Ski-Range Kids?

Hi Readers — Here’s a nice little letter from the slopes!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I wanted to share a wonderful experience I had this weekend.  I was skiing at a local Colorado resort called Eldora Mountain, about a half hour outside of Boulder.  When skiing it is common practice for “single” skiiers (those skiing without a partner — regardless of marital status) to pair up on two-person chair lifts, rather than riding up alone.

That day, I was skiing alone while two of my sons were in ski school for the day.  I was pleased to discover a number of children ages eight and up skiing by themselves and without the slightest concern about jumping on a chair lift with a complete stranger.  I should point out that I am a late-thirties male — at that point with a few days’ beard growth — practically the poster child for “STRANGER DANGER” that they drill into kids today.  Not one kid as much as blinked to jump on the chair lift with me, and in every case we had nice conversations on the way up.

I was even more surprised and pleased when a mom who was skiing with two kids asked me — the unshaven stranger —   to ride up on the chairlift with her seven year old daughter. That’s a (literal) high! — Jason B.

32 Responses

  1. I’ve been wanting to write in about the same thing!! The place to find free range kids is on the mountain…we ski A Basin in CO and the kids have just started up within the last few weeks. We’ve had the same exact experience, strangers helping kids as little as age 3 get on and off the lift because the ski instructor can’t get 3 kids on by themselves. No one freaks out, it’s expected that someone other than a parent can help the kids.

    The older kids 7ish and above typically ski without mom n dad since they’re at different levels. Families reunite near the lift or in the lodge and no one spends their time worrying.

    It’s been such a wonderful experience to take the kids skiing here!! Glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks so 🙂 Ski on!

  2. I kind of wonder if ski-towns and ski resorts foster independence like this. I grew up in a ski town, and I still live here, and no one really blinks an eye at kids off on their own around here – either on the slopes or around town. (Okay, I do wonder sometimes why they’re not in school…but I don’t wonder why they’re not with an adult).

    Our public buses are free and city-wide, plus we have an amazing trail systems, so kids don’t rely on their parents for transportation.

  3. My boys have been skiing on their own since they were each about 8ish. They love moguls and trees glades. My creaky knees can’t take the punishment of that kind of terrain. We’ve all skiied with walkie talkies for years and meet up at lunch.

    I’ve never for a moment worried about them at the hands of any strangers on the mountain. In fact, they have through the years both been helped by and have helped other skiiers with wipeouts, yard sales (when you lose you skis), and emergency repairs (always ski with duct tape).

  4. I was skiing solo a few weeks ago (at Winter Park in Colorado), and rode up a chair with 3 kids (who were all together), ranging in ages from 8-12. We chatted the whole ride up and were talking about school, skiing, and video games.

  5. I agree that is awesome to see. We are going skiing at Bear Valley in CA this weekend with a cub scout group. It is annoying enough that BSA now requires all scouts to wear helmets, fortunately there is nothing about taking a lift with a stranger. My boys are 7 and 10 and good skiiers. I won’t have a problem with them taking a lift with an unknown if I am before or after them. Heck my 10 yo is welcome to go up and down by himself all he wants as long as we know what he is doing.

  6. Yes! Not everyone is a horrible person! And bravo to these parents allowing their kids to get some fresh air and exercise!


  7. My 11 and 9 year old daughters have been thrilled to ski with their friends (and no parents) this year. I tuck a few dollars in their pockets and they decide when to go in for hot chocolate and when to put the hat and gloves back on and head back out. They even decide when they are going to take that lift that only leads to black diamond slopes. I love to see them enjoying the freedom.

  8. Keep this quiet, please! We mustn’t let the worriers know.

  9. On the other hand: what are you going to do with a kid on a lift, *ggg*?

    But seriously, yes, it is nice to know that things are “normal” out on the slopes.

    Actually, I wonder if parents in the States would freak out at me, because I often talk to kids and always offer to help, ;-)… Good part about it is, that I know almost all the kids in the neighborhood. (And I actually find that it adds to my kids’ security, because: if everybody knows their mom and if the other kids get along fine with me, chances are they are going to get along with my kids just fine, too).

    So long,

  10. I have had the same experience both as a child and as an adult: in the skiing world it is all about cooperation and helping each other even if you’ve never met. That is the same over here in Europe.
    And I love it.

  11. Great now I expect to see this on my local news.

    “Are there pedophiles on the ski slopes?!? Full story at 11.”

  12. When my youngest (age 5) was doing ski school, they told me that my child would ride the lift sitting with other children or with strangers, unless I specifically signed a form stating that I wanted her to always go on the lift with the instructor. (I didn’t). Actually having two kids in the lift together was a little scary, since they could barely reach the overhead bar to pull it down (the one time my husband happened to see them getting on the lift). But they managed…My oldest is almost ready to go off skiing on her own, but she still likes to have help getting her skis back on after a tumble…and at the moment we still like the same type of slopes.

  13. As a mom who did not ski, I often relied on the kindness of strangers to check on my scattered, wayward children.

    I will point out that it’s rather difficult to assault a kid on a chair lift. Really cold, too.

  14. As an avid skier and free-range parent who lives in a mountain ski town i can wholeheartedly agree with all of the statements above. Let’s be serious though – skiing is an elitist sport. Finding a predator in this situation would be like having your child snatched at the ballet or the local country club. I think it is great for kids to “get their feet wet” on the ski slope, but i wonder how many of those same parents would give those same kids the same freedoms at the county fair where the demographic is slightly different.
    Why is this? Does it have to do with the amount of money in one’s pocket or is there something else?

  15. Skiing actually, in my mind, is not for kids….except they have learned and trained by a master or school. No matter if you bring the children to skiing, the important is you must watch them carefully….:)

  16. Oh, Lenore, the memories you’ve brought back!! I was fortunate enough to ski Eldora as a child, and my brother and I were always left to our own devices on the mountain!! (ok, my little brother and I kept tabs on each other, waiting at the lift for each other occasionally, but more for company and “Hey did you see…” conversations)

    It was a great family place. I’m glad they are still in operation (they’ve been through a couple of owners in the intervening years). Hidden Valley is closed now, but it was a fabulous place as well in Rocky Mountain National Park. They mostly used T-bar lifts moving a single skiier at a time.

    Staying in Nederland? I remember it being a “real” town, not really fond of the tourists they depend on for the economy.

    Skiing IS for kids! Yes, they should have lessons, but its a pretty trollish statement to say “trained by a master…”

    We were in charge of our own safety, and never seriously injured. The only person I knew who was killed skiing was a daredevil and risk-taker to the extreme, and European slopes are not as well tended as those here in the US.

    You want to see excellent, free range kid skiiers– go to Jackson Hole! I’d love to have my son learn the sport there!!

  17. Same situation here in Oregon. I ski weekly on Mt. Hood on one of three large ski areas, same exact behavior. My daughter has been skiing since age 3, and now at 8 she barely even needs me there at all, let alone worries.

    Aside from a ski slope being nearly impossible to “steal” someone from (you are generally far from cars, in deep cold snow on steep hills) – it is also easy to recognize dangerous behavior. The bigger worry is just that of crashes – skiing has it’s own risks (but far more reward!!!).

    But then again, I have taught my daughter all about appropriate and inappropriate behavior just about anywhere. She knows how to be friendly with strangers without putting herself in harms way, and she knows about the more common “familiar” person risks as well. But she also knows the world is a fun and amazing place!

    This blog post actually surprised me a little because the described behavior is what I expect on ski slopes. The norm, rather than the exception. And I was pleased to see that other commentors had similar experiences all over the country.

    Ski lifts are a GREAT place to meet people, and bigger areas will have “quad” lifts or maybe even larger where you can regularly meet three other people, and do it over and over again – and sharing the love of the mountain everyone already has a common bond! Even kids!

  18. I saw this every time I went to Red Lodge, MT (small ski resort). Kids were everywhere, and the parents had no problem with their children interacting with the adults around them.

    I love skiing simply because it’s a very social activity. Standing near a lift, in a big crowd on the snow, even sitting near the lodge with a drink taking a break, you can meet people who are really very interesting. All of the skiers I’ve met are very open and willing to have a lot of fun with just about anyone. If you watched the recent Vancouver Olympics, you could see it in the skiers and snowboarders. I’d be willing to bet that, if you met Lindsay Vonn, Shaun White, or any other Olympic skier/snowboarders on the slopes, they’d have no problem at all with striking up a chat or having a bit of fun.

  19. Sking and I’ve been tubing. I’ve been You find the same type of communal feel on the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers and that population is far from elite.

    I think it is about kids and adults being outside enjoying nature that builds a community.

  20. Aw, what a great story. Thank you for sharing!

  21. I recently took my 7yo and 5yo daughters skiing (them for the first time) in Switzerland.

    I must admit it took me a moment or two to “let go”, but my 7yo, after a couple of hours of private lessons one day, and a 2 hour class the following day, wanted to go up the lift by herself. I was, to be honest more worried about her skiing into a tree (despite the fact there were no trees on the piste!) than anything else. I let her go. She had a ball – up the T-bar, down the mountain, up the T-bar, down the mountain. She loved the independence.

    And she was by no means alone. Most of the kids there were skiing sans parents. It was refreshing to see.

  22. When I was in high school there was a Ski School my parents would send me (and later my brother) to. They’d drop us off at the high school in the wee hours of Saturday morning with enough money for food and a lift ticket (and we brought our own skis).

    The bus would take us up to the ski resort. The only rule was we had to show up for class at a certain time, otherwise we could do what we wanted until it was time to catch the bus back down.

    I hated sports, so that was my best exercise all year. Sure, a couple times I tried to tackle slopes to hard for me, but I always found my way down. It was a fantastic experience I’m glad I got to do for three years.

  23. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I for one kind of associate skiing for recreation as an upper-middle-class (and up) activity, and I can’t help but wonder if a certain set of parents who would otherwise be uncomfortable letting their kids walk to school feel comfortable at the ski resort because they’re surrounded by people who seem “like them.” The depiction of big bad strangers often includes stereotypes about those wicked poor people, drug addicts living on the street and so forth. Even though stranger-danger fears extend to everybody to a certain extent, narrowing the immediate population to a more like population gives less room to fears that also spring from classism and xenophobia, etc.

  24. Love it!

    IF we can teach our children about listening to instincts instead of “teaching” them about the lurking stranger in the dark alley with the 5 oclock shadow, we will be a much better world.

    “Bad people” come in every shape, size, look and profession.

    Instincts matter!

  25. I guess the “elitism” of skiing depends where you go. This year we went just a short drive from Philadelphia, and most of the slopes seemed to be filled with first time snow-boarders in their late teens/early 20s. Not really a very different crowd than you’d see at 6 flags etc, and certainly very different from a Rocky Mt resort far from a major city.

  26. Mom and dad, stop stifling me – it’s damaging my brain
    A report on research from Japan.

    I think you might be interested in this article from the” New Scientist” website. While New Scientist is not a peer-reviewed journal as far as I know, it does have interesting articles, on science.–its-damaging-my-brain.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

    The comments under the article are also an interesting read. IMO I think the study is not enough on its own to say there is a definite link between over-protecting kids and less development of their grey matter in the brain, but it gets you thinking.

    Please excust the pun. 🙂

  27. The agrees with my experience of skiing as well. But lets face it: the parents of these kids are letting them out to enjoy a moderately risky activity without hovering, protective attention in the first place, so it is not surprising that they have a normal and health approach to strangers.

  28. MIchele you do have a good point. Although for what it’s worth Eldorra is one the cheapest ski resorts in colorado. I know, I know, damning with faint praise.

    But from a practical standpoint parents had to accept that kids might right the lift with a stranger since it’s impossible for the instructor to ride up with every kid.

    And sometimes we didn’t pull the safety bar down because we couldn’t reach it. or we just felt like being a little badass and going sans safety bar.

  29. Well, to be fair, I would think that even the most panicky mom could see that it would be virtually impossible to molest a kid on a ski lift.

    Not only is the lift itself small with little room for maneuverability (not to mention the danger of falling off), but you have other people directly looking at you from behind.

    Moreover, people are pretty well bundled up in ski clothes.

  30. Neccessity is the mother of invention like they say. If you want your kid to ski there is not much choice than to let them ride with strangers and other kids, is there?

    On the other hand letting kids walk to the bus stop or school, there is always a choice and we know what most choice most parents make!

  31. Great post.. and so correct.. (white male 35.. havent shaved with a blade in 4 years). i have lived in whistler for almost 10 years and i think the mentality of the skiiers on the hill is so laid back and friendly. That type of this really doesnt cross the mind of anyone i ever rode with or sat beside on the chair.

  32. Love the post, thanks keep up the good work! Bookmarked!. i bookmarked this! looking for updates. tremendous .

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