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How do you teach kids to love winter if you don't?

Published December 1, 2012 at 4:00 a.m.

My family spent four of my daughter's first six years living in the Boston area. When we moved back to Vermont in 2006, I was determined that Maggie would learn to love winter — or to like it, at least.

This was a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do." Though I had lived in Vermont since I was 10, the amount I actually loved winter could be measured with a thimble. When the skies darkened, promising a huge dump of snow, I was plotting ways to remain indoors for the next few days.

My husband felt the same way.

I wanted Maggie to see it differently. So I resolved to get her hooked on downhill skiing. I also hoped to change my own attitude about winter. If we learned together, maybe we'd both come to the conclusion that moving back to colder, snowier Vermont had been a trade up.

That first season, I optimistically rented skis and boots and brought us to Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond, a small, family-friendly mountain that has incubated a handful of local Olympians. I'd skied a little when I was young, so I knew how to get to the bottom of the hill. But I took the advice of wise parents I knew — "Don't try to teach your own kid to ski!" — and signed Maggie up for four weeks of lessons.

In the beginning, there were some tears. More than once I saw her sliding backward downhill, wailing. But after a month, she'd mastered the T-bar and the snowplow technique; she knew when to use her "French fries" and when to revert to "pizza." While she was in her group lesson, I tried to improve my own moves and made a bit of progress — though I still get a twinge of embarrassment when I recall a painful face-plant negotiating Cochran's rope tow.

Our second winter back, we decided to try the big mountain up the road: Bolton Valley. This time, though, friends were on hand to help. After only a few runs on the Mighty Mite slope, the girls said they were ready to try the chair lift. This turned out to be more frightening for me than it was for them. But with encouragement — and the kindness of lift operators —I got myself onto the thing and up the hill.

And so it went that year. We skied with our friends, and I was relatively happy on the easiest, green-circle trails. The girls grew bolder, and once or twice persuaded me onto steeper slopes, such as "Twice as Nice," a field of moguls that I had no idea how to navigate. I managed to make it down by sliding on my butt most of the way. Afterward, I discovered that I had entertained everyone waiting in the lift line below.

"You were amazing!" said one of my daughter's friends.

"You made it!" said the other.

My daughter's comment: "You were hilarious!"

That same day I experienced what may have been the longest 10 minutes of my life, when my daughter and her two friends were in the lift chair 30 feet in front of mine. Their lap bar had frozen in place above them, and they couldn't pull it down. I watched, terrified, as my 8-year-old and her two friends squirmed around trying to budge the bar, while dangling unsecured far above the ground. We all survived that episode, too — but me, just barely.

By then, I had started to realize that Maggie was learning much faster than I was. And she was having much more fun, too. I don't really like speed or physical risks; at 53, I've never been on a roller coaster.

I was also imagining how much I'd pay for a big fall; I didn't like the prospect of hobbling around on crutches. Nor am I fond of schlepping gear or hanging out in a locker-room-like lodge with bad food and loud music.

I dutifully rented equipment for us the following winter, but Maggie's skis were the only ones that saw any action. I signed her up for Ridge Runners, an 11-week group instructional ski program at Bolton. Minus her mother, Maggie took off.

Now 12, she's a fearless skier who can't wait for snow. Her favorite season, she says without hesitation, is "winter!" This year, while she's on the slopes, I'll be inside by the fire with a cup of tea, cheering her on from afar. I guess, in our own ways, we do both like winter now.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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Erin Hanley

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