Tip: Ski Vacation Survival 101 - Teenagers
by Mitch Kaplan
The object of any vacation with teenagers is this: avoid the "B-word" at all costs. "Borr-ring!" It's the unilateral vernacular for anything unknown, threatening, different or - heaven forbid! - uncool. The B-word can cast a death pallor over any family activity. Yes, even skiing. Avert the B-word by choosing a resort that caters to teens on and off the slopes with a variety of fast-paced activities supervised by specially trained, young adults. At the very least, a resort should offer a teens-only place to gather.
Most of the basic guidelines that lead to a successful family vacation still apply. Make sure there's skiable terrain for everyone, give them a budget for spending money, stay slopeside if you can, and be as sure as possible that the resort's layout will serve your needs. That is, will they be able to walk to activities; is there a convenient, preferably free, bus service; or, will you need to drive them everywhere?
In addition, here are some essential teen-friendly elements to look for.
A Teen Center. Here kids can pop the volume on the music to parent-deafening levels, dance, sip sodas, or play video games. Be wary of places that offer only video arcades. A good teen gathering site encourages social interaction. And supervision.
On-the-Slopes Programming. Good teen lessons disguise learning as fun and often remove the stigmatic word "school" from their name. At Killington, teens get their own meeting place. In lessons, they don't stand around and talk about technique. They learn by skiing.
"Teenagers want to go out and groove with an equally groovy instructor," says Winter Park spokesperson Joan Christensen. "We keep them moving. And, to save embarrassment, we've even eliminated the ski-off. We assess how to group them by skiing with them."
If possible, things shouldn't start too early in morning. Teens hate getting out of bed.
Off-the-Slopes Programming. Look for apres-ski programs that keep them busy. Okemo has an "Altitude After Dark" program. Smuggler's Notch offers a wide range of action from swimming and tennis to dances and broomball. In Steamboat, organized trips into town include activities like tubing, ice skating, movie-going or hanging out at the local teens' favorite burger joint. Many resorts, like Sunday River, have lit, music-filled half-pipes and other night skiing/riding facilities to keep teens entertained after dark.
Supervision. Instructors or apres-ski counselors should be enthusiastic and able to get kids pumped up about things. The best usually are young adults who are not much removed from being teenagers themselves.
Staffing ratios are important, as well. For small group, off-snow, non-ski activities, look for a ratio of one staffer for each five or six kids. At Smuggler's, alternative on-snow activities like snowshoeing employ one instructor for each eight to ten kids, while large evening group events are successfully supervised at ratios of one to 25.
Other Factors. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean that the basic rules or personalities change. Keep these considerations in mind:
Homework: if at all possible, have them get it done before you leave or after you return home.
Freedom: As at home, teens should still tell you where they're going and when you can expect them back. And - remember to tell them the same yourself!
Meals and other Activities: Share one or two activities during the week, and gather for dinner. But, once teens begin making friends, they love to eat over or go out with new-found friends. Schedule a few meals and events as a family, and be ready to feed an extra body or two along the way.
Get Their Opinion: Solicit an opinion whenever appropriate. Including teens in the decision making process not only induces participation and a sense of responsibility, it's the best way to supplant the B-word with the A-word: "Awesome!"
...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.