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.
I’m not sure that grownups are strictly necessary at Suicide Six Ski Area outside Woodstock, Vermont, except perhaps to run the lifts. I know that within minutes of the end our first run my ten- and thirteen-year-old sons had hopped on the small double chairlift together and disappeared without a backward glance. No adults meant no waiting, no scolding, and best of all, no one telling them not to try that slightly icy jump at the top of the Skyline trail.
With short runs, plenty of trees, and slightly creaky chairlifts, Suicide Six offers a slower paced purity that’s hard to come by in this time of high-speed quads and extreme skiing. It also offers that rare treat for parents and kids: A safe and homey feel.
Suicide Six is Ideal For Families
In spite of its somewhat alarming name, this ski hill looks like an image from a folk art painting, doming placidly as it does out of the middle of farm fields. A rope tow powered by a Model T engine was installed in a nearby pasture here in 1934, the first in the United States. Two years later a former ski coach from Dartmouth College moved the operation to the steeper hill in use today.
The hill still mixes the best of old- and new-school skiing and riding. There is snowmaking on 50 percent of the 24 trails and the terrain is well groomed. But there are also plenty of trees (including two nicely gladed trails that my family didn’t get to ski during our visit because there wasn’t enough snow). You’ll also find interesting fall lines like the surprisingly steep front of the hill called The Face. I found this a great place to practice some tight, short, high-speed turns.
Children seem to intuitively understand that this is a mountain made for them. It is perfect for a family with young learners because the trails and lift rides are all short – no chance to get bored or cold. You’ll find plenty of beginner terrain as well as a full lesson program.
Older kids delight in the freedom of a ski resort where they can safely explore. All of the runs return to the same small base area and since it doesn’t take long to get from bottom to top and back again, it’s easy to track your kids down when you feel the need to drag them inside, almost certainly against their will. This is a ski hill that invites a sense of play – and what kid ever wants to stop playing?
Get Your Retro Here
At eighty years old and counting, Suicide Six is old fashioned in the most appealing sense. It is home to the oldest annual downhill race in the United States, was one of the first places to host snowboarders in the early 1980s, and has all kinds of super cool vintage gear for sale.
You will want to buy all of it, just to make sure you’ve got every version of the logo covered.
The base lodge was built in 1978 and is both cozy and light-filled. It’s one of the most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing lodges I’ve ever hung out in, and didn’t feel crowded even when it was.
The huge indoor-outdoor fireplace at its heart has a big enough hearth for numerous children to warm themselves and dry their gear. I even saw one mother reading Into Thin Air to her son, both of them sprawled comfortably in front of the flames.
There’s a small cafeteria and also the sit-down Out of Bounds restaurant and bar.
The latter serves a really delicious Reuben sandwich and hot chocolate with a pillow of whipped cream.
Ski and Stay (and Stay, and Stay….)
Once upon a time guests arrived in Woodstock by train with steamer trunks full of enough clothes to stay for a month; the scenery, pace and pleasures here are still those of that slower era. Suicide Six is owned and managed by the Woodstock Inn and Resort, which has welcomed guests for over two centuries. Stay there and enjoy dozens of quiet comforts from padded armchairs to marble-floored bathrooms to homemade cookies served every afternoon.
Your family could easily do as the Victorians did and spend a long winter month in Woodstock. You could fill your days with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, horse drawn sleigh or dog sled rides, falconry lessons, or even 19th-century chores like milking the cows at the Billings Farm and Museum. Those seeking more modern pleasures might delight in the full-service spa or yoga classes at the nearby Woodstock Athletic Club.
Evenings read together by the fire or play one of the myriad games from chess to ping pong to vintage pinball (or, if your children insist, something involving a screen – there are both XBoxes and Wiis for guests of the inn to use). A letter writing desk in the lobby stocked with writing paper might tempt you to scratch out a note or two about the weather or the pleasures of your stay, just as visitors did a hundred years ago.
But if your children are like mine, they will choose to stake their claim and spend all their free time at Suicide Six. They will ski run after run after run, in and out of the trees, until they have conquered every inch, until they are rosy of cheeks and wet of mittens. They will come inside, reluctantly, to dry off, and ask if they can please just ski a few more runs, please? Before they suit up again and head out the door.
Like I said: At Suicide Six, grown-ups are optional.
Suicide Six is just minutes from downtown Woodstock down a winding country road lined with stone walls; stay at the Woodstock Inn and you don’t even have to move your car, as a shuttle will take you to and from the parking lot.