Skiing can be uphill battle
The man tending a small fire in the snow is lost in a swarm of brightly colored fleece hats, woolen scarves and ski jackets. It’s s’mores time and the children are grabbing them by the grubby handful and beaming wide chocolate-smeared grins.
It’s all part of the fun at Auburn Ski Club, where children enrolled in the “Super Slider” program are learning the basics of cross-country skiing without the pressure of a formal class structure.
“You just have to put them in an environment that’s fun and they’ll learn without thinking about it. Just time on the snow will take care of everything else,” said Ian Ekholm, wearing a tall Dr. Seuss style hat and goggles. Ekholm is a parent/coach/volunteer and father of two girls in the program.
During the 16-week season children age 5 and up naturally get accustomed to their new long floppy feet in the Swedish-influenced Nordic way.
“They don’t teach a child to ski any different then they learn to walk,” said Dai Meagher, a parent/coach/volunteer in his second year with his son Patrick, 6.
On a recent Sunday, an afternoon group set out for a one-mile expedition on Auburn Ski Club’s groomed undulating trail system. The first uphill battle resulted in bodies squirming in the snow trying to get back on their feet. They were encouraged to use their ‘crab and duck walk’ to get to the top of the slope. By the end of the trek first timers were no longer afraid of the climbs and they eagerly sought downhill runs where they could crouch down and hold their ski tips to ride like a toboggan.
“We teach kids at this age group to take care of themselves in the rolling terrain we have,” said Meagher. The Auburn Ski Club has 15 km of trails, roughly about 10 miles. There’s a good mix of a big flat area adjacent to the training center and hilly, forested terrain with traditional and speed tracks in a condensed trail system.
Snowball fights, treasure hunts, digging snow caves and building snow people are equally as important as learning the snow plow because if kids are having fun they’ll want to return next week.
“Kids are really concrete. They learn through experience far more than words,” said Peter Minett, a kindergarten teacher at William Ranch School and a coach at the club for six years. He says having fun and making the child feel comfortable are the most important guidelines he gives new coaches. The rest will naturally follow.
At the onset, the youngest beginners can barely put on their own mittens. Balance, getting up easily after a fall, bending their knees, learning turning techniques and how to control their speed comes in time.
Parent involvement is key to the program’s success and part of Auburn Ski Club’s grassroots mission is to introduce families to skiing and to develop life-long skiers and healthy kids.
Rather than a typical ski school where parents “dump” their kids off for a couple hours, parents are expected to participate by either serving as a lead or assistant coach, dishing out snacks or helping with paperwork in the office.
“Kids benefit a lot having parents involved… It’s a strong statement of interest and value,” said Minett.
The warm atmosphere of the club is hard to ignore. A place where everyone is smiles and seems to know one another. While the early influences of the club can grow strong recreational skiers, other children will lean toward the challenge of competition. For them, there are a number of racing teams and rigorous year-round adolescent training programs the Auburn Ski Club is nationally known for.
The club also offers adult bi-weekly clinics and numerous other alpine and Nordic skiing events and opportunities for the whole family. Last year, the Junior Nationals (Junior Olympics) competition was hosted by the Auburn Ski Club, bringing in young people from as far away as Alaska.
For Patrick Meagher, the one-to-two hour drive every weekend doesn’t seem to bother him because there is always a good lunch, hot cocoa and usually a snowball fight to look forward to.
“Well, it’s fun going downhill, it feels like you’re actually flying. In a snowball fight you can wait for a coach to come down and smack him!”
Laura Brown lives in Nevada County and covers the outdoors for The Union. Her e-mail is email@example.com
Auburn Ski Club history
The club got its start back in the late ’20s when ski enthusiasts made a push to open up Highway 40 during the winter. When construction of Interstate 80 cut through the group’s first ski area near Cisco, founders bought a site on Donner Summit from a sheepherder in the early ’50s. In 1964, Boreal Ridge opened on land leased by the Auburn Ski Club.
Since then, the club has built cross country ski areas and jumps independent of the downhill site.
Visit the Western SkiSport Museum located near Boreal open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday Ð Sunday during ski season.
For more information call (530) 426 3313 ext. 113.
Visit the Auburn Ski Club Web site at http://www.auburn skiclub.orgSkiing kid style glossary
Crab walk: side stepping uphill
Duck walk or ice cream cones: tips out and ends in a point behind them, for climbing hills
Pizza slices: snow plow position for controlling speed downhill
French fries: keeping skis parallel
Seven tips to remember for first time skiers
1. Have FUN with kids in the snow.
2. Be involved.
3. Ski with kids at their level.
4. Keep snacks or special treats handy.
5. Make sure kids are comfortable.
6. Bring warm drinks.
7. Don’t forget PATIENCE.
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