Killington calls out to skiers Vermont: It's different from the Rockies, but just as beautiful, and for families in this part of the country, it's a lot more accessible.

Taking the Kids

February 04, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

The Goldens were set on taking their kids out West this ski season -- until they spent a weekend testing the slopes in Killington, Vt., the East Coast's biggest ski area.

"After that weekend at Killington, we took a house here. We canceled the trip West," said Megan Golden, who lives outside ** Philadelphia and was warming up in the base lodge with her son after an afternoon on the mountain. "Instead of one big trip, we'll have a lot of smaller ski trips. You can't beat the snow, and the children's programs are terrific."

There are certainly plenty of slopes to explore. With six mountains interconnected by 75 miles of trails, Killington offers the highest summits and greatest diversity of ski terrain in the East.

"You won't get bored skiing here for an entire week," promises Keith Wentzel, a sales representative from Andover, Mass., who was skiing with his wife and 9-year-old daughter.

Even better for the novices in the group, "You can go to the top of the mountain, and there's always an easy way to get down," said Mary Powell, who had brought four kids to ski. "No one will get intimidated."

Plenty of snow

That's why, with so much snow early in the season -- more than 11 feet falling by mid-January at Killington -- this is a good season to sample East Coast skiing, especially because conditions in the West have been so poor in many places.

"We've even seen some people from California," said Bruce Noble, who directs the children's ski school at Killington.

Conditions have been so good in New England, in fact, that many East Coast families are taking to the slopes for the first time in years. For example, Boston teen-ager Kim Gibson opted for a family ski weekend instead of a big Sweet 16 party.

"I haven't had a better weekend in my life," reported Kim, who had never before skied with her family. "We're going to make this a family tradition," vowed her mom, Debbie.

Sure, it's colder here than in the West -- my kids' toes were freezing when the temperatures dipped to single digits. Trails are narrower and more crowded. But there's something to be said for skiing where the sport first took hold in this country.

That was back in 1934, just 20 miles down the road from Killington, in Woodstock, when the first commercial rope tow was built so skiers wouldn't have to hike up the mountain in order to ski down.

And the scenery, though decidedly different from the Rockies, is just as pretty, with rolling hills, snow-covered farms and towns where nonskiers can shop and wander. They also can get out on the mountain in snowshoes to enjoy the views. (For information about snowshoes, call Killington's new High Country Touring Center at [802] 422-3333, Ext. 6475.)

Killington's children's ski school and day-care center (it takes children from 6 weeks old) get high marks from parents. The littlest skier in our family, 4-year-old Melanie, had a good time working on her turns as a member of Mini Stars, even though one budding hotdogger in her class made the mistake of telling her boys are better skiers than girls.

Melanie quickly proved him wrong.

Because kids like Melanie and her friend are learning to ski so much younger, they're developing into far more confident and aggressive skiers than most kids were a decade ago, explains Killington's Mr. Noble.

Killington's ski school for children has changed accordingly. There now is a program to teach toddlers to ski as well as one to help preteens perfect their mogul-jumping technique. Kids as young as 6 can learn to snowboard. During certain vacation weeks, a teens-only ski school is offered, providing fun on the mountain and off.

Ski instructors, here as elsewhere, get training before teaching kids. One tip: Be sure to tell the instructor if, after skiing with your child, you think he or she belongs in a more advanced class. And know what deals are offered for rentals and lifts for kids before getting in line to get equipment or buy lift tickets. Twice, we nearly were overcharged.

Of course, skiing doesn't come cheap. A full-day session at ski school for a 5-year-old, including lifts, lessons, equipment and lunch, costs $91. A junior lift ticket costs $27; an adult's $48.

A multiday package brings the price down considerably. Those who can ski midweek and are within driving distance of New England will save even more. For example, a family of four could spend a week at Killington learning to ski for roughly $1,500, including accommodations.

(For more information about Killington's ski school for kids, call the Children's Center at [802] 422-6222. For more information about Killington vacation packages call Killington Travel Service [800] 372-2007. Call [800] VERMONT for statewide information about all 14 ski areas.)

Where to stay

To really give the kids a sense of traditional Vermont skiing, consider staying at a local inn -- one that welcomes children, of course. The price, including meals, might beat that of a condo on the mountainside.

We opted for the Killington Village Inn, just a few blocks and a free shuttle-bus ride from the mountain. (Call [800] 451-4105.)

This was not a luxurious spot: The rooms were tiny and basic, as they traditionally have been at New England ski lodges. And next time, I'd know to avoid the Saturday-night apres-ski scene.

But each day, when we got back from skiing, a big fire was blazing in the fireplace. Games and toys were stacked on a table. We played dominoes and built Lego towers.

There were first-rate breakfasts in the morning and four-course dinners at night that I didn't have to cook or clean up. Even better, the kids could eat and go upstairs, leaving us to linger over wine and desert.

Melanie didn't touch her dinner. Exhausted from her day practicing turns, she fell asleep curled up at our feet.

The tired skiers all around us just smiled.

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