Back in middle school, I was skiing on a trail under a chairlift when I hit a steep, icy patch and started to panic. My upper body stiffened as I shifted into a snowplow and awkwardly skidded my way down the hill. For a moment I thought no one noticed, but then I heard someone laugh in the distance and yell from the chairlift, “You suck!”
That memory came roaring back this season when I was riding the chairlift at Bolton Valley and witnessed my five-year-old daughter, Phoebe, fall on an icy, somewhat bumpy trail during a group ski lesson. She sat in the snow with her skis nearly crossed, looking frustrated and scared. As I watched her, I felt helpless knowing that I couldn’t scoop her up and help down the trail. What made things worse was that while Phoebe was stopped on the trail, my chairlift kept moving toward at the summit, and soon she was out of sight. Was she OK? What if she couldn’t get up?
It turns out Phoebe didn’t need me in that moment at all. After her instructor and other children in her group offered words of encouragement from the bottom of the hill, Phoebe finally stood up on her skis to make her way down the trail and finish what she started. And when she did, people on the chairlift broke into loud cheers, rooting and clapping for my little girl.
Watch: Phoebe’s progress this season thanks to the Bolton Valley ski school program.
That moment was clearly a turning point in the season for Phoebe, and it only reinforced why I’m a big believer in ski lessons. This winter Phoebe was in the season-long Ridge Runner program at Bolton Valley with instructor Brendan Oates, who helped Phoebe transform her skiing skills over the course of three months.
Here are five things Phoebe learned at Bolton Valley ski school:
Falling on that steep section of trail was a perfect example of why learning to ski can be a rollercoaster ride. Cold weather, uncomfortable boots, and being unsteady on skis can easily lead to a feeling of defeat. Even though this was Phoebe’s third season skiing, she had moments of serious doubt half-way through the season. Fortunately, her instructor Brendan helped get her through those rough patches. “When a child feels frustrated, I try to understand the reason why they are upset,” Brendan says. “After talking about the source of the problem, I remind a child of the whole reason why we are skiing. Skiing is for having fun and spending time with friends and family, and doing an activity we can all enjoy together.”
Phoebe started the season knowing how to snowplow, how to ride a chairlift, how to maneuver down a ski trail, and how to stop. She still needed help on learning how to make turns, keep her skis closer together, and develop more balance in her upper body. By late in the season, she was exploring the glades and even skiing gates. “In the beginning of the season, kids focused on balance, body position, and controlling their speed through turns. Once the kids gained confidence and proficiency, they focused on skiing through different terrain, such as glades, moguls, and the terrain park,” Brendan says. “One way I help the kids feel encouraged is through praise and positive reinforcement. We also play ski-related games and do activities throughout the day. I try to focus on instilling an appreciation for skiing and outdoor sports.”
Skiing with other children also helped Phoebe make new friends and learn in a group setting. That meant supporting each other on difficult days and learning from one another. “Skiing with a group of peers your own age creates different experiences as opposed to skiing with a parent,” Brendan says. “Skiing in lessons also gives children the opportunity to receive encouragement from their peers. I believe what makes kids fall in love with skiing is a combination of ski lessons and skiing with their families.”
Kids are always up for a good time, and mixing up the skiing routine is a good way to keep things fresh and exciting. “We learned how to ski through the trees and navigate the terrain park,” Brendan says. “On almost every run, someone asks if we can ski through the Enchanted Forest or hit the box in the terrain park.”
Skiing is supposed to be a fun experience, and the fun really comes through once kids know the basics of skiing. “They realize that skiing is a sport that they can love,” Brendan says, “I think that the hard work it takes in order to learn how to ski is a rewarding experience, which can translate to other areas of life.”
To learn about Bolton Valley’s season long lesson programs, visit www.boltonvalley.com.
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.