Ski Tales: Schools help kids start off on right foot

Parents lacking skiing skills, technical knowledge and pat­ience should put their children in a ski
Enzo Mastroianni, a Schenectady Ski School instructor, assists young skiers riding the handle tow at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Enzo Mastroianni, a Schenectady Ski School instructor, assists young skiers riding the handle tow at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam.

Categories: Sports

Most of my memories of skiing over the years are good ones.

A few, though, are not so good, and many of those have to do with people trying to teach others to ski.

Like the short-tempered lady at a Vermont area who was “teaching” her daughter. The kid, about 8, had fallen and lost her skis in the middle of slope that was too steep. Mom had stopped about 50 feet below and didn’t want to climb back up to help. The girl was crying, and her mother was getting angrier by the second.

“Hey lady, would you like me to …” She cut me off with a glare and a firm, “She can do it!”

But she either couldn’t or wouldn’t, and her mother started to boil. The lady finally leaned back and screamed loud enough to shake snow off the trees. “YOU’RE … RUINING … MY … DAY!”

I wonder if that little girl is still skiing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she isn’t.

Then there was the father and 3-or-so daughter I saw at a small downstate area last season.

It was obvious the child had never skied before, and she kept falling down when dad slapped skis on her for the first time. Finally, her father picked her up like a sack of flower and skated clumsily for the lift — kid under one arm, ski poles in his other hand. Up the lift they went, dad waving to mom in the lodge like they were off on a cruise.

I never saw them again, so I don’t know how the kid’s first day on skis went, but I can imagine. Too many times have I seen little kids flopping like rag dolls between their parents legs.

START THEM RIGHT


I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on the above mentioned mom and dad, because, truth be known, not many parents have the skiing skills, technical knowledge and the pat­ience to teach their own children to ski.

Parents lacking any of the three should put their children in a ski school with special programs for kids. And families living in the Capital Region are fortunate to have three nearby ski areas that fill the bill nicely.

They’re not too big, the’re not too far and they’re not too expensive. They have gentle slopes, perfect for little ones, and lifts that are easy to ride.

Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam, Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake and Willard Mountain in Greenwich are family-friendly areas that offer children’s programs with excellent track records.

ROYAL BUNNIES

Royal Mountain has a program called Snow Bunnies designed for kids 3-6 who have never skied before. The program is under the direction of Karen Balzano, who has a staff of seven instructors. Before the children put on skis, they do a lot of things with just their ski boots.

“At first we let them just walk around and get used to them, because they don’t have the coord­ination of older children,” Balzano said.

They use one ski before using two, and they do a lot on flat land before going on gentle hills. The instructors make little bumps for them to ski over and they get to ski through a little house. Climbing up so you can ski down is tough for pint-size beginners — they keep sliding back — so the Snow Bunnies climb up on carpets which offer better traction than snow.

“Sometimes, we have them slide down an easy hill with a ball and put it in a basket at the bottom,” Balzano said. “That gives them something to focus on rather than thinking about being on skis and moving. The next thing you know the’re skiing and they don’t even realize it.”

Balzano said the instructors focus on “doing,” rather than “explaining.”

“We allow them to use their imaginations and, at the same time, have fun, because at that age, they can’t understand what you’re trying to explain to them on skis,” she said.

To make it fun this season, the Snow Bunnies program is using a “We are going hunting” theme inspired by a children’s book many are familiar with.

“They go hunting, they go across a marsh and go ‘swish, swish, swish,’ they go through the water and through tall grass, “Balzano said. “We picture characters like Peter Pan or the little red caboose that could, so kids can connect and use them as a theme.”

Royal Mountain has a chair lift on its beginner hill. After Snow Bunnies, the children move up to an all-mountain program called “Trail Blazers.”

Snow Bunnies is a seven-week instructional program. On the eighth week the children and instructors have a party. Classes are at 10 a.m. on either Saturday or Sunday, beginning Jan. 2-3. There are three price categories: $270 for a pass, lessons and rentals; $235 for a pass and lessons; and, for those with a season pass and their own equipment, $170 for lessons alone.

Parents of children in the program can also get an eight week pass for $170.

For more information on the Snow Bunnies program at Royal Mountain program call 762-1055.

TYKES AND STARS

The Schenectady Ski School at Maple Ski Ridge has seven-week programs for Ski Tykes (ages 4-5) and Ski Stars (6-7).

The school is co-directed by Freddie Anderson, its founder in 1950, and her daughter, Christina.

Together they have developed a step-by-step system for teaching skiing skills through drills cleverly disguised as play. The children learn the movements needed to control their skis in a “fun/play” environment in a snow castle. Classes have a Pooh Bear theme and teams of eight children are led by coaches in a bear hunt through a forest.

The drills begin on flat terrain or a gentle slope, first with ski boots only, then with one ski, then with two. They push on one ski like a scooter; stop and go playing “red light-green light” and walk like ducks to get up little hills.

“We use a team approach to teaching,” Freddie Anderson said, “with three instructors to each group of small children.”

“We also track each student’s progress from week to week and from season to season,” Christina Anderson said. “Depending on their progress, we sometimes change kids from one group to another, often on the same day.”

Ski Stars are beginning skiers aged 6-7, or Ski Tykes graduates who might need some refreshing on basics. Ski Star instructors use traffic cones and a “magic stick” to put the Stars through their paces. Maple Ski Ridge has a slow moving handle tow which pulls those who are ready to use it up the bunny slope.

In both groups, the children receive 90 minutes of instruction each day and the fee includes a four-hour area use ticket. The cost is $209 before Dec. 15 and $219 after that date. The programs begin Jan. 9-10.

Saturday classes for both programs are at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sunday classes are at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

For more information on the Schenectady Ski School program at Maple Ski Ridge call 377-3730.

WILLARD STARS

Willard Mountain’s Star Program, under the direction of Mary Reynolds, has been around since the mid-1970s. The program meets 16 sessions throughout the season and is geared towards skiing fam­ilies. The emphasis is on letting the students progress comfortably at their own pace and Star program graduates often move up to Willard’s All Mountain Program or the Willard Mountain Race Program.

The Star Program utilizes games and objects like hoops and balls to keep it interesting for children. The kids develop skiing skills by “skiing with snowballs,” “skiing tall,” “skiing small,” “marching on skis,” “making big turns,” “making small turns” and “hopping like bunnies.” The area even has a kid friendly trail from the top of the mountain called “The Bunny Hop.”

The program incorporates instructor crafted variations in the terrain such as bumps, hollows and banked turns to develop balance and independent foot action. Reynolds said the program began as a feeder to Willard’s race program, but now the goal is simply to develop solid skiing skills. Students move at their own pace through four star levels — red, blue, silver and gold — and each level has its own skill requirements.

Full-day tuition in the Star Program is $260 for 16 lessons. Students must also purchase a lift ticket.

The schedule this season is Dec. 27-31, Feb. 15-19 and six consecutive Saturdays, beginning Jan. 2. Program lessons are from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from noon to 2 p.m.

For more information on the Willard Mountain Star Program call 692-7337.

WEIBRECHT ON TRACK

Lake Placid’s Andrew Weibrecht, a member of the U.S. ski team, continues to impress from back in the pack. Last Saturday, starting from 62nd position in a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, B.C., the 23-year-old skied into 12th place.

Swiss star Didier Cuche, winner of the race, watched Weibrecht’s run from the bottom of the course, and when the time was announced he clapped and smiled his approval very, very enthusiastically. U.S. men’s Alpine coach Sasha Rearick said, “With a start number like that, it wasn’t easy and he did an amazing job.”

On Sunday, Weibrecht did it again, placing 12th in the World Cup super-G, starting from 30th position. The races were the first two speed events of the season.

I watched both on UniversalSports.com and what impressed me most was that Weibrecht, known for his all-or-nothing approach, never looked wild. He looked solid and in control, much like Cuche on his winning downhill run. On the U.S. ski team Web site, Weibrecht said, “It’s nice to know I don’t have to totally shoot to the moon to have the results that I need.”

This weekend the men’s World Cup moves to Beaver Creek, Colo., where Weibrecht and the best A lpine skiers in the world will be going at it on the challenging Birds of Prey downhill course. The super-G is today, with the downhill Saturday and a giant slalom Sunday.

Wednesday’s training run on Birds of Prey was shortened because an accumulation of new snow on the course. Weibrecht, starting 57th, had the sixth-fastest time of the day, a 49.29 clocking. Switzerland’s Ambrosi Hoffman won the run in 49.07. Three Amer­icans were in the top 10, with Eric Fisher eighth and Marco Sullivan 10th. Jeremy Transue of Hunter Mountain was 33rd and Bode Miller was 47th.

On Thursday, Weibrecht slipped to 48th in training.

The races can be seen live on the Universal Sports Network.

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