Skiing for all

Jackson Hole, Wyo., has slopes, lessons to fit all skill levels


Kit Bernardi

 My family represents the trifecta of skiing ability: my husband, Bob, is advanced; our son, Will, 6, is a first-timer, and I'm a perpetual beginner, no matter how many lessons I take.

We headed to Jackson Hole, Wyo., in the hope of finding a family ski destination that would work for all of us. We found it at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village, where we stayed as guests of the Teton Mountain Lodge.

For Bob, there was the challenge of Rendezvous Mountain, where one run includes a 4,139-foot vertical drop from the 10,450-foot summit. Fortunately for Will and me, at least half of the runs at the resort are made for beginner or intermediate skiers.

Jackson Hole also has one of the lowest skier and snowboarder densities in the country. With one person per 1½ acres of terrain, the slopes rarely felt crowded-or dangerous.

Cool kids' ski school

The best part of the trip was watching Will learn to ski and love it.

We signed him up for classes at The Cody House Kids' Ranch at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The ranch is a slope-side complex combining a licensed daycare facility for children ages 6 months to 2 years and ski school for children ages 3 to 17. The complex houses kids' equipment rental and storage, a preschool classroom and fenced-in ski school terrain for downhill lessons for kids as young as 3 and snowboard lessons for children as young as 5.

Instructors recommend parents sign up first-time skiers ages 3 to 6 for at least one full day of ski school ($135) followed by an afternoon class ($105). Rates include instruction, equipment rental (boots, skis and helmets, but no poles for beginners), lift ticket, food and evaluation report. If your children have their own gear, be sure to label it since it will be stored in the outdoor racks at the ski school.

On the first day, parents have to help kids get their equipment. Come early. The fitting area gets crowded fast. Once they're geared up, kids are escorted into a room loaded with LEGOs and crayons to play break-the-ice games with instructors before heading outside. Scheduled potty, rest, craft and meal and snack breaks keep kids happy and hydrated.

The school offers seven class levels, each named after a mountain animal. Will and three others started in Pikas, level 1, wearing red vests.

The instructors suggested we parents watch from a distance so we wouldn't distract the kids and interrupt the learning process.

Bob and I hid behind the fence to watch Will ride up the hillside on a black conveyor belt called the "magic carpet." At the hill crest, he splayed out his heels, the tips of his skis hooked together with a bungee-like device called an "edgy wedgy." Will held the triangular shape down the 150-yard slope. To celebrate, his instructor drew circles of pepperoni in between his skis and sprinkled it with snow cheese. Will yelled, "I want to make more pizza!"

Saving money

Accommodations, lift ticket and equipment rental prices vary based on the time of year, number of days and type of equipment. Buy them together for the best deal. Prices range from $105 to $200 and include lessons, lift tickets and equipment rental.

To be expected, resort meals get expensive. We paid for the convenience of eating some meals in the Cascade Grill House and Spirits at our lodge. Affordable lunch options on the mountain are plentiful, but there are few cost-efficient, family dinner choices. The best deal we found was the Rocky Mountain Oyster Café in the basement of the Mangy Mouse saloon. It serves reasonably priced burgers, pizza and tacos for lunch and dinner.

One night we took the local bus ($3 per person each way; kids under 8 ride free) for the 12-mile ride into Jackson where we ate at Bubba's Barb-BQ for $30. Kids' meals run $5 each. To save on daily food costs, we picked up juice boxes, snacks, peanut butter and bread at a grocery store in town.

Love that skiing feeling

During our three days there, Will progressed quickly, ending up a level 3 Coyote and skiing Rendezvous Mountain's beginner runs. Coyotes ride up to mid-mountain in an open trailer pulled by a snowmobile because they aren't quite ready for the chairlift.

On our last day, Will watched two pink snow-suited, blonde sisters slide next to their tanned dad in the chairlift. He said, "There are a lot of Barbie dolls skiing. Next time, can I go on the chair lift?"

Kit Bernardi is a travel writer and mom who lives in Oak Park.

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