Resorts offering ski lessons give kids a chance to try their skill on the slopes

November 17, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

You love to ski and so does your spouse. But this season is the crucial test of whether you'll become a skiing family. You're taking the kids.

You know you're going to drop a bundle. Ski experts suggest you figure $50 a day per child for equipment, lifts and lessons. Day care for younger children is a little less. So how can you make sure everyone

will have a good time?

Relax. Virtually every major resort now offers programs to teach kids to ski. Day care, even for infants, can be had at the base of the mountains. A growing number of resorts, like Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado, offer special kids' areas on the mountain.

"Don't expect too much too soon," advises Shawn Smith, ski school director at Colorado's Copper Mountain, where about 40,000 youngsters went through the ski school program last season.

"You don't wave a magic wand and have a kid learn to walk and talk and ski in one day," says John Alderson, who helps oversee children's programs for Vail Associates in Colorado and has written a book on the subject. "Give them a chance to get used to the environment."

But there are some things you can do to help them along. For one thing, reserve these programs in advance. They are much in demand.

Inquire about children's programs before you book. Are the instructors specially trained in handling youngsters? Children's

programs are expanding everywhere and you want to be sure your kids will be taught by someone who is tuned into their needs. See if the mountain offers a special kids-only learning area.

Check on class size. (For the 6-and-under crowd, you don't want to see more than five children per instructor. For older children, a good ratio would be 8 to 1.)

And make sure the kids are grouped by age as well as ability, ski experts advise. No matter how good a 5-year-old is, he simply won't have the stamina or even attention span an 8-year-old would.

Inquire about the resort's system for contacting parents on the mountain. Many, like Colorado's Beaver Creek, post your name near the lifts if they need you. Check on their system for returning kids to you: They shouldn't be released to any stranger.

You also want to ask if you are permitted to see your kids during the day and ski with them, if you like. Check on the lunches and snacks that are served. Ask how much time they spend on the mountain.

Younger children, ski experts explain, can't take more than an hour or so outside in the cold at a stretch. You need to make sure there are good indoor activities planned for them -- as well as the older crowd.

Some of them simply may not want to ski all day and you want to be sure they're supervised on the mountain and off.

Perhaps most important, make sure they have the right clothes.

That doesn't necessarily mean a color-coordinated ski outfit. What counts is a waterproof jacket, pants and mittens (and mittens are better than gloves for little hands).

Don't forget a warm hat and goggles. Children's eyes are as susceptible to the sun as are adults', notes Copper Mountain's Mr. Smith. Sunscreen is essential.

Vail's Mr. Alderson suggests coming a little early the first day. Pick up equipment beforehand, too. Anything you can do to make your kids feel more comfortable will help, he says.

"A good staff has things organized so that the kids come first," says Mr. Alderson.

And if you're happy with the program, he suggests, by all means tip the instructors and day-care providers. "They're not paid that much," he explains. "Certainly tips aren't expected, but they're much appreciated."

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