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by Erica Houskeeper

I come from a family of educators, but the teaching gene somehow passed me by. My grandfather and mother were teachers, and my sister and brother carried on the family legacy in public schools and state colleges. For me, teaching is not something that ever came naturally. But then I became a parent, and I quickly realized that teaching inherently comes with the territory.

Since our daughter, Phoebe, was born three years ago, my husband and I have helped her learn words, numbers, songs, kindness, and empathy. Now that Phoebe is growing up, she’s learning how to ride a bike and to swim. Through it all, we’ve always had the help of teachers, day care providers, family, and friends.

This winter, Phoebe will learn how to ski in the Ski Tots program at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond. The Cochran family are the heart of Vermont’s ski history. Since the 1960s, local children have been learning to ski at Cochran’s with innovative and affordable programming.

Barbara Ann, Bob and Lindy — known as “The Skiing Cochrans” — all made the United States ski team and each raced in the Olympics. At the 1972 Winter Games in Japan, Barbara Ann Cochran won a gold medal in slalom.

Luckily for us, Barbara Ann is also the director of the Ski Tots program, a program established in 1985 that teaches parents how to teach their preschoolers (ages 3-5) to ski.

On the slopes, little kids tire quickly. You need to anticipate hunger and fatigue, and be prepared to take a break if they start to meltdown. But there’s more to teaching kids (or adults) to ski than that.

I remember trying to teach friends how to ski over the years, and it never went particularly well. I would lose patience or give vague tips that weren’t very effective (Bend your knees! Just try! Watch me!). I imagined teaching Phoebe how to ski and giving her that same unhelpful advice. Like everything else, I knew I could not do this alone. At the same time, I was certain I wanted to share the experience with her. Just like I was there for her first words and first steps, I wanted to be part of her first snowplow. Cochran’s Ski Tot program offers that unique opportunity.

For four Saturdays this month, Phoebe and I – along with about a dozen other parents and children in our group lesson – will learn together basic skills, including the right way to fall and how to ride the Mitey-Mite rope-tow lift. By the end of the program, the goal is for Phoebe to be able to ski own her own.

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As we gear up for Ski Tots, I’m talking to Phoebe more and more about skiing. I tell her about my first days skiing at Bromley Mountain 40 years ago, and show her photos on Facebook of her cousins skiing in New Hampshire.

Last week, we stopped by Cochran’s rental shop to get her fitted for mini Blizzard skis, a black helmet, and size 6 orange boots. We then walked over to the ski trails to get a closer look at other kids making pizza wedges with their skis and hearing encouraging words from their parents, Phoebe smiled. “I want to ski now,” she told me, pointing to the Mitey-Mite rope tow.

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I take that as a good sign. Phoebe is looking forward to skiing in the same place where generations of local kids learned their very first turns. And I’ll be there learning to teach right alongside her.

Erica Houskeeper is a writer and communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience. She grew up in Manchester, Vermont, and started skiing at age 4 at Bromley Mountain. She also spent her childhood skiing at Stratton, Magic, and the former Snow Valley ski area. After working as a journalist in Vermont, Erica later became director of communications for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. In 2009, she launched www.happyvermont.com, a  Vermont travel blog that explores the places and people of the Green Mountain State. Her blog has hundreds of subscribers and a loyal following. Active on social media, Erica has more than 2,400 followers on Twitter (@EricaHouskeeper), as well as many Facebook friends and a growing audience on Instagram. She currently works as a communications and PR consultant, and lives in Burlington with her husband and young daughter.

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