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TAKING THE KIDS

Private lessons take skiers to the head of the class

January 19, 2003|Eileen Ogintz | Special to The Times

What a life.

Your children hang out at their mountain digs until a ski instructor swings by, steering them like VIPs to the best runs and bypassing lift lines. The instructor arranges for lunch and apres-ski action, even making sure they have dry socks.

Just as kids these days have private tennis coaches, skating instructors, cello teachers and SAT tutors, so too are many getting personal assistance on the slopes.

The fastest-growing segment of the lucrative private-skiing-lessons market is children. Parents and grandparents fork over $400 or more a day to guarantee their darlings the individual attention they may not get in a large class.

"There's a lot of wasted time in ski school classes," says Laurel Kohl, a New Jersey grandmother who springs for private lessons when her family gathers in Colorado at Snowmass. "You want to make the most of their time with the instructor."

Seventy percent of the private lessons at Deer Valley in Utah are arranged for kids, says John Guay, director of the resort's ski school.

Rich Burkley, managing director of ski schools for Aspen Skiing Co., also has seen more requests.

"Parents want the flexibility and the convenience," he says.

Far-flung families and friends want their kids to spend time together. They may not want the children separated by age, as they typically are at group ski schools.

Private lessons also allow parents to join their kids and the instructor on the mountain rather than leave them in class all day. Parents can get tips from the professional on how to help their children advance.

"Families want to be together more when they're on vacation," says Mountain School director Maggie Loring of Snowbird Ski Resort, near Salt Lake City. "Working parents feel guilty otherwise."

Ski pros say one-on-one instruction is especially valuable for young first-time skiers and for those eager to improve quickly.

The trend can be seen not only at the most expensive resorts but also at places where the cost-conscious go: Northern California's Squaw Valley, where kids 12 and younger ski for $5; Colorado's Crested Butte Mountain Resort, where the youth fee is $1 for every year of age; and Winter Park Resort, a snow playground northwest of Denver that's popular with families.

Depending on the number of children in your party, a private instructor may not cost much more than ski school. Aspen charges $430 for an all-day private instructor whether he or she is teaching one child or a family of five. If every member of that family attends ski school, at $80 or more per person, the total is only $30 less than a private instructor's fee.

That's not to say kids' ski schools are bad. They're better than ever. Class instructors often get trained in such subjects as physical development as well as in skills such as quelling tantrums.

Check out a ski resort's children's center on a weekend or holiday and you'll likely find it packed with rosy-cheeked youngsters honing their skiing and snowboarding skills or learning about mountain safety and ecology. Another benefit: Kids learn to get along with one another. Resorts such as Smuggler's Notch in Vermont have built a first-rate reputation thanks to such programs.

Private instruction comes with its own benefits. Parents fortunate enough to afford the tab no longer have to rush half-awake kids to ski school in the morning and race down the mountain to pick them up at the end of the day.

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Taking the Kids appears twice a month. E-mail Eileen Ogintz at eileen@takingthekids.com.

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