WHISTLER, British Columbia — For those of us who took last-minute ski trips on the cheap before we became parents — sigh! — it's not easy to get back on the black-diamond slopes.
Ahh, but let me introduce you to Whistler Kids.
The staff of young, perky 20-somethings was exceedingly warm, helpful and organized. And they understand just how complicated family ski trips can be.
The patient equipment specialists let you pick up the rental gear the night before — until 5 p.m. in non-peak season, until 9 p.m. in peak winter time of mid-December through February. (They obviously have seen a fidgety preschooler before.) They also have a special, traffic-free road that ends steps from the lift and ski school area for morning drop-off and afternoon pickup.
You are better off pre-registering kids for lessons — either online, on the phone or in person — to ensure a space. We didn't see drop-ins and classes were full on the first day of the season they were offered.
There are Whistler Kids schools at Blackcomb, Whistler Village and Whistler Creekside, but equipment renters and lift operators tipped us off that the Whistler Village kids' school offers the best snow and best setup for beginners: A children's learning center at the midway stop of the main gondola that has a fenced-off training area and a clubhouse for warming breaks and lunch.
Our twins went into "The Corral," into the area signed "Age 3-4 Minis" and apart from the age 5-12 group for skiers and snowboarders aged 7-12. Their teacher spent a few frazzled minutes trying to meet parents' demands to keep friends inside the same class. Then she took our Sarah and Eric away at 9 a.m., with advisement that we wouldn't see them again until 3:15 p.m.
Parents with separation anxiety can arrange to carry a pager through the day, but my wife and I relish rare free hours — we skied ourselves.
We spied on them once, steering a run to make sure we passed the learning area. Sarah walked up the "magic carpet" of green patio turf and did a respectable snow plow on a relatively flat run of about 100 feet inside the fence. Eric leaned too far back and fell, then got up to try his "french fry" go of straight skis. No tears, just cheers.
My wife wanted to be there when they emerged from the gondola exit at day's end, so they didn't feel abandoned. So we cut short our last run and waited to hear how it went.
Each kid gets a printed report card. As for the verbal report, I don't remember much about technical prowess. All I remember is the teacher saying, "They actually have no fear. They just want to go fast."
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You don't say. Just like at sea level.
Of course kids also want time to fool around. At day's end, I noticed a boy no older than 6, engulfed in an oversized, down coat and knit hat, clomping his ski boots out of the gondola. He looked spent.
"Got to go back to your skiing lesson tomorrow!" his mother said cheerily. They were walking through a maze of people heading off Whistler Mountain at the end of what had already been six hours of lessons with the Whistler Kids program.
"Ahhh, I want to build a snowman," the boy whined.
Yes, at about U.S. $150 a day for lessons, lift privileges and rental equipment, you can bet your Range Rover that Junior was back learning "pizza" snowplow stops and the "french fry" go position the next day.
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