In my early teenage years, my cousins from Florida and Georgia stayed with our family in Spokane for Christmas. Most of the cousins were roughly the same age, and we all got along great. My Dad decided to test these relationships by taking everyone skiing.
To be fair, most of the cousins had previous skiing experience, and everyone was excited. However, since I was a host, and I had been skiing for many continuous years, I assumed that I would be the lead for all of my cousins…especially the Florida cousins. But things didn’t go like I thought they would.
Not unlike teaching someone how to ski, ride a bike, catch a wave, or fix a flat tire, there’s always a phase where the instructor needs to gauge what the student knows or doesn’t know. In many ways, this is what separates good coaches from great coaches. For example, if a snowboard instructor drifts through a lesson about green circles, black diamonds, moguls, chairlift exits, and resort etiquette, then it’s more often confusing, and not helpful. When you’re the instructor or coach, you need to pay close attention to your audience.
In recent years, my daughter invited a friend to go skiing with us, and I had flashbacks of my time with my cousins decades earlier. Her friend was born in Atlanta but grew up in Kenya with her grandparents. Ultimately, this trip with my daughter and her friend nearly proved to be a re-enactment of my ski trip with my cousins. My daughter was a little bit too cocky, slightly reckless, and she wiped out several times while she was doing her best to teach her friend how to ski. On the outside, I was patient and helpful. On the inside, I was laughing hysterically.
Maya (not her real name) asked so many good questions when we visited the ski lodge. For example she asked, “How far up the mountain does the ski lift go?’ I answered, “All the way to the top.” Then she wondered, “But how do you get off? What if you don’t want to go to the top? How do you stop it?”
Maya also asked about the lift ticket price. I told her, with a student discount, it was only about $40. Maya was quiet for a moment, and then she asked, “Each lift is only $40 per ride?” More laughter. In all honesty, Maya and my daughter had a wonderful time, but, for the record, my daughter crashed and burned many more times than her rookie friend.
In truth, if you have visited ski resorts for years and years, then you frequently assume too much when you introduce skiing or snowboarding to a novice—especially if the novice doesn’t have much experience in the snow, such as a novice from Florida (or Kenya). Furthermore, if you have any scrap of pride, then you’re frequently set on a fixed course for a fiasco. Like Will Rogers said, “Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.”
Decades earlier, my Florida cousin was a little uneasy about getting off the initial chairlift for the bunny hill. Like a sensei master, I instructed him to just ski straight, don’t overthink it, standup on the downward slope, and whatever you do, don’t let the chair hit you if you fall down. Guess what. He skied off perfectly, and I crossed my tips right when I was standing up. Not only did I faceplant on the exit, but when I stood up, baffled and embarrassed, the following chairlift knocked me down again, even harder. I was the inspirational train wreck for the day.
My fun-loving cousin recounted this story over and over and over again during that holiday break. However, years later, I got the last laugh. He eventually confessed that he laughed so hard at my chairlift wipeout that he cried in his goggles and slightly peed in his snowpants. Unlucky for him, his man parts were left freezing the rest of the ski day.
Jon Jonckers has been an OTO contributor since 2006. He enjoys sharing his love for the region with anyone willing to listen.
For more family-related stories and kid ski articles, visit the Out There Kids archives.