The Essence of Skiing

For 25 years, St. Thomas men have renewed friendships on the slopes.

In 1980, four College of St. Thomas graduates piled into a car loaded with ski gear and provisions and headed for Lutsen on the North Shore of Lake Superior. They skied hard, ate like kings, played cards, drank beer, smoked cigars and laughed into the wee hours. An annual event was born.

The next year, they drove to Killington, Vt. I joined the group in 1982 at Lutsen and have made every subsequent trip – usually to Lutsen but also to Colorado and to Thunder Bay, Ontario. We will celebrate our 25th annual trip in 2004 by testing the slopes in Utah or British Columbia.

When I tell people that I have been skiing with this group for a quarter of a century, they seem surprised and wonder if we’re trying to recapture our adolescence. That got me to thinking about what makes this trip so special. Skiing and playing cards is fun, but fun alone does not create a tradition that lasts 24 years. I set out to document the essence of this trip and the essence of skiing.

Over the years, the alumni participants have included:

• Bomber ’77 earned his nickname with his style of skiing. It led to our group motto: “Ski Angry. To Turn Is To Admit Defeat.”

• Mortimer ’79, ’83 M.B.A., is the spitting image of the guy in the Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic strips, complete with red turtle-necks that he hikes up over his chin.

• Bac, short for Canadian Bacon ’77, ’83 M.B.A., picked up his nickname on the Killington trip when an intestines for a good part of the ride.

• Stretch ’77, ’91 M.I.M., is simply tall.

• The Intern ’79, didn’t take kindly to being called Rookie, the nickname assigned to the newest member the group.

• Norm! ’79 is a lot like the guy from “Cheers” and has the same swagger – and last name – as the 1960s’ Detroit Tigers slugger. • Richter’80 is named for the instrument used to chart the geological impact of his snoring.

• Dusty ’79 is named after the dust on rafters, I guess. (Hey, I didn’t say all of these made sense!)

• Bro – that’s me, thanks to the Elton John song, "Daniel my brother, you are older than me … .”

The trip itself is a collection of informal traditions, many dating back to those early years. Our advancing ages have dulled the urgency to be the first on the mountain and the last off, but we still ski with great enthusiasm. There is nothing quite like standing at the top of Lutsen’s Bridge Run at the end of the day, breathing in the winter air while marveling at the vast expanse of Lake Superior below.

The trip is not just about skiing, though; it also is about food. We have ritual meals like Big Dead Cow Night with handcrafted Caesar salads, baked potatoes, garlic bread and fine red wine. The obligatory midnight snack is the finest homemade Swedish potato sausage you can imagine.

Another essential tradition is cards. We gather throughout the year for Last Friday of the Odd-Numbered Month Economic Seminars (poker), and on ski trips we mix in cribbage and hearts and play at a table shrouded in a blue haze of Dominican and Cuban cigars. Over the years there has been a noticeable shift from beer to Diet Coke, and I’m not sure we’ll ever see another trip where one skier will drink 17 beers (that’s right, 17) in a 12-hour sitting and wake up with no hangover.

Some traditions do not even occur on trip weekends. In the early years, Valentine’s Day fell during our trips, presenting a problem for those with wives and sweethearts. To make up for lost time, the Guilt Trip Dinner was born. We take our better halves to a nice restaurant. The “First Rule of Holes,” you’ll remember, is that if you are in one and want to get out, you stop digging. The Guilt Trip Dinner is our opportunity to lay down our shovels for a couple of hours.

These elements, however, individually or as a whole, do not speak to the heart of our trips. What makes this tradition stand the test of time is being with people you like and trust. We have been there for each other through good times and bad – marriages, births, promotions, divorces and deaths. We’ve laughed together and cried together.

For that simple reason, we will ski until our doctors confine us to nursing homes, and then we still will get together to play cards and to laugh and cry some more.

The essence of skiing – or of these ski trips, at least – is friendship.

Dan Keyport ’79, ’89 M.B.A., is technical services manager at Questar Data Systems in Eagan, and serves on the St. Thomas Alumni Association board.