While ski brochures typically paint mountain resorts as a kind of wonderland of fun, for parents, the thrills are not on the hills unless the kids are happy. Fortunately, the programs at both Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain contain a few gifted folks so talented you may actually think you stumbled into the Land of Oz.
“It’s important to try to build a sense of home and place,” explains Katherine Rockwell, a veteran PSIA Pro as well as a board member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s Eastern Division. “It’s important to choose staff who truly enjoy working with children.”
Interested? Let’s continue down the Yellow Brick Road. Who knows … with luck, you might even find the Wizard.
For psychologists, life’s lessons are often first learned in the games of childhood. In fact, child’s play has been an area of study by many child psychologists. Which is to say, through games children can learn about teamwork and children can learn that losing can be as important as winning. From my perspective it seems that the games of childhood can help teach a number of important life lessons.
In point of fact, children’s programs can open a child to both a lifetime sport and to an appreciation for a mountain lifestyle. And, the best programs gently teach about teamwork and about sportsmanship. Okay, it should be fun. Really fun!
Today, in our busy world, many parents want to know that ski areas are providing quality children’s programs. It’s understandable. Fortunately, southern Vermont has several exemplary programs. Then too, not all programs are equally notable! In fact, in visiting multiple programs through the course of last winter I found one program - not in the Deerfield Valley - run by the Wicked Witch! The day I visited she virtually ranted and raved as I asked questions I thought might be asked by an interested parent! How, then, can you choose an elite program?
Consider these three keys: 1) Staff, 2) accessibility, and 3) facilities.
1. Look for good staff. Fortunately, with something of an oversupply of elementary teachers a number of graduates are seeking work elsewhere. What this means is that some programs actually are able to employ under-employed teachers to teach children skiing.
Truly, with additional training about skiing, many programs employ an enviable staff. Ask about training. Watch the staff.
2. Do you dread carrying the entire family’s gear to the mountain? If so, look for a facility which is accessible. What that means is that the children’s center is convenient. Because, after dropping off the kids, you may want to sign up for a lesson. Good programs stagger times from when the kids sign up for their programs and the time you can sign up for your class.
Accessibility helps. Mount Snow and Stratton have it.
3. Ideally you will want a facility that’s warm and safe. At Stratton Mountain, as an example, the area easily accommodates drop-offs and pick-ups, lunch is close by, and there are multiple shops to placate a parent who may stop their own day early.
Locally, then, parents can leave the kids, walk a few steps to the lodge, ski all day, and the family can reconnect with ease as the lifts close. When planning a vacation, check out the facilities. Know that not all facilities are equal. And not all facilities are conducive to fetching and carrying ski gear. Staff is the key. Fun is important.
Here’s one comment I heard at Stratton last season: “It was such fun!” Mom? She was smiling, too! That spells excellence.
Consider looking over the program. Consider talking to parents. Check the smile factor. Remember, well done, a children’s ski school can make a family vacation as inviting as a trip to Oz.
But let’s stay clear of the Wicked Witch.
Play time, learning time
Between the ages of 6 and 12, children generally spend about 40% of their day with their friends. In terms of sports during the spring and summer, roughly half a million boys between ages 9 and 12 participate in Little League. In a larger arena, both girls and boys engage in a wide array of games as young children.
Children spend enormous time playing.
Children’s ski school programs, while not often considered, can be an important arena for children. In the view of the late noted psychologist Jean Piaget, it is partly through games and the resulting negotiation and resolution of disagreements that children learn to interact better with others.
Games can teach girls and boys to play cooperatively, to play competitively, to maintain self control, to balance personal desires with social rules, to expand social skills, and to accept and understand the importance of rules. Children’s programs, in a general way, offer the opportunity for children to explore their place in different social situations and can offer children an important way to learn to negotiate, compromise, and to learn to develop responsibility.
Look over the children’s programs at your ski area. Do children play cooperatively? Does the program balance cooperation and competition? Is the staff enthusiastic? Is there an adequate staff and student ratio? (Ideally, one instructor for every four to five children is good). Does the staff encourage rules which reflect a philosophy of moral education?
In other words, is the staff sensitive to children who push, hit, or steal? Just as schools have certain rules which govern conduct and etiquette, so too, children’s ski programs can (and should) encourage a level of conformity.
In a general way, children’s programs can serve an important role in children’s lives. Under the watchful eye of a responsible, knowledgeable adult, children can develop in responsible ways. Many parents know this of course. But now ski schools have begun to recognize this too.
Decide which programs will be right for your children. The games of childhood can teach children a great deal.
Contributing writer Tony Crespi is a former ski school supervisor and development team coach. He is keenly interested in children’s programs. His column is published throughout the season.