I am a lucky one. As an auntie to 4 beautiful and talented kids, I try to fly home for Christmas and an opportunity to spend some intense quality time together. Living abroad has always been the right choice for me, but with the arrival of my sisters little ones, I felt the twinge of guilt for not being there for them the way I want to be. Thankfully they still welcome me with big hugs and excitement each Christmas.
Wanting to come up with great ideas for presents, you know, to make up for not being around the rest of the year, I decided to not buy any toys. What?! For years I have adopted the practice of gifting them experiences rather than toys. The idea came about reminiscing about my own childhood experiences. In every single favorite moment I could think of, toys had nothing to do with it. They were the wonderful vivid memories of time spent together with family on trips to the Museum of Science, amusement parks, skiing, boating, camping or seeing the Nutcracker. There is also a huge personal advantage since it means getting to do exciting activities together with them. I admit I love being the crazy auntie who can feed their curiosity with new opportunities to learn, discover and grow. Even if it’s only once a year.
This year for Christmas, I got to share one of my biggest passions with them; snowboarding. It has been a long time coming and I had anxiously awaited the day that they were curious enough to want to try it themselves. I asked around Facebook friends for suggestions for used gear and bunny slope deals. Smart move it turns out! Jeff Juneau, now the snowboarding director for Killington, was one of the friends to send some advice. Coincidentally, we had gone to high school together and he was actually the first person I had ever seen on a snowboard. I remember watching him and some other buddies hike up tiny hills at a golf course to try. From the first second I saw them sailing sideways, I knew I wanted to do it too. It took me until I was 31 to finally have the opportunity, but the seed of desire to ride was planted back in high school. Now it was time for the next generation to have their chance and once again, Jeff was instrumental in making it a reality.
He told me about this brand new amazing project at Ragged Mountain called Bebe Wood Learn to Ski and Ride. Ragged has created a program to make the magic of the mountains accessible to everyone to try for FREE! I’m not talking about just a lift ticket… it’s the whole package: ticket, rental equipment AND lessons. And its not just a one time deal, they allow riders to try it 3 times completely FREE with no strings attached. They even have insanely attractive offers to help those newly addicted beginners to get more time on board (or skis) following completion of the program. Check out the details and all of the benefits on their website directly: www.learntoskifree.com .
I wish they would have had this project back when I was a kid, I wonder just how far I could have taken it by now if I had had an opportunity like this!
Now, my dad has been telling me for a year about how the little boys were using the board I got for their oldest brother years ago in the backyard. He kept saying that it would amaze me how good they were. When I got to the states and went into the backyard with them… I had my socks knocked off. Those rascals had taken a small plastic slide and set it at the top of the gentle slope in the yard… set the (way too big) snowboard onto it and essentially just stuck their little feet into the gaping open bindings and rode down the slide and straight down the little hill until they were ejected off the board and into the bushes at the end of the yard. They were having a blast and I was so impressed! They had never really even seen boarding before , oh these kids were going to love snowboarding for real!
Jeff connected me with Benjamin Hall from Ragged’s marketing department who helped arrange everything flawlessly for our visit on December 26th. Together with my father, we arrived at the kids’ house at 7:30am to find them still in bed. Whether it was the anxiety of the unknown or just the desert hangover from Christmas day, it looked like they were going to bale out at the last minute. Even Benny opted out and he was the most excited about it. To my surprise Alex, the youngest of the bunch, decided that he was going; with or without his siblings. We got his snow gear packed up and took off. We enjoyed the 1.5 hour drive through some gorgeous New Hampshire rolling countryside. Alex had his first glimpses of “mountains” and was impressed by all the trees. Later that evening the 6.5 year old commented on the trip; “You know, I have to say, it was beautiful.”
We arrived at Ragged and walked towards the Learning Center when I saw Jeff standing on the steps: I didn’t think he was still around and thus hadn’t arranged to meet up. That couldn’t have been timed any better if we had tried! From one smiling face to the next, we met Benjamin who showed us to the Bebe Woods program staff who got the gear that had been set aside and ready to go. All suited up and ready for action, we went to the beginners area which had a magic carpet and snow enthusiasts of all ages trying skiing and snowboarding. Alex got to join a group coached by Chris Duffin for about an hour before ending up with a private lesson with instructor Dave Binford. Alex was focused and hanging on Dave’s every word… whose name tag should byline *kid whisperer*. They practiced another hour up and down the bunny slope until it was time for a lunch break. I was pretty surprised that he stayed focused for so long to be honest… usually the little ones’ strengths do not include attention span! We picked up some burgers and hot chocolates in the lodge and as soon as we finished he wanted to get back out there for more. I didn’t expect that level of motivation and was more than happy to oblige! Chris, his first instructor of the day, came over and offered to take some more laps together with Alex, who ended up with essentially another hour of private instruction! That lucky duck! After taking about 5 “last” laps on the magic carpet, Alex was thoroughly worn out and we began to say our goodbyes, thank yous and hit the road back home. I have never seen Alex smile as big as he did when one of the Ragged staff asked him if he had had fun. The rosy little cheeks and big toothy grin made my heart just explode! It only took 10 minutes for him to pass out, snoring up a storm in the car until arriving back at his house. His sleepy face still had a trace of a grin. I had spoken with my sister during the drive back and offered to take him up again the next day if he wanted to go. We arrived back at the house and within about 8 seconds of seeing his happy face, Benny and Ava were scrambling to get their gear together to join the next day.
Another 7:30 arrival found the kids sleeping again, but this time they all crawled out of bed and got dressed. We packed into the van and headed back up into nature’s lap. The second day was just as lovely as the first and about ten times warmer. The slushier conditions make catching an edge a little trickier but at least the landing is softer! Alex took off up and down when we got outside and I started working with Benny a little. Ava was flaunting her amazing balance by not even bothering to strap the bindings on correctly and just took off. The next hour was a blur of running around chasing and watching the kids going up and down. Time flew by! The kids were having a blast and it was genuinely nice to get to see all of the new acquaintances from the day before. I even managed to take a run together with Benjamin Hall while the kids grabbed some lunch. I had skied there a few times between 5th and 8th grade but that is a while ago! The views from the top of the chair were breathtaking and offer a great shot of the Northeast’s highest mountain; Mount Washington if the clouds cooperate! I rejoined the kids at the magic carpet after the quick run to the top and rode together a few times. After a few last group pictures, it was time to head home. What a fantastic experience together! On that note, a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who made it possible again: Jeff, Benjamin, Dave and Chris, Terry and the whole Ragged team!
Ragged is an amazing mountain for families and beginners to feel at ease on. Nice wide slopes lined with trees and a variety of difficulty to help progression without intimidation. Friendly smiling faces everywhere you look and an unparalleled beginners program. Drop what you’re doing right now and go visit my new friends in New Hampshire… there are no more excuses to not try out skiing or snowboarding! I guarantee you, you will thank me later!
Backyard fun before Ragged
Day One: Alex’s lone adventure at Ragged
Day Two: 3 Rugrats enjoying Ragged
Day Two: A chairlift run with Benjamin Hall