Why Seasonal Programs Build Better Skiers
John Macdonald, fondly known in the Mount Washington Valley as Johnny Mac, has been involved in teaching kids to ski for longer than I've been on this planet. (Sorry, John.) As the Technical/Training Director for King Pine's Ski School, the U12 coach for the King Pine Race Team, and a chaperone for the Purple Group with the Eastern Slopes Ski Club with the Pine Tree School in Conway, he's a busy guy. I caught up with John to discuss the top reasons why seasonal programs are beneficial for kids.
Tell me about your background in youth seasonal ski programs.
We started our team ski program at King Pine in the late 80s, and it's still going strong. Team Ski is a seasonal group that skis together for two hours every weekend day and on the vacation week days. The kids build a group of ski friends and tremendous ski skills. Some of our kids from the early years are professionals now, coaching ski racing and leading ski patrol. I've also worked with school groups since that time.
What made you decide to become so involved on the mountain?
I'm guessing that the answer to this question is the same for all of the [Mount Washington] Valley instructors who have been doing this forever. The kids are fun, and it's great to see them build skills, confidence, and great friendships. The energy is all positive and super fun. It's also fun to have a connection to the kids and keep in touch long after they outgrow the seasonal programs. Many of them start teaching in the Ski School as soon as they are old enough.
I started 10-12 years before my kids were old enough to be in these programs, and it's been 10 years since my youngest was in a program. It's just too much fun to stop.
How does this type of instruction and consistent time on the slopes differ from putting kids into a lesson one day per year?
Skiing is less intuitive than many people realize, and the path to true expert ski skills involves some coaching. It's the same with tennis, golf, and most skill-based sports. A trained, experienced instructor or coach can help the skiers do the things that allow their skis to handle whatever the terrain is demanding. Whether the "next challenge" is steeper trails, icier conditions, moguls, or skiing in the woods, most skiers will achieve mastery (and have fun) with some coaching. In my opinion, it's a shame that more people don't give themselves the chance to get there.
From a technical perspective, how does a seasonal program benefit young skiers?
Technically, they develop more refined and varied skills. The group leader will show the kids how to move a certain way, like flexing through the ankles to improve edge angle, by saying "let me see your bases!" Then, they go ski following the leader, using that new focus. The kids play games and have fun using these new movements.
The seasonal aspect gives the kids the time it takes to develop high-end ski skills, and these programs are very affordable as compared to a day lesson when you figure out the hourly cost.
What are the benefits socially and developmentally?
These kids become excellent skiers, and they develop many great friends. Show me a kid that can do cool stuff with a bunch of friends, and I'll show you a happy kid. Seriously, they also learn to do the hard work that leads to a result they're excited about, and this carries over to all of their activities in the future.
How does the race program differ from the general instruction?
They work on the same skill: great skiing. The Race Team adds competition opportunities, and the race kids need to learn how to adapt their ski skills to the race course tactics necessary to be competitive.
Anything to add?
Happy, tired kids that have spent the day doing healthy, challenging activities outside are a wonderful thing. Also, many parents end up working in the ski schools or around the mountain once their kids are in the program. They have almost as much fun as their kids!
If you're interested in learning about kids seasonal programs and race teams at New Hampshire's ski areas, we've compiled lists of the necessary information and where to go for next steps. We also have information on women's programs for adults, too! You're never too old to learn something new.