Snowboarding at Mount Snow

MOUNT SNOW, Vt. -- Terri Rubenstein figured her kids shouldn't have all the fun. Besides, the fortysomething Long Island, N.Y., teacher was up for a new challenge as much as they were. When her daughters learned to snowboard, Rubenstein learned too. She hasn't put on her skis since.

``I see more and more parents trying it,'' said Rubenstein, hugging her snowboard. ``They want to see what it is that the kids like so much.''

``I like being able to talk their same language,'' added Dave Lyle, who lives in New Jersey and is the father of 9-year-old twin snowboarders. Another plus for adults: ``Snowboarding is easier on the knees.''

The learning curve is quicker too than in skiing and ``It's a great bonding experience, with parents and kids on the same playing field,'' said Chris Bluto, who oversees the fast-growing sport at Mount Snow in southern Vermont.

This sprawling, 768-acre southern New England ski area -- the closest large resort to major East Coast cities -- long has had a reputation as a first-rate place for families to learn to ski. They come for the vast beginner and intermediate terrain at a place they're confident will have more parents and kids on the slopes than hot doggers.

``I don't have to worry about someone who partied too hard skiing into my kids the next morning,'' one mom of three explained.

Now, as snowboarding's popularity explodes in the wake of its much-ballyhooed first appearance in the Winter Olympics, families are coming here in ever-growing numbers to learn the sport.

``People used to look at us funny when we'd walk around with our snowboards. Now other parents want us to teach them!'' says Cathy Collins, a Connecticut artist who spends her winter weekends at Mount Snow snowboarding with her husband and two sons.

One hundred and fifty new boarders, 50 of them kids, are drawn to Mount Snow slopes each weekend, Mount Snow officials say. Sixty instructors are assigned to teach snowboarding. There are special kids' clinics and opportunities for families to learn together.

``We're seeing more kids who have never skied and just want to snowboard,'' observes Doug Kaufman, who directs the children's programs.

(Make reservations for children's programs and lodging at Mount Snow by calling 800-245-SNOW or visit the web site at www.mountsnow.com. The Learn-to-Ride program offers equipment, learning clinic and lower mountain lift for about $50 per person. A weekend lift ticket alone costs $49.

Mount Snow has welcomed snowboarders from the beginning, following the lead of neighboring Stratton Mountain Resort, when many ski resorts were dubious about opening their slopes to the new extreme sport. Now Mount Snow is an example of what a ski resort can do to make snowboarding a mainstream sport for the entire family. They have:

-- A new lift to The Gut, a 460-foot snowboard halfpipe, the longest illuminated lift-serviced halfpipe in the country. Night riding costs $10 and is especially popular with the teen crowd.

-- The East Coast's first snowboard park and, at 8.5 acres, Vermont's largest. Un Blanco Gulch has side banks, a mini-halfpipe and other constantly changing features to challenge boarders.

-- El Diablo Terrain Park is a new 9-acre area designed for snowboarders. Palmercross Park at neighboring Haystack Mountain -- lined with banners, pennants and flags -- is designed so that four riders at a time can race.

-- Specialized children's snowboarding clinics for those aged 7 and older.

Whether they're skiing or boarding, families are coming to Mount Snow for the kid-friendly ambience, a hallmark of the rapidly growing American Skiing Company, which also owns Heavenly in California and Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, among others.

Families can ski or board at any one of the company's seven resorts and know their kids are getting the same program, down to the color-coded levels and games played in beginner classes. (Ask about the discounted seven-day Magnificent7 pass that guarantees a week's worth of skiing over the course of a year at any of the company's resorts. It can save as much as $10 a day per adult ticket. Visit the American Skiing Company Web site at www.peaks.com)

At Mount Snow, families give a thumbs-up to the slope-side accommodations and the casual, family-friendly restaurants. We opted for Glen Run Condominiums. (Call Snow Resorts at 800-896-SNOW, ext. 6.) Our crew stayed so busy at the Silo Restaurant's game room that they didn't mind the hour wait for a table. We were impressed with the food and the moderate prices. (Just a half mile south of Mount Snow. Call 802-464-2553)

At the ski area, I also liked

-- The one-stop shopping where kids get their rental equipment (new gear is purchased for the resort each year), can buy the goggles they've forgotten and are signed into ski school.

-- The cheery day care center which handles infants and offers 3-year-olds their first introduction to skiing an hour at a time, with plenty of indoor play time.

-- Special supervised evening ``clubs'' for teens and preteens.

-- The three just-for-kids beginner lifts at the bottom of the mountain, complete with a viewing porch from which parents may watch and a practice chairlift so kids can get the hang of getting on and off before going up the mountain.

-- The designated Teddy Bear Weeks -- the next one begins March 8 -- there are parades, sundae parties and rides on grooming machines.

Packages start at under $750 for a family of four. Snow lovers point out that late season is a terrific bet to try snowboarding when cheap lift and lodging deals are offered.

Not everyone, however, is ready to hang up their skis.

``I've just been skiing for too many years to go down the mountain on my backside again,'' sighed Sheryl Statman, whose 6-year-old son Brett snowboards every weekend.

``It takes a lot of bumps and bruises and tears to learn,'' acknowledges Terri Rubenstein, whose husband remains a committed skier. ``But it's energizing, It makes me feel younger.''

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)

(c) 1998, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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