Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
My three girls frequently accuse me of being overprotective, but I don’t consider myself to be the hovering sort. If they’re going to walk into town after school, they need to be with friends. When I’m not home when they get off the bus, they need to let me know they’ve arrived safe and sound. At the movies or at music school, they need to wait inside until an adult is there to pick them up. All of these requirements seem reasonable to me, though I frequently try to stretch the boundaries by finding ways to offer them time for free-range exploration that’s within my comfort zone.
One of those opportunities presented itself during a recent trip to Bolton Valley Resort, a classic, northern Vermont mountain with a laid back, old-school vibe. Because of it’s smaller size, everything at Bolton is close by—and for guests staying at the Inn at Bolton Valley, skiing here couldn’t be easier—the lifts are just a few steps from the rooms while the base lodge sits literally at the foot of the slopes.
At the same time, Bolton is home to some truly mellow mountain magic. This isn’t the kind of place where you need to worry about a phalanx of rogue shredders plowing into your kids as they traverse the slope. And that’s not due to limited terrain either. Bolton is home to plenty of semi-harrowing, expert runs—VT 200 and Adam’s Solitude are the first to come to mind. It’s more the overall energy of the place. Bolton has a welcoming family atmosphere where skiers take their time on beautiful trails lined with snow-laden evergreens sporting fun names like Snowflake Bentley, Sprig o’ Pine, and Moose Run. All of these details combine to create the ultimate recipe for some free-range kids, with a group of relaxed parents on the side.
A Multi-Family Getaway
We made our way to Bolton the Friday night of Martin Luther King weekend with plans to rendezvous with good friends from home. Moving along in the stream of cars heading north on I-91, we were surrounded by roof racks plastered with resort logos. We weren’t the only ones fleeing bare southern ground for the snowy drifts of Vermont.
Despite the slow-start to the ski season, Bolton had been getting several days of what a friend of mine calls “redecorating snow,” a few inches here and there that whitens the views and treats the surface to a fluffy coat of powder. With more snow in the forecast for the weekend, we hoped additional trails would open and looked forward to getting in as many runs as possible.
We woke Saturday morning to snow falling outside our window and quickly rallied our girls to gear up and get ready. The weekend’s cast of characters included six kids—two 13-year olds, two 11-year olds, a 9-year old, and a 7-year old. The two youngest of the bunch were booked for morning ski school and we got them settled before hopping onto the Vista quad to the summit with the rest. Heavy, wet flakes fell all morning and we had a blast hitting every open trail off Vista, enjoying the fresh powder while the bigger kids got acclimated to the mountain.
Earlier in the week, my girlfriend Tina and I had talked about giving the kids a bit of latitude given Bolton’s snug, low-key ambience. Knowing it was just a short walk away, we let the two oldest girls pop back to the room a couple of times during the course of the morning for fresh hand warmers or a quick snack—their first dose of Bolton Valley freedom.
By lunchtime we were ready to shed our soggy mittens and head inside for a break. The kids ran off to score a table at Fireside Flatbread in the base lodge while Tina and I collected the Littles from ski school. They tumbled through the door rosy cheeked and smiling, clearly having enjoyed their morning. We hadn’t tried the Flatbread joint on our previous trip and found it to be fantastic, with the guys at the oven cranking out hot, thin-crusted pies as quickly as people ordered them. We took our time over lunch, relaxing and chatting while our wet gear dried by the tavern fireplace across the way. I noticed that our girls bickered less with their pals around. It was a nice change of pace from the usual dynamic of our family trips.
Free Range Kids
The afternoon was the time to divide and conquer. My husband took off with the three bigger girls while Tina skied with her 11-year old son. The little ones were on my watch and they were super cute riding up the Snowflake double together, reveling in their own independence after their morning lessons.
After a while, my husband and I swapped and the big girls took the lead, skiing through the woods and dipping onto Enchanted Forest with me trailing behind. The three of them had been skiing together all afternoon and they’d perfected their route down from the summit. I watched tentatively as they sped down Hard Luck, choosing instead to meander down Sherman’s Pass on my own and hook back up with them at the merge. It was clear that although they were tolerating my presence, they were enjoying calling their own shots and I found myself biting my tongue instead of shouting out my usual instructions—Not too fast! Hold up at the intersection! Stay to the side! They were fine. Chill out, Mom.
The rest of the weekend was more of the same, all of us skiing in various configurations of adults and kids or kids and kids. Tina and I did a few runs together, chatting on the lift about everything under the sun. My husband and I rose early Monday morning for a ski date while our girls slept in. Sunday afternoon saw my husband at Bolton’s indoor pool with the two Littles, definitely winning the good daddy award for that one. That same afternoon while I took some time to catch up on some work, the three big girls stayed on the mountain, skiing on their own as the lights came up for the resort’s well-loved hours of Bolton After Dark.
Closing up my laptop, I grabbed my gear and ran outside, anxious to get back onto the slopes for a few more runs. The three girls were just coming down the hill and I met up with them by the base. They were pretty frozen but I managed to convince them to take the quad with me just one more time. When we reached the summit, they took off down the mountain before I even had time to adjust my goggles so I stopped along Sherman’s to snap few pictures of the snow covered trees glowing under the lights. I was on my own again—not a kid in sight. It was an unfamiliar feeling, not unpleasant by any means, but I did miss them. When I reached the base they already had their skis off and were heading inside.
“Do you guys need a key? Do you know where you’re going?”
“We’re good Mom,” they called over their shoulders, “we’ve got this”
And I knew they did.