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New ski school program keeps classes small

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

Anyone who has ever been a part of a children’s ski school class knows the drill take turns with the 15 other kids making wide loops down the mountain, being sure to stay in sight of the instructor, who, incidentally, may or may not know each child’s name.

Then there’s lunchtime each child walking with a tray in a giant cafeteria down the line as large vats of macaroni are slowly emptied onto small plates one scoop at a time.

Peter Curtis, president and general manager at Park City Mountain Resort, said he remembers being in a similar situation while he learned to ski as a child. Those memories have prompted Curtis to start the Signature 5 program at PCMR, giving children and parents an alternative to large impersonal classes and expensive private lessons.

Signature 5 classes are meant to be a composite of the two prior options. With class sizes set at five or fewer, each child receives personal, one-on-one instruction from the coach. Yet, because there are generally one to four other children in the class, the price is not set at the private-lesson premium.

Signature 5 classes are geared for 6- to 14-year-old snowboarders and skiers with skills ranging from "never-evers" to freestyle and advanced.

The program took a three-week trial run toward the end of the 2005-06 season that Curtis and Mary Flinn Ware, PCMR’s ski school manager, said was highly successful.

"I spoke with a lot of the parents last year and the response was overwhelming," Ware said. "It was priced higher last year than this year and the parents said it was worth the money."

Ware said the two main concerns most parents have with larger ski schools are safety and quality of education. With 14 other kids to watch, Ware said, it is difficult to know where everyone is on the mountain. Secondly, it’s hard for kids to learn a lot in the environment. The smaller class sizes also allow the instructor to pace their classes more appropriately.

"We ask the instructors to keep an eye on the kids and pace themselves accordingly," Ware said. "It certainly makes it easier when there’s only five kids in the group. The smaller groups also help build more camaraderie between the kids, which makes it a much better experience and a much better environment."

Ware said the classes discuss everything from mechanical skills to proper turning angles, from appropriate speed to ethical on-mountain behavior.

"We try to teach the skiers responsibility code," she said. "It’s good for them to learn because it’s going to affect their mountain experience. It’s everything from knowing how to load the lift properly to knowing the skier downhill has the right of way."

Curtis said he first got the idea for the program because the main complaint he hears from parents is that ski school classes are too big. He wanted to come up with a solution to the problem he heard about so often.

"The point of the program was not to just have a program, it had to accomplish something, and this accomplished shrinking the class sizes," he said. "It resembles more of a private lesson than a typical ski school lesson."

Food is another issue Curtis said needed to be resolved. Sloppy Joes served with an ice cream scoop needed to be outlawed.

"No matter how much care you take when preparing the food, whenever you’re preparing food for 150 people, the result is going to be less than desirable," he said. "With this program, the kids get to walk into any restaurant on the mountain and they get to choose from items there. You’re kid could be in a ski school and be eating at the same restaurant as you, eating the same food as you, with few exceptions."

Although he does not know of any other resort providing a program similar to Signature 5, Curtis said it’s the wave of the future. With group lessons for adults shrinking in size, children’s classes will surely follow.

"It’s a much more relaxed environment," he said. "It strengthens the relationship between the kids and between the kids and the instructor, and makes it more enjoyable for the kids."

Signature 5 classes start at 9 a.m. and end at 3 p.m., allowing time for the children to ski or board with their parents before closing time.

"We went to the 9 a.m. start and a lot of the parents were worried about being able to get there on time, but it changed the whole experience for them," Curtis said. "They arrived earlier, got better parking spaces and were able to sign up their kids and get themselves on the mountain."

Because there is a limited number of available spots in the classes, reservations are necessary. They can be made by calling (435) 658-5530 or by signing up in the resort services office. An online sign up will be available soon.


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