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Proud Mama Day


Araiya is just over 3 1/2 and this past Saturday, she rode up the Big Black Chairlift (Armstrong/Chair 1) at Alpental for the first time. Then she skied, ALL BY HERSELF, just about all the way down (we carried her on a few steep pitches). Then she not only went once, but FOUR TIMES. This Mama is SO proud! She has been asking to ride the Black Chair, but stating doing so was for bigger kids and she still needed to grow up more. We had wanted to take her up there, but it wasn’t until this past weekend there was enough snow to be able to cut a real cat track along the top traverse rather than the narrow and bumpy Goat Trail which had formed (Patrol even had to put a sign up on the easiest way down the main quad stating “Experts Only” because the conditions were so dicey). On this mountain, there is very little beginner and gentle intermediate terrain anyways, Araiya has spent the whole season doing laps on St. Bernard. Even the jump from that one gentle loop to the pitch on the chair over is pretty drastic. My requirements for taking her to other parts of the mountain were that she can both hold a wedge and adequately steer her skis where she wanted to go. Honestly, I thought our first trip up there Matt would be carrying her most of the way, it would be only to show her around more of the mountain. When she met me, Tallis and Pia at the bottom of Bernard, she ecstatically announced she wanted to go again. So we let Tallis ski a bit on the bunny slope, went in for a lunch break, then after lunch I took her up. About 1/3 of the way down the cat track she announces she wants to go 4 more times. Then we get down to Lower I and she says she wants to go ski in the trees. An elderly volunteer ski patroller stops, thinking I have mistakenly taken a child who is obviously far too small to be on this part of the mountain somewhere she can’t handle. He comments on how she is leaning back really far, and I bust out my seasoned musculoskeletal explanation of child development. He realizes she is cruising along at her own pace, having a grand time and eventually skies off. We stop at the top of the last pitch down to Armstrong to call Daddy so he can come watch. Then we go again. After a break of playing around with Tallis on skis in front of the lodge, she begs to go again before we go home. The last run Matt cuts across through the trees more and she skies the bottom quarter of Eisfallen by herself. I am amazed. 

I know for her this experience opened up such an awareness of what this sport is about, that there is a whole lot more mountain to explore. Turning really clicked for her. Independence really clicked for her. It is so awesome to feel like I am going out skiing with my child, as she cruises along behind us, laughing, singing or neighing like a horse. Matt said it was his best day this season. Of course Araiya totally crashed on the couch when we got home, exhausted from how much she had done.


I also wanted to touch on a few key points. A lot of people passed us, asked how old she was and were in utter amazement of ‘how did you do that’? or we talk to people we know about Araiya skiing and they can’t believe what she (and even Tallis, too) is doing. I must preface that I have been skiing since about 3 years old, too. I didn’t get really into it until I started ski racing, then teaching skiing in High School, but at those points I was putting in about 120 days a year. We calculated it out, and over 7 years of actively teaching skiing I have logged over 5000 hours of teach time, not to mention countless hours of training, clinics and studying to achieve higher levels of certification. I continue to teach and will continue to do so, I even taught Matt how to ski (his one fatal flaw I had to fix when we first got together). Also, even after having 3 kids in 3 years and my base level of fitness being at the lowest point ever, I am still a very strong skier and am confident enough that I don’t hesitate in my ability and safety to carry a 35 lb child down a good portion of the lower mountain. We also have a very strong commitment to our involvement in this sport. Matt has spent most of his Saturday’s with the girls, chauffeuring Araiya to her class while simultaneously having two other children, who are typically strapped to him in some way. I commonly get the Mama Sherpa title, carrying a large backpack with two itty bitty pairs of skis and two pairs of adult ski boots strapped over the top, a baby attached to my chest, an additional tote in one hand and often have to carry Tallis down flights of stairs. It’s not easy, but it sure is worth it. I will compile a few posts specifically about teaching the girls and our commitment to this sport of family skiing. Consider this Part 1: Some physiological and tactical tips from our approach and what we have learned:

* Realistic and Flexible Expectations: Toddlers are toddlers. Often fickle. We had to set our bar at an attainable level, something that wouldn’t be beyond who are girls are and the developmental stages they are at. Not to mention, the variations in toddlers from day to day, even hour to hour. We knew from the get go there would be days where we would trek all the way up to the mountain, take one run, and she will be melting down and done. So we go home. Other days, we can’t get them off the mountain and we carry them kicking and screaming “I WANT TO SKI MORE” back to the car when it is too dark to ski any longer. Some days they refuse to ride the chairlift; other days we can’t take enough laps. There is no standard measure of what a “Good Day” is like we have come to expect as adults. A “Good Day” to us is making it up to the mountain and putting our skis on in the snow. Of course, this increases over time, as now I would expect and hold Araiya to at least riding up the chair lift and skiing down all by herself at least a few times even if she is having a hard day. I can’t tell you how many parents I have experienced in my years of teaching who flat out expect their kids to handle being out on the mountain and perform at a level of an adult. Or the opposite, parents who cave to their kid’s every whine then end up spending the whole day in the lodge drinking hot cocoa. In turn, we have been very clear with our girls that we come up to the mountain to ski and be in the snow. We purposefully plant ourselves in one spot in the lodge, our base camp, and the girls know it is for storing stuff and eating lunch, not hanging out. We don’t usually bring a lot of toys or games or inside activities. Snack time is usually outside (weather permitting). We constantly respond to their wining with ‘we came her to ski’ and request that we at least go  play with our skis along a little flat trail by the lodge (there is a “Bear House” there). Usually their 45 second memory and attention span changes enough that wining turns into ‘I wanna go on the chairlift’ (or the opposite) so we usually give it at least 5 minutes of reasoning and trying different approaches before deciding if we are really going to throw in the towel. Also, we ask for reinforcement as we are preparing to do something, like ‘if we get all the way up to the lift, will you ride with me and ski down?’ so it is repeated and reiterated what the expectations are.

* Adequate Equipment and Gear: I can still remember as a kid what a difference it made to go from crappy gear to good gear. I remember the first time I bought a Turtle Fur fleece neck warmer at lunch during a huge blizzard, my world changed. Kids are even more sensitive and affected by their environments than adults, being cold, uncomfortable, wet or even too hot can dramatically alter their attitudes, willingness and abilities. I encountered far too many parents while teaching who are outfitted in a $900 ski outfit with the latest skis and come to drop of their kid who’s wearing sweats and cotton gloves and skis circa 1964, in a blizzard. Of course the kid’s not going to enjoy the sport if he is physically miserable the entire time. I on more than one occasion have asked a parent to give their child their own sunglasses or goggles because Junior is being dropped off with no hat or eye protection. You should see the look on their faces when they take off their glasses and realize exactly how bright it is out there. Our rule of thumb: if I’m cold they are colder. Bad attitudes often stem from external discomforts. We have ensured our girls are adequately outfitted with appropriate long underwear, insulation, waterproof outerwear, eye protection, head protection, gloves AND backups because they can (and do) get wet. In fact, we are at a point now that Mom&Dad are the ones in serious need of an equipment upgrade. I also want to debunk some myths about gear sizing, especially skis. Too often parents try to buy stuff that will last multiple seasons, that the kid will grow into. If the skis are too long, the kid will have an incredibly hard time using them. It is better to be too short than too long. When we first bought skis for Araiya, we bought the shortest pair we could find at a good deal. That was two seasons ago, those same skis are still to long for her this year, so we bought a second shorter pair. She is able to ski much more effectively, particularly in holding a wedge and steering, with the shorter skis. Also, I know it is easy to use some ancient hand-me-down skis, but newer technology will be easier for the kid and old, unmaintained equipment, especially bindings, ensure safety and avoid injury. We have bought most of our kids gear at Ski Swaps and Clearance Sales. While it can be expensive, it is in the big picture worth it because it so directly effects their abilities and comfort on the mountain.

* Motivation: The kid’s willingness to participate and keep participating in this (or any) sport has to be out of a desire for the sport and not external. Bribery, candy, threats and punishment for doing or not doing well are ineffective and often detrimental. We have always strived for cultivating a love for the sport and the mountains above all else. If they don’t deeply enjoy doing it, it’s not worth it. Yea, I have heard a lot: “You’re about to loose build-a-bear if you don’t make turns NOW!” “I’ll by you a slurpee if you go down the bunny slope one more time” “If you don’t shape up your attitude and ski right now you’re grounded for a week”. I could go on. Those tactics make the kid perform either only for the thing you are dangling as motivation, and then when that expectation of getting something in return is gone, so is their willingness; or in avoidance of the negative they will appease because they feel they have less choice or fear the alternatives to not performing. Not that our girls don’t occasionally get some M&M’s or Hot Cocoa, but it’s never the chief motive. Enough said.

* Reinforcement of Achievement: The best encouragement you can give your kids is reinforcing the things they achieve and the successes they have in learning as their abilities increase. We try to be quick to praise the things that are worth praising in the steps they are making, regardless of how small. Simultaneously, we don’t overlook the negatives and things that need to be corrected, parenting doesn’t stop just because we are in Ski Teaching Mode. Building them up in what is real, so not to inflate their sense of self or deflate their moral is a line to carefully walk. When we provide ski instruction, we try to back it up with a positive of something they have done well. “Hey, those are some really awesome turns, but they look like mouse-sized turns, do you think you can make BIGGER Elephant-sized turns?” “Do you know why you fell down? You weren’t watching where you were going, that’s not safe and Mommy wants to keep you safe. Let’s make sure you keep looking ahead” I think the thing that prevents a lot of parents from effectively being able to instruct their own kids is they don’t know how to break down elements of the activity they perceive to be innate, leaving them frustrated as to why the other person doesn’t get it. I have seen many a honeymooners vacationing in Tahoe just about have their marriage break up over him trying to teach her to ski: “Just do this, just do this” and they are both exasperated at the other. Sound reasoning and being able to relate it into explanations they can understand are key. With kids, I find it is easiest broken down into: Say It, Show It, Feel It, Do It, Check It. Say what you are wanting them to do, explaining the task “Araiya, can you make a Pizza with your skis?” Show and demonstrate what you are talking about “Like this, see how my skis make the shape of the letter A?” Help them tacitly feel what you are talking about with their bodies, sometimes even moving them so they can feel that muscle memory start to develop “Brush your skis out, it should feel like spreading Peanut Butter on a Sandwich, here let me move your legs so they are like this” Then Practice, practice, practice, have them do it on their own, or gradually help less and less. Finally, check for understanding and reinforce that they are doing (or getting) what you are talking about “That’s awesome, Araiya! You’re holding your skis in a Pizza! Pretty soon you’ll be stopping on your own!” I find it is really important that the kids understand and have a sense of their accomplishment so they feel like they are mastering what they are doing so they are more inclined to continue striving to achieve more.

* Know the kid and their Limitations: Some kids get things faster, they all have different ways of learning, they change so quickly depending on their developmental age. Some kids are just not ready, others take off and catch on super quick. We know how far is appropriate to push the kids and are set on our goal being to not force them into this so they end up hating it. I also notice a huge difference in developmental ages of Araiya and Tallis- Tallis is far beyond where Araiya was even last year simply because the season in relation to their birthdays. Araiya, a summer baby, was one of the youngest 3-year olds in her ski class and was quickly surpassed by older kids who had less experience on skis simply because they were stronger and more developed. Tallis will be one of the older kids when she enters Alpentykes year after next. I think that is why  we see the trend that kids with winter and spring birthdays tend to be the better players on their sports teams than kids with summer and fall birthdays. Araiya also learns through doing, she has to feel that she can do it and in order to get there she has to build enough confidence to even try it on her own. In contrast, Tallis is a watcher and a listener, for her seeing her sister go up and down and hearing us tell her to make a pizza is enough for Tallis to start emulating what she sees. Therefore I know that I can do more and press Tallis a bit harder than I did Araiya the last few years, while with Araiya I have to be careful not to force her out of her comfort zone to quickly, she will do things in her own time. Another integral thing is ensuring your kids see you being transparent with them knowing you. We continue to express how much we enjoy skiing and what Mommy and Daddy did on the ski hill today. We express our own shortcomings and how and what we are learning on the hill and how excited we are that they are learning along side us. This isn’t something we are expecting only them to do, but are engaging them into a family activity we all do together. Finally, it has to be fun. If it’s not fun it’s not worth it.


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