Sarah and I were careening down the bunny hill at Elk Mountain.
“Wheeee!” she laughed from behind her neck warmer. It was a free member day for WVIA donors and I was saving the $32 it would normally cost us to spend the day on the beginner slope.
After whisking her down the slope, me in a full squat, her little skis barely touching the snow, I stopped short of the lift line by about 10 yards for our brief tutorial.
“Now you do it,” I said, as I unwrapped my arms from around her body and set her on the snow. I reminded her to use the snowplow stance, or “pizza” as ski parents know, and off she went as I lightly held her harness to control her speed.
“Wow!” a mom exclaimed, smiling, as we passed by at the base of the hill. “She’s having fun!” I smiled and took in her situation. There was a dad there too, and three very small children. I guessed one was 4 years old or so, another maybe 2 and a baby less than 1 year old. The baby was strapped to dad’s chest in what looked to be a single layer fleece suit. Her hat had fallen off and she had lost a boot as dad struggled to teach the 2-year-old who stood there crying profusely. The 4-year-old was the only one who looked even remotely capable of learning to ski, although he was not smiling.
I couldn’t help staring at the 2-year-old. His tears fell steadily and silently off his cheeks.
“It’s all about having fun at this age,” I said to the dad, unable to keep my mouth shut. “I really have no idea how to teach my little one, but I have two teenagers tearing up the mountain and I ‘taught’ them.” At the risk of giving unsolicited advice, I went on. “I think I just showed them how much fun it was, and eventually, when they were 5 or 6, they taught themselves.”
“Sounds like you know what you’re doing,” the dad said with an edge in his voice as Sarah and I headed for the lodge. We had gotten three runs in and had already agreed it was time for a hot cocoa break.
I gave them no further thought as Sarah and I stopped along the way so she could play with her tiny Ana and Elsa figurines I had stashed in my pockets. Leaning up against a post, I breathed deeply and reminded myself that patience is a virtue. Despite the chilly temperatures (high of 21) and the consistent snow squalls, I tried to relax as I took in the beauty of the day.
After a lengthy break inside, we headed back out to the bunny hill when Sarah was warm and eager. That’s when I saw that family again. Still there at the base of the bunny slope, the baby was now propped up against her toddler brother in the snow, crying as if in agony. Dad was working very seriously with the 4-year-old and Mom was watching the lesson. I was already cold despite my frequent breaks, proper ski gear and much larger-sized body. I couldn’t imagine how the baby must feel in that little fleece suit.
“Mommy, I need to go talk to that baby!” Sarah implored, concern in her eyes. My maternal and protective instincts, made it very difficult not to intervene. “Her mommy and daddy will take care of her,” I told Sarah more than once and without conviction.
It’s all in the planning
Thinking back, nearly every time I have taken to the bunny hill, I have seen a similar situation.
But like I told the father on the bunny slope last week — for me, it’s all about showing my kids that skiing is fun. Eventually they will listen to my pointers and get motivated to figure it out. In the meantime, there are a few things I have learned along the way that ensure a good time:
• Snacks: Lots of snacks. We bring little packets of fruit snacks, some Capri Suns, Pirate’s Booty and Teddy Grahams. Hot cocoa is imperative several times each outing.
• Little toys: When Sarah is tired of the same old up and down, she loves to pull out her Disney figurines and have them climb, dance and sled on a pile of snow.
• Weather: Only go if it’s 30-plus degrees and sunny. You never want them to suffer the elements and create a bad memory to later draw upon. I did not heed my own advice on WVIA day, but this rule does not apply when skiing is free.
• Clothing/gear: Make sure they are warm and well-protected from the elements. Just because they are little doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have just as high-quality, water-proof ski mittens as you do. eBay is a great place to get good stuff cheap for skiing, along with end of season sales at the local ski shops.
• Drive separately: My teens will ski from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. if given the chance. Living in NEPA in close proximity to the mountains, baby and I take our own car so we can cut out when she is done.
• Have low expectations: Do not think this is going to be a great day out for you, shredding up the mountain. You are here to provide your child with a fun experience and spend quality time together. But it helps if you can split the time with your spouse so you each get a chance to let loose on your own a bit.
• Laugh together: A sense of humor is imperative to get you through the brutal carrying of the gear, the fastening of the boots, the donning of the mittens and the strapping of the helmet. Make it look light and easy and never let them see you sweat.
Remember, the child is in charge here, not you. If they are miserable, it’s over, and there is no negotiation. They are small and their muscles are not as developed, so expect them to tire faster. Their smaller bodies get chilled quicker, so the moment they are cold, go in. The child has to want to ski or it is futile. Make it fun and they will want to do it again and again. And it’s so worth it! My teens love ski season and their winter social life takes place on the slopes.
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