Last Christmas, with the dream that all parents have of one day sharing in the activities they love best with their children, my husband and I gave our 15-month-old daughter a toy that she already recognized as her parents’ favorite: skis. Our reasons for giving her this gift were both sincere and selfish. We wanted Grace to grow comfortable on skis and to introduce her to a sport we both dearly love so that we can share in that joy in the future. In the meantime, however, we’ve found a variety of ways to play as a family without pressuring Grace to be a world-class winter athlete before the age of two.
Families can enjoy the winter wonderland with even the youngest children, but knowing where to go and what gear to rent or buy can make the difference between an enjoyable or exasperating day out on the trails. Here are a few suggestions to make winter recreation in Sun Valley a reality for the whole family.
NORDIC SKIING & SNOWSHOEING
Where to go and what to do: For Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, Galena Lodge is one of the Valley’s greatest family recreation hubs. Located 20 miles north of Ketchum, the lodge offers both snowshoe and groomed ski trails that vary in length and difficulty, from two to 25 kilometers. Families with fledgling Nordic skiers can get out on the trails and never be too far away from the cozy comforts of the lodge. Amenities inside the lodge include “The Corner,” as Don Shepler, one of Galena Lodge’s proprietors endearingly calls it. The Corner is the unofficial children’s area in the lodge with numerous toys and books and a couple of fireside couches. The lodge also includes some kid-friendly items in its lunch menu such as cheese quesadillas and hamburgers and, of course, hot chocolate and cider.
The setup at Galena Lodge makes it easy for families to spend part or most of a day there. The ski school offers group, private and semi-private instruction, and the rental shop can outfit children and adults with snowshoes and cross-country ski gear. Be sure to pack proper snow attire for your children. When children are not inside playing in The Corner or outside learning to move around on skis or snowshoes, they can also play in, on and around the snow mounds off the deck. Don’t be surprised if your little ones take a good nap on the car ride home!
To introduce your youngsters to Alpine skiing, head to Sun Valley’s Dollar Mountain. Snowmakers have been assigned all the way to the top of this fun hill this year so great skiing will be available throughout the ski season.
The ski school specializes in children’s and beginners’ skier education. With or without professional help, Dollar’s terrain is perfect for developing skiers. There is ample flat area around the lodge to help children grow comfortable simply standing on their skis. Nicky Elsbree, one of the Sun Valley Ski School instructors at Dollar, says she often has children “walk-glide” with just one ski on to help them feel how a ski slides before putting them on two skis. There are also carpets laid out on the snow to help beginner’s learn how to herringbone and sidestep without the frustration of sliding back on the snow. Maybe one of the greatest learning tools at Dollar is the “Magic Carpet,” a moving walkway that takes small skiers up a barely visible incline to test out their downhill gliding and wedge skills. While Dollar is a great ski hill for beginner and early intermediate skiers of all ages, it caters to children with its “Kids Only” ski school area and cafeteria. There is another dining area in the lodge that offers the same gourmet fare as the many lodges on Bald Mountain. Don’t worry—burgers, fries and chicken nuggets are still available in this dining area so families of all ages can dine together.
Another world-famous Sun Valley sport and fun family activity is ice-skating. Families can skate at the Sun Valley Ice Rink, Atkinson Park Ice Rink in Ketchum or Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey. At the Sun Valley Ice Rink, hockey and figure skate rentals are available in adult and child sizes, down to a children’s size 8. Hockey sticks, helmets and pads are not available. Private instruction is also available there, starting with a 20-minute lesson. Sun Valley Skating Manager Cory Lovoi suggests broomball as another fun family activity. Both the indoor and outdoor rinks are available to rent with broomball equipment. The Sun Valley rink is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. but Lovoi recommends calling first as private and special events do occasionally affect hours.
Atkinson Park Ice Rink has 100 pairs of free skates available in adult and children’s sizes as well as numerous helmets, pucks and sticks. This rink can be split up for different uses so a pick-up hockey game can go on alongside a learn-to-skate area. Chairs are also available for young skaters to push around and find stability on their blades. The recreation room adjacent to the outdoor rink is usually open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Depending on weather, this free outdoor rink is open from mid-December through the end of February.
Hailey’s Roberta McKercher Ice Rink is another outdoor rink open to the public. With a hockey rink with boards and an open skate area, it caters to figure skaters and hockey players alike. The warming hut is open weekends and after school most weekdays with skates and hockey equipment available for use.
GEAR UP FOR THE TRIP
Use the right gear. For cross-country skiing, “The Chariot” by Chariot Carriers is the child carrier to use. It is a multi-function child carrier that works as a jogger, stroller, bike trailer and ski sled. With the ski attachments and waist harness, The Chariot easily converts from a land roller to a snow glider.
With an enclosed clear plastic cabin and adjustable sunshade, youngsters are protected from the weather and if well-bundled can enjoy a lengthy workout at the tails of mom or dad’s skis. The Chariot glides on two skis, thus keeping children’s rear ends off the snow and a little bit warmer.
Additionally, this ski system reduces drag, tracks better, and allows for a more comfortable skate or tour. Chariot Carriers make both single and double chariots that can carry up to 75 or 100 pounds, respectively. Chariots are available for rent or sale at Backwoods Mountain Sports and The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum, and for rent at Galena Lodge.
Another child carrier that has been around just a few generations longer than the high-tech Chariot is the backpack. While the backpack might not be as easy to use skate skiing, it is a wonderful way to transport babies and toddlers while snowshoeing or diagonal skiing. A backpack will also allow you to take a small child off the groomed Nordic trails where a Chariot might become cumbersome. Child carrier backpacks are available for rent at Backwoods Mountain Sports and The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum.
For Alpine skiing, edgy-wedgies and racer-chasers seem to be parents’ favorite friends in teaching their youngsters to ski. The edgy-wedgy attaches to the tips of skis to help new skiers maintain a wedge (formerly known as the snowplow) shape with their skis. Racer-chasers are harnesses that prevent “runaways” when a small skier glides too quickly away from his or her guide. The racer-chaser allows a fledgling ski-tot to ski in front of mom or dad and practice the wedge and a few turns without losing speed control. Helmets are an essential part of the safety gear for all young skiers. In purchasing or renting a helmet, be sure to have the helmet properly fitted to your youngster’s head and make sure it is securely on when he or she hits the slopes. Children’s helmets, edgy-wedgies, and racer-chasers are available for sale and rent at most local ski shops.
THE BEST-LAID PLANS
The most important aspect of family recreation is, of course, enjoying time together. Those of us who are parents have learned the hard lesson that children do not always accommodate our best-laid plans. Sometimes, children will want to stay out on the snow or ice for hours, sometimes for only 15 minutes. Remember to enjoy this time, even when it doesn’t go as planned. A parent’s positive attitude and patience can still fuel a child’s future interest in skiing or skating even when that interest is presently lacking. Places like Galena Lodge and Dollar Mountain offer a safety net for young families when the children simply aren’t ready to tackle the mountains. After all, these are activities families hope to enjoy together for the rest of their lives; enjoy them in their many stages!