Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sharing the Outdoor Fun

First, this: in case you haven’t checked the Bretton Woods website recently, we got THREE FEET of snow yesterday. I snuck out for a few runs this morning, and it was lovely. I headed over to West Mountain and hit Agassiz, Glade West, Boundary Line Glades and Little Tuckerman’s several times each. The snow is light and fluffy and I am still floating.

Now, more family adventures: we had been looking forward to taking some extended family members skiing with us at Christmas for quite some time. But as excited as Bridget was to ski with her seven-year-old cousin, Anya, I was cautiously optimistic. Just like the build-up before a big family holiday, I knew that things could go wonderfully, just as planned, or things could fall apart, like less than perfect weather or one of the children having an off day. If Bridget doesn’t have a wonderful time skiing on a particular day, we can always go in and try another time. But when you travel long distances for a short stay, there’s a lot more at stake. I would hate to have one bad experience ruin the chances for Anya to fall in love with skiing like we have.

Luckily, the sun seemed to be shining on us that day. Anya and my sister-in-law, Eva, were going to be joining us. Anya had skied once before with us last year and Eva hadn’t skied since 1989. The folks at the Bretton Woods Rental Shop started us off right. After getting their information into the computer system, the staff there quickly got them each set up with rental skis and helmets. We started off on the magic carpet in the Learning Area. The girls wanted to hug all the snow animals planted at the top of the magic carpet, and then we practiced leaning forward and traversing across the slope. I soon realized that I wasn’t going to be able to watch both girls at once because while I coached one, the other would just slide on down the slope, not worried about needing an escort. What a great surprise to see that they didn’t need me! Matt joined us and we headed up the Learning Center Quad with the two girls and Eva just behind us. They seemed excited to see each other ski, keeping them focused on the fun of flying down the hill.

In the time that it took us to ski down with the two girls, Eva had done two runs and was ready for more. We suggested she try a run down Range View – a wide, open trail with a gentle slope which is great for beginners. So while I took Bridget and Anya in for a brownie break, Matt and Eva headed up the Zephyr High-Speed Quad for a run down Range View. Again, I smiled cautiously, hoping that Eva’s enthusiasm would carry her all the way down.

Back out on the magic carpet, the girls already seemed more comfortable on their skis and more independent. Eva returned with a glow on her face, raving about the views of the Presidential Range and already clamoring to ski again another time, ready to make plans to ski at their local hill.

What a wonderful surprise. I hope they come back to ski with us again soon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Making Time for Mom

Wrapping. Cooking, Baking, Shopping. Decorating. Cleaning. There’s a long list of things to accomplish this time of year. On Sunday as I was making lists and checking them twice, my husband, Matt said, “Go get your cross country gear out and get dressed. You need to get outside and get some exercise. All this other stuff can wait.”

I thought for a moment that I would tell him I had too much to do, but I knew he was right. I knew that this was my chance for some time by myself. I knew that getting some fresh air and exercise would make me feel good and sleep better. I had been excited to get out on the trails at the recently opened Bretton Woods Nordic Center, and now was the time to go.

Once out there, I was so glad I went. The sun was shining, the snow was glistening, and with no wind, the temperature was comfortable. Bretton Woods is the place to find snow right now with 30 kilometers open and groomed. I clicked into my skate skis and was off. Knowing that I was out of cross-country skiing shape, I decided to stick mostly to the flatter trails, and did loops on Perimeter, Links, Rye Field and Esker.

The base on the trails is still a bit variable, but they’ve done a great job grooming what Mother Nature has given us so far. As Peter Smith, Nordic Center Director, told me, “it’s great balance and agility practice.” He also reminded me how lucky we are to have such a great grooming crew out there when there isn’t any snow – in the summer, they are out there with chainsaws and axes doing the hard work of clearing the trails of stumps, blown-down trees, and overgrowth so that when the snow does fall, we’ve got smooth trails that only take a little snow to cover.

I got a good hour of skiing in when I got a phone call from Matt. Bridget wanted to go cross-country skiing and they were on their way. I couldn’t think of any better way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fun Lessons Learned

The spring that Bridget was one and a half, I took her on the lift. She had little clown skis with bindings that strapped on to her snow boots. I just held her in between my legs; she could barely walk in the snow by herself even without wearing those slippery boards. But she squealed with delight and asked to go again. It gave her a taste of the feeling of speed and excitement that you get cruising down the mountain.

But one day last year, after Bridget got fit with real skis and ski boots, I headed out of the lodge towards the Learning Center Quad with her and realized that I had not thought about how I was going to ski with her. I knew I wanted her to start skiing on her own, but it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea how to make that happen. I had taken adults out on the slopes and had shared a few learning tips, but a toddler? They didn’t mention anything about teaching your kids to ski in all the baby books I had read.

Luckily, our friend Susan specialized in teaching kids at Bretton Woods, and she was later able to go out on a few runs with us. She shared tricks with us like stashing some mini marshmallows or m&m’s in your pocket to reward your little one for some good turns on the slopes. In the Snowplay Zone, adorned with giant flowers and puffy animals posted in the snow, she sprinkled the ground with rubber duckies for Bridget to retrieve, which got her scooting around on her skis without even thinking about it. But she was still only two, and her little legs weren’t quite ready to make turns quite yet.

Now that she’s three and all the more stable, we decided it was time for Bridget’s first official lesson. She loved the idea of it until we were driving to Bretton Woods this past Saturday morning, when she started saying that she wanted to ski with Mommy. But the staff at Hobbits didn’t give her a chance to even miss me. We had made a reservation ahead of time, and they were waiting for her at the door, greeting her by name. We met Jess Cyr, her instructor, and she immediately put Bridget at ease, asking her about her fondness of fetching duckies on snow. While I filled out some paperwork, they whisked her away and got her geared up and they were headed outside in no time.

I took this opportunity while Matt was home with napping Timothy to hop on the chairlift myself. I headed straight for Rosebrook, and took some delightful runs in the woods of Dark Forest. Then I headed back down to see if I could peer through the trees to see how Bridget was doing. I knew that if she saw me, she’d be distracted and want Mommy, but if I stayed out of sight she’d be fine.

Bridget was all smiles as they finished up. I asked her about her favorite part of the lesson, and she said, “the ladybugs” – more fun props that decorate the kid’s learning area. She had told Jess about her new goggles (an early Christmas present) and Jess now knew the names of our cat and dog.

Jess told me they worked on getting her to widen her stance a bit by having her pretend she was riding a horse – complete with holding the reigns and making trotting sounds. Jess would ski in front of her, facing Bridget, and Bridget would reach for Jess, giving high fives and reaching for a rubber ducky. “She was a trooper,” Jess told me, which was wonderful to hear, knowing that a full hour of skiing would be tiring for her. She said Bridget was trying to turn with her whole body rather than just her skis, which caused her to tip over a few times, but they were working on big sweeping turns.

I had always heard of kids learning “pizza” (the snowplow) to slow down and “french fries” (parallel skis) to gain speed, but hadn’t gotten in to that with Bridget yet. But Jess told me that she was glad to see that Bridget was trying to stop by turning rather than snow plowing, because they tend to lean back to far, and then they have to break that habit and learn to reach forward.

Despite knowing that Bridget would be exhausted after such a big morning, I tried to take her out for a run, eager to see what she had picked up. But once outside, she only wanted to go on the magic carpet and then wanted me to carry her down the slope. I got her to ski down to our friend Greg who had his video camera, but called it a day before we had a meltdown.

We’ll be taking her cousin skiing on the 24th, and I have a feeling Bridget is going to love having a friend along.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Getting Geared Up: Clothing

The Challenge: keep the kids warm and dry so they can focus on fun in the snow. Throw in a seemingly irresistible urge to tear off the mittens and eat the snow. Even as Bridget gets older, she may know that this habit is going to make her hands cold, but the impulse is apparently just too hard to resist. Unlike adults, babies and toddlers can’t forsee how uncomfortable they’ll be if they stuff snow in their mittens or get soaking wet in a puddle.

The Solution: Probably the most important step to ensuring the kids have fun outside is to get them dressed properly. Spare socks and mittens take up little space in your bag, and could also save you if one of those paired items goes missing. I stopped by TreeTop Sports yesterday to talk with Resort Retail Director Judy Ratzel about her top picks for outfitting the kids for fun in the snow. Snowsports retailers have made their gear not just good for getting outside, but fun, too. I couldn’t resist picking up a Cookie Monster hat for Timothy while I was there.

Like adults, it’s a good idea to dress the kids in layers. It may seem like it takes longer to get them geared up than the time you are actually outside, but if they are well dressed, odds are better that you can stay out longer. Ski clothes shouldn’t be made out of cotton. Synthetic fabrics or wool breathe well and dry quickly, so if Bridget overheats from exertion or just bundling up too much at the start, the moisture will be wicked away from her skin. She usually wears:

  • Polypro long underwear (top and bottom)

  • Fleece top and pants

  • Fleece jacket or vest (optional, depending on the temperature)

  • Synthetic or wool blend socks

  • Ski jacket and snowpants or snowsuit

For the jacket and snowpants, I looked for something that had a little room to grow at the cuffs so that there’s enough fabric to go over boots and mittens. This is key to keeping the snow out. Socks don’t have to be ski specific, but Darn Tough makes a great ski sock for even the littlest feet.

Then the ski gear: I strongly recommend a helmet. We had Bridget try several on to see how they fit. Helmets not only protect their heads, but they are warm and lightweight. Like wearing a helmet for riding a bike, ski helmets are commonplace nowadays, meaning Bridget and Timothy will grow up just expecting that it’s part of the ski outfit. “When buying a helmet,” Judy told me, “most have a size adjustment. If you buy the helmet with it fitting on the smaller end of its range, there’s more room to grow before having to purchase a new one.” Bretton Woods rents helmets too, so you don’t have to buy one before you’ve decided this will be something you’ll do often.

A good pair of double-lens googles is also a must to protect their eyes. (It’s not very fun to ski if your goggles fog up and you can’t see!) Mittens need to be waterproof (not fleece, which get soaked) and I look for ones with long cuffs to tuck in to her jacket to keep the snow out.

TreeTop Sports also carries kid-sized ski boot backpacks called Transpacks. Judy told me, “Asking your kids to carry their own gear, even if it’s just a small backpack to start, is a great habit for them to get in to. They are learning to take some responsibility for that fun day on the snow.”

And if we DO get a little cold or wet out there? Chalk it up to the fun of really immersing ourselves in the snow, and come in for hot cocoa!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Santa and The Missus

The stunning beauty never ceases to surprise me when I'm driving along route 302 through the White Mountain National Forest, with little but forest for miles, to come around the corner past Bretton Woods to see the Omni Mount Washington Hotel and the towering Presidential Range behind it. To me, holiday time is the Hotel's most amazing. Although the Hotel has only been open in the winter since 1999, it seems to me this place was built for Christmas decoration. Twinkling lights, a life size gingerbread house, fresh flowers and greenery, and Christmas trees that could only fit in this grand hall filled the main lobby.

Unfortunately, a chest cold kept me away from the Nordic trails this weekend, but the Hotel’s storybook holiday setting was perfect for our indoor endeavors. On Saturday, Bridget and I joined several other children and parents for afternoon Tea with Mrs. Claus. Part of the fun of Christmastime with a three-year-old is that so many of the traditions I take for granted are new experiences to her. She remembered Santa, but I had to explain that Santa had a wife.

On the veranda, Bridget immediately identified the woman dressed in red as Mrs. Claus, and cautiously approached. Mrs. Claus gave her a warm welcome and I knew Bridget was enchanted. As we climbed the stairs to enter the lobby we were greeted by Mark MacDonald, Guest Services Manager. He focused in on Bridget, inviting her inside and quickly fetching a kid’s “backpack” full of Omni goodies for her. She wouldn’t take it off for the rest of the weekend.

Tea with Mrs. Claus was in the Princess Dining Room, and a table was set for the two of us with white linens and china. Did they know what kind of havoc a three-year-old can bring? But Bridget was soon captivated by Mrs. Claus’ storytelling. True to her matriarchal role, this Mrs. Claus had a charm and wit that mesmerized the children, leaving them no opportunity to do anything but behave. She danced with the children and asked about their favorite animals. We munched on tiny cupcakes and pb&j’s with the crust cut off and sipped hot chocolate. Bridget’s favorite part, though, was the surprise at the end – a stuffed reindeer for all the children. In a moment of kindness towards her baby brother, she asked if we might bring home a toy for him as well, and Eileen Savoy, the Activities Director, kindly retrieved one for him as well.

On Sunday morning one-year-old Timothy and my husband joined Bridget and me in a trip back to the Omni Mount Washington Hotel for Breakfast with Santa. Guest Services Manager Mark remembered her from the day before and called Bridget by name, asking her how her visit with Mrs. Claus was. I think she must believe that we personally know everyone at the resort… since everyone is so friendly, she just assumes they are all friends of ours!

We enjoyed an extravagant breakfast buffet in the main dining room, and then Bridget had a visit with Santa. After a hug from Santa, we joined some other kids at a table set up for them to color little race cars and to write a letter to Santa. Santa’s helper promised that Bridget would receive a letter in return.

Bridget asked me this morning when we were going to get to going skiing next. Soon!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Geared Up: Skis and Ski Boots

Knowing that ski season was soon upon us, I took the kids one rainy afternoon to see Erin Shedd at the Bretton Woods rental shop. Erin has been at the resort since 2001 and has been at the rental shop for five years. She was really sweet with Bridget and Erin's questions about Bridget's excitement over the upcoming ski season made her feel at ease. I highly recommend seeing a professional boot fitter/ski technician, for a few reasons. First, as much I want to encourage Bridget to understand how her boot is supposed to fit and to be comfortable, a three-year-old can sometimes be an unreliable witness. Sometimes she confuses “too big” with “too small,” or she just might have something else like hot chocolate on the mind. Second, skis can rust over the summer, and kids can have big growth spurts since the skis were last set, so it’s a good idea to get the binding tested and reset at the beginning of the season.

I knew that Bridget’s tiny little feet certainly had not outgrown the smallest boots and skis that are made, but she had grown, and I wanted to be sure that everything was fit correctly and so we’d be all set when it was time to hit the slopes. It also gave Bridget a chance to re-acquaint herself to the feeling of ski boots and skis, to practice walking around in the boots, and to shoosh around on the carpet with the skis.

Knowing that we’d be trying on ski boots, Bridget wore the wool/poly blend socks that she would normally wear skiing. Smartwool makes breathable socks that keep her warm. But more on clothing choices in an upcoming blog!

Erin first measured her feet on their boot-sizing chart. The “mondopoint” size is the length of the foot in centimeters, and this size does not necessarily correlate with regular shoe size. We took the liner out of the boot and had her put her foot in to see how much room she had. Ideally there’s about an adult finger-width in front of her toes, so there’s room to grow and air can circulate around her feet to keep her warm. Then we put her feet into the empty boot shell and looked for about two fingers to fit behind her heel. More room than that and the boot is too large. If the foot can rotate in the boot, you could end up with an injury.
Next, we had Bridget try on the boots and see how she felt in them. Remember to keep all long underwear, pants, and ski pants outside the boot. Excess clothing tucked in the boot just cramps the ankle area. The boot should allow her to walk around pretty normally; if her toes are pointing way out or in, the boots are probably too big. I learned that we didn’t want to crank the boots super tight, as I had been… one time last year I hadn’t tightened the boots enough and the whole ski and boot fell off while we were on the chairlift, and I had to carry her half way down the bunny slope to retrieve it. Erin suggested we should be able to put a finger into the top of the boot while she’s wearing it. Too tight and it could wrench her little growing leg.

Before you rent or buy, you should know your kid’s height and weight. Looking at a combination of Bridget’s height, weight, boot size, and skiing ability, Erin was able to determine what the binding’s release would be set at. This setting determines how much force is needed to be exerted for the boot to release from the binding. For a young kid with soft and growing bones, it’s important that her boot will release easily if she falls, so that the ski torques off her boot rather than turning her leg in uncomfortable or possibly dangerous angles.

If you are lucky enough to be able to get another year’s use out of the skis you already bought for your kids, it’s still a good idea to take them in to the ski shop and have a professional ensure that everything is safe and ready to go for the new season. We know kids grow exponentially, so the technician can check the release setting on the skis, check to make sure the boots still fit properly, and to make sure the skis are tuned properly – if the bases are low and the edges are high, it could put her on edge all the time and make it hard for her to turn. Making sure there is a coat of wax on the bases is not just about going faster, but it will also help the ski pivot and turn easier, particularly at slower speeds.

Not only did this exercise set my mind at ease that the fit and settings were safe for my little girl, but it also gave her a chance to see another aspect of the ski resort. She’s still too young to understand the technicality of it, but I’m sure she got a sense that it was important that things feel comfortable. Not that this three-year-old would ever miss an opportunity to let me know if she wasn’t comfortable! And she got another little taste of anticipation to get out on the snow!

We are looking forward to checking out the newly opened Nordic trails this weekend as well as some alpine turns. And a treat for the kids… Tea with Mrs. Claus and Breakfast with Santa at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Welcome to Outdoor Mom!

Welcome to the 2010-2011 ski season! Eager to embrace the days, weeks, and months ahead, I’m the Outdoor Mom, and I’m hoping you’ll join me and my family on an adventure this winter. I live in Northern New Hampshire near Bretton Woods, where winter comes earlier and stays longer than many parts of the country, and I plan to enjoy every moment of it. I’m a relatively new mom: my daughter, Bridget, is three and my son, Timothy, just turned one. Before kids, my husband, Matt, and I spent our days seeking outdoor adventures on our bikes, on our alpine and cross-country skis, and on the trails of the White Mountains.

People told me that having kids changes everything, and I knew it was coming, but I never imagined the extent of it. So I’m learning new ways to get outside with my kids. I’m learning flexibility, because even when I figure out a good system, the kids change or the season changes and I’m back where I started, trying to figure out how to juggle everyone’s needs. I’ve made it a priority in my life to make it work for all of us: to do active things outdoors for all the health and happiness and personal connections we make with one another as we challenge ourselves to take advantage of the sun and snow and smiles all around us at Bretton Woods and Omni Mount Washington Resort.

Compromise seems to be an intrinsic part of parenthood, but I never wanted to give up my passion for the outdoors. I want to share with my kids the happiness and peace I find in being outside. I want to share the anticipation of new fallen snow that blankets the world white. I want to share the awe of looking out onto the imposing Presidential Mountain Range. I want to share the exhilaration of those perfect turns on skis.

So hop on the chairlift with me. Read along as we get all geared up for the ski season –learning how best to fit little feet into boots and skis and how to happily head out onto the snow. I’ll be pulling the kids in the Chariot at the Bretton Woods Nordic Center and I’ll share some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way to take even an infant out on the trails. I’ve begun taking my daughter to the Bretton Woods Kids Alpine Club for the start of what I dream to be a lifetime love of skiing, and I’ll let you know what works for us to make that an experience full of giggles and high fives. I hope to even squeeze in a few adult runs, exploring the new tree skiing on Mt. Stickney and floating through the fluff on a powder day. (I might even share where to find the powder stashes days after the big storm!) And we’ll check out Bretton Woods programs like Mother’s Day Tuesdays and Kids’ Apr├Ęs Ski Parties, and Omni Mount Washington Resort’s dog sledding and snow tubing.

I also look forward to your comments and suggestions. Are you a seasoned ski parent who knows how to make a day at Bretton Woods Resort work like clockwork? Or do you have questions about how to get your kids more excited about getting outside? Whether you ski alpine or telemark, snowboard or cross-country, I hope this blog proves to be a useful insight into the Omni Mount Washington Resort lifestyle and inspires you to get outside!