Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stress-Free Ski Tips - Getting to the Hill

When a family heads to Tahoe for their children’s first ski weekend, expectations can run high. Heads are stuffed with thoughts of rosy cheeks, roaring fireplaces, hot chocolate and perhaps some alone time for Mom and Dad as the kids enjoy a day at ski school. Video cameras are packed to capture Mary or Michael’s first wedge turns and how darling they look on those little skis clad in their helmets and goggles.

Families making their second journey may have memories of a different nature. The first trip may have felt like an expedition up Mt. Everest, complete with a treacherous drive, a difficult schlep of equipment from the parking lot with mom and dad playing Sherpa, and the smaller team members breaking down in tears several times over the weekend due to lost mittens and cold fingers, or an overcrowded lesson or simply a high-stress vibe coming off of a harried mom or dad.

I started skiing at age 5 after my parents bought a cabin in Vermont. We drove 6 hours every Friday night to hit the slopes for two days and turn around and drive back home.  My parents may seem crazy, but they created a family tradition which still brings us all together.  Even though we live 3000 miles apart, my family gathers once a year for some form of ski vacation.  

As an instructor, my passion is helping other families create positive mountain memories and ski vacation traditions of their own.  So, this is the first of a series of blog postings which fall under the general umbrella of "Stress-free Skiing." The purpose will be to pass on advice and suggestions for making your ski trip as fun and as low stress as possible. For those of you who are members of the Southern Marin Mother's Club, some of what follows will look familiar, as it comes from an article I originally wrote for the group's winter newsletter.

The experience getting to your resort and in the process and procedures to get your family through the resort village, the rental shop and off to the ski school can be really great or painful.  It all depends on where you’re skiing and what you know in advance.  So how can you minimize the stress and maximize the fun factor if you’re new to skiing or new to the area?

First, tap your social network for insider tips. Select your resort, your lodging, your ski instructor and even your departure time and route based on recommendations from those who’ve already blazed the trail.

Getting to the hill


Snowy and icy roads can lead to traffic jams, white knuckles on the steering wheel and tense conversations between driver and passengers.  At their worst, poor driving conditions can cause an accident, which is no way to kick off a ski vacation.


Caltrans has a great resource called the Caltrans Highway Information Network.  It provides road information and even winter driving tips.

Motorists may telephone - 800.427.7623 for up-to-the-minute information in California and Western Nevada (Lake Tahoe/Reno Area). The network is updated as conditions change, and is voice-activated for safety and convenience. Of course, the information is also available online.  So... bookmark this link and know before you go.


Once you arrive, make getting to the slopes easy on you and your kids:

  • Eliminate a hike through the parking lot or the wait for a shuttle bus. Use your resort's courtesy drop off to deposit kids, skis, boards and one parent. The other can then park the car and make his or her way to a pre-arranged meeting spot without having to carry anything.  
  • If you do walk, don't wear your ski boots! Walk in comfortable shoes and utilize the resort’s lockers to store them during the day. This isn't just for comfort... your street shoes may prevent a slip and fall accident.
  • If you’re arranging a private lesson, leverage your instructor’s focus on customer service. Instructors love making every process easier for clients.  I regularly meet clients at the courtesy drop off, ready to be their Sherpa, resort tour guide, rental equipment advisor, and escort through what can be a busy village. 
  • Lastly, take note of where you parked your car, and if you're thinking of skiing in Tahoe, consider leaving a broom or a shovel in the trunk.  (see photo!) 

The next few postings will focus on:


  • How to manage the hand-off of your kids to their instructor in such a way that the kids aren't stressed, you're not stressed, and you've set your kids and their coach up for success.
  • How to extend the fun from the lesson into your own free-skiing with your children
  • Do's and Don'ts when your goal is to turn your little one into a little ripper who loves the mountains more than you do.

The author, Jay Palace, is a PSIA Level Two instructor and specializes in teaching children at the Northstar Ski & Snowboard School. He’s also the founder of Group Experiential Learning, a company which helps executives build high performance teams via active learning experiences. The hints, perspectives and ski tips shared here and on the “This Mountain Life” blog (www.skiwithjay.com) are not representations of Vail Resorts or Northstar-California.  Jay is happy to answer questions, no matter where you ski, and can be reached at 415-601-1325 or skiwithjay@gmail.com

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