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NYTimes Article About Teaching Your Own Tot To Ski

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
In the spirit of recent discussions in this forum about teaching your young'uns how to ski, here's a nice article from today's Times:


Pleasures and Perils of Teaching Your Own Tot on the Slopes

BUILDING CONFIDENCE At Cochran’s Ski Tots parents and children navigate the tow line.

Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

Published: January 22, 2010

RICHMOND, Vt. — It was five degrees on a Saturday morning at Cochran’s Ski Area here last month, yet I was uncomfortably warm. Pools of sweat formed beneath my fleece zip-T, and my sunglasses fogged up against the clear blue, frigid sky. My quads burned. My forearms felt limp.

Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

A child learns to form a wedge.

No, I was not hiking for fresh powder or tackling moguls, as I might ordinarily be on a weekend winter day. For the first time since I began skiing nearly 30 years ago, I was in ski school, learning all about pizza-shaped snowplows again. With my 3-year-old daughter, Dillon, propped up against my knees at the top of the Mitey-Mite lift — a tow rope with handles — while trying to form a wedge with her skis, I was both the student and the teacher.

“Try to get Dillon to push her legs out,” said Sue Carpenter, one of the instructors for Cochran’s Ski Tots program, now in its 25th year. Unlike most ski areas, where parents pay dearly (often $165 for a single day of lessons for a 3-year-old) to drop off their offspring with a professional instructor, Cochran’s offers an approach that helps parents learn how to teach their own children to ski.

In Ski Tots, parents and their preschoolers, ages 3 to 5, participate in four two-hour sessions held on consecutive Saturdays in January or February (or weekdays during school-vacation weeks in December and February).

Barbara Ann Cochran, the program’s director, and two other instructors begin by showing groups of 30 children and their parents the basics, like the right way to fall and how to ride the Mitey-Mite lift. The goal is that by the end of the program the children are able to ski on their own, safely and confidently. The cost, including lift tickets for all four sessions, is $145.

“Parents have to be involved,” Ms. Cochran said during a break in our initial session. “Think back to when you watched your toddler take those first steps. It can be frustrating, but if you have some patience, the rewards are tremendous.”

For Ms. Cochran and her co-instructors, there’s another benefit to the Ski Tots approach: Parents are on hand to cope with inevitable meltdowns from cold, tired and frustrated children.

After the children were outfitted with blue-and-white ski bibs in Cochran’s red lodge — whose beams are festooned with vintage racing bibs from the Olympic and World Cup days of Ms. Cochran and her three siblings — parents and their youngsters reassembled at the base of the Mitey-Mite for a lesson in how to fall.

“What is your favorite color?” Lydia Kenney, an instructor, asked the children. ”Now imagine painting that color right here,” she said, pointing to her hips, where she had figuratively drawn what she called “magic circles.” She told us to fall on our sides using the circles “like emergency brakes.” Next she asked the parents to help the children fall on the magic circles. It wasn’t a difficult task; Dillon was still getting used to her new pink 70-centimeter skis and was constantly tumbling anyway.

Still, I was impressed. I’d been so busy trying to figure out how to keep my daughter upright on skis that I’d never thought about getting her to fall in a particular way. It was a skill that I knew would come in handy later.

Negotiating the Mitey-Mite while wrangling two pairs of skis and a wriggly 3-year-old between the knees was another matter. “Have Dillon try to hold onto the handle too,” Ms. Kenney said, as we grabbed the tow bar.

By the time Dillon and I finally reached the top — just 450 feet away — I could see why Ms. Cochran had warned the parents we’d be getting a workout today. “But then there will be a magical moment,” she had promised, “when you get to see your child ski independently.”

Some parents, Ms. Cochran admitted later, don’t stick around long enough for that moment. “Their expectation is that they want us to take the tot and teach the tot how to ski,” she said. “And some kids hate it.”

After Dillon and I took a run while I bent over and held her between my skis, another child was shrieking in the Mitey-Mite line.

But Dillon was ready to go back up again. At the top of the lift Ms. Carpenter was doling out more tips. Instead of having the children ski down the trail between our legs, Ms. Carpenter wanted the parents to give them a gentle nudge, called a “bounce, ” in an attempt to get them to support their own body weight.

Dillon needed no such coaxing, insisting that she wanted to ski by herself.

And so she did. It was magical. Until she began zooming straight toward the line of parents and children waiting for the Mitey-Mite.

“Dillon, fall, fall!” I yelled, forgetting all about the magic circles. When she tumbled ungracefully a few inches from a fellow skier, I exhaled deeply.

Clearly I had more to learn. Ms. Carpenter showed parents how to attach a piece of neon-pink rubber called a “worm” to their children’s skis to keep the tips together. She said it would help the children more naturally make a snowplow. That lesson made the prospect of Dillon whizzing down the slope on her own a little less threatening.

In the next three sessions parents and children worked on techniques like big and small pizzas and turning and stopping, with an eye toward gradually lessening the reliance on parents. Ms. Cochran estimated that about 90 percent of children can ski on their own after the four sessions. After the first session I had my hopes. With the help of the worm and a backward-sliding technique, I was actually teaching Dillon how to snowplow. I also had my doubts.

Our last run of the morning involved carrying Dillon, her face wet with tears and her pink goggles askew from her helmet smacking the snow, down the slope in my arms.

But most of all, after a grilled-cheese sandwich at a nearby bakery, I had a 3-year-old who wanted to ski again with her teacher — me.

“Mommy,” Dillon said. “I did a really good job today, didn’t I?”


post #2 of 9
I think that sounds like a great way to teach parents how to teach their kids to ski.  The problem we ran into when we tried to teach our daughter is that we had no clue how to teach a little one how to ski.  We would have certainly enrolled in a program like that if we had one.
post #3 of 9

Cochrans is a great place for little guys.  My brother brings his kids there all the time and just raves about the warm atmosphere.  The Sunday that we skied there was a big race day.  Our four year old rode the mighty mite up and raced through the cones.  Barbara Cochran and Marilyn Cochran Brown, both former Olympic medalists were out there warmly cheering the kids on, giving effective pointers when needed, and basically having a great time doing what they love - skiing.  The atmosphere that they created was contagious.  Soon all parents were having a good time and taking a real positive attitude with their kids.  Smiles all around.


post #4 of 9
The best way to teach kids to ski is to learn how to teach kids to ski first.

Once a parent becomes a solid intermediate skier they should consider signing up for ITC at the ski school at the local hill. Personal skiing will improve huge, they will learn how to explain and demonstrate basic ski technique and how to explain it to little ones with tips, tricks and ski games.

The parent will become a much better skier and understand what is needed to improve by trudging down the pathway of learning themselves.

Might even find they like it enuff to sign on part time at the local hill as a newbie instructor.....then the kids can ski free or cheap.

My .02
post #5 of 9
hrstrat makes a good point.  You should learn correct skiing if you are going to teach your kid.  I don't know how many times I've wanted to slap some parent upside the head with my poles because I've seen them teaching their kid stuff that is flat out wrong

I'll take it one step further and say you are even better having someone else teach your kid.  There's something about someone else being the coach and the Mom/Dad just offering only positive encouragement. "I saw you in your lesson today and you were going great". If Mom/Dad says "get out of the back seat", it sounds to their kid like "Pick up your dirty clothes", "Do your homework", etc.

Case in point,  I've been teaching for 13 years including teaching kid's school groups a few hours a week all those years.  I've been teaching Dev Team (12 weeks/season six hours/day with the same group of kids) for five years.  I still have my kid on a team with another coaches.  I know of at least a dozen kids at my home mountain that are sons/daughters of coaches that are on the Dev Team program being taught by another coach.  I have other instructors' kids on my team.  The coaches/parents know the kids will learn best from someone else.

post #6 of 9

My wife & I taught both of our kids to ski, and we wouldn't have missed this experience for anything.  I've also coached them at regular intervals as they've developed through our local race programs.  Since we're both trained coaches/instructors, we knew we could give our own kids the guidance they needed.

They have also developed with other coaches, and have benefited from these other perspectives.  On the other hand, we once cancelled a mini-camp for them at a ski week out west because we were so disappointed at the low caliber of instruction that was available in that particular instance. 

Not every parent is going to be a good teacher for their own child, but it works well for quite a few.  I think a program like Cochran's is an excellent way to give the right technical guidance to parents who want to be actively involved in their own child's skiing development.

post #7 of 9
I try to make it a point to find my 9 year old daughter in her lesson towards the end of the day.  I will ask the instructor if they mind and then shadow the class for a bit.  Most instructors will, after seeing my level will give me tips on how to help her and what to work on.  Any instructor who gives me a tip gets one in return.
I have been very lucky the last couple of times out, small resorts during the week and my daughter ended up with an all day private to semi private for the cost of a group lesson. 
I am a firm believer in lessons and my daughter has taken them every time out since she was 4. 
post #8 of 9
The program referred to above, seems as per article description, nice and cute but i would humbly suggest its not necessarily the best way to teach kids to ski. Lots of kids are resistant to being taught by parents and often like to ski with mom and dad and siblings but are not amenable to taking instruction from them, cest la vie. The method described has its merits but it is NOT the only way. A few other ways are
1. a good ski school which is attentive to individual children talent differentiation so they filter and reallocate accordingly.
2. a ski school where "having fun is number one"
3. a ski school where a child's protection is first priority, i.e. safety, then their skill development and then challenging them to get better in a SAFE fashion.

I can only say this for folks who are near upstate New York : Catamount's Mountain Cats and Wildcats program is tremendous, our own kid learnt there, and now we have brought multiple sets of families there and they (i.e. the parents) have truly enjoyed the experience of watching their kids learn.
post #9 of 9

My son loved the Ski Tots program this year.  He's 4, and was riding the T-Bar to the top by his last session.


You can't ask for a better place or method to teach your kid to ski.  The atmosphere at Cochran's is warm and cozy, and there is an air of ski racing everywhere.  My son really liked watching the big kids train, and said "I want to be a racer".  And he was running "gates" (orange cones) on his 2nd day on skis (1st day at Cochran's!).


We're off to a great start!  Cochran's is awesome!

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