It’s my personal belief that there are two kinds of downhill skiers: Those who like to keep their skis firmly on the ground and those who love to feel the air rushing underneath them.
As someone who falls squarely into the first category, it’s hard for me to appreciate my twelve-year-old son Tommy’s insatiable desire to find bumps that will launch him skyward. It’s also impossible for me to teach him how to land his jumps safely, since I have pretty much no experience doing so myself. That is why on a recent visit to Mount Ellen at Sugarbush Resort I signed him up for a private freestyle skiing lesson.
With three terrain parks, Mount Ellen is the perfect place for this kind of lesson. The parks there are serviced by a short lift called the Sunshine Double. Since access is at the base of the mountain, it’s a good option on a cold day – no long rides up to get to the many different features. The elements are wide and well spaced to keep shredders from feeling crowded, but there’s a lot of variety. This also makes it an ideal place to learn.
Especially when, as in Tommy’s case, your teacher is the coach of the Freestyle Team. Joey has a laid-back attitude and a friendly smile that immediately put Tommy at ease. He’s obviously someone who spends a lot of time around kids and knows just what to say to them.
Although I was curious, Tommy totally did not want his mom along on his lesson (maybe he thought I was going to tell him not to try anything dangerous). So I played nice and instead followed Joey and Tommy at a respectful distance for their first few runs and watched as he carefully showed Tommy exactly how to position his body.
Joey covered what he called the four points for jumping: Two poles in the snow before you jumping and then two poles in the snow on landing. That’s both to help stabilize the jumper and to help insure that shoulders are squared and facing downhill.
Later in the lesson he also showed Tommy how to do some simple tricks using his poles and how to do the simple-yet-cool-looking Spread Eagle jump.
Tommy confessed to me later that although terrain parks aren’t his favorite thing (which was news to me – I assumed that since he liked jumping, he liked playing in the parks), he definitely feels like any skiing or snowboarding kid who wants to learn how to use the elements could benefit from a lesson like his for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the other skiers and riders give wide berth when you’re out with a teacher, so he felt like he could take his time and really practice. For another, it helped to have someone modeling.
At the end of the lesson Joey took Tommy up on the mountain and they took a bump- and jump-filled run so that Tommy could practice his new skills. Watching him later, I could definitely see the improvement in his body position and in his confidence. He was eager to show off on the ironically named Straight Shot, an easy trail near the bottom that the mountain ops team at Mount Ellen leaves with a curvaceous surface that’s perfect for budding jumpers like Tommy. The bumps are so tempting there that even I may have been a few inches off the ground on occasion.
Sugarbush Resort doesn’t currently offer group freestyle lessons (although you can sign your children up for their season-long, competitive freestyle program) but you can request private lessons for your kids in the terrain park. I definitely recommend this approach for kids who are eager to learn tricks but don’t have a lot of experience in the air.
Want more tips? Get all the ins and outs of skiing at Sugarbush Resort and see my full review of their ski lesson programs for kids.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.