“It has to be fun,” Pajarito instructor Mike Donnelly says of skiing with kids. Photograph courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.
MIKE DONNELLY KNOWS A THING OR TWO about skiing. After all, he’s been at it for 65 years. Now, in what he calls “one of the joys of my life,” the 83-year-old instructor at Pajarito Mountain Ski Area and Ski New Mexico’s 2018 Ski Instructor of the Year passes on that love for the sport to the kids he teaches—and to us. More than anything else, he says, “it has to be fun.”
Here, Donnelly and his colleagues share a few ways to keep your kids engaged and learning while instilling a love of skiing that lasts a lifetime.
Play follow the leader.
This childhood game can be adapted to any skill level. Start beginners on flat ground (even on grass!) and have them practice shuffling along after you in a line. When you stop, they stop.
For those who have mastered the basics (namely, starting and stopping), line up at the top of a run and follow one another, carving S shapes down the slope. Then try varying the size of the turns, with one lap of wide sweeps stretching across the full run and the next lap a series of tight back-and-forths. These fun exercises hone what Donnelly describes as “an integral building block of successful skiing”: control.
Take in your surroundings.
“You don’t just have skis in skiing,” says Robert Sutherland, a Pajarito instructor entering his 42nd year of teaching. “You have a whole environment to work with.” He recommends gamifying the lift ride by watching the empty chairs filing back down to the bottom and trying to find the first chair (labeled as “1”). Or try counting the individual lift towers to see how many there are in total.
Once you arrive at the top of the lift, be sure to enjoy the view. “Most people don’t go to the top of a mountain,” Sutherland says. “Check out the geology and geography. What’s the temperature of the air? Just take it in.”
Don’t forget the snacks.
Granola bars and hot chocolate may be more traditional slope-side bites, but John Paul Bradley, Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort’s general manager, lets us in on his secret: “Gummy bears are how you keep a kid going,” he laughs. Now that’s one sticky situation we can get behind.