Pleasures and Perils of Teaching Your Own Tot on the Slopes
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.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?”