32 Degrees: Peter Kray on Celebrating the Holidays

This story, by Peter Kray, appears in the Winter 2022 issue of 32 Degrees Magazine, which you can read right here

It was my first Christmas out of college, on my own, and I couldn’t have been more excited to be working as a ski instructor at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole.

The mountains are mythic, the weather and terrain uncompromising. The people I worked with would become my mentors and friends – including big-mountain riding and glass-ceiling-breaking icons such as Pat Campbell, Renny Burke, the late Theo Meiners, and Jeff and Julie Zell (among dozens of others) – all legends in the snow- sports world.

Just to be in these skiers’ and riders’ presence, riding Jackson’s tram from top to bottom, would teach me something new every run I skied.

Yet when I went to sign my contract with the snowsports school director Pepi Stiegler, easily the most iconic of them all – with two Olympic gold medals and his just-off- the-mountain skier’s hat-hair – I made one simple change to the terms.

Pepi shrugged, penned them in, and sent the contract across his desk for me to sign, saying with his clipped, Austrian accent, “Mister Kray will not work Christmas Day.”

A Holiday for Two

I’m still not sure why I made the request. How, during a season of so much joy and celebration, and especially community, I decided to set the whole holiday aside, just for me.

But it was a beautiful day. Surreal at times to lap wide-open runs beneath clear blue skies with another young instructor, Alexandria, on break from her junior year at Dart- mouth and, like me focused on seeking the present of powder under every tree.

Carols played from every liftshack. Every liftline brimmed with smiles and good cheer. And every now and then we skied by one of our fellow teachers – experienced or just as fresh as us – leading chattering classes across the open trails.

We waved like passing sleighs, alive in the speed and cold. Moving through an especially majestic natural environment with the promise of warm toasts and fires to gather by below.

Later in the day we passed Greg Schnitker, a local-born instructor who we all saw as kind of a hero, standing on the catwalk watching his freestyle class jackrabbit through the bumps below Après Vous. He seemed surprised to see us skiing alone.

He said, “They couldn’t find a couple fun classes for you two to teach?”

The Best Stories are Shared

“Fun,” was the word that stuck in my head as Alexandria and I went arcing down to Teton Village, where the lights were coming on. I began to feel like I had missed something. A sense of festive togetherness. Of new memories made and stories to share. And how each season has a way of bringing back holiday memories every year.

As a kid, I spent every Christmas Eve with the same two families, rotating from home to home. And every year, everyone invited someone new, so that the sense of family would grow and grow.

It felt like a growing family back in the locker room, where everyone else was chang- ing out of their uniforms. They were sharing jokes from the hill, homemade cookies, and hot cider. Their smiles and faces bright with the warmth of coming in from the cold.

They had invitations to stop by someone’s condo for appetizers. Or to meet for a beer at The Mangy Moose. Everyone was slowly, happily moving from the celebration on the hill to a continuation of collective happiness indoors. My fellow first-year instructors were basking in the good feelings they had just experienced on the hill.

Which is when it hit me – the sense of missing a chance to be in the holiday parade, and, instead, watching from the curb. The best presents aren’t objects waiting to be unwrapped, but experiences and sensations that your whole body can feel.

So, when another instructor asked if I wanted to join him and some new friends for a glass of Christmas cheer, I almost yelled, “Sure!” And the next season I changed my contract with Pepi, and gladly welcomed the opportunity to teach on Christmas Day, or New Year’s, or any holiday with an opportunity to celebrate the joy of being together on snow.

Peter Kray is the lead writer for PSIA-AASI, focusing on emerging ski and snowboard trends, education, and on-snow innovation. He skis and telemarks out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is the Author of American Snow and The God of Skiing.