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

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be carving turns with my Dad instead of a turkey.

Like many families this holiday, we decided against 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’ve had to do throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans heading into the holiday season are once again being forced to weigh the risks and benefits of activities we’ve always taken for granted. We’ve reimagined, compromised and adapted our way through eight months of grocery shopping, school, exercise, recreation and celebrations, but Thanksgiving has posed our biggest challenge yet.

How are you supposed to stay 6 feet apart while bringing the generations together around a dinner table? Who among us can eat with a mask on? And, let’s be honest, it would be impossible to get into the inevitable heated debate about the presidential election without exchanging some airborne droplets.

We considered having the holiday feast outside; I mean, that’s where the original Thanksgiving was held, after all. But with a forecasted high temperature in the 40s for the holiday, the gathering would inevitably migrate indoors.

And we’ve seen how outdoor gatherings go, even the warmest of months. Things start outside, but then people get cold (or hot) and head indoors “just for a few minutes,” with the intention of keeping their masks on. But then guests take their masks off to take a drink and as time passes the masks spend more time on people’s chins than covering their mouths.

Next thing you know, you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worried that you may have just gotten your 80-year-old dad ill.

And those summer gatherings were before my daughters went back to school and I taught in person at Colorado State University for 13 weeks, increasing the risk that we could be carrying COVID-19 into our home.

So this Thanksgiving, we’re keeping the generations outside by gathering on the slopes instead of around the dinner table. Skiing is one of Colorado’s many outdoor activities that is safe this winter season. You’re already wearing a mask, and it’s difficult to get 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 deeply seated FOMO when it comes to slope time. Whenever snowflakes appear in the forecast, it’s a toss-up at to which one of us will 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 marveling at the fact Dad still skis “at his age.” My money is on him skiing at least 15 more. After all, the man still couch surfs at condos around the high country to get in as many days as possible. Case in point: Dad was staying on the couch in the living room of the hotel suite that my daughters, husband and I had rented in Steamboat on the dark March day the lifts stopped running.

Ideas for family holiday outings during the pandemic

  • Cross-country/nordic centers
  • Equipment rentals
  • Ice skating
  • Skiing & snowboarding
  • Sledding/snowtubing
  • Sleigh rides
  • Snowshoeing


The next morning, when I returned from the sad errand of retrieving my skis from slope-side storage, Dad was gone.

“He was watching COVID coverage on CNN,” my husband said by way of explanation.

I’ve been missing my Dad, and skiing, ever since.

We’ve gotten together a few times when we could figure out how to do it safely. On Father’s Day, we went on a hike after driving to the trailhead with masks on and the roof down on my convertible.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be returning to the slopes with my Dad. This season will look different. I (and members of my immediate household) will drive up separately from Dad. I’ll be sure to keep my mask on when riding the lift and we will eat our sack lunches across the parking lot from each other.

But the important stuff, the shared experience of being outside doing something we both love, Dad and I will do together — and you and your family can, too.

As things close down this holiday season and we endure the final challenging months of this pandemic, remember that nature remains open. (And, as of this writing, so are the slopes at Wolf Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Eldora, Loveland, Purgatory, Vail and Beaver Creek.)

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

COVID-19 is forcing us to create new traditions for our families, but maybe that’s not all bad. We might just find we like some of the new ways of celebrating more than the old.

You may not be having the Thanksgiving meal with your parents or grandparents, but maybe you can meet up for that walk you traditionally take after the dishes are done. Building some outside time into your holiday plans will help you reconnect in a way that just isn’t possible through a computer screen.

One-horse open sleigh, anyone?

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