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Taking the Kids

It's Downhill From Here

November 03, 1996|EILEEN OGINTZ

ALTA, Utah — "Push those shopping carts," Jackie McDowell urged the group of parka-puffed kids who'd stopped breathlessly, midway down the ski run.

The grade schoolers barely had time to adjust their goggles before they pointed their skis down the mountain again, clearly intent on steering those imaginary shopping carts straight to the base lodge for some steaming hot chocolate. "We're trying to teach them to keep their arms up," explained McDowell, a veteran children's ski instructor at Alta Ski Lifts.

McDowell maneuvered the group of advanced beginners to the side of the hill. They gathered around a tree where a bright sign marked "Ske-Cology" was posted as part of an outdoor education program developed with the help of the U.S. Forest Service.

True or false, McDowell asked. Porcupines can shoot their quills at an enemy. False. Porcupines raise their quills for protection but don't shoot them. Other trails offer fanciful lessons on trees, trout and forest animals.

"Sometimes they're really into it, sometimes they just want to ski," McDowell said.

These kids, ranging in age from 7 to 11, mostly fell into the latter category, interested in skiing as fast as they could without falling. They weren't stopping to consider the superb snow or the sheer beauty of the place. Nor did they seem to notice that the lift lines weren't long because the number of lift tickets sold each day is limited to prevent overcrowding.

As does Snowbird, Alta's glitzy neighbor just a mile away, Alta draws skiers from around the world because it has perfect snow--more than 500 inches a year, including plenty of deep, fluffy powder--and runs so tough they can challenge even the best skiers.

Riding Alta's slow double and triple chairs (no high-speed lifts here) felt like a giant, pleasant step back in ski time, before crowds and construction transformed most major ski resorts into bustling towns. It also felt as if I were a lot farther than 25 miles from the major metropolis of Salt Lake City.

It's not necessary to be an expert to ski here. In fact, 65% of Alta's runs and 55% of Snowbird's are for beginners or intermediates.

Even better are the prices. A full day lift ticket at Alta is $27, less than the price of a child's ticket at nearby Deer Valley. (There are no children's tickets at Alta.)

At Snowbird, two children up to age 12 may ski the chair lifts free with the purchase of an all-day adult ticket for $36.

"We ski at Alta because they make it affordable," said Craig Sax, a Wyoming game warden with three teenagers.

(Call Alta Ski Lifts at [801] 742- 3333; Snowbird at [800] 453-3000; SKI UTAH at [800] SKI-UTAH.)

There's child care by a state-licensed staff for infants as young as 3 months old (reservations are recommended). And the ski school is open to children as young as 4. For teenagers there are special daylong programs.

At an average of $450 a night for a family of four, including breakfast and dinner, Alta Lodge is not inexpensive. But it is packaged with some advantages. Kids are transported in the lodge van to and from the ski school at no extra charge. After skiing, while parents relax in the hot tub, counselors entertain the junior skiers and serve them an early dinner. Or children can watch a movie while parents enjoy a multi-course dinner. (Call [801] 742-3500.)

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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