Rebecca Klein’s kids were ski novices when they checked in at Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch resort for a weeklong stay recently. They didn’t stay that way for long.
“After just one day of lessons, my six-year-old son, Seth, was saying, ‘Come on, Mom, let’s get on the chairlift,” remembers Klein, who lives in Baltimore and grew up skiing in Vermont. “And Samara, my four-year-old, participated in a ski race.”
Ski school has come a long way since Klein took her first turns at Smuggler’s as a child. Young skiers used to be an afterthought at many winter resorts, banished to the bunny hill or daycare centers while adults enjoyed the mountain.
The U.S. ski and snowboard industry has dubbed January “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month” and is offering free or reduced-rate ski or snowboard lessons at resorts in 34 states. There’s a lot to choose from, including themed ski camps, one-on-one clinics and more exotic offerings, like teaching youngsters how to ride a snowmobile.
“Ski resorts have embraced kids,” said Len Saunders, author of the book “Keeping Kids Fit.” “They realize that this generation of parents grew up with skiing and welcome making it a family event. They run specials on kids’ lessons, have bunny slopes for the kids, and areas where they can progress at a steady pace, and stock ski rentals for the smaller children.”
Smugglers’ Notch is among the standouts, when it comes to teaching kids to ski. Its Snow Sport University accepts children as young as 2 1/2 for ski lessons, and its program includes lunch and an après-ski science show.
Klein’s favorite ski school amenity is the Flaik GPS units that allowed her to go online at the end of the day and track her kids’ runs, their vertical feet and see where their group skied. But she was most impressed with how effectively the instructors were able to teach her kids to ski in a short amount of time.
“They were very nurturing and empowering,” she said.
Fun, too. Ski resorts are pouring resources and creative energy into making the experience as engaging for children as it is for grown-ups.
“Kids ski and ride camps continue to evolve from the good old days of one ski instructor to a big bunch of kids, learning to snowplow and parallel turn,” said Heather Burke, who edits the website Family Ski Trips. “Now resorts offer soup-to-nuts programs, all-day camps with equipment and lunch included.”
One of the most effective ways to teach kids to ski is to make the trip financially worthwhile to their parents. For example, Ski Utah is offering a program this season called The Ski Utah Fifth and Sixth Grade Passports. For a $25 processing fee, participating fifth-graders can ski at each of Utah’s 14 ski resorts three times without paying.
Sixth graders can enjoy one free day at each resort. The program is open to anyone, even though it’s billed as a locals program.
At Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, adults who buy a three-day or more multiday ticket can get a free kids ticket (18 and under).