Essay: When Coloradans can’t gather around a Thanksgiving dinner table, they hit the slopes instead

This could be the year to start a new Thanksgiving tradition – on the slopes. (John Meyer, Denver Post file)

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to do curves with my dad instead of a turkey.

Like many families this holiday, we have decided to forgo the traditional meal and the risk of passing more than the mashed potatoes to our older relatives. And like those many families, it was a tough decision to make.

As we have had to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans heading into the holidays are once again forced to weigh the risks and benefits of activities that we have always taken for granted. We’ve rethought, compromised, and tweaked our way through eight months of grocery shopping, school, sports, recreation, and parties, but Thanksgiving has been our biggest challenge yet.

How should you stay six feet apart while bringing the generations together around a dining table? Who of us can eat with a mask on? And let’s face it, it would be impossible to get into the inevitable heated debate over the presidential election without exchanging a few drops in the air.

We considered keeping the holiday party out; I mean, that’s where the original Thanksgiving was held after all. But with high temperatures expected in the 1940s for the holidays, the gathering would inevitably migrate indoors.

And we have seen how outdoor gatherings go, even in the hottest months. It starts outside, but then people get cold (or hot) and go in “for a few minutes”, intending to keep their masks on. But then guests take their masks off to have a drink, and over time the masks spend more time on people’s chins than covering their mouths.

The next thing you know is that you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worried you just made your 80-year-old dad sick.

And those summer meetings were before my daughters returned to school and I personally taught at Colorado State University for 13 weeks, increasing the risk that we could take COVID-19 home.

So this Thanksgiving, we’re keeping the generations out by gathering on the slopes instead of around the dinner table. Skiing is one of the many outdoor activities in Colorado that is safe this winter season. You’re already wearing a mask and it’s difficult to get to within 6 feet of each other with your boards on.

Skiing has always been my family’s favorite way to spend a winter day, but Dad and I have the most entrenched FOMO when it comes to piste time. Anytime snowflakes appear in the weather forecast, it’s a fling to which one of us email the other first to set up a carpool from where we live in Northern Colorado to our favorite resorts.

For at least 15 years people have been wondering that Daddy still skis “at his age”. My money is aimed at having at least 15 more skiers. After all, the man still surfs in apartments in the high country to get in as many days as possible. Case in point: Dad was staying on the living room couch of the hotel suite my daughters, husband, and I had rented in Steamboat on the dark March day when the elevators stopped.

Ideas for family outings during the pandemic

  • Cross-country / Nordic centers
  • Equipment rental
  • Ice skating
  • Skiing and snowboarding
  • Sledding / snow tubing
  • Sleigh rides
  • Snowshoeing


The next morning, when I returned from the sad assignment to get my skis from the storage room on the slope, my father was gone.

“He watched COVID coverage on CNN,” my husband said in explanation.

Since then I have missed my dad and skiing.

We got together a few times when we could figure out how to do it safely. On Father’s Day, we went for a hike after driving to the trailhead wearing masks and the roof of my convertible.

So this Thanksgiving I am grateful to be able to return to the slopes with my dad. This season looks different. I (and members of my immediate household) will ride up separately from my father. I will definitely keep my mask on while riding the lift and we will eat our pocket lunches opposite each other in the parking lot.

But the important things, the shared experience of doing something outside that we both love, Dad and I will do together – and so will you and your family.

the outside know instagram

As business is closing this holiday season and we are going through the last challenging months of this pandemic, remember that nature stays open. (And, at the time of writing, that includes the slopes at Wolf Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Eldora, Loveland, Purgatory, Vail, and Beaver Creek.)

RELATED: Check opening days for the rest of Colorado’s ski resorts

COVID-19 forces us to create new traditions for our families, but maybe not all of that is bad. We may find that we like some of the new ways to celebrate more than the old ones.

Maybe you don’t have a Thanksgiving meal with your parents or grandparents, but maybe you can meet up for that walk that you traditionally take after the dishes are done. By building some outside time into your vacation plans, you can reconnect in a way that just isn’t possible from a computer screen.

An open sled with one horse, anyone?

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Essay: When Coloradans can’t gather around a Thanksgiving dinner table, they hit the slopes instead