If you have shopped at the Deer Valley Signatures stores, you may have noticed the Avalanche Rescue Dog Benefit Merchandise, also know as “Avy Dog.” If you are a frequent Deer Valley skier, you may also have encountered one or several dogs sporting the Ski Patrol logo on their back. To get their full story, I met with Chris Erkkila, Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol Assistant Manager, who told me everything I always wanted to know about these “mountain saviors.”
The Deer Valley Avalanche Dog program dates back twenty years. From the time one of the resort’s patrollers worked tirelessly to get it off the ground to this very day, it has evolved to the point that Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol now has three avalanche dogs, with at least one on the mountain every day. These dogs are owned by their handlers and go home with them every night.
Let’s begin by meeting them. We have Ninja, a male Pointer/Lab mix, that is almost four years old; Piper a female Shepherd mix, an 11 year old veteran that also happens to be Chris Erkkila’s dog and Izzy, a female Lab/Boarder Collie that is nine years old. The Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR), a local non-profit organization oversees the training and certifications. Nine ski areas are member of the WBR, and account for a total of 30 to 40 dogs.
A lot of work and training is involved with avalanche dogs. “When we select a puppy,” explains Chris, “we have a series of puppy aptitude tests. In every litter of puppies there’s an Alpha pup, the most aggressive and strongest of the litter. We generally look for the next pup down from the Alpha, one that doesn’t seem to be scared of anything, has strong senses, is apt to attach and interact with humans. We also want a dog that is very curious, has high energy and a strong drive.”
Of course, there are other considerations. Some breeds are better suited than others for the job. A thick coat is definitely an advantage compared to a thin one; with it, a dog can stay warm longer, while thin-haired dogs may have to wear an extra coat. There are also breeds that have a higher sense of smell than others. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and boarder collies are better suited than most.
Size matters too; large dogs get tired faster because of the mass they must carry and may develop orthopedic problems faster. Then there’s the mere fact of getting around. Carrying the dog down the slope, loading it up on a chairlift, a snowmobile or a helicopter can be hard with larger dogs. Conversely, a small dog will have a harder time climbing on big chunks of snow or walking into deep powder. The happy medium seems to fall right between 40 and 60 pounds.
Once the puppy is selected, training begins at once with with socialization and obedience. Then training for search follows. It begins very progressively by using one of the dog toys and hiding it behind a tree, then burying it under the snow. This is followed by using articles of clothing like a scarf or a wool sweater scented by a human being, and slowly, the search training evolves to a real person. First, just by hiding behind a tree, before the person is actually buried under the snow. Some avalanche dogs can smell people that are buried under 15 feet of snow.
A person’s scent permeates throughout the snow pack and eventually makes its way through to the surface. The surface scent may get to an area that is not necessarily the actual body location. The scent works its way trough a cone-shaped path that may follow a slanted trajectory depending on the snow structure. In addition, windy conditions or even just a slight breeze may affect how a dog will catch the scent coming out of the cone.
The dog must be led in relation to the wind. Upwind, it becomes impossible for a dog to catch the scent. Stormy and blizzard conditions may make locating very tricky and difficult. The same applies to terrain conditions that generally are always steep, rugged and involve snow density of varying degrees. Around an avalanche, the surface of snow can be rough and will tire a dog very fast. This is why dogs are often carried to the rescue site so as to save as much of their energy as possible.
Dog certification is handled by the WBR. Three levels are offered: A, B, and C. Level C designates a candidate entering the program. Level B is for dogs capable of searching within the ski area boundaries. Level A is the full certification and applies to dogs capable of searching both within the ski area and the backcountry. Dogs cannot be tested for Level A until they’re at least 18 month old. For most dogs, it often takes two winter seasons of work and training to pass the the Level A test. Sometimes, it may take a dog three full years to reach Level A.
From that point on, dogs can expect to work on search and rescue until they are about 10. Piper, Deer Valley’s oldest dog, is 11 years old; she’s still going strong, but may be an exception amongst her peers.
Training is a big endeavor that must be kept up. Deer Valley avalanche dogs stay active year-round. During the off-season, their handlers take them around the resort while mountain biking or working on trails. Their dogs must stay active and obedient while also receiving some agility training to mitigate an off-season sedentary time period. On occasions, outside agencies, like the Summit County Sheriff Department, may come up and expose the dogs to cadaver work, materials they don’t encounter on a daily basis.
Having the dogs out in the summer help them familiarize themselves with the whole mountain environment; this way, they become closely acquainted with the terrain and their surroundings. Chris adds, “I can see the evidence of this in the winter as my dog recognizes the very details of the terrain she traveled back and forth during summer, she tends to follow her usual path in a winter environment.”
I asked Chris if any of the three Deer Valley dogs have been involved in actual search and rescue operation: “Yes, we’ve been dispatched quite a few times to actual avalanche sites. One of the most interesting instances, happened late in May, near Sundance resort. We were flown up in a helicopter to Mt. Timpanogos where the search operations took place.”
At Deer Valley, the “Avy Dogs” perform a very vital and necessary function. They can be seen as an extra insurance policy. Some might argue that these dogs are seen as “low-tech” assistants in a array of new high-tech devices that are being used to locate skiers or measure avalanche danger. “Sometimes dogs can pickup where high-tech left off,” Erkkila explains, “just a couple of years ago, we were all out doing avalanche beacon drills training, and low and behold the beacon batteries died. I had to bring my dog Piper, to find the beacon buried deep under the snow. She found it pretty quickly, so technology is as good as battery life, and with Piper we don’t have to worry about that!”
With always one dog on the mountain on any given day, skiers have the opportunity to visit a Deer Valley Avy Dog at one of the patrol shacks. Just ask to find out where the dog or dogs are for the day. Chris Erkkila offers: “Come and say hi, collect one of our new trading cards that we created for each one of our dogs, and come take some photos!”
I love to ski Deer Valley and I am fond of many of its trails, some more than others. If I were asked to list my top five favorite trails I’d be forced to leave many of the ones I like on the table. For these top five, I’d probably break them into two categories: groomers and natural terrain.
Among the groomed runs that stand out for me, Jordanelle ski run tops them all. This double blue ski run follows the Jordanelle Gondola from top to bottom. It’s perfectly groomed everyday and skis best in the morning, when the sun begins shining and heats it up ever so slightly to make its pristine corduroy feel “creamy” under the skis. I see the run as a white, undulating ribbon that unfurls towards the reservoir and freeway below.
Ski this on a perfect bluebird, because it’s mostly about expansive views for as far as the eye can see. Again, early morning is best. I call it my “little downhill run!” I also enjoy the relaxing ride up the gondola, sitting quite comfortably, either enjoying the views of the reservoir and the distant Uinta Mountains, or just facing up Little Baldy Mountain and getting a close view of the wonderful ski-in, ski-out homes and their stunning designs.
In the “groomer” category, my second favorite is Nabob, a blue ski run. I like it because it’s also always groomed and it offers a huge variety of terrain and grade. Starting at the top of Bald Mountain, it faces north, keeping the best snow on the mountain, and offers panoramic views of the entire town of Park City, reaching all the way to Kimball Junction, framed by distant mountain ranges. In the middle of Nabob, there are tree islands creating natural markers, adding fun and character to the run.
The grade is gentle before plunging once more towards a flatter transition leading to the Nastar race course and the Silver Lake Lodge. Finally, Nabob ski run makes a sweeping turn to skiers’ right and plunges towards the Wasatch Express chairlift below. I like to use Nabob as a warm-up run and often repeat it before going elsewhere on the mountain. I find it easy, varied and fun. It is the perfect run to ski with family and friends, or people you’ve never skied before and want to assess their skills before picking an itinerary for the rest of the day.
Of course, I only ski groomed runs a small percentage of my time and prefer powder, trees and crop. That’s my preference and that’s what make skiing interesting for me! In that category, I also have many favorite trails, but here are just three that complete my list of five favorite ski runs.
Mayflower Bowl overflows with scenery. Just like Jordanelle ski run, this bowl overlooks the reservoir and towers over the beautiful Heber Valley. This time, we’re no longer in the “blue” category, but in the single and double black diamond class. A snowy or very cold day is the best time to enjoy the Mayflower Bowl to take advantage of the best possible powder conditions. The bowl can be accessed on skiers’ right from the first third of Stein’s Way ski run. After crossing the entry gate, you find yourself standing on a mostly convex slope that conceals what lays beneath the horizon.
Watch for some of the avalanche control craters and begin your descent. Soon what you thought was already pretty steep becomes even steeper. You have now committed to the Mayflower Bowl and the rest of the run comes in to full view: a seemingly never ending open space that gradually goes from extremely steep to gentle, before vanishing into the aspen groves below. The run is engaging, stimulating, seems endless and forever fun!
On a snowy day or right after a major snow fall, this is a “must-ski” trail for any powder hound worth their salt! You don’t generally run “laps” on Mayflower Bowl. Once is a good measure; twice perhaps if you decide to venture into the nearby chutes, to skiers’ right, another double black diamond.
Then, there is spring skiing, when powder turns to corn. It brings another totally different experience that is quintessentially “Deer Valley”. It is best consumed in the morning when the sun has just begun to bake the spring snow and when the ski edges can get a good grip into the buttery snow surface. Like skiing the bowl in powder, it’s a unique feeling too, but this time the sensations can be totally different!
Ruins of Pompeii is a black diamond ski run that begins at the top of Bald Mountain and drops you to the lower part of Tycoon ski run and ends up at the base of Sultan Express chairlift. Until this season, I wasn’t particularly infatuated by this ski run, but it has grown on me to the point that I have now become a fan of its varied terrain.
The entrance to Ruins of Pompeii ski run is hidden from views behind a curtain of pine trees. As you poke your head through them, you soon appreciate the steepness below and begin studying a safe spot for your first turn! The initial pitch is super steep and there are even a few trees interspersed in the middle to make linking turns even more challenging!
This part is followed by a gentler slope where most skiers are allowed to regain their composure before it transitions toward trees to skiers’ right, or continues down the rest of the trail into a long gully, to the left. The latter is the complete run and is guaranteed to focus one’s energy and attention until the trail merges with Tycoon ski run, one-third of the total distance away from Sultan Express chairlift. An alternative is to take Peerless ski run, through the trees, and rejoin Perseverance Bowl. I choose this option half of the time, because I find it more varied and since I adore skiing in the forest, much more!
For me, Centennial Trees is the holy grail of tree skiing at Deer Valley Resort. This double diamond begins skiers’ right, at the top of Lady Morgan Express chairlift. It’s only trees and it’s very challenging, always fun, and filled with surprises. The top is forested with large pine trees and can get quite bumpy as each turning spot is marked by a giant evergreen. After a major snowfall, though, the moguls disappear and this the best time to enjoy it!
The middle portion of the descent brings some gentler grade and transitions from the pine tree forest into aspen grove. Every tree is an open invitation to weave your way around it and an opportunity to search for the next possible turn. It never stops, it’s relentless and, in our mountain parlance, it’s a true “ski-turner!” The lower segment of the trail keeps on running through the aspens while plunging into a gully that demands a last-ditch effort and some extra nimbleness.
Unlike most trails, this one isn’t over until it’s over, as total focus is necessary to keep control and remain standing on the skis. Each season, the Deer Valley “Glading Team” has been enlarging Centennial’s skiable acreage by opening more paths and increasing the number of options available to skiers. If you love double-diamond tree skiing, don’t miss it!
Shorts Program is my new film favorite at the Sundance Film Festival. Though full length feature films give you a 90 minute in-depth movie experience, a Shorts Program provides five different films filling the same time period. The way I look at it, you get five times the enjoyment during your 90 minutes of film watching.
Though the Sundance Film Festival has long since packed up and cleared out of Park City, Utah, my yearning for “five times the enjoyment” has not. When my husband. Jay, and I celebrated with a “date night” at Deer Valley, we were excited to find the opportunity to try the “Mariposa Tasting Experience.”
Looks like I found what I was looking for. The experience reminded me of an award winning “Shorts Program,” but for dining.
You see, the “Mariposa Tasting Experience” is unique. Rather than choosing one entree, guests choose a variety of small plates. Our waiter recommended we make 4-5 choices plus a dessert. So we did!
Now, of course, date night in and of itself is inherently fun. It’s just the two of us, out for a romantic dinner, celebrating life and, in our case, our 20 year partnership in marriage. Spicing things up by experimenting with new, unique, and abundant culinary delights added five times the enjoyment to date night.
Each special small course at the Mariposa had enough to enjoy, to share and not too much to preclude us from trying another. Our date night at the Mariposa started with:
A bottle of red wine from the Mariposa’s extensive wine list. As transplants from California, we have long enjoyed wines from Napa and Sonoma so we chose a Cabernet from Sonoma.
An Artisan cheese plate with made locally at Deer Valley with four different cheeses.
Wild Mushroom Beggar’s Purse – wild mushrooms, of course, with beaujolais reduction sauce, Deer Valley Triple Truffle cream brie, and baby greens in a beautiful delicate pastry pouch. Almost too beautiful to eat.
Bison Carpaccio- with wilted spinach. This was a first for me. Wonderful!
Quail – I might have had quail in the past, I don’t recall but I certainly won’t forget this quail dish!
Sorbet – Jay and I shared three different types of sorbet with my favorite being green tea. To my delight, it was served with a tiny fortune cookie that included an edible fortune – a new experience!
Whether you dine at the Mariposa with family, friends or just your sweetheart, consider coming with an empty stomach and bringing an appetite for culinary adventures.
If you are coming for date night, though, be sure to experiment with a few new interesting dishes to spice up your night.
For more information on the menu and to make reservations, click here.
Our daughter, Ali, has been skiing since she was three years old. She’s now 10 and just like in nearly every other facet of her life, there’s been a shift. Oh, hello, our young tween who is figuring out she has a mind of her own.
When she was younger, we’d all ski together, guiding our little cherub with our ski instructing wisdom that she happily took to heart, heeding it as if it was written on the golden tablets themselves. A year or two later, she took a series of large group ski lessons where the kids mostly played follow the leader, but that gave her the basics and got her to keep track of her own gear. I say yes to that!
Then she hit the magic age of eight, and listening to mom and dad’s advice to keep her knees bent, close the gap from pizza to french fry, and can you please ski just a little faster?!!?!, went straight out the window.
It was time for the pros to take over. We needed another round of ski lessons, but this time with more focus and attention on just her. We needed to push our little Lindsay Vonn-wanna-be to the next level and not destroy our skiing as a family in the process.
Our daughter loves her friends almost as much as mom and dad (yikes! that teen thing is hiding right around the corner) and when she goes skiing, being on the snow with her pals is one of the best parts of her day. So we gathered a group of some of her friends and headed to Deer Valley Resort.
This group of gal pals all ski at about the same level. They can easily cruise the greens and are firmly entrenched in the blues. They plow through the trees on their way to Quincy’s Cabin and are all at the stage of making the leap from an advanced snowplow to a graceful parallel. But they needed to be pushed out of their comfort zone, and neither my husband nor I could take them there.
Enter ski instructor Kristin Egan, a 26-year veteran of the Deer Valley Ski School and a Park City local. As impressionable young girls who are always on the lookout for great role models, we’d hoped they’d have an instructor who was a woman. The girls were thrilled to be paired with Kristin.
The half day lesson took the girls from the bottom to the top of Bald Mountain, over to Empire and back again. Kristin saw what motivated each of these young skiiers and assigned them each something to work on as they went down the mountain.
Sarah said, “I liked when she explained to us the easiest ways to stop on a steep hill. You can stop by doing a big C turn, or if you’re going faster you can do a J.”
Katie said, “She had me ski on one leg for a whole minute and to practice so I could feel the turns.”
Elise said, “Kristin showed me how to put my skis sideways on the mountain and take little bounces down, or slide slip, to get out of a tricky spot.”
And Ali said, “Mom, she was really nice. She told us WHAT to do and not just to do a good job.”
After experiencing a day of ski lessons at Deer Valley, I realized there are three things that are essential to taking a ski lesson from good, to great.
- Keep class size to a minimum. Deer Valley’s ski school kids private lessons are kept at the small size of just 4 or 6 per class and are available for all ages 3 -18 and abilities. As we all know with any school situation, small class size emphasizes personal attention. While we could have chosen to send Ali up on a ski lesson by herself for the ultimate one-on-one ski education, we felt like having the girls together motivated them to challenge one another. Because who wants to be outdone by your bestie? Not these gals.
- Experience is essential. Deer Valley Resort has over 550 ski instructors total and 176 of them have been teaching at Deer Valley from over 10 years. These instructors are experienced professionals who take their jobs very, very seriously. And love it! With these years of experience, there’s an emphasis on safety, certification and of course, motivation by having fun. With years of instructing under their goggled helmets, there’s not much they haven’t run across when it comes to inspiring, coaching and wrangling kids.
- Time for food! As parents, we all know that if a kid is hungry that kid is no good at all. When hunger pangs appear, attentions leave the mountain and there is no one, and no way, to motivate a hungry, grumpy kid. If your child’s ski lesson includes lunch, you want your kid to have a great one. In a group lesson Deer Valley treats their child patrons just as well as the adults and provides a delicious, nutritious lunch menu created specially for them by Executive Chef Jodie Rogers. It makes lunch almost as much fun for the kids as the time they’re having on the hill. Pass the Bucky’s Beef Sliders, please!
Brrr, It’s Cold Outside!
I am right there with you. When it is cold outside, all I want to do is curl up in front of the fire with a warm blanket, someone to snuggle with, a good movie and some popcorn. Sounds perfect, huh?! Well, perfect is rare and quite frankly a bit boring. Besides, there is always time to come back in and enjoy that warm toasty moment.
As parents we have to lead the charge on this one. If we don’t urge our kids to get outside on winter days, they won’t know what they are missing. Honestly, every time we bring it up, at least one of our two kids will whine for a second about how cold it will be. But we keep pushing forward and work to get the family suited up for the elements. Being prepared can help you achieve a victory.
- Be prepared: Make sure you have all of the necessary accessories to keep everyone warm: hat, gloves, snow pants, goggles, hand warmers.
- Get outside before making a concrete plan: Sometimes just showing the kids that it’s not really that cold can help motivate them.
- Always go to the bathroom before stepping outside: This will allow you to go straight to the slopes when you get to the resort. (Hopefully)
- Anything is possible: There are very few “no’s” when embarking on a winter cold outside adventure. Take off your mommy hat and let the kids have fun.
Now, we move onto the plethora of possible activities, which I have stated should be discussed outside. When kids are in the elements, they see the fun. Standing in the warm house, it is tough for them to cast an educated vote.
- Snowy sandcastle anyone?!: This is such a fun and easy activity that quickly turns into exercise. You will be surprised how much the kids like to mold the snow.
- They don’t have to know it is a chore. Some of my best workouts have involved shoveling the walk. In fact, I almost went into labor with Skye because of it. You can make it fun by creating a contest out of it. Who can collect the “Biggest Pile” of snow?! It’s more fun!
- Snow tag or hide and seek. A snow ball fight never ends well, but a snow tag battle can last a bit longer with more room for strategy and fun. Just moving around in snow is harder and therefore burns off more energy.
- Snowman: Building a snowman is such a great family activity. I just learned the proper way this year. You have to start with a small snowball and roll it around in the snow, packing down the new particles of snow that the snowball picks up as you go. It creates the perfect ball!!! So much fun!
- Skiing: If you have the means and the access, skiing is a super fun family adventure that I highly recommend.
Parents, always pack snacks when heading away from home for snow activities. The cold weather makes kids SUPER hungry. A few M&Ms can go a long way!
A wonderful home away from home is central to a perfect Deer Valley Resort vacation. To make sure guests have long-lasting memories of their ski getaway, James “Jamo” O’Reilly, General Manager of Black Diamond Lodge, ensures that his staff love what they’re doing and leave no stone unturned to exceed their guests’ expectations. I recently had a chance to visit this stunning property and asked Jamo the secret behind a perfect stay.
JF: What a beautiful lodge, Jamo!
Jamo: Thank you.
JF: What services do you provide for Deer Valley Resort guests?
Jamo: In the winter, we operate Black Diamond Lodge like a hotel. We have a fully staffed front desk from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., we offer concierge service five days a week and our guests have access to our shuttle service throughout the Park City area. They also have two ski valets at their disposal to help them from their lockers to the mountain; we also have a full housekeeping department that offers daily housekeeping.
JF: How large are your units?
Jamo: Our units range from 3,000 to 4,800 square feet and feature one to four bedrooms. In addition, the larger units offer lots of extra common areas and many of them have an additional living room, entertainment or play area. All of the Black Diamond Lodge residences have outdoor decks with mountain views. Easy access to the slopes, the ski school and many other Deer Valley Resort services make Black Diamond Lodge a perfect choice for families.
JF: What did you do before becoming Black Diamond Lodge’s general manager?
Jamo: I spent 20 years working at Rustler Lodge at Alta Ski Area. My career path is a classic “Utah ski bum story.” As a teenager, I moved to Alta from Rhode Island and worked several years in maintenance. I then went back to school to get my degree to become a school teacher, but it didn’t work out, so I returned to Alta and spent another eight years as the Assistant General Manager at the Alta Rustler Lodge. Since my wife and I always had the dream of moving to Park City, that goal materialized four year’s ago. I first worked at a few different properties, one of them being The Deer Valley Club two years ago. I began working at Black Diamond Lodge in April of 2014.
JF: What did you do when you started at The Deer Valley Club?
Jamo: I was a night supervisor; I stayed in that position for a little over a year and was promoted to Assistant General Manager of the Deer Valley Club prior to my becoming General Manager of Black Diamond Lodge.
JF: With so many hospitality companies around Park City, why choose a position with Deer Valley Resort?
Jamo: Deer Valley Resort has an incredible reputation as a fantastic employer. This was the ideal choice for me.
JF: Did your expectations come to fruition?
Jamo: Absolutely! I took a pretty big career risk when I accepted the night supervisor position at The Deer Valley Club; it was a step down from the position I held before. It was the leap of faith needed to get my foot in the door at Deer Valley Resort and today I could not have asked for anything better. Within two years, I find myself the General Manager of this beautiful property, I’m thrilled!
JF: The cream always rises to the top!
Jamo: I don’t know if I fully deserve this promotion but I did my very best to get it. To complement my professional experience, I once again returned to school, went through the Executive MBA program at the University of Utah and graduated in 2010. This has also helped me along in my career with Deer Valley Resort.
JF: Even though you’ve been in the hospitality industry for quite a long time, are there elements that you’ve learned through your association with Deer Valley Resort?
Jamo: Most of my past experience was with a privately owned hotel, working for one individual owner in a small business environment. Working here is quite different. First of all, the properties are owned by individual owners. Then, I must also work with a homeowners association. All of of this has taught me to earn the trust, not only of the guests, but that of all the homeowners as well.
JF: How have you been doing in managing the varying interests between homeowners and guests?
Jamo: I drew from the fact that integrity is part of the Deer Valley core values. If you follow your heart, do what’s right, strive for full transparency and disclosure between homeowners, guests and the resort, everyone gets their fair share.
JF: As your Deer Valley career has evolved, what kind of support did you receive from the company?
Jamo: Jeff Bennett, the General Manager of the Deer Valley Club, has been a fantastic mentor. I wouldn’t be in my position if it were not for the help and support Jeff gave me along the way. I’ve also spent a lot of time with Kim McClelland, the Director of Lodging, who has been another wonderful mentor. Another benefit of working for a very well established organization like Deer Valley Resort is having access to their Human Resources department, another priceless resource; this too, helped me succeed in my position.
JF: On the subject of human resources and potential employee positions, what would you say to individuals considering employment with Deer Valley Resort?
Jamo: I would say that it’s a wonderful place to work, packed with great opportunities. The working environment is extremely rewarding and always positive. Of course, the skiing is fantastic and the employee benefits are incredible.
JF: Are there specific qualities that can accelerate the career path of an employee?
Jamo O’Reilly: You just have to be honest, hard-working, responsible and reliable. The hospitality work is not that difficult. You just need to show up, have a good attitude, be smart, make good decisions and feel happy with what you’re doing. It’s rewarding to be able to provide a positive experience to the guests and be part of making their vacation a success.
JF: From your perspective, what constitutes the Deer Valley Difference?
Jamo: It’s the fact that our employees are empowered and encouraged to offer a personal touch and have a personal connection with our guests. This is what translates into the seamless, perfect experience our guests enjoy. It begins when they check into our properties, reserve their activities, instantly access the chairlift, enjoy great food and it ends a with a fun evening with family and friends. When all is said and done, the Deer Valley Difference boils down to the fact that every employee has the possibility of having a great impact on someone’s experience at Deer Valley. They just need to keep it in mind and run with it!
Each phase of my children’s lives brings me a different perspective on what are the essential survival skills for a skiing mom. When the kids were tiny it was the simple fact of remembering that sometimes a “ski day” meant a total of 30 minutes on snow, and then hour after hour of building Lego creations in the lodge, with frequent breaks for cookies.
As they’ve gotten older my “survival skills” have expanded to include having the boys manage their own gear and allowing them to lead me toward more technical terrain. The “mom” in me doesn’t want to believe that they can handle it. The “skier” in me could not be more proud.
I think a successful family ski experience boils down to keeping a balance between the supremely efficient and the supremely silly. Here, in no particular order, are my tips: .
- CREATE HABITS: Knowing that you have to lay out gear the night before so that kids can dress themselves (to the best of their developmental ability) is a great habit to get into. Insisting that they wear all their gear in the car including boots, is another habit. This way you simply have to run down the mental checklist as you eyeball them when they exit the car: Helmet, goggles, neck gaiter, jacket, pants, boots. When you leave the mountain, run through a similar checklist, then again when you exit the car at home. Make sure all the gear is removed from bags, and laid out to dry, when you get home.
- BOOK LESSONS: Ski School is often the saving grace of the family ski vacation. I live here and it has been the saving grace of entire seasons of skiing. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, instructors know how to coach people so that the equipment is doing the lion’s share of the work. People who haven’t had lessons don’t always know what their equipment is capable of doing and the ensuing overcompensating can result in very sore legs. Second, it gives your family the chance to “wow” each other with skills you developed while apart. Third, you acquire only the best skiing skills out of the gate and if you haven’t skied in a while, a good instructor will help break you of some old habits.
- GOOF OFF: Alternate challenging terrain with something less challenging. If your kids are starting to explore intermediate terrain, it’s still important to ski the easier stuff. I have found that my kids get as much of a mental boost out of being the masters of Wide West ski run as they do when they lay claim to bragging rights on Square Deal ski run. Also, some wise instructors have told me that when you catch your “french fries” skier suddenly relying on the “pizza” wedge, it’s time to dial back the difficulty until they find the “fries” again. Plus, some of the obstacles on easier terrain can do wonders to help improve overall skill levels.
- USE YOUR PHONE’S CAMERA: You can create a combo-platter of trail-memory backup and scrapbook-ready photos if you snap photos of your family standing under the trail markers at the beginning of a run. At the end of the day, you can look through the photos and make a note of trails you want to ski again. Share your photos on social media with the resorts hashtag to connect with other ski families and to learn local secrets. We use #SkiTheDifference at Deer Valley Resort.
- CARRY CANDY: If I have said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. A stash of candy in your pocket can go a long way toward keeping kids’ energy and excitement levels high. Recently when skiing with my extended family, my cousin Erica quipped that she’d just enjoyed a “grape smelling” run, as Lance skied in front of her while enjoying a grape-flavored candy.
- AVAIL YOURSELF OF THE BASKET CHECK, LOCKERS and SKI CHECK. If you’re skiing consecutive days use the complimentary ski storage at Deer Valley. If you know your family will have “boot fatigue” by day’s end, stow your snow boots in the lockers or basket check in the bottom of Snow Park Lodge. Basket check is great if you know you’re going to be spending part of the day in the lodge entertaining yourself (book) or a young family member (small bag of toys).
- CONSIDER SEASONAL RENTALS. Some local shops have amazing seasonal rental programs for kids. We have used the one at Utah Ski and Golf for Lance. Many of these programs charge a flat fee for multiple seasons. Seth is in the Surefoot and Jans programs for boots and skis. At Surefoot, we receive credit toward the next size up, at Jans, we trade in skis and bindings for a 30% discount. Buying adjustable poles for both boys has saved us a bundle too.
- SHARE OFTEN. We all have different preferences for lunch. Lance eats a giant bowl of chicken noodle soup, every day. Seth is my pasta friend. I’m partial to the baked potatoes with various toppings. Jeff’s a fan of the daily specials at Snow Park Lodge. We’re all fans of the french fries, so we usually just get one plate to share between us. This is a strategic move that leaves plenty of room for dessert even if that’s just a shared cookie.
- CREATE GAMES ON THE LIFTS: Have your kids count the number of orange helmets they see. Winner gets an extra piece of candy. Everyone in the family can point out skiers who are demonstrating good form, or form we’d rather not emulate. This exercise can help everyone visualize their ideal turn.
- FOLLOW YOUR KIDS: If they have attended even one day of ski school, their instructor let them in on “secret” trails or even special ways to attack not-so-secret trails. From exploring the “whoop-dee-dos” on the side of the trail, to taking a detour through Bucky’s Backyard, your kids will delight in leading the way and more than likely, the upper hand in confidence on the terrain.
- LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE: This is another thing that bears repeating. Cut the day a little short, maybe two runs fewer than you think the group can handle. You get bonus points if you receive a ton of protest from your newly-addicted skiers. Remember, when you’re six, “a long time ago” is when you were four. So, no matter how much fun they had before 2:30 pm, if the day sours at 2:45, that may be all they remember. Giving them the opportunity to hunger for more days is a guaranteed way to ensure they’ll be ready for more the next time you ski.
- AVAIL YOURSELF OF APRÉS. Whatever your poison, cookies and cocoa or cookies and creme de cacao, remember that you deserve a reward for shepherding your family through another ski day. I’m a fan of EBS Lounge in Snow Park Lodge, there’s usually live music on weekend and holiday afternoons.
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.
From my seven years of carting kids up the hill, here are my 10 Tips:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
As February begins, I feel that we have now stepped into the second half of winter with longer days, deeper snow, great light and an urgent need for generous layers of sunscreen. Before we turn the page on the earlier portion of winter and look to its brighter second half, I wanted to share with you my on-snow experiences so far so we can compare notes or make you feel just a tiny bit jealous if you haven’t skied yet!
With me, winter always begins with great expectations of bottomless powder, but I publicly refrain to verbalize these thoughts as I actively manage my expectations. In fact, when I speak to other skiers, I loudly claim that I expect nothing in terms of snowfall, so Mother Nature will constantly surprise me!
While most of my skiing took place at Deer Valley Resort, I began skiing late November at nearby ski areas. The snow received through November bode very well for another great season. Still, I kept my exuberance in check and prudently, adjusted my expectations. In spite of that, I watched the weather like a hawk. It’s not something I just do daily, but several times in the course of a single day. Over the years, I have become partial to the Weather Underground website and app, that I find most accurate.
While other weather stations give me a week preview of the weather to come, this one predicts up to ten days into the future. So if there’s something I don’t like today, I generally can find what I want to see in one of the nine remaining days. If a ten-day time span sounds like overkill, there’s the more granular hour-by-hour detail that enables you to poke your nose out when the snow stops and the sun starts filtering through the clouds.
But enough said about weather and snow, let’s go back to my early season skiing. The very early weeks are often a progressive process. It always takes time to get a big resort like Deer Valley 100% open. That’s good, because a finite run work-in-step with early season physical conditioning and the time needed to reawaken skiing skills.
I have had a wonderful ski season so far. I’ve skied just over 50 days and just shy of one million vertical feet. I hope to reach the century mark in ski-days before the season is over. I was lucky enough to avoid an imprudent white ermine that was crossing the bottom portion of Perseverance ski run and startled a large jack rabbit at the top of Centennial Trees ski run.
So where did all of my skiing take place? It began on groomers; Deer Valley Resort grooms its runs better than most and the experience is always good whether we receive a foot of fresh snow a day or not. My favorite groomed runs remain both Nabob and Jordanelle ski runs and many of my days at Deer Valley are marked by one of these two runs.
Most of my skiing takes place around my three favorite chairlifts: Sultan, Wasatch and Lady Morgan. While they’re spread at the opposite ends of the resort, with so much challenging terrain and fast chairlifts, I’m able to accomplish one full day of skiing within just a few hours. The snow cover has been especially good on Ruin of Pompeii and Grizzly ski runs, two of my favorites. These runs are wonderful; not only are they longer and more challenging than most, but they both end as a groomed segment just in time to relieve some very tired legs.
I also like Wasatch Express chairlift for the large array of ski runs it serves. My favorite one is definitely Rattler ski run that sends an invitation as one rides up the chairlift. The early season has had great snow cover on this run.
From the Lady Morgan Express chairlift, I’m partial to Argus, Hillside and Centennial Trees. I find the two first trails extremely technical and they never fail to provide me with a good challenge. Centennial Trees ski run remains the forest wonderland where some regular and well-thought out glade skiing keeps making the ski experience better, season after season for me. The bonus with skiing Lady Morgan is it always provides me with an excellent excuse to ski Ontario Bowl on my way back, with more trees and steeps to round off the experience of the day.
Here’s to 50 more days on the mountain this season!