We may be living in the flatlands, and so far this winter, we’re experiencing way too little snow to suit me. Doesn’t matter. This time of year, I’m thinking skiing.
It’s been almost nine years — or prechild — since I was last on downhill skis. And I’ve been wanting to get my daughter on skis for several years now.
So we took a quick trip to Wisconsin after Christmas, where my husband and I would find out if we could still get downhill on skis, and we’d introduce our child to an awesome winter sport.
I’ve since read that children need to be at least 6 or 7 to snowboard. Younger children find it difficult because their leg muscles aren’t developed enough. Many experts recommend trying skis first, to better develop balance and a feel for gliding.
Cascade Mountain, near Wisconsin Dells, offered a three-hour lesson for kids. The lesson included a helmet, and it seems most ski schools require one for kids.
Things started off slowly, with the kids playing some games to warm up and learning to walk with one foot strapped onto the board.
Then they moved to the Magic Carpet — a tiny little slope where tiny little people learn to ski. The kids ride an escalator to the top of the “hill.” That’s something I hadn’t seen before.
My husband and I skied the more challenging runs while our daughter learned to snowboard.
After every couple of runs, we’d stop and watch the ski school kids as they practiced heading down the slope one at a time, into the arms of a staff member positioned to catch them.
Our daughter’s next lesson — how to buckle and unbuckle her bindings. I watched her finish one run, fall, then struggle to her feet and hop a couple of yards back toward the group. She sat back in the snow again and waited, stranded, until someone came to unbuckle one foot and then show her how to do it herself.
After the lesson was done, we all headed to the bunny hill — long enough to justify a chairlift and with more slope than the Magic Carpet. Our daughter did just fine getting down the hill, falling far less than I expected. Problem was, she hadn’t exactly learned how to stop. Or to turn.
She only ran into someone else once, another snowboarder sitting on the ground. It was at the top of the hill and she was going slow enough that no one was hurt.
She made close to a dozen runs down the bunny hill. Then, complaining that her butt hurt from falling, she retreated back to the Magic Carpet. By the end of the afternoon, I could see that she was turning her snowboard slightly to avoid other skiers. Progress!
As for me, I was relieved to find I hadn’t forgotten how to ski, although I was a bit rusty. No falls, though ... at least not while I was actually skiing down the hill. (There were a couple of embarrassing falls while getting off the chairlift.)
The scariest part of skiing is not getting down the hill, or even off the chairlift. It’s the other skiers. Especially on the bunny hill.
I was standing in the lift line late in the afternoon when a woman shooting across the hill (why was she going sideways and not downhill?) plowed right into me, knocking me down. She apologized profusely, although I wasn’t hurt. I’m pretty sure she was a lot more sore the next day than I was.
A few minutes later, I was on the chairlift with a man from the Chicago area. He said he’d seen a number of such incidents the day before and chose to stand in the lift line farthest from the hill. I’m going to remember that.
I was thrilled with my daughter’s enthusiasm for snowboarding, and I don’t want her to wait another year to build on her beginning skills. I’m already looking for a free weekend when we might get back to Wisconsin this winter.
A few tips for introducing children to skiing or snowboarding:
— Dress them warmly enough, with breathable layers and a waterproof jacket, pants and gloves or mittens.
— If your child is very young, check in advance with the ski area on sizes for rental boots and skis to ensure they have equipment that fits your child.
— Have your child wear a helmet to protect from head injuries from a fall or collision with another skier.
— Make sure your child is well-rested and has a good breakfast to start his or her day of skiing. Bring snacks to eat on the chairlift or during breaks.
— Most importantly, make it fun. Play games, take hot chocolate breaks and if your child tires of skiing, build a snowman or go sledding.
Here is a resource on introducing children to snow sports, from the Professional Ski Instructors of American and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors.
The following is a sampling of Midwest ski resorts that offer ski lessons for kids:
Cascade Mountain, Portage, Wis.
Cascade Kids teaches basics of skiing or snowboarding for kids ages 4 to 10, at a cost of $55 for a 3-hour session. Group lessons for ages 10 and over are $20 for a 90-minute lesson.
Devil’s Head, Merrimac, Wis.
First Tracks is a new ski instruction program that offers a two-hour group lesson for $40, for kids ages 4 to 10. Kids Pros, for ages 4 to 12, includes a lift ticket, rental equipment and two-hour group lesson for $65.
Ski and Ride School offers group lessons for ages 10 and up, at a cost of $30 for a 90-minute lesson, although the beginning level instruction for first-timers is for ages 13 and up. There also is a snowboard program for ages 9 and up that uses beginner-specific equipment. Again, the beginning level instruction for first-timers is for ages 13 and up, according to the website.
Chestnut Mountain, Galena
Powder Pups teaches snowplow turns and stops to kids ages 4 to 6. The Powder Rangers program is group lessons for ages 7 to 12. Both programs cost $60 for a three-hour lesson and $110 for an all-day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) lesson.
The Burton Learn to Ride program for ages 7 and up is for new snowboarders and uses equipment specifically designed for beginners. It costs $50 for a lift ticket, rental equipment and a two-hour lesson on weekdays, and $100 on weekends and holidays.
Alpine Valley, Elkhorn, Wis.
This ski area offers beginner and intermediate ski lessons for kids from 5 to 12, and snowboard lessons for kids ages 8 to 12. The cost is $25 for a two-hour lesson.
There are also group lessons for first-time skiers and snowboarders ages 12 and up, at a cost of $25 for one hour.
Wilmot Mountain, Wilmot, Wis.
Winter Wonderland is Wilmot’s ski-play area for kids 4 to 9. It includes one-hour-and-45-minute lessons for $30, at three different levels.