From Green Beginner Ski Slopes to a Wheelchair

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We just finished up our last trip to the mountains for the season and hung up our skis until next year…but it didn’t quite end the way we had hoped.  Our trip was to Whistler in British Columbia, which is a beautiful mountain and a great place to use SPG points as you are able to stay at the Westin that is right next to the gondola and ski school on the Whistler mountain.  I’ll do a whole write-up on that hotel and how we upgraded from the basic room to a two bedroom suite soon, but this is a post on how you can go from the very green beginner slope to a wheelchair.  I know lots of families are on spring break ski trips right now, so hopefully you can do things a bit differently than we did when teaching your kids to ski.


Westin Whistler Suite at the base of the mountain

Time to Teach my Four Year Old to Ski Myself:

My little four year old snow bunny has been skiing a few times now, and has been in ski school on all of the trips.  She always seems to be excited about snow and skiing, but then often is at best is a bit bored or sad in ski school, and at worst successfully runs away.  Yes, she did successfully escape one ski school in an effort to “come find us”.  Thankfully a nice “stranger” returned her to ski school.  Now that we were facing another ski trip we wanted to do things differently.  I want her to be able to love the snow as I do, and it seems that ski school just isn’t doing it for her on many levels.  So, we decided to buy one day of private instruction for her instead of several days of ski school.

She had a fantastic time with her private instructor we arranged through Whistler, and didn’t really want the day to end.  She did well, was happy, enjoyed skiing, and didn’t try to bolt to find us.  We got to enjoy a full day skiing on the mountain worry-free while she had her own instructor, and it was an all around great decision.  They even put GPS trackers on the kids!

In a perfect world, we would have hired the awesome Ms. Sally to continue being her private instructor for the duration of our trip, but in the real world we don’t have that kind of money.  It is much more expensive than ski school, so we couldn’t realistically do it for more than one day (and even that was a big stretch).  That meant it was time to teach my four year old myself.  Not only did I want to teach her some myself for financial reasons, but I really wanted some time on the mountain with her instead of just stealing glances at her while she is in the ski school corral.  She also really wanted some time skiing with mommy.


Time with mom on the mountain

Teaching my Kid to Ski:

The first day I worked with her we headed to the part of the mountain that is designated as the “Learning Area” with the magic carpet and a very short and easy hill to ski down.  This where she had been with her private instructor the day before.  She practicing turning and stopping with me the same way she did with her instructor.  I don’t know if I was doing the teaching as well as a professional, but it seemed to be going okay.  We did that for a few hours with some play breaks sprinkled in, and I promised her that the next day (our last full day) I would take her on a chair lift and the “big mountain”.


I was a bit nervous about taking that next step, but I had seen plenty of kids way smaller than her successfully navigating the mountain, and I had a few ideas on how to keep both of us safe long enough to get down the mountain in the event it was a bit over her head.  We were also just both really tired of skiing in one small area and ready for a bigger adventure.


Magic carpet beginners area

Hitting the Green Runs With Your Kid:

The first thing we tried on an actual run was a ski leash that attached her to me so that she couldn’t go flying down the mountain in the event she forgot to do her turns.  We had ordered it on Amazon, and it worked okay for a while, but then she started trying to turn around and grab it when she was feeling off-balance.  This would turn her skis up the mountain and result in either a fall or at the very least a precarious position.  Ultimately it wasn’t the best tool for where she was in terms of learning, though I do think it could be useful if she was a bit more experienced but not yet totally in control.


Taking a break with the ski leash

After that I decided that we needed to try something else, so we just worked more on her skiing by herself on very gradual hills.  This was going really well, and she even spontaneously started shouting, “I love skiing”.


For those familiar with the mountain, we were on the Yellow Brick Road run on Blackcomb, which is perfect for those fresh out of the ski school corral.  It is a short and very easy green that is adjacent to a chair lift that is also for beginners.  The chair lift had someone to help the kids at the top and bottom, which was very helpful for us as this was her first chair lift experience.

Ski lift

First chair lift!

Our method was that she was skiing by herself with my instruction as I skied backwards in front of her, and then when the run would get a tad steeper she would ski between my legs while I had my arms under her arms.  This was fun for her as we went a bit faster, but it was also good as it gave her the feel of turning left and right while going down the mountain.  Since it was just her and me there was no way to get a photo of this, but you can see what this looks like and pretty much all the other methods we did on this website.  Things were actually going well, until…

Pop Goes the Knee:

We had just finished having me ski backward in front of her while she worked on turns when it was time for her to ski between my legs again.  As I was maneuvering to get behind her, she started going forward and got tangled in my skis.  I tried to stop us, but she had just enough momentum that I couldn’t keep us upright.  All slow moving 40 lbs of her pressed my right leg outward until “pop went the knee”.  We toppled over and my knee was done.  I was upside-down on the mountain with skis still attached and she was tangled somewhere in them.  She was fine and even giggling a bit, but I wasn’t laughing.  It hurt and it sounded bad.  For about 60 seconds I was in pretty nasty pain, and was just trying to figure out what to do next.  Naturally I did what any mom would do and called my husband to tell him he needed to start heading over to where we were (he was working from the hotel room).  However, I still had to either get ski patrol, or get us off the mountain.  I opted for the latter.  In the meantime I put my goggles on so she couldn’t see my eyes watering up from the pain!

It was very hard getting untangled without help with a hurt leg, but we did it.  I then decided to see if I could stand.  Since I could, it seemed easiest and least traumatic to my tiny skier to just put her back between my legs and ski down very slowly.  Somehow, we made it.  My husband met us and took our gear while I hobbled behind them back to the room.

Since we were in Canada and I wasn’t totally sure of our insurance situation, I just made an ice pack out of a plastic bag + snow, used a short ski pole as a cane, and bought a brace at the pharmacy.  When the United staff saw how unsteady I was at the airport yesterday they pretty much forced me into a wheelchair, so we went from the beginner ski slopes to a wheelchair.  Not how I wanted the ski season to end, but at least my kid had fun, and no one had any life threatening injuries.  In hindsight, it seems a private instructor might have been the most economical decision after all.  Now that we are back home, I’ll find out soon if I lucked out with a minor knee injury or not.  Either way, I have learned to not go uphill to my kid, but to have her ski down to right below me whenever possible.  Having a second adult helping out would have probably been beneficial as well.


Going through the Vancouver airport in a wheelchair

Be careful out there – teaching kids to ski is a dangerous sport!

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  1. I’m so sorry hear about your accident. I hope it isn’t too serious. We’re holding reservations at the Westin Whistler and this is a timely reminder to investigate our insurance options!

    Both my kids are now enthusiastic advanced skiers, and we still enroll them in ski school. Ski schools can vary a lot in quality, particularly for younger, beginning skiers, and it is very expensive, but I think it’s generally the safest option. Some programs guarantee smaller classes of four students or less (for more money, of course) – I think the Canyons, which is convenient to the Hyatt Escala, is one of them. Deer Valley was also excellent when our kids were little.

    Good luck!

  2. From the way the story as beginning, I kept foreseeing Little E with a broken leg! Glad it’s “only” your knee. Hope you are better soon!

  3. Sorry to hear about the accident. Hope you’re on the mend.

    My partner and I took our twins to Whistler last year. They were too young for skiing so spent the week in the daycare (awesome experience, highly recommended). We were at the Westin, too, and you can’t get a better location.

    We’re teaching our now 3yo twins to ski this winter and had thought about that harness you have, but read about how it was hard to control the kids. Instead we bought the co-pilot and I can tell you it was a GREAT choice. We can control them very easily, they don’t fall back if we pull on them, and we can turn them around and pull them back to the base area. I swear I have no stake in these things, but I would recommend them to anyone.

  4. Sounds like a textbook description of an acl/mcl tear. Hope I’m wrong. At least it was the last ski trip of the season and not the first.

  5. We were just there in January, and stayed on Blackcomb at the Fairmont (there’s a beautiful Four Seasons on that side too).

    Sad to hear about the knee! Ouch! Hope you get to go back soon, though. I’ve been a couple times, and I love it more and more each time.

    One note: Canadians were all confused as heck about my CSP w/ chip/signature and not chip/pin. I had to explain every single time.

  6. Ohhhhhhhhh Noooooooooo………. so sorry to hear that. Hope it heals fast – you have too many things to do and places to go to be slowed down!~

  7. Hope your knee is better soon… so sorry for your accident! I was thrown from a horse in Banff quite a few years ago. I was hospitalized for several days. We called and were told our insurance through federal government would cover it, but we had to charge the bill on a credit card (oh the points, but I was not thinking that way then!) and the company reimbursed us promptly when we returned.

  8. MP, I guess this will make your lowlights of 2014 list!! Hope you heal quickly and didn’t have any more ski trips planned this winter. I broke my collarbone Dec. 31 at Alta in Utah so I can relate! I love and proudly show off the MP T shirt I won for making your lowlights of 2013 winners.
    Even though I was in the US, I was out of network due to being in a different state and my insurance is only reimbursing me 9% of what I paid at the slope side medical clinic. Your judgement was pretty sound on waiting until you got home for treatment. Glad it worked out for you!

  9. MP, so sorry to hear/read about your injury. My wife tore her ACL, MCL, and meniscus and had micro-fractures in her knee a couple years ago, and I really hope that’s not what happened to you–MCL or meniscus is bad enough, ACL was worse, and micro fracture was worse still! Surgery and rehab were tough. And flying has been painful ever since. My fingers are crossed for you!

  10. Oh no! I’m impressed that you were able to get both of you off the mountain post-injury.

    I started out using the backwards-snowplow with my daughter, but on advice of an instructor started just giving her one of my poles to grab (handle end) when she needed help slowing down. I found that the leashes tend to knock her off balance. I do like the Lucky Bums harness that comes with the leashes since it has a handle for picking her up when she falls and for getting on and off lifts.

    Whistler has a fantastic ski school; we’ve had very good experiences there with our just-turned-three daughter. They cater well to the needs of 3-4 year olds, and have a max group size of 4 kids for the littlest ones (and often only 2-3 in my experience). The ski school is pretty good for adults, too, though expensive. If you go during Discover Whistler Days like this past week you can get 30% off some programs.

    I like the area near the Whistler gondola mid-station (magic carpet and Olympic chair) when I’m skiing with my daughter; the terrain is mellow and there is a snack shack nearby for those frequent hot cocoa breaks.

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