Image: Mom and kids at Smugglers' Notch Resort
Smugglers' Notch Resort
Vermont's Smugglers' Notch resort is among the standouts when it comes to teaching kids to ski. Its Snow Sport University accepts children as young as 2 1/2 for ski lessons, and its program includes lunch and an après-ski science show.
By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/6/2011 2:20:21 PM ET 2011-01-06T19:20:21

Rebecca Klein’s kids were ski novices when they checked in at Vermont’s Smugglers' Notch resort for a weeklong stay recently. They didn’t stay that way for long.

  1. Related content
    1. The Register-Guard via AP
      Deals and snow trump tough times

      Winter enthusiasts are once again heading for the slopes thanks to early snow, good deals and a rebounding economy.

    2. GPS device keeps track of kids at ski school
    3. Resorts release flurry of apps for new season
    4. Planning a trip to the backcountry in winter
    5. Top 10 family-friendly ski resorts

“After just one day of lessons, my six-year-old son, Seth, was saying, ‘Come on, Mom, let’s get on the chairlift,” remembers Klein, who lives in Baltimore and grew up skiing in Vermont. “And Samara, my four-year-old, participated in a ski race.”

Ski school has come a long way since Klein took her first turns at Smuggler’s as a child. Young skiers used to be an afterthought at many winter resorts, banished to the bunny hill or daycare centers while adults enjoyed the mountain.

Not anymore.

The U.S. ski and snowboard industry has dubbed January “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month” and is offering free or reduced-rate ski or snowboard lessons at resorts in 34 states. There’s a lot to choose from, including themed ski camps, one-on-one clinics and more exotic offerings, like teaching youngsters how to ride a snowmobile.

Slideshow: Hit the lifts (on this page)

“Ski resorts have embraced kids,” said Len Saunders, author of the book “Keeping Kids Fit.” “They realize that this generation of parents grew up with skiing and welcome making it a family event. They run specials on kids’ lessons, have bunny slopes for the kids, and areas where they can progress at a steady pace, and stock ski rentals for the smaller children.”

Smugglers' Notch is among the standouts, when it comes to teaching kids to ski. Its Snow Sport University accepts children as young as 2 1/2 for ski lessons, and its program includes lunch and an après-ski science show.

Klein’s favorite ski school amenity is the Flaik GPS units that allowed her to go online at the end of the day and track her kids’ runs, their vertical feet and see where their group skied. But she was most impressed with how effectively the instructors were able to teach her kids to ski in a short amount of time.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

“They were very nurturing and empowering,” she said.

Fun, too. Ski resorts are pouring resources and creative energy into making the experience as engaging for children as it is for grown-ups.

“Kids ski and ride camps continue to evolve from the good old days of one ski instructor to a big bunch of kids, learning to snowplow and parallel turn,” said Heather Burke, who edits the website Family Ski Trips. “Now resorts offer soup-to-nuts programs, all-day camps with equipment and lunch included.”

Kids ski free
One of the most effective ways to teach kids to ski is to make the trip financially worthwhile to their parents. For example, Ski Utah is offering a program this season called The Ski Utah Fifth and Sixth Grade Passports. For a $25 processing fee, participating fifth-graders can ski at each of Utah’s 14 ski resorts three times without paying.

Sixth graders can enjoy one free day at each resort. The program is open to anyone, even though it’s billed as a locals program.

At Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, adults who buy a three-day or more multiday ticket can get a free kids ticket (18 and under).

Image: snowboarder
Smugglers' Notch Resort
Vermont's Smugglers' Notch resort has three terrain parks.

Northstar Resort in Northern California lets two adults share a ticket, so that parents with very young children don’t have to buy two tickets. Northstar also offers a free "Mommy, Daddy & Me" lessons for first-timers. The 45-minute clinic is aimed at kids between three and four, and is offered on a first-come, first-served basis Sunday through Friday.

At Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Mich., kids under 8 don’t pay for lift tickets. Other resorts in Michigan, including Big Powderhorn, Boyne Mountain and Marquette Mountain, have similar offers.

“It’s a way to make it less expensive on mom and dad,” said Brian Lawson, a Crystal Mountain spokesman.

Winter camp
The most innovative ski school programs treat instruction as a themed experience, like winter camp. Crested Butte Mountain Resort's Camp CB winter kids program bills itself as more than a place to learn how to ski and snowboard — it’s a place where, to quote the promotional brochure, “kids rule.” Participants get a secret trail map with paths that are just for kids (where adult skis won’t even fit, it promises).

There’s also a kids-only terrain park where youngsters can learn how to shred.

Although ski resorts are by their very nature rustic, that doesn’t necessarily mean kids have to rough it. At the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, near Beaver Creek, Colo., kids can participate in what’s called a “Ski Nanny” program, which shuttles them to nearby Beaver Creek Village, where they’re met by a nanny who takes them to ski school for lessons and then brings them back to the hotel for a snack and movie.

Saddleback, Maine, just overhauled its ski program to become more personalized. All beginners ages 3 to 6 learning to ski or snowboard at the group lesson will get an individual instructor until they can ski or ride on their own, at which time they join a group.

Slideshow: Winter wonderland (on this page)

And at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va., there’s more than skiing for students at the Bunny School Skiing Program. The resort also offers snowmobiling lessons where kids age six and up learn to ride on a Polaris 120 cc snowmobile.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

The intent behind these and other programs may be to introduce a new generation of skiers — and potential customers — to America’s mountain resorts. “Once you’ve developed a love for skiing or riding, it’s hard to ignore it,” said Adriana Blake, administrative manager for Taos Ski Valley in Taos, NM. “And we’ve created a visitor for life.”

But the most innovative programs do more than that, says Blake, who helped create Taos’ KinderKare school, which she describes as a “slow movement” program for aspiring skiers that goes beyond teaching parallel turns and safe skiing. The most forward-looking programs teach young skiers to appreciate all that nature has to offer during the winter.

“It’s great to know that we are sharing our passion for the mountain with multiple generations of guests,” she said.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org .

Submit:

Send Christopher Elliott an e-mail.

 

 
(3000 character limit)

All about you...

 

Please, no HTML tags.

 

Your e-mail address and/or phone number will not be published.

Photos: Winter wonderland

loading photos...
  1. Horning in

    Sledders in horned helmets glide to the finish line of the of the traditional horn sledge race in a valley near the Bavarian village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. More than 90 sleds took part in the traditional event on Jan. 6. (Christof Stache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Frost and fireworks

    Fireworks explode over ice sculptures during the official opening of the Harbin International Ice and Snow festival in the northern Chinese city of Harbin. (David Gray / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Stripes and snow

    Tigers prowl the snowy Siberia Tiger Park in Harbin, China, on Jan. 7. The park is one of the largest breeding centers for endangered Siberian tigers. (How Hwee Young / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dome to a turn

    An ice sculpture mimics the architecture of Saint Basil Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square on Jan. 5. (Yuri Kadobnov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Frosted forest

    Horses pull a sledge through snow-covered woods in the eastern German ski resort of Oberhof on Jan. 5. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. River floe

    A Ukrainian man walks on the frozen Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine, on Jan. 3. Temperatures in the Ukrainian capital dropped to 28 degrees. (Sergei Chuzavkov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Horsey hoarfrost

    Frost covers the eyelashes of a horse in the eastern German ski resort of Oberhof, Jan. 5. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Peaking out

    Clouds and blowing snow form a halo around Mount Rainier as seen from Seattle on Dec. 30. (Elaine Thompson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Walking in a winter wonderland

    Two people walk through a band of heavy lake-effect snow falling near Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Jan. 5. (Amy Sancetta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Sled racers

    A father sleds with his daughter near Bonn, Germany, on Dec. 25. (Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Walking on thick ice

    A worker walks on a snow sculpture featuring camels prior to the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in China on Dec. 24. The 27th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival kicks off on Jan. 5. (Sheng Li / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Wake-up call

    A man swims in a partially frozen pond as another prepares to jump in after snowfall at Hampstead Heath in London on Dec. 19. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Picture perfect

    A snow covered Stormont estate is pictured in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Dec. 17. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Mirrored beauty

    Fresh snow on the trees in the Harz mountain range in Sonnenberg, Germany, Nov. 27. (Frank May / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Wild nature

    Deer are seen in a pasture as snow covers the landscape near Schinnen, southern Netherlands, Dec. 17. (Ermindo Armino / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Super snowman

    A 31-foot snowman dubbed "Milocinek," who wears a barrel for a hat and a road safety cone for his nose, greets children in Pierwoszow village near Trzebnica, Poland, on Dec. 11. (Grzegorz Hawalej / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Black swans

    Two swans move across the water during a spell of frosty fog in the Oslofjord, Norway, on Dec. 7, 2010. (Larsen, Hakon Mosvold / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Bread bath

    Ducks fight for bread on the River Kelvin in Glasgow, Scotland, on Dec. 7, 2010. (Andy Buchanan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Winter's web

    Hoar frost clings to a spider's web around Pickmere Lake in the Cheshire countryside in Knutsford, United Kingdom on Dec. 3. Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures have severely disrupted Britain's infrastructure. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. White vista

    Roofs in the old town of Bern, Switzerland are covered by snow on Dec. 2. Heavy snowfalls hit large parts of Central Europe. (Peter Klaunzer / Keystone via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Cold canopy

    A man skiis in the Thuringian Forest in Oberhof, Germany on Dec. 2. Large parts of Germany were hit by heavy snowfalls and icy winds. (Jens Meyer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Stroll noir

    People walk along the Moskva river at the outskirts of Moscow on Dec. 2 as temperatures plummet to -23 degrees Celsius (-9 degrees Fahrenheit). (Mikhail Metzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Crystal clear

    Snow crystals appear on the window of a car in Bayreuth, southern Germany, on Dec. 2. Snow blanketed the country, disrupting traffic but also bringing good winter sports conditions. (David Ebener / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Full steam ahead

    A steam engine makes its way across the snow-covered landscape after fresh snowfall near the eastern German city of Wernigerode on Nov. 22. (Matthias Bein / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Rose hips on ice

    Rose hips are covered with an icinglike layer of snow in the southwest of Bavaria in Stoettgen, Germany, Nov. 22. (Karl Josef Hildenbrand / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Let it snow

    Snow covers the 'Pepiniere' park in Villers-les-Nancy, France, Nov. 29. (Alexandre Marchi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Grin and 'bear' it

    A Kamchatka brown bear rests in the first snow at the zoo in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany, Nov. 29. (Martin Meissner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Snowfight!

    Children have a blast during a snowball fight in Lyon, central France, Wednesday, Dec. 1. (Laurent Cipriani / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Slippery when wet

    Snow-covered rooftops are pictured in this general view of Lyon, southeastern France, as winter weather with sub-freezing temperatures hits the country, Dec. 1. (Robert Pratta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Walking in a winter wonderland

    A man goes for a walk through the snow-covered landscape near the southern German city of Altdorf. (Karl-josef Hildenbrand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Snow buddy

    Brox the cocker spaniel runs through the snow at Scotch Corner, northern England, Nov. 29. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Frost on!

    A fisherman casts his line in Moscow River, covered in frosty fog, with the air temperature at about -13 degrees Celsius (8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Moscow, Nov. 29. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Blinded by the light, and snow

    Blowing snow and freezing temperatures face drivers as they head west on Highway 1 from Calgary, Alberta, Nov. 29. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Clearing for takeoff

    Snow plows clear part of the runway at Edinburgh airport, Scotland Nov. 29. (David Moir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Over the fields and through the snow

    A horseman rides a horse between snow-covered fields in Muehlethurnen, near Bern, on Nov. 26. (Michael Buholzer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Just ducky

    A duck rests on a frozen lake with the air temperature at about minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on the outskirts of Minsk, Dec. 1. (Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Silent night, twinkling lights

    A snow-covered cabin is lit by Christmas lights along the shoreline of Lake Louise after sunset in Alberta, Nov. 29. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Lights all aglow

    A lamp covered with frozen snow shines on top of the Feldberg mountain near Frankfurt, central Germany, Nov. 30. (Michael Probst / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Snow crossing

    A man crosses a bridge on the Niviglio river in a snowstorm on Dec. 1, in Robecco sul Naviglio, near Milan, Italy. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Sledder's delight

    Rachel Douglass (top) and Sophie Coatsworth sledge downhill at the Town Moor in Newcastle, northern England Nov. 29. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Wearing their woolens

    Sheep stand on a snow-covered meadow in Olching, west of Munich, Germany, during heavy snowfall in Bavaria, Nov. 29. (Michaela Rehle / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Arctic oasis

    Landscape is covered in snow on Nov. 29, at the Schlaubetal natural park near Mixdorf, eastern Germany. (Patrick Pleul / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: Participants wearing helmets with horns
    Christof Stache / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (42) Winter wonderland
  2. Image:
    Corey Rich courtesy of Heavenly Ski Resort
    Slideshow (27) Hit the lifts

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments