hated her boss. His name was Moe. I’ve always disliked people named Moe, almost as much as I despise Albany. Mom was really the most amazing part of this one-year adventure. She had grown up in a section of Boston called West Roxbury. It was a tough, tough place. She didn’t have anything given to her as she existed in the midst of seven brothers and sisters proving that the Catholic ban on birth control was well enforced in that household. She met a wannabe ski bum when she was 20. Her engagement ring was planted in a tuft of snow at the top of a lift in Stowe, Vermont. She learned to ski as an adult and gave her utmost faith to the man she married. Her skiing ability was dwarfed by her devotion to a dreamer. Most women would never agree to this insane idea, but when it came to nuttiness, my folks were in lockstep.

Crazy things happened that year. I am an “Irish twin.” My younger brother is less than a year apart from me. We never thought of each other as twins, but looking back on it, I don’t think you can get much closer as we grew up. We shared a bedroom for nine years. I thought I was going to get my own room in Steamboat, but I was told that dad needed a writing office. Welcome to a bunk bed! It wasn’t a big deal. I fell out of it one time and smashed my vibrating electronic football game. You remember that mess. You set up your players, turn on the electricity and then… well…. then… geez… I don’t know the plastic figures sort of run into each other. In 1977 that was fun.

My brother and I were free to ski anywhere we wanted to on the mountain – by ourselves. Can you imagine that now? Dad would stay with mom, and Brady and I would just go wherever we wanted. A yearly ski pass was $60.

I scored the first goal in the history of Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer. Look it up! Suck it, Glenwood Springs! I came in second place in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition because Derrick Duckles had signed up at the wrong age. I guess Derrick had stayed back and just assumed he was in the same category as all the other third graders. Sorry, Duckles! You’re out of luck; gimme that trophy.

I came in last in the 100-meter sprint in the Winter Carnival, which is held in the downtown streets. My parents didn’t realize that it really helped if you had cross-country skis for this particular event. I was pulled behind a horse over a makeshift jump. My brother was pulled behind a horse like he was Sir Lancelot trying to hook tiny rings on with a javelin like stick.

We enjoyed the pool at the condo until a fat kid named Richard took a large dump into the filtering system and ruined it. We made friends with two kids in our condo complex, Michael and Michele, who we schemed to steal stuffed animals out the back window of a local gift shop. It was ill conceived and we were caught. I’m not sure what we were going to do with 15 teddy bears that were adorned with “I heart Steamboat” t-shirts. One night, my folks smoked weed with Michael and Michele’s parents. That too, was ill conceived, as my dad got really sick from the bad ganja.

There was a thrilling excitement to the movie Saturday Night Fever and the beginning of a new eight-track tape that would rotate endlessly in that beat up Cougar that now rolled with permanent tire chains. Growing up, I thought the Bee Gees were the best. When I moved back to Boston, the haven of rock, I was told in no uncertain terms that I would be rigorously beaten if I insisted that “More than a Woman” was a classic.

I went to Sunday school on Tuesday afternoons, because the weekends were reserved for God and his church was the mountain. Going through my classes for my first communion, I learned amongst all the other things you shouldn’t do “thou shall not cuss.” Uh, cuss? I’m not sure how that would play at my Irish Catholic grandmother’s house who had more pictures of the Pope on the wall than of her seven children. But, hey, what did I care? Sunday school on Tuesday was fun. Don’t forget I already had a half-day of school; I had hit the slopes for the entire afternoon and now I was getting free cookies.

However, that wasn’t the best part of being in Colorado. The crowning achievement that year was being a fan of the Denver Broncos.

I was a gargantuan Broncos fan. They were ethereal and mystical. The only present I asked for from Santa was an Orange Crush t-shirt. I was an easy kid. Never mind that I found all of Santa’s gifts stuffed into a tiny closet in my parents bedroom loft, I was okay with the fraud as long as that Orange Crush t-shirt was part of the deal. Even during the football season, we would still ski on Sundays (don’t forget, I went to church on Tuesdays). However, it was a race to get back to the condo to watch the Broncos. There was no internet or even sports bars. There may have been a TV tuned to the game at the Tugboat Saloon. But that place was for hardcore whiskey drinkers and longshoreman in the late ’70s. Not exactly a kid-friendly joint.

But back home, I watched in mesmerized silence as my heroes destroyed the competition that year. They went 12-2 and cruised through the playoffs. Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar and Lyle Alzado were thunderous monsters. Craig Morton, who my father loved since they both were in San Francisco together for a short period of time, was a passing machine with Haven Moses on the receiving end.

Every Sunday, we would ski all morning with my father insisting we end each day with turns down Buddy’s Run. We would hurriedly clamor up the stairs (I wasn’t passing out anymore, as I was a high-altitude skiing phenom by the fall). We would throw our gear into the tiny ski locker that every condo had. We would get in our pajamas and hoodies, cook up some hot chocolate and watch, enthralled by the Broncos as the sun slowly set over our neighboring mountain that ended another spectacular day in a winter paradise.

We had bold plans, me and my dad, for when the Broncos won the Super Bowl. We were going to skip school and drive to Denver for the parade. We were going to get all sorts of Super Bowl championship clothes. My Orange Crush t-shirt that I had been wearing for a month straight smelled like something out of Alzado’s jock strap. We couldn’t lose. We wouldn’t lose. My dad told me how Craig Morton had played for Dallas, so he was a sure bet to know how to rip them up. Okay! Sounds great!

On Super Bowl Sunday, I didn’t want to go skiing, but my dad insisted that it was good luck to stay in the same pattern. Also, the game didn’t even start until the lifts were closing. We were gathered as a small family. A dad, a mom, a brother and me all by ourselves in this big, bad world, as tight as could be because we truly only had ourselves. We didn’t need anything else except for champagne powder and a good reception on the TV.

Then, the game began.

When Peyton Manning threw a pick six to Malcolm Smith, I wasn’t a 44-year old broadcaster covering Super Bowl XLVIII; I instantly was a little kid watching Super Bowl XII. Of course, the final score of that game was 27-10, not nearly the blowout that we all witnessed last February in New York City. But in the game against the Cowboys, the Broncos turned the ball over eight times. They completed just eight passes for 61 yards. Some guy named Norris Weese replaced my hero Craig Morton.

What was happening, dad? Why is this happening? What about our big plans together?

My father looked empty and shocked. He started cursing about how the fix must be in. For years and years, I have heard my dad speculate that gambling debts led to Morton throwing the Super Bowl. Craig Morton quickly became the mayor of Albany. My dad furiously flipped off the TV and told us to go to bed; we had school the next day.

When Manning stepped off his small podium in the ill lit shadows of the Meadowlands, he saw Mike Klis of the Denver Post and said, “I’m sorry.”

Mike said, “Ah, it’s okay,” stowing away what I’m sure was a private quote he wanted to get. It was an apology for the ages. I didn’t get one of those from Craig Morton. Broncos fans felt betrayed as if they were part of a fraud. Imagine the emotions of young child, whose heroes are suspect and flawed after being idolized.

I heard it again. Gambling rumors. The fix-was-in rumors. Silly stuff that logically doesn’t make sense, but angry fans perpetuate libelous rumors. Manning isn’t perfect and neither is Craig Morton.

Last year, I was on a packed media elevator and Morton just happened to be riding down. Instantly, I felt the anger boil up. I felt the passion of my father who would pause every now and then on his Nixon rants at dinner to rail on Morton. I felt that anger, but it’s not the same with this version of the Broncos. They are just men, not heroes. They are flawed and you can only hope they do their best. At the end of the day, they aren’t in your living room. They aren’t paying your bills. They are just as likely to be playing in Cleveland next year. This is a fantasyland where a good kid in his mid-20s like Chris Harris signs a five-year deal for $42.5 million. What I saw as a kid for the first time was just what all of us have to live with and overcome – broken dreams.

It had been another wasted day for Hunter Ames. He decided to quit work early. Early for him was anytime after morning coffee. As he drove his Grand Torino up the driveway, his wife peeked through the rose bush lattice and yelled something. “You’ll never guess what happened,” she said as he opened the car door.

My father was in tears. I had never seen him so upset. He had finally finished his novel. He had sent it to his best friend, Ben Swede. Ben had some sort of connections to the publishing industry or so I was told. I think Ben was just a big-time bullshitter, but my dad really loved and respected him. Ben had just told my father on the phone that his novel was no good and it would never be published. I’m sure I’m missing out on some details, but as an eight-year-old kid, all you remember is angst and pain.

I realized that Lyle Alzado was no hero. In fact, just the opposite, as he betrayed Broncos fans with his departure to Cleveland and then the hated Raiders and cut his life short due to his cheating ways.

My hero was my dad. My hero was the man who took us on a whirlwind year to a skiing paradise. My hero wore a big bushy ’70s mustache and clicked and clacked away on a typewriter in a desperate pursuit of something that would never – ever – be realized. My heart was shredded twice that year and the pain that I felt for the Broncos demise was dwarfed by my father’s perceived failure.


The mountain is brutal and forgiving. It is a monument to death and dreams. Every morning, starts a new day of daring and promise.

The Broncos lost; we skied.

My dad’s book didn’t get published; we skied.

Every beautiful wintry day was an allowance of escapism. Sadly, on 60-degree day in April, the lifts stopped turning and we had to live in our own existence. My mom’s job was terrible and dad’s job wasn’t much better. We were running out of money and options. It was time to move again.

I still dreamed of living in a house in Steamboat. Kevin Kaminski had a house. His dad had been a starting center for the Broncos back is their god-awful days in the ‘60s. If Kevin had a house, I just assumed we would, too. Kevin had won first place in that Punt, Pass and Kick competition and strangely enough, we would reconnect as friends as adults years and years later.

However, the end was upon us and we put all the crap back in the Cougar, threw in that Saturday Night Fever eight-track and headed back to Massachusetts. As we were rolling past Denver, my dad took a slight detour to show us the glimmering manifestation of gladiator battles – Mile High Stadium. It was gorgeous and decadent. It was awe-inspiring and strangely tantalizing. I could stay here. I could live here. Why were we going back to that dingy street where all there was to do was ride bikes?

Living in Colorado since 1999, I’ve been so lucky to ski at most of our wonderful hills dozens of times. I like Steamboat, but it’s not my favorite. I’ve been back so many times, it’s a gentle reminder of the past rather than some sort of quixotic self-fulfillment. I’ve bored my own family with tales of Steamboat as I am now the age of my father when he was there and they are the age I was back then.

However, no matter what bowl I descend, no matter the quality of the bumps, no matter the trees that I bash through, nothing will match the simplicity and genuine heart satisfying moments of clicking in at the top of Buddy’s Run with my own sons.

“Ready, kids?”

“Yep! Lets go, dad!”

“Okay, let’s do it!”

Somewhere in the mist past the leathery face of Billy Kidd, through the memorial statue of Buddy Werner, lingers my own father with a frosted mustache and a smile on his face, egging me to go as fast as I can into his soul.