WILMINGTON — With a vertical drop of 3,400 feet and a reputation for icy, windblown trails, beginners may have one thing on their mind when first stepping into their skis and gazing up at Whiteface Mountain: yikes.
But along with some of the most challenging alpine skiing on the East Coast Whiteface has a gentle side to it — a separate area on the northeast edge of the mountain called Easy Acres Family Center where beginners of all ages can point their skies and snowboards down the hill and get a feel for the snow beneath them.
At the heart of Easy Acres is the Kids Kampus, which provides families all they need for a day on the mountain, including ticket sales and rentals, a nursery — open to non-skiing children — a full cafeteria, separate parking from the rest of the mountain and a variety of ski and ride programs for children, all offered seven days a week.
On Sunday Feb. 14, Kids Kampus was packed for the holiday weekend. A group of half a dozen children, wearing white numbered bibs, made their way down the slope following an instructor like a fleet of ducklings toward the crowded line at the bottom of the Bunny Hutch triple chair. A light snow began to fall and murmurs of customary skiing-food analogies echoed around the trails as young skiers learned the basics: pizza, French fries, pizza.
“Our instructors are fantastic,” said Bridget Hinman, Whiteface marketing manager. “These programs really offer a nifty way for kids to sharpen their skills and get out on the mountain for some fun.”
One of the most popular youth programs is Play-n-Ski, for ages 4 through 6, which operates out of the Bear Den Nursery. The program includes morning and afternoon lessons with a lunch break in between when parents are able to head off to enjoy the slopes.
“It gives the parents a break. Especially those who aren’t the best skiers themselves. But the kids get a chance to feel a lot more independent because of this program,” Hinman said. “I think they make much bigger improvements when they are surrounded by their peers.”
All of the youth programs offered at Kids Campus are very specific to each child’s skill level, so groups are not necessarily setup by age, but rather by skill level.
“We do a great job at attending to the needs of each child so they are learning to their potential,” Hinman said.
On President’s Day weekend a swarm of 180 kids were enrolled in different programs offered by Kids Kampus which includes Ski-n-Play, Junior Adventure Program, the Teen Experience and a program called the Cloudsplitter Club, which is tailored more for families who visit Whiteface on a regular basis and has a separate clubhouse neighboring the Kids Kampus Lodge.
“We’re trying to expose the kids to every aspect of the mountain,” said Mike Mickelson, a long-time instructor of the Cloudsplitters. “Not just skiing and snowboarding, but what actually goes into running a mountain: making snow, running chair lifts, grooming, lift operating, that sort of thing.”
The Cloudsplitters — separated into youth and teen groups — spend a lot of time on the mountain and even from a young age they are given the chance to try everything from the most difficult black diamond trails or tree skiing through trees in Whiteface’s glades to sliding down a rail in the park.
“They put a lot of miles on their skies,” Mickelson said. “We ski them long and hard, but make it fun for everyone. The program really instills a club type feel like they are part of something larger than themselves,” he added glancing up at the crowded slopes.
“It has been a really marvelous experience for our family,” said Heidi Daby, whose daughter Maeve is in the Cloudsplitters Club. “We’ve noticed some real improvements in her ability.”
Heidi and her husband Kimball said they try to make it to the mountain every weekend, allowing their daughter to get out and explore Whiteface with a close group of peers on most Sundays.
“I really like it,” said Maeve, peeking out from behind her father. “The instructors show us exactly what to do and then they have us do it.”
A little more than three years ago, Kids Kampus opened for the Christmas holiday after undergoing an extensive remodeling, renovation and extension project that added considerable space to the building and gave the programs more room to breath.
“This lodge is wonderful,” Hinman said, during a brief tour. “But believe it or not, we’re already starting to outgrow it in a big way.”
The lodge provides several large rooms where kids of all ages can gather for lunch or just hang out in between lessons or runs. A special teen area takes a portion of the basement. Snowboaring posters hung on the walls of the large room and the floor was scattered with balance boards and several chairs gathered around a large flat-screen TV.
“This is where a lot of the snowboarders hang out,” Hinman said as she pointed out a Playstation 2 game consul.
“I guess they play snowboarding video games and figure out what kind of grabs they’re going to try next,” she added, shrugging.
Outside of the lodge parents began to gather their children after a long day of lessons. Younger skiers, hand-in-hand with instructors, took their final runs, heading up the Carpet Cruiser, a people-moving conveyor belt that slowly creeps up hill into a play area filled with large stuffed animals and brightly colored obstacles.
Peter and Amy Smith waited by the side of the lodge as their children Jake, 9, and Audrey, 12, finished up their lessons.
“This is our first time in Ski-n-Play, but we have been incredibly impressed with private lessons in the past,” Amy said. “We’re going to have to try to keep up with the kids when we all ski together tomorrow.”
Contact Eric Voorhis at 523-4401 or
The lodge at Kids Kampus at Whiteface Mountain.
Photos/Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News
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