Friday, December 23, 2011

That first day on Dollar

Tips for taking your little spud skiing for the first time

Express Staff Writer

Kids and parents ride up the “magic carpet” on the lower slopes of Dollar Mountain last weekend. Photo by Jennifer Tuohy

By its very nature, childhood is full of firsts, but for a child of the Wood River Valley there is perhaps no greater first than that first day on Dollar Mountain. Skiing is baked into the culture here, and many children stand on skis even before they walk.

Last Saturday I took my son, Owen, skiing for the first time. At almost 4, he is a little late for a valley native; most of his buddies first set ski on snow at 18 months (though not a lot of actual skiing takes place before 2—at an earlier stage it's more for the cute pictures).

In the lead-up to the big day I asked around for tips on how best to prepare the boy for his snow debut. First, I was told, get a lease package from one of the local ski shops.

"We've been doing junior lease ski and snowboard packages for almost 30 years," said Rob Santa, owner of Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters, with locations in Hailey and Ketchum. "We started doing it because parents were frequently trying to buy the gear so the child could grow into it, which didn't serve anyone very well."

With prices starting at $79 for a season package, parents can have their child fully prepared for a season on the hill—boots, skis and a helmet—secure in the knowledge that if he/she has a growth spurt before the end of the season, they can pop back in and upgrade the gear for free.

The second tip I heard repeatedly was: "Get some Edgy Wedgies and a leash."

"For the real little ones, Edgy Wedgies ($9.99) tie the tips together and keep them from splaying," explained Bob Gordon, owner of Formula Sports in Ketchum, which also offers ski lease packages for all ages. "They can also use Racer Chasers—a vest that has a nylon leash for the parent to hold onto, helping make sure the kid doesn't go too fast."

We opted for a similar item, the Lucky Bums Ski Trainer. Invented by a Boise-based couple, Jeff and Julie Streeter, Lucky Bums ($39.95) is basically a backpack harness with a handle and two reins that attach to the child's waist. The reins allow the adult to ski a safe distance behind the child while still having some control over his or her direction and speed. The handle on the backpack also aids in getting the child on and off the chairlifts and picking him up after a tumble. The catchy name was dreamed up by Julie. While standing in a lift line she remarked to Jeff, "Look at all these little ski bums. Aren't they lucky to be on skis at such an early age?"

Following all the above advice, my family arrived at Dollar Mountain on a gloriously sunny Saturday morning. An over-excited Owen (he had slept with his skis the night before) was ready to go: ski suit, hat, gloves, sunscreen were all in place.


We are blessed to be living here for many reasons, but until last Saturday I hadn't realized that Dollar Mountain was one of them. Touted by the resort as "one of the premier training mountains in the country," the gentle, treeless slopes of Sun Valley's first developed ski mountain are perfect for beginners. But for toddlers, the almost-flat slope served by the magic carpet just in front of the luxurious Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge makes for the perfect first run, and it's free (call it an entry-level drug—they know you'll be hooked).

Dollar Lodge itself was a hive of activity on this Saturday before Christmas. Clearly, this place is the social hub of the winter season—for parents at least. Children dashed this way and that, hopped-up on hot chocolate topped with a mountain of marshmallows while parents relaxed or recuperated with a beverage and a snack before heading back out to burn off their little tykes' sugar high.

Back outside, after a couple of nerve-wracking and wildly unsuccessful trips up and down the magic carpet, my husband, Brian, whisked Owen off and up the Quarter Dollar lift, skiing down the gentle slope with Owen between his legs, all while holding securely to the Lucky Bums' handle. This was an ingenious idea, as it showed Owen what we had had trouble explaining to him on the diminutive carpet—why skiing is fun.

His next go down the magic carpet run was smooth sailing and completed with a smile on his face (rather than the previous expression of terror), and he didn't even seem to mind that he couldn't stop.

"Mummy," he said promptly after arriving at the bottom a second time. "I want to go back up the big mountain."

So it was my turn and, not being the natural skier my husband is, I wasn't comfortable with Owen between my legs, so out came the Lucky Bums' leash system. After a hesitant start and a few stumbles, we were quickly swooshing down the mountain in perfect harmony, my instinctive fears slightly allayed by the secure grip I had on my son, and the ability to control his speed with my own—much to his annoyance, as he just wanted to go "fast!"

The final piece of advice I received from everyone I spoke to—friends, Sturtevants, Formula Sports—was "get your kid into the ski school." There's nothing better, it seems, than having someone else teach your child how to ski. Most parents are instinctively overcautious and probably end up restricting any natural ability their child has, whereas trained professional instructors won't coddle your child and are more able to draw out their self-confidence. It can't be easy or comforting for a child to have a screaming, tear-strewn mother chasing him down the hill when he shoots off a little too fast for comfort.

The Sun Valley Snowsports School offers a variety of classes to suit all ages (see the info box for more details or call 622-2289). An added bonus of having someone else teach your child how to ski on Dollar is that you can sneak off and ski Baldy.

By the end of day one on snow, Owen was hooked. As we pulled into our driveway eight hours later, exhausted but smiling, he turned to me and earnestly asked, "Mummy, can I go skiing again? Now?"

Little Spuds on snow

- The Little Spuds program is one of the best-kept secrets in skiing. This Sun Valley Snowsports School program is for pre-schoolers (ages 4-5) and starts in January. There are three sessions throughout the season, each featuring three Tuesday and Wednesday lessons from 1-3 p.m. for a total of $190.

Session 1: Jan. 10-11, 17-18, 24-25

Session 2: Jan. 31 & Feb. 1, Feb. 7-8 and 14-15

Session 3: Feb. 28-29, March 6-7 and 13-14

There is also a Spuds program that runs on weekends for older children. Call the Snowsports School for more information, 622-2289.

- Children 4 and under ski free on Dollar Mountain with a paying adult.

- A full-day pass for children 5-12 is $37, a half day (from 12:30 p.m.) is $30.

- A child's season pass for Dollar is $189 (It acts as a discount card on Baldy when Dollar is closed).

- Blaine County students (pre-schoolers included) can sign up for a $20 discount card that entitles them to $20 day passes on Dollar ($25 for Baldy).

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