Starting a New Year


New Year’s Day, with its annual trip to the abandoned ski lodge, was one of our family’s most anticipated holidays.

New Year’s Day began early for our family, after only a few hours of sleep from celebrating New Year’s Eve. Mom was always the first one up, busily packing our lunch. Dad would pack the van with toboggans, inner tubes, sleds, an old pair of wooden skis, and many other contraptions that could be used to slide down snow-covered hills. Many of our friends, the bishop’s family, our aunt, uncle, and cousins would all gather in the living room. When everyone was accounted for, we would all pile into the van and other cars. As my dad led the way, our small caravan of cars headed off to the abandoned ski lodge at Dryden, Michigan.

The hour drive was mostly quiet, since many of us were still half asleep. Then, suddenly, the huge, old ski lodge would appear on top of a large hill, like a majestic monument, welcoming us to our private winter wonderland.

Next, there were slamming doors and snowballs whizzing through the air. Before I could get my mittens on and my scarf in place, I would usually be dragged into a deep snowbank and given a good face wash of cold, icy snow. Burrs hiding beneath the snow would now be totally entangled in my long hair. This was nothing to fret about; it was all part of the ritual. As soon as I could brush off my face, I would join in the race to the old lodge, accompanied by my favorite companions, Gretchen and Fluffy, my faithful 85-pound German shepherds.

The first step into the lodge was always an eerie encounter. Dead birds were scattered everywhere on the floor. We would all carefully walk up the huge, wooden stairs to the upper part of the lodge. It was one vast, spacious room, with enormous windows that opened to the most picturesque view. We could see the snow-covered slopes, the tops of the ice-frosted trees, and the blue frozen lake.

Dad and some of the boys would carry in wood, and the massive stone fireplace was soon roaring with a flaming fire. Then the fun began!

Off we’d go out the big back doors, down the stairs to the top of the hill. It was challenging to see how many people we could crowd onto the eight-man toboggan for the first ride down the slopes.

The sport continued until all of us were famished. Then back inside, we drank hot chocolate before the warmth of the fire. As soon as the feeling returned to our numb fingers and toes and our stomachs were satisfied, it was back to the slopes.

As the sun would begin to leave us and the sky filled with brilliant colors of orange, pink, purple and blue, it was time to gather all our snow gear and return home.

Some of our friends and family would return to our house. There we would eat hot chili and talk about the new year. We dreamed and planned about buying the old lodge and turning it into a beautiful home. As the night grew on, it was time to say good-bye. I always felt sad about the ending of this day. Tomorrow we’d be back at school and work, and it would be a whole year before another day of fun and carefree play in the snow.

Now, I look back on these days with great fondness. I remember watching those I love play in the brisk cold as the color-filled sky met the winter landscape on the horizon. As I gazed at that beautiful scene, I could feel my Heavenly Father’s love and I developed a deep gratitude for this beautiful world. I felt excitement just listening to the sounds of laughter from family and friends and the crunch of crisp snow under my boots. I remember feeling exhilarated by the sense of being alive as I took deep breaths of that cold air.

I realize now that family traditions have power we don’t always anticipate when they’re being developed. I suspect that as my parents began that yearly outing at the start of a new year, they were not fully aware of the significance it would come to have for our family. Now it is one of my most cherished memories, a part of who I am and the family I belong to.

[illustration] Lettering by James Fedor

[photos] Photos courtesy of Debi Robertson Rinker