- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

NEW YORK — We taught our two boys to ride bikes, swim and — oh, our aching backs — ice-skate. When it came to skiing and snowboarding, though, my husband and I were clueless. We had never done either sport.

We decided to try a low-key family resort in upstate New York that offered an introductory group ski lesson for all ages. I’ll never forget standing at the top of the bunny hill, the grown-ups all carefully following the instructor’s detailed advice on how to stand and bend and stop.

After three minutes of talk, talk, talk, my boys — then 5 and 10 — got bored and took off down the hill without so much as a “See ya.”

“They’re fearless,” the instructor observed approvingly as they zoomed toward the woods. Um, yeah.

They were fine and had fun going up and down the hill the rest of the day. In retrospect, however, they might have been better off in a program designed just for children, in which they wouldn’t zone out on adult blather. A good teacher can get children moving safely before their attention starts wavering.

The following winter, we were passing through central Pennsylvania on the way home from a road trip and decided to let the boys try snowboarding at a children’s program on Blue Knob Mountain in Claysburg.

We signed the boys up for a half-day lesson, and then I headed for a picnic table inside the nice, warm lodge, where I settled down with a bread bowl of soup and my laptop. When I ventured out with my camera to check on them, I could see that snowboarding wasn’t quite as easy to master as skiing the bunny hill. Beginners fall down a lot, but they were getting the hang of it and enjoying themselves, and their instructor was enthusiastic and patient.

A few weeks later, we took a day trip to a ski slope less than an hour north of our home in New York City, at the Sterling Forest Ski Center. To their delight, the boys qualified for the intermediate class and headed out to improve their technique while I watched from the window of the heated hut.

By now, they were hooked on snow sports. Many things children learn require a big dose of support from parents, but in this case, they were on their own — and maybe that was even part of the attraction. So I’m here to testify: Your children can ski and snowboard even if you don’t. Here are some tips to get the planning started.

WHERE TO GO

More than 90 percent of the 315 resorts that belong to the National Ski Areas Association offer children’s lessons. Resorts in 38 states are listed at www.goski.com, so you don’t have to fly to Utah for the weekend to have fun. Ask friends, neighbors and family members for recommendations. There are ski areas within two or three hours’ drive of most metropolitan areas in colder parts of the country, and many are accustomed to helping non-skier city folks have a great day on the slopes. “The vast majority of people enter the sport at the place that’s closest to them and most affordable,” says Michael Berry, president of the ski association.

COST

Lessons and equipment rental for snow sports do not come cheap, ranging from $25 to $100, depending on location; date; and whether the class is an hour, half-day or all-day. (I rationalize that the damage to the family budget is about the same as spending the day at a theme park or county fair, but at least the children are getting exercise.)

Check for AAA discounts. We found the Sterling Forest Ski Center through an ad in our local AAA magazine. You’ll pay less on weekdays and evenings (some resorts have night lights on the slopes) than on peak weekends or holidays.

Several states, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Colorado and Utah, offer free lift tickets for students in fourth or fifth grade as a way of encouraging winter fitness. Click on Passport Programs at www.winterfeelsgood.com for details. Shop around for accommodations. A discount motel near the slopes may be cheaper than the lodge. Or avoid hotel costs altogether by planning a day trip to a ski facility that’s two or three hours away. Start out early; come home late. Pack meals and snacks.

SAFETY

Helmets are optional at many resorts, and you may have to pay extra to rent them. (No, you can’t use a bike helmet.) Visit www.lidsonkids.org for more information. There you’ll find the story of the Farmer family, whose son struck a tree while in a ski school in Colorado and survived, thanks to his helmet. Another child who was not wearing a helmet struck a tree at the same school a day later and died.

As a parent and non-skier, I was more afraid of putting my child on the lift than having him zoom down a mountain on waxed pieces of wood, but lift accidents are rare. Talk to the instructor if your child is too short to get in the chair on his or her own; someone — maybe you or an older sibling or a teacher — can stand by to help.

“Ski-area chairlifts are absolutely one of the safest forms of transportation,” Mr. Berry says. “You are at far greater risk of injury driving to and from the ski area than on the lift.”

AGE

Some ski schools teach children as young as 4; others take 6 and older. Many resorts offer snow play or day care for younger children.

Little ones who are unused to snow or who don’t separate well may need coaxing. Mr. Berry recommends going tubing with a young child “just to get used to the idea of having snow in your mittens.”

Some children will need several lessons to develop necessary skills. Children who skate may pick up skiing more quickly; children who skateboard may find snowboarding similar.

HOW TO DRESS

Layers provide warmth. Pants with a waterproof shell are essential for beginning snowboarders and not a bad idea for new skiers. You needn’t buy fancy ski pants at the lodge shop, though; a regular snowsuit is fine. Avoid cotton socks, which trap moisture. Pete Gilmore, vice president of Eastern Mountain Sports (www.ems.com), recommends socks containing merino wool (no, it’s not itchy) or synthetic fibers such as polyester or polypropylene. They insulate while wicking sweat away from perspiring skin.

Mittens keep fingers warmer than gloves do, according to Mr. Gilmore. A waterproof nylon shell is important, but also look for insulation that traps air to keep hands warm. A properly insulated mitten — whether it contains Gore-Tex, Primaloft or some other polyester fill — should spring back when squeezed, Mr. Gilmore says.

Mittens and gloves shouldn’t be tight around the fingers. A Velcro wrist strap or buckle will keep them from falling off. If it’s snowing, you’ll need goggles. And don’t forget sun block and lip balm.

OTHER PREPARATION

Call ahead to ask if lunch is provided and if you should show up early to get your child’s equipment on. Before the lesson begins, be sure your child isn’t hungry, thirsty or needing a bathroom.

Sterling Forest Ski Center: 581 Route 17A, Tuxedo, N.Y.; www.skisterlingforest.com or 845/351-2163. Located a half-hour from George Washington Bridge. Lesson, equipment rental and lift ticket for children 12 and younger on weekend days, $40.

Blue Knob All Seasons Resort: Ski Gap Road, Claysburg, Pa.; www.blueknob.com or 800/458-3403. Located about 31/2 hours from Washington. Half-day session for ages 6 to 11, including equipment rental and lift ticket, $50; full day, $75.

Adaptive skiing: Resorts offering lessons for children with disabilities are listed at www.sitski.com.

Professional Ski Instructors of America has a “Parents’ Guide to Snowsports” at www.psia.org.

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