Ski Tales: Star Program gets kids on the slopes

In the mid-1970s, Willard Mountain started a learn-to-ski program for kids. Called the Star Program,

In the mid-1970s, Willard Mountain started a learn-to-ski program for kids. Called the Star Program, it was initially designed as a feeder for the race team.

While it fell short of the intended purpose, the Star Program has developed into a highly successful method for getting kids going on skis.

“I think it started in the 1975-76 season,” program director Mary Reynolds said recently.

“Sarah Idleman was the first director, and Sarah and I were the first two instructors. Our first year, we started with about five students, but after ski week, it blossomed to 35 kids.”

Idleman headed the program for several seasons and then handed the reins to Reynolds, who has held them ever since.

“The requirements that were set up for it all stemmed from the original PSIA certification,” Reynolds said.” Because we were dealing with children, we started using games and objects like hoops and balls to make it more interesting.”

It worked, and the techniques are still used today. The kids “ski and carry a snowball,” “ski tall,” “ski small,” “make big turns,” “make baby turns,” “hop like bunnies to turn” and “count turns out loud.”

The program also incorporates variations in the terrain, with the kids negotiating bumps, hollows and banked turns sculpted into the snow by instructors.

“It took right off,” Reynolds said. “We usually have about 100 kids in the program, but we’ve had as many as 140.”

In the early going, the program started at age 5, but 4-year-olds are accepted now. “We have about 15 instructors, and we try to keep the classes small,” Reynolds said.

The children move at their own pace through four star levels — red, blue, silver and gold. Each level has certain skills the children must attain.

To ski off with a red star on their parka, the young skiers must master such things as wedge turns, one ski traverses, skating on the snow and marching on skis.

As they move through the blue and silver levels, they do wide-track parallel turns, ski over bumps and into hollows, ski a timed giant slalom and do linked parallel turns.

Gold Star requirements sound like they were designed by a race coach and include timed slalom runs, pre-jumps, tuck jumps and a spread eagle.

But Reynolds said most of the kids just learn to be good skiers.

“Some kids do get into racing, but the connection to the race

program was never really made in a big way,” she said. “What tends to happen is they all want to come back and teach, and as a result, we kind of develop our own instructors.”

The Star Program runs for 16 days, and starts Saturday at Willard with a five-day ski week. It will continue every Saturday with four days included during the February vacation week.

The classes are four hours each day, with two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. Kids 4 and 5 can do half day sessions. The cost, $250, does not include lift tickets.

Signups are still possible. For more information, call Willard Mountain at 692-7337.


The base lodge at West Mountain in Queensbury has a new look.

Some of it, anyway.

During the summer months, the exterior of the building was refurbished with rustic siding, giving it a log cabin camp look.

The bar area upstairs in the lodge, completely renovated with beautiful stonework, is now called the Westside Grille. The renovation included the addition of a small dining room where the outdoor deck used to be. The dining space, called the Adirondack Room, looks out on the mountain and includes a small wine bar. The Adirondack Room is separated from the main bar by a gas fireplace which flickers warmly for patrons in both rooms.

The restaurant is open year-round for lunch and dinner, with breakfast served on Saturdays and Sundays. The Westside Grille chef is Mike Cirelli, former chef at Luisa’s Bistro in South Glens Falls.

The Grille had only been open a few days when I dropped in, but dining room manager Maureen Doran said, “People are already coming in, and ordering wine and dinners.”

The menu (Doran said it will be expanded) includes such dishes as New York sirloin, blackened salmon, seafood bercy, chicken marsala and filet rollatini. The Adirondack Room, with 15 tables, can seat 70 diners.

The bar area serves typical pub food including soups, salads, wings, burgers and fries. Like any good sports bar, it has televisions on the walls for watching Sunday afternoon football games. Joe Durkee is in charge of the kitchen.

The lodge entrance from the parking lot has also been improved with a wide cement walkway, big stone pillars and iron fencing.

The ski lodge and cafeteria on the first floor was not included in the renovation, but Doran said the plan is to do that next summer. “Then, we can use the building for weddings and parties,” she said.

West Mountain owner Mike Barbone said the lodge renovation cost about $400,000. He added that some West regulars are unhappy the money was not spent outside, perhaps for a new chairlift to the top of the mountain. That, he said, would be impractical at this time because it would drive up the cost of lift tickets. A new triple chair, he said, would cost about $2 million, pushing the cost of a lift ticket up by at least $10.

Next summer, he wants to redesign and spruce up the first floor of the lodge, including the cafeteria, so it can be used 12 months of the year.

”We plan to have special events like concerts, mountain biking and weddings,” he said.

He is hoping revenue from those kinds of off-season activities will enable him to install a new lift. If things go well, that could happen in time for 2010-2011 season.

Outside improvements were made over the summer, Barbone said, mentioning the cutting of six new trails and the widening of some existing runs. Lighting has been improved for night skiing, and new tower snow guns are pumping out snow.

West Mountain marketing manager Rob Rajeski said ticket sales have been strong in spite of the bad economy, with season pass sales up 30 to 40 percent over last season.

“People aren’t going out west as much to ski this year,” he said. “They’re coming TO West to ski.”


Has the Eagle landed?

United States downhill racers made history last Saturday, placing five skiers among the top 10 finishers in a World Cup event at Val Gardena, Italy.

Bode Miller (Franconia, N.H.) was second, with Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, Calif.) fourth, Erik Fisher (Middletown, ID) seventh, Steve Nyman (Provo, Utah) ninth and T.D. Lanning (Park City, Utah) 10th.

Miller is a former U.S. ski team member who now skis as an ind­ependent. The other four are current team members.

To put the significance of the race in perspective, you have to go back to the 1990s, when Austrians were running away with most of the downhills and Americans rarely got near a podium. Memorable exceptions were Bill Johnson’s and Tommy Moe’s respective gold medals in the 1984 and 1994 Olympics. If I remember correctly, the Austrian team once took eight or nine of the top 10 spots in a single World Cup downhill race.

Things began to change when Californian Daron Rahlves won back-to-back downhills in Norway in 2000. After that, he and Miller began getting onto World Cup podiums on a regular basis, but after them there wasn’t much depth in downhill. The American women have a similar situation now, with Lindsey Vonn (Vail, Colo.) alone at the top and Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, Calif.) struggling to stay near her.

Sullivan and Nyman began coming on a couple of seasons ago and it looks as though we now have a bunch of skiers who can keep up with the very best in the world.

To make the Val Gardena race even more significant in terms of U.S. depth, Scott McCartney of Crystal Mountain, Wash., was 15th and Lake Placid’s Andrew Weibrecht was 28th, meaning all seven Americans in the race skied off with top-30 points. Another first.

Two days later, in Alta Baldia, American Tim Jitloff of Reno, Nev., placed 15th for his first World Cup slalom points. Jitloff’s finish could be an indication that the U.S. is beginning to have some depth in techical events well as the speed races. Park City’s Ted Ligety, of course, is already one of the best slalom/giant slalom skiers in the world and so is Miller when he stays on course.

If this keeps up it’s going to be a very interesting season.


There’s an old ski business theory that when resorts make money during Christmas week, the rest of the season is gravy. A snowless holiday period, in contrast, means playing catch-up the rest of the season.

Well, ski areas in the Northeast certainly can’t complain about the way this holiday period kicked off, with lots of snow coming down last Friday. The storm continued through the weekend, and snowmaking weather stayed with us into the week. This is the kind of a start resort owners dream of.

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