A Real-Life Family Vacation Diary

The trip was long-planned and expensive, designed for the cousins to spend some time together. But that doesn't mean it would go without a hitch. Not even when an expert is organizing it.

FRIDAY. My sister calls the day before we're supposed to meet in Utah for the week of togetherness on the slopes. My 8-year-old nephew has chicken pox, though he doesn't feel a bit sick.

SATURDAY. First crisis averted. My mother volunteers to stay with my nephew. My sister opts to come anyway with her husband and younger son, hoping my nephew will join us later.

Across the country, we're getting ready to leave for the airport when the second crisis happens. Our flight has been canceled. But United Airlines finds another flight two hours later from an airport an hour farther from our house. We can live with that.

SUNDAY. We drag ourselves out of bed, collect everyone's ski gear and head over to Park City Ski Area, Utah's largest, to face lines and more lines registering for ski school, renting the kids equipment, getting lift tickets.

We're nearly ready for lunch when we make it to the top of the mountain. Third crisis: we can't see five feet in front of us. It's cold and windy. It's scary to ski down a mountain in a white-out. I'm wondering why we didn't go to Florida.

Finally, we make it back to the house we've rented for the week. I decide I blew it choosing this one. We're supposed to be able to ski to this house two blocks from Park City's quaint Main Street. But the two 5-year-olds in our group can't manage the trails. We must haul them and their gear back and forth in the car.

No one else minds the hassle as much as I do. They tell me to lighten up. We cook spaghetti and congratulate ourselves on surviving the first day of vacation together.

MONDAY. We wake to snow and more snow, but we decide to ski anyway. We go to Deer Valley Resort, just down the road, in the hopes that the slopes will be well-groomed at the ski area that's built its reputation on service. The sun comes out and the views of the mountain peaks are fabulous, the air crisp. Twelve-year-old Matt and 10-year-old Reggie race down the slopes, earning envious glances from far older skiers. Deer Valley lives up to its reputation for terrific food and slopes.

I'm remembering why we like skiing, when the fourth crisis happens: Reggie takes a bad fall. She's got a bloody nose and has broken her goggles. Better her goggles than her nose, I tell her, drying her tears. I spring for an expensive ski hat, the kind the hot-doggers wear.

TUESDAY. Good news. The doctor has given my nephew the OK to travel and he'll be able to join us for the rest of the week. In the afternoon, we head to the beginner slope so 5-year-old Melanie can show us what she's learned at ski school. I'm the boss of this mountain, she says. We spot a porcupine in a tree from the ski lift and a ferret digging out of the snow.

By the time we get back to the house, my nephew has arrived. The noise is deafening. What possessed us to vacation with five kids? WEDNESDAY. Snowbird is touting its new kids-ski-free program about an hour away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. We head out early to explore the famed ski resort, leaving Melanie and her cousin in Park City's ski school. My sister and brother-in-law also stay behind. I see why so many families like to join forces on vacation: There's a lot more flexibility.

We have a lot of fun exploring the pristine mountain. Even I ski down one black diamond run, amazing the kids. Matt, Reggie and their dad all win medals on the NASTAR race course.

Back in Park City, we face a fifth crisis: Melanie is furious because I've brought her a pink lollipop while her cousins got multicolored ones. It doesn't matter that pink is her favorite color. I remind myself to never bring kids different colors of anything.

Immediately, crisis six erupts: An argument over where to order pizza escalates to a huge fight. I've started it. Maybe too much family togetherness isn't always a good thing, I think.

THURSDAY. The tension is still thick when we head out to ski. That leads to crisis seven: Matt gets chewed out royally by his uncle for taking his younger cousin down an expert slope. Matt, who, of course, can't see that he did anything wrong, mopes much of the day.

FRIDAY. Determined to end the week on a positive note, we decide the entire family -- all nine of us, including the two 5-year-olds -- will ski together at Deer Valley. Bad move.

Melanie bursts into tears every time her cousin gets ahead of her. Before full-scale war ensues, I suggest the two families separate for the day. Good move.

Melanie perks up after we stop to buy a fuzzy hat that looks like a koala bear head. She skis down the mountain all day singing "The Bear Skied Down the Mountain," earning smiles from every adult she passes. Matt and Reggie show her how to ski through the trees. It's warm and sunny.

Matt and Reggie and their dad split off on the last run to the toughest double-black-diamond run on the mountain. They make a pact: all smiles, no crying no matter what happens. We realize this is a day memories are made from. We don't quit until the lifts close.

That night, everyone is happy again. We all clink glasses. Here's to family. Here's to surviving a family vacation.

(c) 1996, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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