10 Tips for a Successful Family Ski Trip

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After seven years as a ski parent, here are my top 10 tips for a successful family ski trip where you not only survive but also thrive on the hill. Ski trips are so much fun, but they can be terrifying to a parent. How old is old enough? What do I really need to do? Or is it worth the money? Here are the lessons I’ve learned though experience as a ski parent and wife as well as tips from my in-laws, who just happen to be the parents of three-time Olympic alpine skier Erik Schlopy (my husband) and NCAA champion Keri Schlopy Crockett (my sis-in-law). Skiing is much different than my native swimming. For example, the biggest difference is the equipment. Equipment is bigger and heavier and way more important in skiing. Just thinking about the task can be daunting, but hopefully with my tips and lessons, it’ll be just a little easier for you.

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From my seven years of carting kids up the hill, here are my 10 Tips:

  1. Choose the mountain that fits your family. Some of the best ski racers were raised on the smallest ski hills, so don’t worry about finding the biggest resort. Oftentimes, smaller resorts are more family friendly & make a smaller dent in your wallet. Our family goes to Deer Valley Resort. It’s 13 minutes from our house and has the best kids trails around in Ruby’s Tail and Bucky’s Backyard.
  2. Weather is by far the most important factor with small children! I realize that you can’t control the weather and that you’ve already paid for your vacation, but be aware of the temperatures and of the wind. If it’s bitter cold or dumping snow, make good decisions so that your kids continue to love skiing. Ski for shorter periods of time, take the shorter runs, and enjoy lots of hot cocoa breaks. In the end, only getting a quarter or half day on the mountain and loving it will be worth more than trying to cram it in and being miserable later.
  3. Patience is KEY! There are lots of things that can quickly get under your skin when you’re managing your family away from home. Here are a few things to consider so you can keep your patience. Don’t set your expectations too high and don’t think it is a failure if you have to cut a day short. Don’t let your kids tell you what they are going to wear with regards to helmet and gloves. Our policy is no helmet/gloves, no skiing. No exceptions. And be prepared to sit in the lodge until they come around. (Trust me, I’ve done this one more than once). It can be frustrating but if you’re prepared and your kids see you mean business, then it’ll go better for everyone
  4. Get lessons. I know lessons are expensive and time consuming, and they keep your children or you away from the family during your “family” vacation, but if it’s your first time out or your first trip in a long time, take the lessons. Everyone has more fun when they’re really enjoying the activities. For example, if your family is planning on being on snow for a week, commit to three consecutive days of lessons. (Note – during peak times you need to reserve lessons WELL in advance!!) After the three days, play it by ear and give the family ski day a try!
  5. Candy/Reward is magic! The last thing you want to do is let getting on all the gear become a super traumatic start to your day, so use a reward. Small little candies or treats that you can carry with you work great. When my kids first started, I would put some in a baggy in one of the zillion pockets on my ski jacket. You’d be amazed how quickly the tears were gone!
  6. Comfort is important. When it comes to ski gear, boots especially, make sure they are comfortable! This can make or break an experience. To ensure you get comfortable gear, rent from someone who knows what they are doing.  If your kid says their foot hurts, trust them, their foot hurts and try a different pair.  When they get better, then you can worry about performance! And whatever you do, DO NOT leave your boots in the car over night! Cold boots are almost impossible to get on! Take your boots out and put them near the heater, warm boots are the best.
  7. Create a list. There is nothing more useful than to make a list of everything you will need and to check it several times. To help, pack each member of the family in a separate bag and check it before and after each day of skiing.  It is amazing how many single gloves I have in my house. It takes a lot of gear and a lot of work to get your family ready to hit the slopes, and if you get up to the hill without a glove or hat, you’re not going back to your hotel to get it because it’s too much trouble. You’ll end up buying an expensive pair of gloves at the resort.
  8. Pack a lunch. Most resorts allow you to bring your own food. Take advantage of this, especially if you are on a budget. You can add to your meal with a hot or cold beverage or dessert. And on that same note, include snacks. Because everyone will be on different runs and finishing up at different times, don’t let the food meltdown of a too hungry kid or mom happen on the hill. Have a snack ready in reserve in one of your jacket pockets to get you or your little one through until the family lunch.
  9. Dress in layers. It may be warm or sunny at the resort, but think about the difference in temperature at the bottom of the hill compared to the top. You can always take layers off, but if you don’t have them to put on, you’re cold and up a creek! Facemask, headliners and neck gators can save you, as can vests and thin fleeces. There are brilliant options for layering. My kids faces and necks get so cold coming down the hill with the wind and the colder temps; we’ve found that sublimation gators/facemask are great. Their thin fabrics cover their head and face and they easily tuck into your clothes and slip on under your helmet.
  10. Reserve your skis in advance. If you are heading to a resort during a major holiday, reserve your skis ahead of time. We didn’t even know this until the Peete family came to visit a few Christmas ago. All the skis in the major shops were reserved in advance. Go online or call to get the family set up with gear! And check to see if your resort will store them overnight for you, it can make your ski life much less stressful.

My experience is you’re going to have good days and bad days on the slopes, so don’t worry if your kids don’t get it right away.  When you start them young, you are setting your family up for some amazing vacations and adventures in the future!  Shred the hill!

 

Gearing up!

“Do the boots fit? Have they outgrown their skis? Will their goggles cover their foreheads, or have they outgrown those too? What about mittens? We never seem to have enough mittens.”

These are the conversations that preoccupy my family’s fall weekends. We dig through ski bags. We try on helmets. And as being the beneficiaries of some pretty sweet hand-me-down jackets and pants, we have the kids try on the pieces that seem closest to their sizes.

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This year Lance is 11 which means that on his next birthday he will officially complete the annual rental contract at Utah Ski and Golf, he started at age three. Since enrolling he has upgraded to the front-entry boots. He has gone up to a ski length that is closer-than-ever to my own ski length. (Just as his bike is but one size smaller than mine.) We’ll be taking Seth to Surefoot and Jans to see where he falls on the trade-in scale—certainly he’s up at least a size in boots at least a size in skis. I thought recently, “there is nothing quite so humbling as marking the passage of time in outgrown ski gear.”

I am also humbled by the leaps in maturity, too. Lance turned the “boot corner” this year. The minute he slipped his feet into his new boots, he announced, “These feel great!” No drama, no discussion about how they “should feel.” He’s a skier. They felt right. He knew.

Lance turned another corner. When the tech asked about his ski level, we didn’t hedge. Our instincts and experience told us that he is, officially, a great skier. He attacked terrain with a different confidence last season, and he had the look—the one that says, “I can’t wait to attack it again.”

Share with me how you are gearing up your family for this season on Twitter   or @Deer_Valley. See you on the slopes!

Shabbat on the Slopes

One of my favorite winter traditions is the Friday afternoon Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) service in Sunset Cabin, at Deer Valley Resort. Affectionately referred to by members of Temple Har Shalom in Park City as “Ski Schule.” The service is informal and fun, it feels a little bit like camp, and a lot like one of the coolest ways to practice religion I have ever encountered. That is saying something, I have prayed on top of Masada in Israel, and once, my family and I led a service on a cruise ship.

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By the way, I’m uniquely qualified to  assess “cool ways to practice religion,” because I spent one summer at a camp called USY on Wheels, which is a motor-coach tour of the United States. USY is a youth group for Jewish teens, and the purpose of the trip wasn’t just to show several busloads of children the amazing cities and national parks, small towns and stretches of highway that make up our country, but to allow us to experience the idea that you can practice Judaism anywhere. We held services at the Grand Canyon, in picnic areas in Yellowstone, in hotel conference rooms, at highway rest stops. (My husband and I met on this trip, in fact, but that’s another story, altogether.)

Ski Schule has become a tradition for my family. The service is led by members of Temple Har Shalom, often by a rabbi, but frequently by a layperson, in addition to the regular Friday night services in the synagogue, itself. Members and visitors alike, delight in the bragging rights to what may be North America’s only ski-in-ski-out Shabbat service. One recent Friday, I was asked to lead the service. I jumped at the chance, and so did Seth, whose half-day Friday schedule made it easy for him to come help me. So, loaded up with a (homemade-by-me) challah, some grape juice and the key to the cabin, in a backpack, we headed for the hill.

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Every bit of the experience thrilled Seth and me. Setting up was a hoot, Seth found all the “secret compartments” where supplies were stashed. Quickly we gathered supplies, and unloaded the contents of the backpack, then hung the Israeli flag on the pegs outside the door of the cabin.

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Welcoming guests was a blast. Everyone was excited to be there. On this day, it was all locals—which made sense, since the majority of holiday guests were en route or just checking in for the winter break. Helmets were removed, friendly faces revealed—happily, my friends Sue and Ethan, also enjoying a mother-son ski outing, were among them. “I wanted to surprise you,” she said with an impish grin—acknowledging that she had made a zillion excuses as to why she could not join me, just two days earlier. Another guest invited her Mahre Camp coach to join us—something I’m sure he didn’t expect when he clicked into his bindings that morning. A family of three arrived, parents rejoicing in their daughter’s half-day of school, so they could share some turns and the service, together.

Soon, we sang some opening songs and then got down to business. The service is a complete, but abbreviated version of the Reform Jewish “Welcoming the Sabbath” service, held in synagogues around the world on Friday nights. Seth actually stepped up to lead a prayer (making his Jewish mother, who also teaches Hebrew School—kvell) and then, in the tradition of seven year olds, everywhere, grew antsy. “I’m hungry!” He announced just loudly enough that a fellow worshipper heard, and responded by producing a mini Kit Kat from his pocket. (Yes, dear reader, it was the rare candy-free ski day, and I won’t make that mistake again, anytime soon.)

As we concluded the service, I marveled at this amazing blend of communities—guests from all over the world will come to Sunset Cabin, all winter, to be among other worshippers. If you ask them, they will surely tell you the experience enhances, rather than interrupts, their ski day.

To me, Ski Schule (as well as the non-denominational Christian service, held in the same cabin on Sundays at 2 p.m.) is one of those experience that helps define the Deer Valley Difference. It provides a gathering spot for like-minded people to share an experience that is unique and gratifying, social and spiritual. Come to think of it, that’s how I often define a great day on the hill at Deer Valley. How about you?

Would you like more information about services at Sunset Cabin? Send me a Tweet   or @Deer_Valley.

Winter Break

As winter break is coming upon us the big question is, “Are you going anywhere?” I laugh and say no. This is our family’s busy time and winter break equals skiing for us. How can you leave the mountains in the winter especially when you live in a magnificent area. Maybe after the resort closes on April 10 the beach will actually come to mind.

I look forward to being on the hill next week with my kids. Although due to my schedule it only allows me two days with them. When we do go ski, I ski behind them and take in that they can ski the mountain with their eyes closed.  Well, not literally, they just know the mountain so well. They know every jump, every tree run, where the snow will be best and best of all, that mom is keeping up.

It usually helps when there is a gaggle of their friends too. This way they are not asking for lunch by 10:45, they keep their minds on skiing and trying to find the next new hot spot. I recently was skiing with a corporate group and they asked me when the last time I felt like I was a kid. I responded “everyday!” They laughed and reflected that was their goal of their trip. They wanted to be reminded that you can get caught up by being in an office everyday and need to remember to let some steam out. I asked them how it was going for them as I lead them down Hidden Treasure.

Of course, we always hit the Nastar course a few times just to make sure their engines are all working. Many people ask me if I let them win when we race against each other. I say no way they have to earn it. But by the looks of it, that may come sooner than later. (And I might be looking up to them not only in ski ability but in actual height too!)

Whether it’s skiing with my kids or just watching other kids ski I get such pleasure observing this. I believe that most people don’t realize what a true family sport /activity skiing is because so many skiers are worried about holding up the pace. Everyone has their own pace. The great thing about Deer Valley is there is always a run for most abilities from the top of the chair so that extra pressure can be eliminated. You can pick your green, blue, black groomed or ungroomed route and meet at the chair. There are so many fond memories from growing up with my siblings and skiing as a family that last a life time.

Back to skiing with the corporate group, I was telling some of the funny stories that my sister and brothers still talk about today when we ski together.  One of our favorites is “Pole gate”. I had just gotten my dad brand new poles which he was thrilled about. Unfortunately somebody else realized how nice they were too and decided they “needed” them.  My dad was beside himself. So instead of skiing with us he decided he would case out the base area for a couple days thinking he would find them or find the person. i.e. “Polegate” I know some family stories don’t come across as funny if you’re not in the moment but my point is, it still makes our family dinner discussions. I hope my kids will have all these stories and remember them. Especially after each weekend as we all get home from skiing I can hear my boys talking about how much air they (think) they got or how they almost did a 360.

As I mentioned if it’s not my kiddos it’s someone else child that brings a smile to my face. I want to mention Colby who I haven’t skied with yet but is a big fan of Deer Valley and racing! Whenever he is on the hill he always finds me and says hello. I hope that my children are as polite. Skiing brings out the best of you!

See you on the slopes

Father Knows Best? Nah.

A few months ago, my dad called to tell me he’d hatched a plan for his next visit.

Considering one previous visit found me helping the kids select the most absurd Halloween mask they could find for their beloved grandfather to wear for Trick-or-Treating on Main Street, and another found me videotaping my father, a 68 year-old attorney, trying out the bungee trampoline at an amusement park, my interest was, shall we say, piqued.

 “What if I came out in January, took a week’s worth of ski lessons and then skied with the boys on the weekend?”

 I was thrilled by this idea–but also slightly suspicious. After all, he’d dived into ski school when I was in middle school, because I’d threatened to (wait for it) quit the sport.  Perish the thought. My dad, wise man that he is, felt like I might regret such a choice (which begs the question, Why, oh why, was I allowed to quit the violin??) – so he offered a deal—he would sign up for lessons simultaneously with my pre-race program at our local resort, and we’d meet up in the afternoons for some Dad-and-Daughter skiing.

 This is Parenting 101. Lead by example. Support your kids in their activities. Show up. Play along. My Dad, of course, got an A in this course.  And as a grandparent, he seems to go after extra credit, too (see: bungee jumping, above).

This plan, by the way, worked out really well—I improved rapidly, my dad, perhaps a little less rapidly. We found ourselves on a favorite blue—one with just enough steep to make it interesting, and about a third of the way down, my dad launched a yard sale. I skied up to him, a little worried. “Dad, are you ok?” Gamely, he began to collect his gear, and shake the snow out of his ski hat (pre-helmet culture, indeed). “Yep, I’ll be ok!” So, loving daughter that I am, I said, “OK, see ya!” And shot off toward the bottom. I know, very, very ungrateful. Bad, bad kid. I’m not entirely sure why his skiing tapered off, but given this history, it’s a wonder the man would volunteer his vacation time to relearn the sport and risk being exposed to such compassion again.

 And yet, he did.

 And he loved it.

I lined up two Max 4 lessons and a full-day private for “Parka.”(For reasons none of us can remember, Big Guy started calling him that around age 1, and it stuck). I wanted him to feel comfortable skiing wherever Big Guy wanted to take him on Saturday.  We had many, many discussions about gear. He reported to me mid-morning the first day that he’d struggled mightily with his boots, tried in vain to find the right positioning for his hat/gaiter/goggles arrangement. In a moment of mock exaggeration, this man who bikes hundreds of miles every summer, said drily, “You know, you just get on the bike….” I got a call from him from the chairlift that afternoon. “I’m skiing Success, and loving it. I will be here all night. Don’t wait for me for dinner.” I informed him the groomers may take issue with his presence after 4pm, so he decided to come home after all. But first, he stopped in the ski school office to change his lesson the next morning to the afternoon. It was my request—I couldn’t stand the thought of him having so much fun and not bearing witness to it.

Our ski morning together was a blast. He kept thanking me for helping him arrange it all. “I’m really having FUN!” And he was. He was also exercising caution. His stance was slightly hesitant, and his pace was deliberate rather than relaxed. Which was fine. I didn’t want to push. We parted ways after lunch—he headed off to his lesson with a sarcastic “see ya!” and I met up with my friends Lisa and Dave for a few runs on Flagstaff.

 The next morning, I decided to tag along for the first half of his lesson. I met Parka’s instructor, JR, and explained, “I’m just along for the ride—it’s his lesson.” As we descended our first turns, I shouted that I would ski ahead to watch—and to take some pictures and video. I was blown away by his improvement since the previous morning. We soon found our way over to Flagstaff, and did one of my favorite loops. Blue Bell to Silver Buck to Stargazer to Gemini. When we got to the Stargazer portion, my dad said, “Well, this is going to scare me a bit.” He then executed ten perfect, balanced turns to the top of Gemini. “Wait! I was just getting that! I want to do it again!” No lack of enthusiasm here.

 Soon enough, we were heading toward lunch at Snow Park when my father made a confession. “I made a mistake,” he said, with more than a hint of woe in his voice. He looked at me a little sheepishly before he continued. “I thought a full day lesson would be too much. So I cut it to a half day when I made the other switch. But now, I feel so great I want to keep going!”

 Sigh.

 “I can fix it. With my favorite tool,” I said, taking my cell phone out of it’s designated pocket in my jacket. Quickly, I was connected with a friendly member of the staff. “My dad thought he knew better,”I explained. This may not have been the first time someone decided to extend their day, because the very helpful gentleman on the other end of the call offered a knowing chuckle as he restored the reservation . Mission accomplished. JR and my dad and I sat down to a quick Snow Park Lunch (hello, Natural Buffet) before I scooted to town to pick up Little Guy and they headed off to ski more. We agreed to meet up an hour later on Wide West. Little Guy was keen to show his skills to his grandfather. He demonstrated three of his top skills (Candyland, Racecourse and Exhaustion Meltdown).

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 Unfortunately, by the next morning, Parka was sidelined with a minor but ski-boot-prohibitive foot injury, and he couldn’t complete the mission.

We all solved the problem at once. “When can we schedule a return visit?” Fab.