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Advice from a Ski Dad: Tips on making a family ski trip more fun

The author and his children at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. (Kristen Pepin for the Boston Globe)
The author and his children at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. (Kristen Pepin for the Boston Globe)
The “Ski Dad” moment I’ll likely remember more than any other came just after dropping about $400 at the ticket window at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire about eight years ago.

The ticket-seller had stickers with the resort logo on the counter, and I asked for some for my two sons and my daughter, who, as ski kids do, like to paste them on their helmets. As I passed out their lift tickets while we geared up for one of our first “big mountain” days as a family, Sarah had a question.

“Oh, were those stickers free?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” I replied.

The innocence of the question was heartwarming, and it’s a fireside après-ski tale to be told again and again. It was also a Ski Dad teaching moment, or at least a moment to enlighten a child about the ways of the world.

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I told her no, in fact they cost hundreds of dollars, but I was happy to do it because of what was ahead for us: A day of pure joy, adventure, and togetherness. Well worth it.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the influence Ski Dads have. Fathers who love skiing tend to have children who love skiing, and they’re more than happy to encourage this passion. They also get to shape the kinds of skiers they become.

How you do that is critical. Here are some of my Ski Dad moves, gleaned from years of watching other ski fathers to becoming one myself.

Capitalize on the excitement

There’s always a buzz in the house the night before a ski trip. Everyone is eager to go, and my kids always want to ask me about the mountain we’re headed for, talk about what we’re bringing, and discuss the kinds of skiing we hope we find there.

I try to flip this in my favor. I urge them to think about what they’re going to need, remind them that they will be responsible for their own stuff, and get them to pack for themselves. This usually works out well.

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Once I tried this: I told my children that when I was a kid, my friend and I never let his father, who used to bring us skiing all the time, load the car. I told them we always appreciated Mr. Willson taking us skiing so much that we’d get up and make sure he didn’t have to do any of the car-loading. I said we used to get up when he did and get everything into the wagon queen family truckster for trips to Berkshire East, Mount Snow, or Okemo.

It was a total lie, but worth a shot. The next morning, I was the only one up at 5, silently packing everything into our van.

The singles line

We’ve driven all the way to the mountain together, and we’re going to drive all the way back together. We’re mostly going to ski together. We’re going to have lunch together.

So there’s absolutely no need for us to ride every chair together. I often suggest that we split up and take the singles line because we’ll get to the top faster and get more skiing in on those days when a place is mobbed. My kids are down with that.

Etiquette

I’m not sure if Henry LeMoine was ever a real person, but he’s the personification of every cautionary tale there is in my family, a name now handed down at least three generations on my father’s side.

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I’ve extended the legend to the slopes. Like this:

“Did I ever tell you about the time Henry LeMoine didn’t look uphill when he reached a trail merge? Oh man, what a wipeout.”

“Have you heard about the time Henry LeMoine didn’t put the safety bar down and the lift suddenly stopped?”

“Do you know the one about when Henry LeMoine didn’t give the skier ahead of him the right of way. Wow, I have never seen so much blood.”

You get the point: Get yourself a Henry LeMoine.

Let them fall, let them fail, and know when they’ve reached their limit

I find it amusing to watch mommies and daddies who are introducing little ones to the sport and they are hyper-protective, skiing with their child between their skis so as to be ready to catch them at every bobble.

No doubt you want to protect them from bombing straight down and into a fence or a tree, but when it’s slow going or wide open, a couple tumbles plant the seed that falling is not fun.

Likewise, once frustration sets in, don’t push it. Don’t worry, someday they will be as hard-core as you and want to ski first chair to last, but that day may never come if you push too hard too early.

Clean-up time

This was my go-to move when I chaperoned middle school ski club: When I saw some of the kids get up from their table and it looked like they were about to abandon their cafeteria tray, or they were going to leave their gear bag and half their stuff strewn about on the floor in the middle of the lodge, I’d stop them and say, “Hey, could we give your mom or dad a call right now?”

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“Why?” they’d ask.

“So we can let them know it’s time to come clean that up for you.”

This works great on other people’s kids. My own, not so much.

But on paper, it should work. So I use it time and again. I refuse to stop using it.

I mention it because it’s my way to try and teach self-reliance and accountability, which on a ski trip is important.

Line etiquette

Is there anything more frustrating than those kids who get paired up with other skiers in the line for a quad, only to hang back at the last second so they get a chair for themselves?

Or what about those kids who never stop moving forward at the line merges, oblivious to the concept of alternating?

My only answer to this is to quietly vent about it to my own kids, and hope that a little mini-Dad rant is enough to impress upon them the shame and hurt I would feel if they ever were guilty of such transgressions.

Spoil them

Amid all the little hassles of taking a family ski trip, from forgotten mittens to farts in the car, the one thing I try to impress on my kids is that skiing is our special thing, something that will bind us forever.

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So honestly, I am fine with treating them differently when we go skiing. Maybe I drop a curse here and there because what the hell, we’re having fun. I’m fine with buying them overpriced fries and chili and chowder in the lodge because even though we generally pack lunch, I want them to know these are special days. I always let them pick the trails we hit.

And the single best thing I can advise is to let them see you act like a kid on the slopes. I’ve been known to “woo-hoo” and “yee-ha” my way down a slope within earshot of my kids, sing on the lift, launch into an impromptu race, or organize a snowball ambush.

Don’t worry if they make fun of you for it. Someday they’ll know why you did it.


Matt Pepin can be reached at matt.pepin@globe.com.