My daughter Phoebe is a bit of a reluctant skier. At four years old, she enjoys parts of skiing, but she doesn’t exactly love the effort that comes with it—carrying her equipment up the hill, learning how to make French fries and pizza pies with her skis, and pulling herself up when she falls down again and again.
But like most preschoolers, Phoebe is curious, silly, and loves nothing more than to play. Fortunately, Bolton Valley’s ski school is all about playtime and fun for kids.
My daughter is in Bolton’s 11-week Mini-Runners program, a two-and-a-half hour group lesson that includes games in the snow (ski tag, anyone?), a hot chocolate break, and lots of encouragement from her wonderful instructor, Natasha Steinmann.
With two lessons down, we still have nine weeks to go in the program. I take a deep breath thinking about the Saturdays ahead, when we will wake up early to make banana pancakes, pack our skis and boots in the car, and arrive at the mountain by 9 a.m.
I first learned to ski at age 3, and I remember it wasn’t easy in the beginning. Forty-two years later, I still have days on the hill when I’m filled with doubt and fear. With that in mind, I know I don’t want to force Phoebe to like skiing, so I try to focus on the fun stuff. I also listen to what she has to say about skiing—the good and the bad.
Her on-the-fence outlook about skiing is not exactly a surprise. Last year, Phoebe was in the four-week Ski Tots program at Cochran’s Ski Area, which we loved. Still, we experienced ups and downs at Cochran’s, so I knew I had some work cut out for me this year. I had to tread somewhat carefully as we geared up for Bolton Valley.
The day before lessons started in early January, my husband and I took Phoebe out for some light skiing at our neighborhood park to get her reacquainted with the sport. Our effort paid off and generated excitement and anticipation for her first day on the mountain. Her enthusiasm was palatable when we arrived for her first lesson at Bolton, and she seemed relatively excited—though less so—the following week for lesson two.
But in between her good cheer were moments of frustration and exhaustion.
“Skiing is hard work,” she would tell me on the 35-minute drive home from Bolton to Burlington on a recent January afternoon. I would nod in agreement and try to assure her it will get easier over time.
Learning and Fun at Bolton Valley
Unlike last year at Cochran’s, I’m not teaching Phoebe to ski this season. At Bolton Valley, Phoebe is learning from her instructor, Natasha, who is upbeat, patient, and nurturing while also empowering kids to help themselves when they are clipping on their skis or getting themselves up after falling down.
Outside the base lodge, Natasha starts the day with an exercise where kids glide on one ski to introduce the concept and feel of skiing in a controlled way.
“If you think about it, locking your feet onto two very slippery and awkwardly shaped boards is a really unique and potentially scary experience,” Natasha tells me in an email. “Practicing skating, turning, and gliding on one ski gives kids a way to experiment with the feeling of sliding and gliding while remaining in control with something they already understand—putting their foot down to stop or walk when desired.”
Later, after the kids take a break for cocoa and snacks, Natasha organizes a ski tag game—or duck tag—where kids basically run around in the snow in their ski boots, quacking like ducks and trying to catch each other. Phoebe beams when she plays this game and laughs her heart out. For Natasha, that’s the point.
“At 4 and 5 years old, the best way for kids to learn is through play,” she says. “My goal for that activity was to teach my group the beginnings of rotary skills, which are one of the ways to control your skis—by twisting your leg and foot to change the direction of your ski. What mattered is that we experimented with the movement and created laughter, smiles, and a positive experience on the slopes.”
All I want for Phoebe is a positive, exciting experience that she can enjoy with family and friends. With help from Natasha, Phoebe will hopefully discover that skiing is all that—plus loads of fun.
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. She publishes www.happyvermont.com, a Vermont travel blog and podcast that explores the places and people of the Green Mountain State. She currently works as writer and photographer, and lives in Burlington with her husband and daughter.