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  • A Family Affair
    Lessons Together

    by Mitch Kaplan

    Photo courtesy Obermeyer Two kids, two genders, two years apart, two completely different attitudes towards skiing. Sound familiar? Yes, to many skiing parents. Take Kathy and Ivan, for example. They first met skiing. And they wanted to share their love for snow sliding with their kids. Problem was, seven year-old James was too gung-ho, while five year-old Helen wasn't keen on snow sliding at all.

    What to do? Stick 'em in ski school?

    Kathy didn't think so. "You work all week. The kids are in day care and school. The last thing you want to do is spend the weekend separately at a ski area," she said.

    Mount Snow had an answer. A family ski lesson. It's a simple but radical concept - parents and kids ski together with an instructor, who focuses on improving the kids' skiing while helping the parents learn to help their kids.

    So, on a magnificently sunny, March Saturday morning they found themselves at the Mount Snow ski school. "This lesson should be a test for the instructor," Kathy quipped.

    Instructor (or coach, as they say here) Deb Shanton was unfazed. "Have you skied before," she asked Helen, taking the girl's hand while kneeling so they could talk eye-to-eye.

    "Two times," Helen said.

    "Twice, that's great," Deb responded. She turned to James, who was shifting his feet uncertainly. "And, how about you, James?

    "Lots of times," James said with little-dude bravado. "I like to go fast!"

    "You do? I do, too! I bet in a little while we can go fast, but first we'll go slow to see how everybody does. Why don't you guys put on your skis now?"

    The kids scrambled to gather their gear. Deb turned to Ivan and Kathy. "They're very different, aren't they?" she asked.

    "As day and night," Kathy laughed.

    "And, I bet you two are very different skiers, too."

    Right on the money. Ivan loves the bumps, while Kathy takes her time and sticks to the groomed.

    "Is there anything in particular you'd like to see happening for the kids?" Deb asked.

    "It'd be nice if Helen gained some confidence," Kathy answered.

    "Control for James," added Ivan.

    Deb nodded. She turned back to the kids. "You guys ready to go?" They headed for the lifts.

    Bob Speck, training coordinator for Mount Snow's Perfect Turn program, comments on why families like this program. "When kids take classes by themselves, the parents only hear about it vaguely later on," he says. "Here they see the kids first hand, and we help them learn how to help their kids. Parents can understand the words that we use - like calling a snowplow wedge a 'pizza' - so they can use the same terminology, too. The idea isn't to make parents into teachers, but to allow the family to learn and experience things together."

    Deb started the family with two runs on Launch Pad, a true novice run, helping Helen to make a "pizza," and getting James to make "French fries" to get his ski parallel. When Helen's right leg proved significantly stronger than her left, causing her to make tiny right turns and huge lefts, Deb asked the girl to follow in her tracks, making huge rights and short lefts, subtly building Helen's confidence in her non-dominant leg.

    On the third run, Deb finally gave mom and dad something to work on. When the grown-ups had completed their tasks, Deb turned to the kids. "They did pretty well, didn't they?" The kids loved being asked their opinion.

    Two longer runs off "the big lift" followed til Helen needed a rest. "Want to go with Dad and me to the top, James?" Deb asked.

    "The top! Yes!"

    By morning's end, Helen's pizza was moving in much better balance, and James' speed was a bit more controlled by more turns. But, the measure of the lesson's success was revealed at lunch. "Mom," Helen asked, "You think Deb can be our teacher again tomorrow?"

    "Yeah!" James chimed in. "And, can she teach me how to snowboard!?"

    Mount Snow's "Perfect Turn Family Clinics"; for up to five family members; skiing or snowboarding; 2 hours; $95. Info: 802-464-3333.

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