Preparing kids for the slopes | On Snow

It seems lately like I’ve been encountering many parents who are interested in getting their young kids involved in some snow sport activities such as skiing and snowboarding. Because I have been repeatedly asked for my opinion about this subject, I thought I would share it here.

I’m reminded of something a knowledgeable, experienced instructor told me several years ago: until a child reaches 7 years of age or so, she/he doesn’t really have the mental, physical or emotional strength to really master the desired technique. Yet I know kids who have started younger and done quite well.

So because there isn’t a perfect age for every child to start, parents should relax and limit their expectations with younger children, because frankly there is ample time in the future for the youngsters to find out if they like the world of snow or not.

I also think there is a marvelous learning and training opportunity across the lake in Bellevue called the Mini Mountain, which I highly recommend as a way to achieve a successful outcome when teaching children how to navigate those first awkward experiences on skis and boards.

The Mini Mountain sits majestically just east of a paint store in a narrow valley of parking lots and buildings, looking not at all like a picturesque Alpine resort. This mountain facility is an indoor skiing device, basically a wide, specially carpeted, motorized conveyor belt built on a slight incline. As its owner, Tom Waldron, has described, the machines allow snow sliding in a laboratory-type situation.

For the beginner, this means that unnecessary variables can be eliminated or controlled to provide a concentrated learning environment. To explain further, let’s compare taking ski lessons at a ski resort and at the Mini Mountain.

In the mountains, the students must deal with changes in terrain, differences in snow quality and consistency, climatic conditions, navigational or directional concerns, distractions caused by other skiers, lift line waits, time on the chairlift, rental or purchaser of equipment, and transportation to the area itself.

On the Mini Mountain, there are no terrain changes; the slope has a constant pitch and the surface is flat and unchanging. The lesson is conducted indoors at a comfortable temperature, away from blowing snow, wind or rain, and there are no visibility problems. The student need not worry about running into anyone (and vice versa), nor worry about getting down the mountain to the proper chairlift. One other under appreciated aspect: the restroom is right there!

There is no loss of instructional time waiting in lift lines or on the chair, and driving conditions to Bellevue are guaranteed to be better than to any Cascade resort. Finally, you don’t even need to have your own gear, because the Mini Mountain has everything you will need right there, free of charge.

A single lesson costs $45 for 20 minutes of time on the ramp, one on one with an instructor. A series of six such lessons runs $190, or roughly $32 per lesson.

Tom Waldron says the Mini Mountain really shines “with people who are timid,” because it allows them to concentrate on learning and not on other distractions.

It has been estimated that over half the people who start skiing don’t continue because their first experience is so hard. I don’t have to tell parents how much this can be true for children. So consider at least taking a look at the Mini Mountain; as someone who has used it myself, I think you will find it a terrific solution for introducing children to the wonderful world of snow sports.

To learn more: or (425) 746-757, 1900 132nd Ave. N.E.

John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and the past president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association. He can be reached by email at


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