No one in Isaiah's inner-city neighborhood snowboards. Before his first lesson, he had never put on snowboarding gear and wasn't sure how to lace up the boots, much less how to attach his lift ticket to his jacket.
But that didn't dim the high school freshman's enthusiasm for the new sport. "Being on those slopes made me feel alive," he said after his first weekend of lessons at Bolton Valley Resort in northern Vermont. "It was so exciting and fun."
That's the idea, of course. Snow sports can be more than about fun in the snow. They're about persistence and courage, trying something new (just ask the cold-hating Los Angeles boy who was with us) and empathy for those who may be struggling more than you might be. They can also be about learning to get along in an environment that can be as alien as a foreign land.
Isaiah was part of a group of high schoolers I chaperone every year at Bolton Valley. They attend our suburban high school under the auspices of A Better Chance, a program that sends promising inner-city high school students to communities like ours to attend high school. Bolton Valley has graciously hosted our boys for the past several years; Burton Snowboards, headquartered in Burlington, Vt., has provided the necessary outerwear. It was here at this family resort that Burton founders and Vermonters Donner and Jake Carpenter started the Chill Foundation, which gets at-risk kids out on the slopes -- kids who live near the mountains but may never have seen them -- and to use snowboarding to enforce positive life lessons. Chill now reaches youngsters around the country and as far away as Australia.
Snow sports, of course, can offer these same life lessons for anyone, no matter where they live. I've seen that in my own family. Other families tell me snow sports offer the opportunity to share an activity whether the kids are five, 15 or 25. But that's not easy these days with lift tickets costing more than $100 at many places, not to mention all the gear that's needed. (TIP: Check out discount lift ticket sites such as liftopia.com or www.getskitickets.com for potential savings.) Check out our Taking the Kids Fun in the Snow Section to see what snow sports resorts are offering families deals this season.
Still, anyone who has outfitted a family for a trip to the snow knows that even long underwear and the right moisture-wicking socks can be expensive. A tip from Cheapflights.com: Sites like www.rentsnowclothes.com and www.mountainthreads.com enable you to rent jackets, snow pants and more and have them delivered to the resort.
But the best deal of all happens this month. January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, which means throughout January there are special deals across the country at famous resorts and smaller ones in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New York State. (For beginners, it's not necessary to pay for the big league resorts, since you'll probably be on the beginner slopes your first time out.)
Since Chill started six years ago, more than 200,000 children and adults (you're never too old to try something new) have learned to ski and snowboard, thanks to discounts on lift tickets, rental gear and lessons. Each package includes a snowboarding or skiing lesson from teachers certified by Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) or the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI). Research shows such lessons greatly increase the likelihood of someone sticking with skiing or snowboarding versus having a friend or family member offer instruction to a first-timer.
After the holidays, you might also be able to snare an airfare deal. For example, Travelzoo notes there are discounted fares into Denver starting around Jan. 14. Flying into Denver puts travelers within driving distance of popular ski resorts such as Vail, Beaver Creek and Crested Butte. Travelzoo tip: Find the best fares by flying Tuesday through Thursday. SKI.com can put together a package with the best flight, lodging and lift deals.
Here are seven places to get out of your comfort zone in the snow this January:
1. Ski Vermont offers $29 packages for new skiers and riders that include professional lessons, equipment rentals and a beginner lift ticket. The packages are available at resorts throughout the state, non-holiday while supplies last.
2. Ski New Hampshire is touting a free week Jan 11 through 17 where newbies get a coupon for a free lesson, equipment and beginning lift ticket. Register on the website and then make a reservation at a participating resort.
3. Copper Mountain, Colo., invites beginners to access and learn for free on the Easy Rider carpet located in Center Village. Once basic skills are learned, a ticket for the Pitchfork chairlift is only $15.
4. Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort has got a two-day Basic Beginner Package in January for only $158, including two full days of ski or snowboard lessons for adults/children, basic rental equipment for two days and two days of lift tickets.
5. Save more than 25 percent midweek in Western New York State. One hour from Buffalo, and three from Toronto and Cleveland, Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, N.Y., is offering one-night and two-night versions of its Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month lodging package. Available Sunday through Thursday, starting at $283 a night, the package includes lodging, breakfast, rentals, lifts and lessons for two people.
6. Save more than 50 percent midweek in North Carolina, about three hours northeast of Atlanta, at the Cataloochee Ski Area where rates start at $139 per person, including all taxes. You'll get two nights lodging, two lift tickets, two rentals and two classes. They've even thrown in a $10 gas card to help get you there.
7. Adults and teens 15 and older can save more than 60 percent at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado with the new $59 Beginner Ski or Ride Package. You get a lesson, lift ticket and half off rentals with a voucher from Liftopia.
Make a snow angel for me!
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando, LA and Chicago. Coming later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.