Bretton Woods Slopeside Climbing Wall on the third floor of the base lodge, my five-year-old daughter was finally big enough to try on a harness and rock shoes and give the climb a try.
Steve Nicophor, Climbing Programs Director, welcomed Bridget with a big smile and immediately helped her into an indoor kids' harness and the smallest climbing shoes they make, while I filled out some short paperwork. Steve started out at Bretton Woods with the Canopy Tour, and for the last two years has been developing an adventurous but approachable climbing program at Bretton Woods that naturally appeals to the the allure of the mountains for those of us who come here to play.
Climbing shoes aren't required, but I knew they'd help her start to get the real feel for the sport, and although sneakers would have been fine, clunky snow boots would not have been a option.
James, Steve's assistant, took Bridget right over to one of the easier of the many routes that spans the 624-foot indoor wall. He attached his rope to her harness with a carabiner and let her at it. I have to admit I was a bit surprised that Bridget didn't immediately move right up the 26-foot wall to ring the bell at the top. She made it about half-way up and asked to come back down. Her timidity was unexpected, but I once again found myself balancing that fine line between encouraging her to try something beyond her comfort level and pushing her so much that she wouldn't want to try it again.
She took turns with another little girl on the same route, and climbed a little higher each time. When she decided she was done with the rope system, she headed over to the bouldering cave. There, a 300-square foot "cave" of rock offers climbers a challenge a bit closer to the ground, and a super-thick crash pad makes for soft landings. Letting go of the colored hand holds and falling to the pad ended up being the highlight of the activity. Over and over again, she climbed up and then hurled herself to the ground. I'm guessing the self-control of knowing she was in charge of her landing, as opposed to being hooked up to a harness and belay that someone else held on to, was both thrilling and understandable to her.
As Bridget clambered up and down the bouldering cave, Steve explained that although there's no hard and fast rule about what age you can introduce climbing to your kids, they usually don't have the coordination to really start to "get it" until about age 5. But as in any new physical sport, like skiing, it just takes practice. "They go a little higher every time, and they become more comfortable with the idea of the rock, and begin to trust themselves and the safety of the belay."
In the winter, the Slopeside Climbing Wall opens at noon, and I knew that Bridget would be fresher for this activity then, rather than late in the day after a full day of skiing. Steve told me that their busiest time of day is often 3:00 in the afternoon, when all the kids come in from skiing. Sure, it seems like a fun way to end the day, but he also said that it's a bit chaotic, because many of the kids are so tired by then. Knowing your child's energy levels seems to be the key here in deciding when to add on another activity at the Resort.
Steve also offers many other Guided Winter Adventures at Bretton Woods, and I'm looking forward to joining him on another adventure, like backcountry skiing or ice climbing. The Slopeside Climbing Wall is also open in the summer, as well as the West Wall Climb, and outdoor rock ascent for veteran craggers and newbies alike.
The Bretton Woods Slopeside Climbing Wall is open afternoons during ski season and costs $10 for ten minutes on the climbing wall or bouldering cave. Season passes are also available.