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  • Winter Park's Proficiency Brings 'Em Back Year After Year

    By Mitch Kaplan

    Photo courtesy Winter Park The kids constituted a skiing cliché. Lauren and Jimmy. Girl - quiet, unassuming, amiable, slow, careful and steady on her skis; and boy - antsy, rarin' to go, bordering on hyperactive, but alert, aggressive and fast on his skis, moving at the edge of control.

    Ages? Ten or so.

    Together they covered a good deal of the skiing spectrum, in attitude, that is. So, even though they comprised the entire "group" in this group lesson, they presented Winter Park instructor Mike South with a full range of challenge.

    Mike, a Kiwi who seemed impressively unflappable, responded, well, unflappably. That's become expected at Winter Park. You need only venture into the Kids Center to understand the proficiency. Organized chaos might best describe what I saw in the Navajo Room. Eight to twelve year-olds had gathered there to shed their parents, be fitted with gear and organized into lesson groups. Chaos, but no disquiet. Certainly not among the kids. Coats and helmets were nonchalantly stashed into cubbies. Table games and art supplies found their way into busy hands. The occasional parent crisis was handled readily - a mom who thought her son might have her goggles; a dad who worried about the lunch menu - by both kids and staff. And then, almost unnoticed, small gaggles dressed and exited to the snow.

    On the lift, Mike reviewed some safety rules from the Skiers' Responsibility Code. Jimmy recited a litany of runs he wanted to ski - many of them serious stuff. Jimmy had big dreams.

    "You know the trail map better than I do," Mike exclaimed.

    Jimmy beamed.

    He did know the trail map. And why not, he'd been coming here with his family from their home in Akron, Ohio, for many of his ten years. So, too had Lauren, for that matter, who hailed from Lawrence, Kansas. Indeed, Lauren proudly pointed out that her entire extended family had made the Winter Park pilgrimage ("Except for my one aunt and cousin, who went to Chicago this year for some dumb American Girl convention."), and they had been doing so for as long as she could remember. This year they numbered some fifteen strong, she told me.

    Return visits make one of the better measures of a ski resort's success in handling families. Clearly, these two families felt that Winter Park was doing it right.

    Mike took us to a run called Mock Turtle. Green-rated, it was a narrow roller coaster of whales and bumps that ended in a copse of trees. One at a time we lurched down the snowy lane, Mike's sole instruction having been, "Bend your knees when you go over the bumps."

    Lauren carefully negotiated the course. Jim caromed through, periodically catching accidental air.

    "We're here to let the kids have fun," Mike explained on the next lift ride. The point, he emphasized, wasn't to make them "work" at this, but to let them use play as a learning tool. Ski some odd pitches, toss in the silly game along the way, and the skiing will improve by itself.

    An hour had passed when Mike announced we were due at a meeting.

    Huh?

    He led us to Discovery Park, a beginners' area, where several other lesson groups had assembled. Mike confabbed and returned with another instructor and his group of five in tow. The combined entourage set off down Parkway, re-grouping where the run opened to a wide slope just above the base lodge. After each child skied the bottom section solo, Lauren was re-paired with three kids who skied in her style, while Jimmy was joined by Zachary and Jenna, whiz-kids who skied with the same aggressive flair as he did.

    An interesting concept, this re-grouping. By fine-tuning the groups, everyone skis more comfortably.

    Back on the hill, nobody skipped a beat. The new group formed like they'd known each other for months and, as befitted their styles, the pace picked up, So did the challenges, which included acceding to kid-demands to take on the mogul field on blue-rated Cranmer. Lunch was called just in time for me. I needed the rest.

    If there's a downside to this seemingly seamless children's program, it's that the Kids Center facility needs to be expanded by about two or three hundred percent. So popular are the programs that the available space was long ago filled. The roomful of organized chaos I saw took place on a Friday. Imagine what a weekend brings.

    Yeah, Winter Park is a victim of its own success. But, success is what it's all about. They taught one of my kids to snowboard, back in the day when snowboarding was a novelty. They taught the other one the joys of slithering through the trees. And, they made me a repeat customer - a living testament to their proficiency.

    For more info see Winter Park's website at www.skiwinterpark.com or call 800-979-0332 to make a reservation.

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