Ski Vacations Get a Lift

By Mimi Slawoff

family travel - ski trends

Brian Head Resort in southern Utah was among the resorts that began offering Terrain-Based Learning last year. PHOTO BY MIKE SAEMISCH

Innovative ski and snowboard lessons and pampering services are giving families more quality time on and off the slopes this season. Check out these services, and make your next ski vacation easier to manage and more fun for all.

New to snow sports? The annual Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month in January (www.skiandsnowboardmonth.org) offers a lesson, rentals and lift ticket from $45.

Terrain-Based Learning

Learning to ski and snowboard is easier with Terrain-Based Learning (TBL), a new method that feels less like a lesson and more like fun. Beginner slopes are shaped with rollers, mini-pipes and banked turns that naturally control a skier’s speed, turns and stops. Fewer falls and a faster learning curve are bumping up return beginner visits by about 20 percent. According to the National Ski Areas Ski Association, TBL is one of the greatest innovations in the business in 20 years.

While the fundamentals of snow sports are the same – stance, balance, edging and pressure – TBL helps skiers and riders learn and accelerate their skills before their first time on a chairlift.

“It’s a non- or less-threatening way to learn to ski or snowboard,” says Mark Halterman, a veteran ski instructor and director of Brian Head Winter Sports School at Brian Head Resort in southern Utah.

A typical TBL lesson starts on flat terrain so skiers and riders can acclimate to their equipment. From there, they progress to mini-pipes, then gain speed on gently rolling terrain and experience banked turns that direct their skis and boards. Finally, students practice their new skills on the last feature, the “perfect slope,” before riding a chairlift.

family travel - ski trends

Terrain-Based Learning starts students on flatter terrain so they can get used to their equipment, then moves on to rolling terrain and turns that build skills. PHOTO COURTESY SNOWBASIN SKI RESORT

Because students rotate from one feature to the next with an instructor, no time is wasted waiting for their turn. “Instead of the instructor giving a lecture to the entire group, he can watch them one by one as they circle through each individual feature. It’s more fun and less work,” says Halterman, adding that while designed for beginners, TBL also helps seasoned skiers sharpen their skills.

TBL was launched by Joe Hession and Hugh Reynolds of SNOW Operating (www.snowoperating.com), which is currently working with about 25 ski resorts nationwide. About a dozen additional resorts are using their own version of TBL.

“The guest spends more time moving and learning in a TBL lesson than in a traditional lesson,” says Reynolds.

Brian Head (www.brianhead.com) and Snowbasin Resort (www.snowbasin.com) in Utah jumped on board last year, and Sierra-at-Tahoe (www.sierraattahoe.com) in California started using TBL two years ago. Brian Head Resort offers a $199 three-day beginner package, and Snowbasin Resort’s package is $299. Both include lift tickets and rentals, plus a season pass for the remainder of the season for those who complete the program. Sierra-at-Tahoe’s three-day package, which includes lift tickets and rentals, is $225 for adults, $360 for ages 3-12.

Ski Butlers

family travel - ski trends

Ski Butlers guarantees fit and quality, and will bring replacement gear to the slopes if you have a problem. PHOTO BY MIKE SCHIRF PHOTOGRAPHY

Imagine getting fitted with top-quality ski and snowboard rental gear from the comfort of your vacation home. That’s exactly what Ski Butlers (www.skibutlers.com) provides. It’s not a new service, but families are really starting to catch on to the value of the Utah-based company that delivers a selection of skis, snowboards, boots and helmets directly to your accommodations.

Adding to the value is the company’s guarantee of good fit and quality equipment. If there is a problem with your equipment while you are on the slopes, ski butlers come to the rescue with replacement gear – right on the mountain. And when your trip is over, Ski Butlers pick up the gear.

The service is available in Park City, Utah; Heavenly, Squaw Valley and Northstar in California; and Colorado, Wyoming and British Columbia.

Reserve your gear online or by phone about two weeks before your vacation (three weeks before Christmas and President’s weekend). Arrange for delivery (up until 8 p.m.) on the night before your first ski day. This will make it easier to get out the door and to the mountain for your first morning of skiing or riding.

Ski and snowboard packages cost less than in many rental shops. In Telluride and Steamboat, kids 12 and younger rent free from Ski Butlers with an adult who is paying for at least four days.

Mobile Ski Instructors

If you’re fortunate enough to be skiing your way through multiple resorts in a ski state such as Utah or Colorado, you might be able to bring your favorite instructor along with you. If your instructor travels, the private lessons are booked at one resort, and families buy their own lift tickets at each resort they ski.

Skiing with her clients was a perk of Sherri Harkin’s job as instructor at Deer Valley in Park City. “I usually let [families] bring it up to me first,” says Harkin, a 25-year veteran instructor who is now based at Solitude Resort in Utah. “They ask if we can ski at different resorts.”

family travel -ski trends

Banked turns on Terrain-Based Learning courses help control skiiers’ and riders’ speed so they have fewer falls and more fun. PHOTO COURTESY SIERRA-AT-TAHOE

Since terrain, scenery and snow conditions vary among Utah’s 14 resorts, many visitors like to experience a few of them during a vacation. They typically start in Deer Valley and book lessons there. The resorts have a reciprocal agreement allowing instructors, who always wear uniforms from their home resort, to teach their clients at other local mountains. Some families ski a different resort each day of their trip, says Harkin.

“From an instructor’s perspective, you have to know the resort well,” she explains. “It’s important you have skied there and know where the good teaching terrain is for the ability level of the student you are working with.”

That becomes even more challenging when teaching family members with varying skill levels, says Kristin Egan, a mother of three who trains instructors at Deer Valley. “Last year, there was a family with a beginner. I had to pick something with good beginner terrain and yet somewhere good for other family members,” says Egan, who led her clients to nearby Park City.

After kids have been skiing a few years and surpass their parents’ skills on the slopes, they’re often ready to tackle more challenging terrain. “We’re not just skiing with the kids, but we’re keeping an eye on them and keeping them safe,” says Egan.

Spending a week skiing together is a bonding experience for both teacher and student. “You develop a friendship. Your students trust you and have confidence in how you’re teaching them and where you’re taking them,” says Harkin.

Spending a week skiing or snowboarding together without equipment hassles and with fun instructors and innovative teaching can be a bonding experience for your whole family.

Mimi Slawoff is a local writer and mom of three who covers family travel, among other things.

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