“Kids benefit from being with other kids,” says Gray, now in her 40th year teaching children. “That’s because they’re much better at watching and copying each other than they are at listening to what an adult is telling them. It feels less like a lesson, and more like an adventure.”
Steamboat’s class sizes are larger, from six or seven kids to as many as nine during jammed holiday weeks. But Steamboat’s instructors make a point of meeting and talking to each child ahead of time, to see what makes him or her tick. It helps them to assess each child, and put him or her with similar kids. “We sometimes divide them by boys and girls, because the kids themselves like it that way,” says Gray.
Because many of the kids who enroll in Steamboat’s programs are there for the week, with the same instructor nearly every day, Gray takes the long view. “I always remind parents who want to ski with their kids after class to stay on the same trails they skied in class, and not take them up to steeper, harder terrain. If the kids are afraid and they sit back on their skis — the hardest bad habit to break — the teacher has to start all over again the next day to restore a sense of confidence.”
At the Kids’ Ski & Snowboard clinics at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico, it’s the instructors who are at the heart of the program, according to Amanda Blake, marketing director, whose grandfather, Ernie Blake, founded the ski school that carries his name. “The instructors are our greatest strength,” she says. “Making sure the kids like what they’re doing is the secret to our success. And that means hiring people who are kids at heart, people who want to get out there and play.”
At Taos, whose offbeat southwestern-alpine culture is unlike that at most other ski resorts, the kids’ lessons aren’t as formulaic as they are for adults. So when hiring for the children’s programs, they look for people with enthusiastic, enterprising, even goofy personalities, people with a knack for making lessons fun and interesting.
“We’re a bit different from other places because Taos is a real town,” says Blake. “Many of our employees live nearby, including 130 staff who’ve been here for 30 years.”
The conclusion? Look for a kids program with small classes, an emphasis on getting to know the kids, instructors who like being with children, and a belief that the lessons are as much about discovering a remarkable outdoor sport as they are about learning specific skills.