A fresh layer of snow blanketed the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Father, son and daughter were the first ones on the ski lift. It had always been important for the three of them to be up early — not just to experience the best snow of the day, but also to spend time together and create precious memories as a family.
The daughter, Sue Anderson, grew up in the mountains of Tahoe, Calif., with her family, which is a city known for both its summer and winter attractions because it was founded on both a mountain range and a lake.
For Anderson, 41, skiing has always been not just a sport, but a “tradition and a lifestyle” for her family. Her father, Walt Birkner, taught her and her brother, Von Birkner, how to ski on the same day. Her father also learned how to ski on that day by teaching himself.
The year was 1978, and Anderson was 6 years old. This was the start of Anderson’s skiing career, and once it began there were few things that ever got in the way. After several classes and ski coaches, both Anderson and her brother started to get better and better at skiing.
Things were different in those times, and skiing wasn’t just considered a sport. It was taken very seriously, especially by the local community. Anderson said some of her best memories with her dad, mom and brother usually always involve the snow. Growing up, on most holidays or every chance they had a day of off school, the family would head out to ski the slopes together.
After learning how to ski fairly well, and picking it up very quickly, Anderson began to ski with a local children’s ski team in Tahoe until she entered high school. It was with the Incline High School Ski Team where Anderson was awarded an all-region award. This was one of the highest-ranking awards one could receive in that particular division.
Anderson went on to ski with the varsity team all four years of high school, where she was once awarded her broken ski mounted on a plaque after crashing into a rock and a tree. After going out on one last run of the day, Anderson and a friend went into the backcountry and she didn’t see a giant hole hidden by the snow. One of her skis popped off and the remaining one shattered after hitting a rock. Anderson shattered her heel bone in the process and injured her back.
“Doctors said it was the equivalent to falling out of a three-story building,” she said. “It was pretty gnarly.”
It was during this time that Anderson also began to work as a ski instructor and as a coach for a youth ski team. She said she really enjoyed doing this all during high school and into her early college years.
In college, Anderson skied with the Boise State University ski team and soon after, skied on the University of Utah B level team for one year.
Anderson’s parents moved to Tooele seven years ago in order to live closer to Anderson and their grandchildren, who currently live in Salt Lake City. Anderson’s father is still an avid skier at 80 years old. He started skiing for his children and by doing so started a family tradition. They still enjoy making new memories on the slopes together.
“Our family decided to trade in the Sierra cement for the ‘greatest snow on earth,’” Anderson said.
It was shortly after joining the University of Utah’s ski team that Anderson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and debilitating condition of the joints. At such a young age, this put a harsh damper on her skiing career and her regular active lifestyle for the next following years.
However, after battling the outcomes of the disease for a few years and slowly regaining lost hope, Anderson’s illness went into remission at age 24. She then was able to go back to the sport she was unable to do for so long.
“I returned to skiing with a renewed excitement,” she said.
The return to her beloved sport began slowly. She started to meet up with friends and spend a couple of days a week skiing. After a while, she began teaching again, this time at Brighton Ski Resort, and continued into her early 30s. Anderson soon after met her husband, Travis, who also has a passion for winter sports, even though he happens to be a snowboarder. They immediately had something they both loved to do together and went on several backcountry ski touring trips as a couple. Instead of heading to the tropics, they spent their honeymoon in Banff, Canada, skiing and snowboarding together.
Anderson, her husband, and step-daughter, Kaiya, like to get together as much as they can as a family and spend the day on the mountains near Salt Lake City. The newest member of the Anderson family, 2-year-old son Milo, will get his feet wet soon by trying out a snowboard or a pair of skis. His mom and dad are planning to keep the family tradition alive by teaching their son how to ski.
“That is, if I can get him to keep his gloves on,” Anderson said.
Anderson said perfect powder and spending time with her family is what keeps her skiing every season.
“There is nothing quite like it and getting out with friends and family,” she said. “It makes it all the better to be able to enjoy it as a group.”