I learned to ski a few years ago and after getting the hang of it, the first thing I wanted to do was share this with my kids. I had this romantic dream of all of us hanging out on the hill, skiing all day together. Family bonding at it’s best.
Making this dream a reality is much easier said than done.
My challenge is that my pre-teen son has Autism so teaching him new things takes a little more work than a typical kid. Asking my friends how they approached teaching their kids, it sounded pretty easy. Sign them up for all day ski lessons. They ski while you ski with the grown ups. Then, to reinforce the lessons, throw them on the school ski bus.
This sounded like a great approach but I knew it wouldn’t work for us. First, group learning is tough for my son. He struggles to watch and learn and often needs “hand over hand” type of instruction. There’s also a communication barrier. Private ski instruction it is. Luckily, we ski at Mt. Baker, Washington. It turns out that they offered private instruction for people with special needs at a less expensive rate than typical lessons. We signed him up for these 2 hour sessions each weekend. And we found a great instructor that we kept asking for that was a cool college kid from Western Washington University so that was an added bonus.
Now for the Ski Bus. This one was tougher. Kids pile on the ski bus, take their lesson and then ski with their friends until it’s time to head home. Our challenge: our son doesn’t really have any friends. Sure, the kids are nice to him but there’s such a huge communication barrier between him and them, we knew he wouldn’t have a group of friends to ski with. And you must ski with a buddy. We’d been making progress with the lessons but we needed more consistency, like the consistency that the weekly ski bus would bring.
We worked with the ski school to have a private 2 hour lesson. Our lesson included helping our son learn to independently rent his gear, get the gear on, and get to his lesson. The plan was for me to meet my son AFTER his lesson and then he’d ride home on the bus with all the other kids and I’d meet him at the school. But all the things that would happen between school getting out and me meeting him at the mountain required a plan for my son to be successful.
As usual, I used a calendar to capture the details of this new routine.
This calendar shows my work calendar, the family calendar that the babysitter uses, and my son’s calendar. For me, I needed to leave early each day. My work days are extremely busy and this took some juggling. I admit, I was on a conference call during the drive up to the mountain to meet my son. For my son, there were many things he needed to remember:
1. He had to bring the right ski gear to school. The night before, we’d pack his ski back together to make sure he had everything from helmet to ski pass.
2. He would wear long johns under his regular clothes and make sure he wore his ski coat and waterproof boots to school. These items would be set out the night before so he could independently get ready in the morning.
3. After school, first, he needed to remember to NOT get on his regular school bus home. Then, he needed to change into his ski clothes and get on the ski bus.
4. 10 minutes before arriving at the mountain, he needed to get his gloves, helmet and goggles ready and pack up everything he didn’t need on the hill and leave it on the bus.
5. Last, he needed to get to the ski school, rent his gear, get it on and meet his instructor.
These 5 items may sound pretty simple, but they were the reasons why I almost didn’t sign him up for the ski bus. I couldn’t go with him everyday. I could only meet him after his lesson. He needed to do these things independently. And at 13 years old, he really needed to be able to learn to do this independently, regardless. This was going to be a stretch for him (and for me) but we did it.
I went with him the first day to help establish the routine. I met with the ski school ahead of time to explain the situation so they could be watching out for him during the rental process. And we dove in. He really enjoyed it. And by the end of the 6 weeks, he was getting his gear on independently and skiing very confidently on the easy runs.
Last weekend was the first time I went skiing with my son and my daughter without my husband (who couldn’t resist the great back country conditions after a long winter that hasn’t had the greatest skiing conditions). It was such a wonderful day! My son did everything on his own. The rental process was SO much easier since I only needed to help my younger daughter. On the hill, same thing. My daughter is a bit of a dare devil and still learning to ski. While I was helping to pull her out of snow drifts that she crashed into, my son was doing fine on his own and sticking with us.
It took 2 seasons of weekend lessons plus one season on the ski bus to get here. But we have finally arrived. I had many moments of frustration along the way where I was ready to give up on this. But I’m so glad we stuck with it.
In a world where we want quick fixes and sometimes focus too much on the shorter term, this is a long term investment. 3 seasons of investment in lessons and logistics will now translate into MANY years ahead of skiing with my kids as a family. Already, it’s SO worth the effort that just went in to get us to this ONE perfect day on the mountain. And this has been a great confidence building exercise for my son. He WANTS to be independent. We just need to work a little harder to help him achieve that.