My oldest daughter is six years old. She has been skiing since she was two. One of her favorite shirts to wear these days is this one that has “life is better on the slopes” printed on it. In short, she loves to ski. So when her elementary school was unexpectedly closed on Monday we headed out to ski. But we went to a new-to-her mountain. That’s where the challenge and learning began.
We usually ski at Mt. Abram because it’s a small, local mountain that really caters to families. We also go there because I work there on the weekends and get free passes for the family. Unfortunately, it’s only open Thursday through Sunday. So on Monday we headed to Pleasant Mountain.
It was my daughter’s first ever visit to Pleasant Mountain and my first visit in seventeen years. I had an industry pass for the day so instead of just walking up to the regular ticket window we had to go find the guest services desk to get our lift tickets. That wasn’t a big deal and is a small price to pay for getting a free pass for the day. Unfortunately, it meant some extra walking in ski boots. Again, not a big deal for me, but a little tiring for a six-year-old.
Passes in hand, we headed out to the lifts. My daughter wanted to go straight to the bigger of the two lifts servicing the terrain that I felt was appropriate for her. Instead, I convinced her to start on the smaller lift to warm up. She handled that first run very well and was excited to head to the bigger lift.
Off we went to the bigger chair lift and higher terrain. As we headed up she was excited to look around and see the surrounding lakes and mountains. However, I was starting to think, “hmmm…this might be a bit steeper terrain than she’s skied before.” I scoped out what I thought would be the easiest path down for her which was to the left of the lift line.
We got off the lift and turned to the right. At that point we were committed to that direction. Unfortunately, what I couldn’t see from the lift was that while the line I picked was overall the easiest path down, it started with a hard and steep run for about 50 feet. My daughter was excited about it though.
We headed down that first steep section and her skis caught a little ice patch and she fell. It wasn’t a hard fall (she’s fallen much harder on far flatter terrain), but it was enough to scare her. The tears started flowing and were accompanied by “I DO NOT LIKE THIS MOUNTAIN AT ALL! I want to go home!” Through the tears and frustration she got up and we skied back down. The lesson from this run was, what looks easiest from the lift may not actually be the easiest route.
By the time we got back down my daughter wanted to go back up the same lift. Now having a better understanding of the terrain off that lift, I agreed that we could do it again. My plan was to take the other side of the lift line down this time.
We got off the lift and headed left to ski the right side of the lift line. I let her lead down the mountain. However, I forgot to do what I always do when teaching ski lessons. That is to give directions on when and where to stop.
As we came to a trail junction I could see she was about to head in a direction that I didn’t want her to go in. So I yelled for her to stop and then skied up next to her. That’s when the tears appeared again followed closely by, “you’re confusing me! You didn’t tell me you wanted me to stop there! This mountain is confusing, I don’t know where we’re going!” The lesson learned on this run was to always give my child directions on where to stop and where we’re going.
We got back down the run without further incident. However, when we got back down, she said she wanted to go home because the mountain was too big and confusing. I suggested we go back to the smaller lift that we started on and then have a snack. She reluctantly agreed to do that.
This run was incident free and we went to get snacks. Getting snacks was not without incident. My daughter, like many kids her age, gets very nervous in new places. So while I wanted to go inside for snacks and limit walking back to the car (my feet were in pain from blisters I got a week earlier) she didn’t want any part of going inside. Off to the car we went. The lesson here, just carry your kid’s snacks in a backpack instead of leaving them in the car.
Behold the power of snacks and maps!
While snacking it up I got out the trail and lift map. We looked it over and talked about the trails that we thought would be fun. She still wasn’t convinced that she liked “this mountain” so I said, “let’s give it one more try and if you still don’t like it, we can go home.”
After loading up on snacks we headed back to the smaller lift for one more run. I let her lead down the run we had picked while looking at the map. She loved it! Lesson learned: give your kid lots of snacks and a bit of agency over which direction they’re going down the mountain.
Four More Times, Two More Times, Four More Times!
She liked that first run after our snack break so much that she wanted to do it again! At first she wanted to do it four more times. After that she said, “two more times.” After those runs she said, “four more times!” Clearly she was comfortable and happy on that lift and run. If she’s happy on a run, I’m happy on that run.
Timers and Racing Gates
Whenever I ski I turn on the ski tracking function on my Garmin Fenix 5 watch. It tells me the top speed on every run. A couple of weeks ago I used it to track my daughter going 19 MPH on a run. When I told her that she was super excited! Knowing how excited she gets about the speed of her runs, I started reading them out to her at the bottom of each run.
Reading the top speed of each run has become a little game for us. On Monday we played that game and she loved it. She couldn’t wait to tell her sister, mother, the lift attendant, and anyone else who would listen that she went 27 MPH!
Pleasant Mountain, like most corporately-owned ski mountains these days, has RFID tags in their lift tickets. The tickets are actually cards about the same size as a credit card, gone are the days of stickers hanging off a jacket’s zipper. My daughter had never used an RFID equipped card or lift gate before. She loved the beep that the gate made when she put her card next to the card reader. It quickly became a game to see if she could beat me to buzz through the gate.
The lesson learned: if your kid likes games, play games while skiing.
Shout Out to Emma the Liftie!
Lift attendants (lifties) range from old grumps to ski bums stoned out of their minds to young people just trying to earn a living. Then there are people like Emma who seemed to really enjoy working the lift that’s utilized by new and very young skiers. She was smiling every time we went through the lift line, seemed excited to help new people learn to use the lift, and generally appeared happy to be there.