|Our twin grandchildren were 3-1/3 years old when we went to Jackson
Hole, Wyoming on our annual family ski trip every January. While
we have friends with children that young who learned to ski, most of them
live in Colorado and have all winter to teach their kids. We had
one week in Jackson to see if it might happen!
We returned two years later in when the twins were 5, and again each year after that - this report will include those experiences too so that you can follow their progress from never being on skis to skiing the intermediate blue slopes by the time they were 6, and later snow boarding. Our next set of grandkids, 5 years younger were next up to learn to ski.. However, that said, most of their training was with private lessons, expensive, but well worth it. Especially with a remarkable children's instructor that we used.
Jackson Hole Mountain has "Kids Ranch" with winter and ski activities for children 6 months through 17 years of age. Prices listed below include ski rentals and are for 2007. If your child has ski equipment, rates are slightly lower.
WRANGLERS are for kids ages 6 months to 2 years and combines indoor activities with outdoor snow play. Times are 8:30 am to 4:30 for a full day program with lunch at $120; half-day (no lunch) is $100 for morning and $90 for afternoons.
PIONEERS are for beginner children 3 to 4 years old. Kids have two outdoor ski lessons, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. When they learn to stop and turn, they can join Rough Riders. Cost for full day is $137 and for half-day afternoon is $117.
ROUGH RIDERS are for children ages 3 to
6 and includes ski lessons, lift tickets, and lunch with a full day from
9:00 to 3:30 for $137; the half day is $117.
LITTLE RIPPER: Ages 5 & 6. Beginner snowboard semi-private lessons with a maximum of three children per class. Full day is $202 and half day is $185.
EXPLORERS for ages 7 to 14 includes ski and snowboard lessons with life ticket, and lunch. Cost is $172 for a full day from 8:50 - 3:30 and includes lunch.
TEAM EXTREME is for those 12 to 17 and
includes ski and snowboard lessons for advanced teens. Cost is $165
for full day. (Note: This is best explained as a great way to let
kids ski the mountain safely under supervision when he/she is out-skiing
his parents and leaving them in the snow dust! As our own son did
long ago to us. We simply could no longer keep up with him even though
his daddy is a good skier!)
Caitlin and Andrew would be in the Pioneers/Rough Riders class and start in the "Ranch" section of the ski school, a fenced half circle area just behind the Cody House. A "Magic carpet" rubber belt gives kids a ride up to the top of the gently sloped hill with the beginner area to the left and a more advanced "ski through the hoops" area to the right.
Instructors first teach beginning children how to snowplow (also called pizza wedges) and stop - this can take several days depending on the child. They then advance to the hoops side and after they can easily control making S-curves through them, the group loads into a "Ranch Wagon" pulled by a snowmobile and are taken up the long beginner slope next to the Kids Ranch. Eventually, as they progress, the kids start riding chair lifts to other beginner green slope areas to the right of the ski school. They start with Eagle's Rest lift and ski down Pooh Bear and Eagle's Rest "baby slopes", then ride the Teewinot Quad Chair for the slightly more steep beginner slopes along side it. See the map below.
The 3 and 4 year olds spend about half their time inside playing and having a good time with a short ski session in the morning and one after lunch.
The first day, Andrew and Caitlin were outfitted with tiny helmets and skis. We purchased easy off-and-on ski mittens for them to wear. Ten children were in their beginner group with about 7 instructors, most on foot without skis. One instructor stood at the top of the "magic carpet' helping children scoot off, and another would shuffle them over to the bottom of the carpet after they'd come down the hill. Other instructors would coax a child (one on one, usually) from the top of the little hill to the bottom while teaching he/she to make "pizza wedges" (snowplow) and learn to stop. This is easier said than done!
Some kids would become tired of waiting in line at the top and start out on their own - meaning an instructor, already with one child, would have to run and help the one coming on his/her own. Sometimes the line was so full, several kids would be pushed to the back and not have their turn. (seldom was an instructor overseeing waiting children, or making sure that kids stayed in line). While it sometimes went quite well and like clockwork -- one child and instructor coming down right after another -- other times the twins might be standing for 20 minutes at the top before it was their turn to ski down. We did notice that older children who were stronger and more coordinated were learning faster and progressing to the right side of the run where they were starting to turn through hoops. Most of the 3 year olds, however, were learning as about as fast (or slow as the case may be) as Caitlin and Andrew.
Obviously, if we wanted the 3 year old twins to "begin learning to ski" in a week, starting with a large group class might not be the best answer! At this point, I need to explain that our big goal on a ski trip is to teach our newest skiers how to ski as soon as possible.
We noticed that one instructor in particular was really actively involved
with the kids. As one of the few instructors on skis, he was skiing
backwards while coaxing a child down the hill (face to face with the tike),
then racing back to the top to start another. Up and down he went at twice
the speed of most of the other instructors.
Kara and Nick, our daughter and son-in-law, had been observing all this and both had taught children's ski school at Smugglers Notch, known to be one of the #1 ski destinations for families. They thought this diligent instructor would be perfect as a private teacher for the twins!
Grandpa Kenny went to the ski school and asked who the instructor was, and if he was available for private lessons. His name was Ryan Haight and yes he was available!
We arranged for Ryan to do half-day lessons for the twins from 9 am to noon for 1-1/2 hour each. Uncle Nick, who had taught 3 year olds at Smuggs would tag along (parents and grandparents best stay on the sideline). Andrew went out first.
To our surprise, Ryan didn't start Andrew in the kids group ski enclosure,
he called up the Kids Wagon pulled by a snowmobile that would take them
up the ski run called "Eagle's Rest" to Pooh Bears Cabin. A regular
mountain beginner slope!
Not long after, we could see them in the distance, slowly coming down the long run with Ryan skiing backwards most of the way while coaching Andrew along. They spent the next 90 minutes riding the Ranch Wagon back to the top of the hill and coming down again. Needless to say, Andrew was getting a LOT of skiing practice compared to being in the large ski school group all mostly waiting for turns with an instructor.
It was then Caitlin's turn. After several runs down Eagle's Rest run, we were once again surprised to see Ryan lead her to the Eagle's Rest lift! Caitlin was catching right on to skiing and already starting to hold her little snowplow wedge and follow him in big wide curves. Down they came again with her hot on his heels. By this time they were skiing side by side and she waved at us as she went by!
We arranged two more days of private lessons with Ryan with a few days off in between for some sight seeing. The second day of lessons, Ryan was taking the kids up the Teewinot Quad Chair lift. By the end of the third day, Andrew was starting to turn quite well and Caitlin, the more athletic of the two, was already starting to parallel ski. We were really pleased with how much Ryan taught them to do in such a short time!
So, after the first year of the twins "learning to ski", we highly recommend a private instructor or very small group, no more than 2 or 3, for children learning to ski. One or two days of private lessons should easily prepare them to join a small group of kids and be at a far more advanced level than muddling around for a week trying to learn with large groups. We all highly recommend Ryan Haight too! Be sure to ask for him if you arrange private instructions for your child or children.
We returned to Jackson in 2006; the twins had been in Whistler Ski School during 2005 and basically renewed what they had learned the year before with Ryan at Jackson in 2004. If you are headed to Whistler, you can read my report in another section of this website.
We decided that Ryan had done so well with the twins when they were
3 years old that we'd arrange 1/2 day afternoon lessons with him during
our vacation rather than put them in all day ski school. He obviously
made as much of an impression on the twins as he did on us since they both
remembered him and were excited that they would "be with Ryan again!"
The first day, Ryan first took the kids to the ski school's magic carpet for a couple runs and by the third short little run, the kids were getting their ski legs back. They then hopped on the Ranch Wagon for a couple of runs down the nearby beginner slope. Caitlin and Andrew were then doing well enough to go up the Teewinot Quad Lift!
By the end of five days with Ryan, the kids were skiing all over the green beginner runs and starting to do a little parallel skiing. Ryan even took them up the Sweetwater Triple lift a few times which is above Eagles Rest and almost halfway up the mountain. They'd ski across South Pass Traverse and back down to Teewinot Quad Chair lift.
My husband observed that "Ryan makes skiing both fun and a learning experience". He plays ski games with the kids by doing big S-curves with them following right behind, letting them go over little snow hills to learn to fly through the air, and when one of the twins would fall down, he was more than likely to go flop in the snow with them and make snow angels which made them laugh and giggle instead of shed a tear or two because they fell down. They'd quickly jump up and head down the slope again.
The photo on the right shows Andrew and Caitlin "in synch" with their arms ... Kenny said that Ryan was ahead of them moving his arms up, out, over the head, and back and forth so they would mimic him (and learn some balance along the way). This was another fun game they played.
If the kids became a little tired midway though the lesson, Ryan would lead them down to the Gondola and they'd all jump on for a ride to the top. This gave the kids a nice rest along with an exciting ride and preview of things to come when they become intermediate skiers (hopefully next year!)
At the end of the ski lesson each day, they'd come barreling into the "Fort Wyoming" gate (parents, be forewarned that if you watch your kids do this - you might think they will crack up on the giant posts - but they won't!).
By the end of our trip, Ryan took Caitlin and Andrew from still floundering
beginners to masters of green slopes. We were more than pleased with the
twins progress and best of all, each morning, they could hardly wait for
their next ski lesson with Ryan. He really relates to kids well.
Stay tuned ....we'll see if the twins can learn to ski the blue slopes next year.
Yes! We returned to Jackson in 2007 so that the twins could continue their ski lessons with Ryan and perhaps conquer some blue intermediate slopes of Jackson Hole Mountain. Since I didn't ski with them and they were far out of sight of the base of the mountain viewing area, I'm turning the review over to their Uncle Nick Murray since he often skied with the twins during lessons. He taught 3 to 6 year olds at Smuggs on the East Coast, so is a good one to do this!
-- Uncle Nick writes....
We asked for Ryan because of the positive experience the twins
had previously had with him. We scheduled 1/2 day afternoon lessons (it's
normally warmer than morning for the kids). He had made such a good
impression on the twins that they both remembered him and were excited
that they would "be with Ryan again!" This really told us a lot about
him as an impressionable instructor.
The first day the kids went straight up the hill in a new Ranch Wagon that has seating for six people. Doing a first run on Eagles Rest allowed the instructor to check their skill levels. She spent the afternoon going over what they had learned previously, and the twins got to practice their basic skiing.
The next day Ryan took over instruction, and a very excited Caitlin and Andrew started learning lots of new things. Ryan pushed them from the start and made games of most of the new things he introduced, thus rapidly advancing their skiing abilities. He kept a constant conversation with them the whole time on all things kids like to talk about, very good for keeping their attention.
This year the twins took a really big step from skiing the beginner slopes last year. Ryan had a goal of skiing from the top of the Gondola down to the base before their lessons were over at weeks end. This was exciting and motivating for Caitlin and Andrew, who had a really big challenge to look forward to!
Ryan taught the kids how to do a hockey stop; which meant had fun learning to spray snow, while also learning how to be safer. They spent a lot of time playing follow the leader, side sliding, paralleling and traversing to-and-fro across the slopes, and skiing backwards as you can see Caitlin doing in the photo below! (right... daddy Jeff and Andrew are skiing forward; Caitlin and Ryan are skiing backward).
Both Caitlin and Andrew really improved their skiing techniques, which allowed them all to progress up to Apres-Vous chair and the Gondola for some steeper terrain and really put their new skills to the test.
Ryan had them playing some games while they were skiing to help their balance and control, including no-stop snowball fights; essentially these were a snowball fight (we had nice snowy weather for it), where the skier cannot stop to pick up snow, or to throw it – they have to keep moving. By the end of the week with Ryan, the kids were able to sideslip, hockey stop, and do parallel turns with ease. They had progressed to a level 5 (out of 9), which is great for the little time they had to ski; a testament to all their hard work and excellent teaching expertise of Ryan.
By the last day of lessons, they got to ski down Werner, off of the Apres-Vous chair, as well as down from the top of the Gondola, just as they had dreamed they would. The route they took was Lupine Way, Amphitheater, and South Pass Traverse to the Casper Lodge for hot chocolate. After a well earned rest, they continued along South Pass to the Teewinot Gully and down to the Apres-Vous chair for one last run. Here they are in the somewhat difficult Gully.
All in all they had a great time, as did grandpa, their dad, and Uncle Nick and Uncle Max who often tagged along while they learned. This is also testament to Ryan's patience, as it cannot be easy to perform in front of an audience. (Yes, I've been there and done that as an instructor!)
Scuba Mom's note: The last day of our trip, after three years of lessons at Jackson, our family dream came true - Caitlin and Andrew skied with their dad, grampa, and uncles Nick and Max without an instructor along! They did well and handled the intermediate slopes of Apres Vous Mountain without problems. They had all planned to go up the Gondola again for a run to the bottom, but the weather turned quite cold and windy, so we decided to save that for next year.
We kept returning to Jackson - the twins wanted to learn to snowboard,
plus we have four more grandkids who would learn to ski...
Meanwhile, our next oldest grandkids, Annabell and Myles, started taking lessons with Ryan when they were age 3 just like cousins Caitlin and Andrew did. By age 5, they were easily skiing the green slopes and starting to do some blue slopes.
Next up are the youngest Greta at age 3 and Hattie at age 4. We will keep Ryan busy for a few more years! And someday have all six grandkids skiing together!