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Ins, Outs and Endless Opportunities

By Julie Kailus

Snow sports can create a sense of independence in children and a deep sense of connection within families. “If they start skiing at a young age, children typically grow up with confidence and have a unique perspective on life,” says JP Chevalier, snowsports director at Eldora, Boulder County’s “backyard” ski area. “When you look at other activities and sports, there are not many options where you can see a family of two, three and even four generations playing together.”

Luckily Front Range families don’t have to go far to teach their tykes to ski. In fact, Eldora has been introducing locals to the joys of winter sports for more than five decades. Over the years the esteemed Eldorables introductory ski school has fine-tuned its offerings into a professional, convenient program designed for the way locals live.

Eldora’s half-day program solves the tricky interest-time-cost equation for many Boulder County families. Chevalier says it’s possible to squeeze in a weekday ski lesson for a toddler while still making it back to Boulder in time to pick up older kids before the school dismissal bell rings. RTD’s daily Ski-n-Ride bus, which runs between Boulder and Eldora, can make the decision of where it’s most expedient to ski even easier.

Eldorables ski school is divided into five levels—“never-evers” to advanced—for kids aged 4 to 6, which is the prime time for learning the building blocks of proper skiing or snowboarding techniques. Two five-week-long weekday (Tuesday-Friday) sessions take place throughout the season, with offerings in downhill skiing, snowboarding and even telemarking. Eldorables’ progression-based instruction focuses on fun but is oriented around guided coaching for children—and parents, Chevalier says. Kids interested in taking their snow skills further can explore the Kid’s Trek freeride developmental program, Eldora Mountain Ski & Snowboard Club and the Nighthawks junior racing series.

Instructors get a young snowboarder pointed in the right direction.
Instructors get a young snowboarder pointed in the right direction.

Eldora’s family-friendly programming is known for its local “feel,” whether you’re a local or not. “Our model is to provide a genuine welcome,” Chevalier says. “We aim to celebrate the little things.” Eldora’s authentic, community-based approach extends to the instructors it employs. “We hire people from this community, and therefore everyone feels like the experience is personalized,” Chevalier explains. “We have generations of relationships on a first-name basis, and many youth that participated in programs years ago are now working at Eldora, sharing the passion with the next generation of Eldorables.”

Emphasizing the Next Generation

The Eldorables program is just one around the state designed to get children into snow sports early. In fact, Colorado Ski Country USA, the joint marketing and public-policy voice for 20 of the state’s ski areas, has placed a growing emphasis on youth programming over the last decade. Case in point: The popular Fifth Grade Passport program, which for 18 years has given grade-schoolers a season of three free tickets at all CSCUSA resorts, has been expanded to sixth graders. For $99, the affordable Sixth Grade Passport provides a follow-up season of 80 visits—four at each of 20 ski areas around Colorado.

Every Colorado ski area has its own spin on ski school or a learn-to-ski program. Copper Mountain Scooters, Breckenridge Bombers, Vail Devos and Winter Park Piranhas are just a few of the largest and most popular multi-week packages. For kids brand-new to skiing, several resorts like Loveland offer a smart value on a set of “never-ever” lessons, which come with a free season pass. Other resort programs draw in families with specialized instructional methods, such as the trend away from skiing’s “pizza wedge” stop, touted to make skiing easier than ever to master.

Colorado’s 24 ski areas offer everything from one-day private children’s lessons to full-season progressive instruction to prepare kids for racing, if that’s in the cards. While it would be impossible to explore every ski-school permutation available to children in Colorado, the point is there’s something for every type of kid, family and seasonal setup you can dream up. After all, that’s one reason ski families from all over the world come to Colorado—and why some decide to stay.