Winter Park is a great mountain for families with easy access from Denver, world-class terrain that ranges from totally chill to beyond challenging, and three lifts devoted almost entirely to beginner terrain: the magic carpet, Gemini Express, and High Lonesome Express. The town itself is also slightly quieter and more affordable than Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge’s fanciful après scene. Not to mention, Winter Park Resort is home to one of the state’s best ski and snowboarding schools, where instructors are dedicated to creating a life-long enjoyment of snow sports.
So how can families with skiers of different skill levels make the most of their time on the mountain? Send the kids to school.
Sure, you could spend the day trying to teach them yourself, but some things are better left to the professionals and this is one of them. Even if you feel confident in your backward-skiing and mid-mountain-tantrum wrangling skills, teaching your kids to ski requires an extreme amount of patience. Instead of spending the day trying yours with lackluster results, enroll the offspring in Winter Park Ski + Ride School. It’ll give them the maximum potential to learn and improve, increase the likelihood you maintain your sanity, and allow you some free time to hit the slopes yourself.
Stepping Inside Ski School
I may look like a fully grown adult, but on the slopes, I’m still a little ripper. As a relatively recent transplant from southern California, I’m in my second season of trading my surfboard for skis. I’m not a total gaper but I am most comfortable on blue groomers. And I’m eager to progress. So I signed up for a class at the oft-praised Winter Park Ski + Ride School—in the Kids Group Ski Lessons session for participants ages 4 to 14. Why the kids class when there is an adult lesson available? For the story of course. And here’s how that story goes.
Donning the school’s GPS leg tracker, I head toward the lifts with a group of groms to meet the group, who are being divided up by skillset. Since I’m not a complete novice and already comfortable on blue groomers, I’m placed in the intermediate group led by an instructor named BJ.
He gathers our group (five kids ages 7–11 and me) and guides a round of introductions, asking everyone to share what they’re most excited about today. “Hi, my name is Ava and I am excited for hot chocolate at lunch.” “Hi, my name is Jack and I am excited to ski really fast today.”
BJ breaks down what’s on the day’s itinerary. We’ll be hitting some blue runs, learning how to land a jump, exploring some trees, and maybe even making it onto some moguls. So basically, we’re looking at a really awesome day of skiing on the best beginner and intermediate runs, with a ton of expert tips as a bonus.
Then we hit the trails…kinda. Our first run is down the bunny hill, executing skills like hockey stops and parallel turns. The ski-wees who fall short of these assignments are subtly swapped into the beginner class at the base where multiple ski school classes meet up to load onto the next lift. “The most important part is balancing the affective needs of the group,” explains BJ. “That is why we meet back up with ski school after our first run to shuffle the kids into the most appropriate class to make sure everyone can have maximum fun.”
On the next lift, I ride up with Jen Miller, the public relations rep from Winter Park who is also tagging along for the lesson. “As a parent myself,” she says, “I say ski school all the way. I put both my boys through it, and because of that, they learned to ski much quicker and with a lot less tears for all of us. I can ski, but I’m not trained to teach my kids. Ski instructors, on the other hand, are trained not only to teach skiing but to teach it to kids.”
Before every run, BJ gives us the rundown, adding a kid-friendly spin that gets everyone excited. He’s been trained in the resort’s guest-centric teaching methods and uses analogies to connect with his audience. As we go through Dilly Dally Alley, he wants us to focus on using our legs to absorb impact, which he achieves by having us picture our lunches precariously balanced on our heads. Small part babysitter, large part coach, BJ manages to keep our group of varied skiers together, engaged, and improving throughout the day.
BJ also gives tailored advice to each student at the bottom of the run. To instruct one of my classmates to keep his upper body quieter, he says, “Imagine a rope at the bottom of the lift is attached to your chest, pulling you down the mountain towards it.” And to the girl skiing the slowest in the group, but focusing the hardest on the basics, he has nothing but constant encouragement.
As for me, I am learning a thing or two about balance as BJ has us alternate picking up our inside foot as we ski down a blue run. I also find pockets of fresh powder in the trees off the Olympia lift that feel manageable for me to navigate. I am passionate about skiing, but truth be told, I am well placed in the mini shredders’ lineup. Often, I find myself nervous to venture into trees if I don’t know the terrain, scared the glades will become too narrow, slick, or steep and I won’t be able to get out. But with BJ leading the way, I pick my lines with ease. Most of all, the kids’ “send it” spirit encourages me to do the same. One boy in our group can’t go down a single run without hitting every jump he thinks might afford him some air.
Ski school is about more than just learning to ski, it’s also about learning to love skiing. It can be a physically and mentally challenging activity, but by hitting the slopes and learning new skills without parental hand-holding, kids can build self-esteem and gain a sense of accomplishment. And instructors make the whole affair loads of fun. Over the course of the day’s lesson, we whooped as we sent jumps, broke our speed records, and became technically better skiers without even thinking much about it.
My favorite lift ride that day was riding up Olympia with one of the girls in my group. She began explaining to me how time should be measured in chocolate-coated caramels: “See, the Gemini lift is a two Milk Dud lift because it’s so short, I can only eat two of the candies in my pocket. But Olympia is like a four or five Milk Dud lift,” she says with a smile. And she’s not wrong: We should definitely measure more things in Milk Duds, we should use our imagination and play games on the slopes while we’re at it. We’re here to have fun.
And we all had a ton of it.
Whether you have a toddler just starting to walk or a teenager ready to tackle the black diamonds, there’s a ski school program for every age and ability level. Winter Park offers group half and full day lessons, though full days are far more popular and include lunch. BJ spoke highly of the multi-week lessons Winter Park offers that allow kids to sign up for three or four consecutive Saturday or Sunday lessons. Because the class members are already familiar with the instructor, group, and rules when they arrive each week, they get spend more time on the trails for maximum returns.
At the end of every lesson, you will receive a print out from your child’s leg tracker, which will tell you exactly where your kid skied that day. That way, if you are looking to take your little ripper out the following day or next ski trip, you now have a great guide to which runs your kids can confidently tackle.
But best to let them show you themselves. When you’re reunited after your wee one’s lesson, hit the lift together to take a victory lap so they can show off what they’ve just learned.