Whiteface Mountain is known for its wild beauty and steep terrain, boasting the greatest vertical in the East, but a lesser known key asset is its 5-star ski and snowboard school. Tucked away from the rest of the resort is the Bear Den Mountain area that is entirely dedicated to beginners with its own lodge, trails, and lifts, and its own parking area, making for a relaxed and fun environment without other skiers whizzing by at high speeds. Newbies can feel comfortable snowplowing and making giant turns with impunity.
I set out for Bear Den last Friday with my friend’s eight year-old daughter Ashlyn. Ed is not a skier, but wanted his daughter to learn, as playing outside year round is a way of life in the Adirondacks.
Ashlyn had mixed feelings - part excitement about leaving school early on this sunny Friday, and part trepidation about tackling the hill, wondering if she would succeed. She is hesitant about any new sport if there is any doubt in her mind that she won’t be the best. Spoiler alert: she rocked the two-hour lesson and was making giant s turns after hour one. I believe this is the start of a new hobby.
I enrolled her in Whiteface’s junior achievement program designed for beginners ages 7-12. The focus is on development of fundamental skills in a non-competitive environment and kids are grouped according to ability. There were cancellations so Ashlyn was the only student. After gearing up with skis, boots, and helmet, we headed outside to meet Matt, the instructor.
It’s easy to forget how cumbersome and awkward skis and ski boots can feel but Matt talked her through putting on the skis, introducing her to the equipment, scooting around on one ski, then two skis, climbing uphill, etc. Then came a ride on the magic carpet lift - a conveyor belt for kids that runs alongside the beginner hill.
Matt taught her the snowplow to slow down or stop, and straightening out to head back down the hill. It was slow going at the start, but she got the hang of it. The slope of the beginner trail is tame and very non-threatening - perfect place for the first runs.
Ashlyn quickly mastered the snowplow and straighten lesson, and was ready for a trip up the bunny hutch lift. This is when the excitement really starts. She exits the lift exquisitely with Matt, and starts practicing a modified snowplow. This allows her to make giant slow turns, using the width of the trail — it requires gradually pressing your shin against the boot of the working ski rather than throwing your body weight sharply onto the ski. As her comfort grows, so does her speed and enjoyment level. Seems this girl has a need for speed! Under Matt’s guidance, she is able to take four trips up and down the lift, skiing increasingly steeper trails each time. I’m tagging along and am astounded at how quickly she learned to ski. Her grin is ear to ear.
Within two hours, Matt was able to transform this eight year-old into a skier. When I asked her in the car on the way home if she wanted to go again, she yelled, “ oh yeah!!”
Ready to try something new this winter? Plan to stay close to the action and try a variety of Adirondack favorites! From skiing to snowshoeing to ice climbing, the adventures here are right outside your door!
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