January is National Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month. So, when I was assigned to talk about Adirondack traditions in this week's blog post, it only seemed fitting to share our recent experience learning to ski. Well, it wasn't actually me learning to ski but this time was our 5-year-old, Elliot.
Oak Mountain - A Long Legacy as a Family-Friendly Mountain
Over the past year I have had the pleasure of getting to know Matt & Laura O'Brien, co-owners of Oak Mountain, and learning about their awesome "family first" motto for operating the ski area. This philosophy is apparent in everything at Oak Mountain, from the prices of the tickets, rentals, and food, to the atmosphere on the mountain and in the lodge, and even in their learn-to-ski program. So, when it came to choosing a mountain to teach my son to ski, Oak Mountain seemed like the perfect place to create these memories. After all, to this day I still remember the first time I was on skis, so I wanted to make sure that Elliot's first time on the slopes was as positive as mine was.
First, A Little History on Oak Mountain
Today's alpine enthusiasts are not the first to lay tracks on Oak Mountain. Thousands of skiers and riders have hit the slopes of Oak Mountain since it was founded by the Town of Lake Pleasant in 1947. Historical accounts state that Oak Mountain was immediately a success as it welcomed bus loads from New York City to ski the trails and take in the breathtaking Adirondack scenery.
Today, the O'Brien family is working to continue Oak's legacy, not only as a ski destination, but as a year-round operation. In the winter, the mountain boasts 3 lifts, 14 trails, night skiing, a complete rental shop and ski school, an awesome on-site pub & restaurant, 4 lane tubing hill, and more! When the snow melts away, the mountain summons mountain bikers to ride the lift to the top and then test their skill on Oak's new mountain biking trails. In addition, the mountain has become a popular year-round wedding destination.
Q: What do Oak Mountain & The Golden Gate Bridge have in common?
A: The original t-bar installed in 1947, used the same motor that was used to hoist cables up on the Golden Gate Bridge. The motor continued to hum until it was replaced in 2000 to make room for a modernized lift.
Learning to Ski At Oak
First, A Mother's Concern...
I'm not sure why, but of my three children, Elliot is the one that I have been most nervous to put on skis, skates, a bike, or pretty much anything that will allow him to go faster then he already does on his own two legs. I put our older son on skis for the first time about 5 years ago with little worry. Usually parents are the most protective of their first born... nervous to let them out of sight, to try new things, etc. But I have never been much of a "helicopter mom," so when my older son (who was much more level headed at five than Elliot is) was ready to learn, I simply put him in a lesson. While he was taking his lesson, I was able to take off and make a few runs on my own and by the time we met back up, he was ready to hit the chairlift and slowly tackle the easy trails with me. My daughter who is 4, I know will be ready to snap on some skis next winter. She is also a focused little girl and will be determined to keep up with her brothers.
Then there is Elliot. Love him to death, but Elliot beats to his own drum, and it is a fast one. My husband refers to it as "reckless abandon," and I have to second that... Elliot is a thrill seeker. He has never been one to want to focus long on anything that isn't moving at his lightning speed. How he sits through a full day of school and does very well is still a guess to me! So, when it came to teaching Elliot to ski, I knew that it was out of my league. I knew that he would love it, but he would need to learn the fundamentals in a structured environment. I knew going into this that he would be taking more than just one lesson - there is no letting this little guy loose until he has mastered ALL of his skills. But I also knew that skiing would be a great experience for him. It would also be good for me, as I am always looking for a way to burn off some of that energy, especially in the winter. And what better way to do it than with an activity that we can all do together!
Day One - Lesson One
We needed to start somewhere, so after researching the different learn-to-ski programs in the Adirondacks, I scheduled Elliot a lesson, packed our gear and headed to Oak Mountain. Oak mountain offers a variety of different ski lessons options and packages for all skill levels & ages (and all at a very affordable price). Since Elliot is only 5 he was still a year shy of being able to join the group lesson, which I was okay with for his first time out. I was leaning toward a private lesson anyway, so this just helped make that decision easier.
The next question was how long of a lesson? They had three different time options a 1-hour lesson, a half-day lesson (3 hours) and a full-day lesson (6 hours). My initial thought was that a half-day lesson would be the way to go, but the more I thought about Elliot's personality, I realized that I would rather leave him with a positive experience that ended too quickly than pushing him too much and having him leave the mountain, not wanting to go back. Skiing after all is supposed to be fun! If he still had energy to to burn after, we could always hit the tubing hill at Oak.
Note: Oak also offers a variety of lift ticket, rental and lesson packages that offer a nice discount. If you are planning a ski trip to the Adirondacks, I recommend that you check these out!
Getting Our Gear
The rental shop at Oak Mountain was fantastic. With a brand new fleet of Rossignol equipment and a friendly and knowledgeable staff, I immediately felt comfortable with my choice in ski area. While we were busy getting Elliot's equipment fitted and his warm ski gear on, Tom, Elliot's instructor, came to meet us. He introduced himself to me and then immediately began building a rapport with Elliot. I could see his excitement build as Tom helped him learn how to properly tighten his ski boots while exchanging some small talk with him. I knew simply by Tom's warm and cheery personality, that Elliot would have great memories from his day.
After year's of walking in ski boots, you tend to forget how foreign they would be to walk in should you have never done it before. Again, this is just another reason why I put Elliot in lessons with a PSIA instructor as opposed to taking a stab at it myself. Before they even stepped foot in the snow, Bob was busy teaching Elliot how to tackle walking in the boots by practicing on the small ramp within the rental shop, something mom would not have thought to do.
Once we stepped outside, Tom continued to use a variety of fun techniques to continue to help Elliot acclimate himself to the ski boots.
Now the real fun begins...
I will save you from the agony of having to listen to me ramble on about every moment of my son's private ski lesson, so here are just some of the highlights:
After the lesson, Tom and I went over what they did and how he thought Elliot was doing. Obviously, he wasn't ready to hit the top of the mountain yet, however he did conquer a lot in the first lesson. He began by learning the fundamentals of boot control and how to put his feet in the appropriate "wedge" position, or what us old-timers call "the snow-plow." Then he learned about the skis themsleves, how to carry them, put them on, etc. Finally, after spending some time on a gentle slope near the lodge, they hit the t-bar on the bunny hill using the help of an Edgie Wedgie.
Tom has been teaching at Oak for about 35 years, he explained that with a private lesson they can cater to meet the pace and skill level of the individual skier. His goal for each lesson (especially the younger kids) is to make sure that it is a positive experience. Skiing is supposed to be fun, so he tries to teach them the technical and safety stuff while still having them leave the mountain feeling happy and confident. I know Elliot left happy and tired. I think the boots alone tired him out (if they weren't so loud, I would buy a pair for him to wear around the house)!
Pizza in the lodge
As we returned our gear to the rental shop, Elliot said to me, "all that talk of pizza made me hungry, when can we eat?" I laughed when I realized that he was referring to when he was learning to put his skis into the wedge position. So after we got out of our snow gear, we headed into the main lodge to get a bite to eat before hitting the road. Lucky for me when we walked in there was a fresh, hot pizza waiting for us on the cafeteria line. According to Elliot, it was the "best pizza I've had in my whole life." Normally I would just chalk that up to him being hungry, but Lou's pizza is fantastic.
Now it's your turn...
Are you thinking about teaching your kids to ski? Or perhaps you are ready to learn how to navigate the slopes. If so, consider looking into the fantastic learn-to-ski & ride program at Oak Mountain in Speculator, NY. This family-friendly ski area offers something for every skill level in your traveling party. And better yet, the rates and packages can be up to half the price of other mountains. So, why not make a weekend of it? Book a room and enjoy extra mountain time... even hit the tubing hill while you are here! Who knows, a family ski trip to Oak Mountain just might become your new family tradition.