Snowballing into a family activity Resort: As snowboarding's popularity builds, more folks hit the slopes at Vermont's Mount Snow.

Taking the Kids

March 01, 1998|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Terri Rubenstein figured her kids shouldn't have all the fun. Besides, the 40ish Long Island, N.Y., teacher was up for a new challenge as much as they were. When her daughters learned to snowboard, Rubenstein learned too.

"I see more and more parents trying it," said Rubenstein. "They want to see what it is that the kids like so much."

"I like being able to talk their same language," added Dave Lyle, who lives in New Jersey and is the father of 9-year-old twin snowboarders. Another plus for adults: "Snowboarding is easier on the knees."

The learning curve is quicker too than in skiing. "It's a great bonding experience, with parents and kids on the same playing field," said Chris Bluto, who oversees the fast-growing sport at Mount Snow in southern Vermont.

This 768-acre southern New England ski area -- the closest large resort to major East Coast cities -- long has had a reputation as a first-rate place for families to learn to ski. They come for the vast beginner and intermediate terrain at a place they're confident will have more parents and kids on the slopes than hot doggers.

Now, as snowboarding's popularity explodes in the wake of its much-ballyhooed first appearance in the Winter Olympics, families are coming here in ever-growing numbers to learn the sport.

"People used to look at us funny when we'd walk around with our snowboards. Now other parents want us to teach them!" says Cathy Collins, a Connecticut artist who spends her winter weekends at Mount Snow snowboarding with her husband and two sons.

Mount Snow officials say that 150 new boarders, 50 of them kids, come to Mount Snow each weekend; 60 instructors teach snowboarding. There are kids' clinics and opportunities for families to learn together.

"We're seeing more kids who have never skied and just want to snowboard," observes Doug Kaufman, who directs the children's programs.

(Make reservations for children's programs and lodging at Mount Snow by calling 800-245-SNOW or visit the Web site at www.mountsnow.com. The Learn-to-Ride program offers equipment, learning clinic and lower mountain lift for about $50 a person. A weekend lift ticket alone costs $49.)

Mount Snow has welcomed snowboarders from the beginning, following the lead of neighboring Stratton Mountain Resort, when many ski resorts were dubious about opening their slopes to the new sport. Now Mount Snow is an example of what a ski resort can do to make snowboarding a mainstream sport. It has:

* A new lift to the Gut, a 460-foot snowboard halfpipe, the longest illuminated, lift-serviced halfpipe in the country. Night riding costs $10 and is popular with the teen crowd.

* The East Coast's first snowboard park and, at 8.5 acres, Vermont's largest. Un Blanco Gulch has side banks, a mini-halfpipe and other constantly changing features to challenge boarders.

* El Diablo Terrain Park, a new 9-acre area designed for snowboarders. Palmercross Park at neighboring Haystack Mountain -- lined with banners, pennants and flags -- is designed so that four riders at a time can race.

* Children's snowboarding clinics for those aged 7 and older.

Families find at Mount Snow a kid-friendly ambience, a hallmark of the rapidly growing American Skiing Co., which also owns Heavenly in California and Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, among others. (Visit the American Skiing Co. Web site at www.peaks.com.)

Families can ski or board at any one of the company's seven resorts and know their kids are getting the same program, down to the color-coded levels and games played in beginner classes.

At Mount Snow, families give a thumbs-up to the slope-side accommodations and the casual, family-friendly restaurants.

At the ski area, I liked:

* The one-stop shopping, where kids can buy or rent equipment (new gear is purchased for the resort each year) and are signed into ski school.

* The cheery day-care center that handles infants and offers 3-year-olds their introduction to skiing an hour at a time, with plenty of indoor play time.

* Supervised evening "clubs" for teens and preteens.

* The just-for-kids beginner lifts at the bottom of the mountain, with a viewing porch from which parents may watch and a practice chairlift so kids can get the hang of getting on and off before going up the mountain.

* The designated Teddy Bear Weeks -- the next one begins March 8 -- with parades, sundae parties and rides on grooming machines.

Packages start at under $750 for a family of four.

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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