Children Ski Schools In The Mid-Atlantic
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The Colonel - DCSki Supporter 
November 15, 2008
Member since 03/5/2004 🔗
3,110 posts
Earlier tonight I posted a note to Scott about additional emphasis on skiing with children here in the mid-Atlantic. There is a vast difference in quality, efficiency, ease, and costs between the various resorts in this region.
Tonight I'll concentrate on what I consider to be the most efficient and inefficient approaches that our local hills employ.
Getting your kids to enjoy skiing and riding is more than just going to a local mountain and dropping them off at the ski school. Sometimes the situation can be downright humorous were you not paying big bucks for the experience. I digress, but I am reminded of an experience my family had at Canaan Valley Ski Area over thirty years ago (hopefully the tale I tell is no longer the case at this area). Anyway, I had dropped my youngsters off at the appointed meeting place and found the two of them to be in a class of two, a good beginning. The instructor took the kids over to the beginner lift area and was skiing down with the kids when I happened upon them. I stopped, watched, and listened to what he had to tell them. I heard instructions such as "keep skis at right angle to the slope", "ski across the fall line", "go parallel to..." etc.; my kids acted like they knew of what he spoke, hardly likely for kids under the age of seven!. He obviously was lacking in skills to reach children.
It would have been nice to have known that the CV kids program was sorely lacking in age appropriate instruction before I went there for that weekend many years ago.
Hopefully other DCSkiers will begin to use the Forum for posting about kids ski schools and other activities related to children at a resort. And methods that they have successfully and not so successfully used when first starting their kids future love for the snow sports. But I digress...
The way a children's ski program is organized and run can greatly influence the quality of instruction and the fun your kids will have...and their desire to return to the slopes. Remember, the key here is FUN! My experience is that the more organized a kids ski program is, the better the results.
Consider the optimum kids program: a school with instructors that enjoy working with kids, sometimes retired or still teaching elementary school teachers (especially on the weekend when additional instructors are needed due to crowds). Reasonable size classes. A program that also takes the kids indoors for treats, some warm off-snow activities, maybe even lunch...all for a reasonable fee, whether for a half day or a full day. You really want them to have FUN and learn, or you would not have put them into ski do not want a "day care" situation just so you can ski. Most resorts offer a baby-sitting operation if this is your intention. You want a school that makes you and the child feel good about what is happening and the whole experience. Much preferred is a school that takes care of all the hassle...provides the equipment and fits it to your child at the schoolhouse or rooms, and includes the lift ticket as a part of the daily or half-daily fee. Such programs exist at Seven Springs, Wintergreen, Bryce, and most other local resorts. A notable exception to this is the methodology employed by the children's ski program at our largest resort: Snowshoe Mountain. Here the kids are expected to have their own equipment (you the parent or grandparent must go to the resort's rental outlets and try to outfit your child...often a trying experience, especially if overcrowded with hordes of adults also seeking equipment. And remember, for a brand new little skier (under the age of 5) this can be a very intimidating experience, not a great way to encourage a lifetime passion for the sport. A child at this age has no real feel whether a boot is too large or not!
At Snowshoe you also have to obtain the child's lift ticket (even if free) before they go to the ski school. Once at the school the experience is hopefully similar to that at other resorts,
Since the kids that learn to ski and eventually board are the future of the industry, one would think that Snowshoe would offer programs and rates comparable to the other resort kids ski school programs. Whoa, not so fast. At most resorts the cost of a full days kids ski school is between $90-$110 , and this includes lift ticket, equipment, snacks, maybe lunch, and two on-snow lessons, sometimes the lift ticket is free even if the child is 7 or over and enrolled in a full day program. At Snowshoe the children's ski school is broken into two half day sessions, each $80 (or $160 for the full day). To that you have to add the rental equipment you reserved and acquired yourself, another $30 per day, and a self purchased lift ticket if the child is over the age of 5 (not sure, but about $45/day).
What this means is that Snowshoe charges near or over $200 per child per day for a full day program that involves a lot more hassle than at the other big mid-Atlantic ski resorts which charge approximately $100 for a better experience for the parents and hopefully the children.
DCSkiers should contact the folks at Intrawest and Snowshoe to bring their children's ski program up to the standards provided at nearly all other resorts, whether in the mid-Atlantic or elsewhere. The issue is not just cost, but the structuring of a fun experience for the child and also their parents.
Keep this topic alive by writing about your experiences putting you children and grandchildren on the slopes. Where has the experience been good, and where not so good (here explain the why since it might not be the fault of the ski school itself).
The Colonel smile
Denis - DCSki Supporter 
November 17, 2008
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,340 posts
I started my kids at Roundtop because they had a very nice kids program that involved a 2 hr. ski lesson, day care and lunch. I used to get the half day program and ski with them the other half of the day. It was 30 yrs. ago so I don't recall more than that, nor the cost. The kids loved it. Oldest was 5 when she started and the youngest was 3. The oldest became a college racer and now lives in Burlington VT and has 3 boys. The boys all have free season passes at Mad River as a result of their parents buying a Family Mad Card,
The boys all started in the MRG kids program as "Chipmunks",

Only the youngest, about to turn 5, still wants to do it. The older 2, 11 and 8, want to ski the woods with their friends and parents, but all started with the one day every weekend program which cost ~ $400 for the season for each kid. This program produces astonishing kid skiers. I have watched an entire class of Chipmunks beg their instructor to let them ski things like "Ice Palace" then watched them all do it in rapid succession with no hesitation and no mistakes. Ice Palace is short but is entered by dropping off a 6 foot ledge onto a ~40 degree chute that is about 1.5 ski lengths wide, 2-3 ski lengths for little kids. It then tightens up as the gradient drops rapidly. Then if you're an adult, you turn your shoulders sideways to fit between an ice draped cliff (hence the name) and the trees. In this lower part there is no room to check speed in any way, not even a shallow wedge. You must check speed with jump turns on the steep part and then ride out the rest. This is off piste of course.

Edited to say that it was probably the Development Team not the Chipmunks that I saw jump into Ice Palace. They were ~ 7-8 yrs. old. It was the end of the season so they had been together in the same group with the same instructor all season. I am sure that instructor knew them and their abilities very well. He was both proud and amused when his charges did that.
November 17, 2008
Member since 07/15/2004 🔗
585 posts
My experience with Ski schools is limited to Timberline; however, in addition to my daughter, over the past 6 years we've had about 20 kids come up to our place in Canaan Valley to learn to ski. This experience has given me a few ideas about what works and doesn't with young kids.

First off- Timberline has some excellent ski instructors for kids. Anyone can PM me for some recommendations, but suffice it to say the instructors I know there really have a way connecting with kids.

For ski school at Timberline there are 3 options - basic group lessons, all-day ski school ("Timber Adventure" for tots and "Mountain Safari" for post-tots/pre-teens), and finally private lessons.

In general, I do not recommend the all-day ski school. The main issue I've seen is that too often the group is held back by the weakest skier(s). There are usually not enough instructors to give the few kids with some ski experience lessons tailored to their abilities. That sometimes means the group never gets off the bunny slope - sometimes it doesn't get out of the ski school area either. All day or all weekend - depends on the number and proficiency of the kids enrolled for the weekend. Also, some kids enrolled clearly don't want to be in ski school - so that can detract from the experience for the other kids.

Instead, I always recommend private lessons to my friends. Sign up for a half day (2 1/2 hour session) as the best way to get a kid started skiing over all other options. Sign them up for the morning, then ski with them yourself all afternoon. I found that with most kids, the instructor is able to get them skiing from the top of Timberline after a couple hours of private lessons. Once they are skiing from the top, they can ride the lift and ski some with their parents, or with their more experienced friends. It's important that new skiers have that feeling of real achievement at the end of the first day. Skiing from the top of the mountain usually gets them pumped up to go out the next day. Private lessons are also a good way to separate siblings so they each get a personalized learning experience. I've seen this to be important for twins and for siblings separated by 1-3 years of age.

Other general tips (for Timberline):
  • arrange for equipment rentals before you get to the mountain. Either bring the rentals with you - or hit up a local rental spot like Ski Barn on Friday night. That way, the kids have their equipment when you get to the mountain Saturday morning.

  • If you are signing up for all-day ski school - go to the lodge early to stand in line (7:30AM at the latest) - particularly on holidays. The ski school fills up fast. Good news is that private lessons don't fill up as fast, but I'd recommend being at the ski school window Saturday by 8AM to make sure you get the instructor and timeslot you want.

  • It is not a good idea to try learning a new snowsport at the same time your kids are learning. For example, I have a friend who is an excellent skier decide to learn snowboarding with his 6 year old first-time slider twins. Well there was nothing more pathetic than watching my buddy get overwhelmed trying to help his kids when he couldn't even stay upright himself.

For parents who want to ski themselves - the all day ski school is a decent option. They'll keep your kids out of your hair all day so you can ski as much as you want. IMHO, private lessons are the best way to go if having your kids actually learn to ski is the priority. This may not seem to be the cheapest route at first - you usually get rentals and a lift ticket included along with instruction in the all-day schools. But I think in the long run private lessons with separate rentals pays dividends because your kids have a more enjoyable and personalized instruction experience. Enjoying those first hours of skiing goes a long way towards nurturing a lasting love of skiing in children.

November 18, 2008
Member since 03/3/2008 🔗
18 posts
Originally Posted By: tgd
IMHO, private lessons are the best way to go if having your kids actually learn to ski is the priority. This may not seem to be the cheapest route at first - you usually get rentals and a lift ticket included along with instruction in the all-day schools. But I think in the long run private lessons with separate rentals pays dividends because your kids have a more enjoyable and personalized instruction experience. Enjoying those first hours of skiing goes a long way towards nurturing a lasting love of skiing in children.


Agreement here. We are relatively new converts to skiing on a regular basis - my husband had never skied before we met, and I hadn't skied regularly for about (yikes!) 15 years. Last year, our son was 3.5 and I really wanted to get him out there. We're fans of HV - it just fits my confort level and DH's skill level right now - and we had a fabulous experience with private lessons for the kidlet. We went up every Saturday and got him a 2-hour lesson in the morning, took a break for lunch, and then took him out with us for a couple/few runs in the afternoon. A 2-hour lesson was really all he had the focus and energy for last year, I'm betting we up it to 3-hours this winter. After 2 weekends of lessons (with the same instructor which I think really helped) - he graduated to the lifts and full hills.

We went every weekend with my sister and her family. She has a daughter who was 5 last year, so old enough for ski school. They really didn't want to pay more for the private lessons (and with 2 kids on skis, I can understand that) - but - by the end of the season, she was still not willing to get on a lift - she was just too scared. Because it is a group lesson, they really don't have the time to give them the same 1-on-1 attention as a private lesson.

So, private is definitely a pricier option, but, in the long run, your kid gets the skills and confidence needed faster. If parents having the day to ski by themselves is a goal as well, then obviously, ski school makes sense, but we both work full-time and would rather ski with the kid, even if his skill level means intermediate and lower, so private instruction was the way to go for us.

DH and I have also started out each of the last few seasons with a 1-hour refresher "oh yeah, that's how this all works again" lesson.
November 18, 2008
Member since 05/22/2006 🔗
44 posts
Our daughter had lessons this past 2007-2008 season at Hidden Valley, (2yrs 10mths old at the time). We did the long private lesson, about 4hrs with a break in between for indoor time. We watched from distance and liked the way the instructor worked with our daughter. We also went and skied the mountain during the instruction. The instructor gives a report card with areas of improvement, areas to work on next time,and a picture of your child. Our daughter enjoyed the session and looked forward to the next lesson.

We are planning to do the lessons again this year.

FYI - we had her on skis at 1 yr 9 mths. Mostly the ski with her between our legs and ending with the racer chaser towards the end of the season.

We bought the 5 and under season pass($25) at HV and rented skis from thrifty ski rental in Donegal ($55 keep for the season).
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