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Honey, I Forgot the Kids

I took pause, early one morning in Stowe, to admire how organized a ski mom I was. I delighted in the four neatly packed duffel bags. I nodded at the four pairs of boots, warm and dry. I inventoried the array of medical supplies for my youngest, who has diabetes. I'd even packed healthy snacks and drinks.It was a relaxed ride to the slopes, where my husband hopped out to unload the skis from the roof rack. Then he leaned in the door. "Uh, honey?" he asked tentatively. "Where are the skis?"

He knew not to tease. When it comes to organization, Martha Stewart I'm not. And as any skiing parent knows, getting a family and all its gear out the door and onto the hill is a black-diamond in itself. The secret? Organized moms and dads agree: It's having a strategy-and sticking to it. Most say it's a team approach. All agree: It ain't easy.

It took a lot of trial and error to get to the point I'm at," says ski-mom Donna Downey of Mattapoisett, Mass., a Waterville Valley, N.H., regular. "But we've been at this for six seasons, and I think we've got it." The mother of four has a system cast in stone, adhered to at all times. It starts in her basement, with five heavy plastic "cubbies," one for each child and one for mom and dad. Each is the one and only place that a given person's ski gear goes. Boots and mittens dry in a spot below each cubby. Other than that, everything is stored in the cubbies. "When we get home, long johns and ski socks go directly in the wash and then into the cubbies," she says.

Hanging above each cubby is another essential component of the system: a backpack. Packing involves simply transferring items from the cubby. "It's pretty much a system of staying packed," she says. "The less you have to redo, the less chance of forgetting something."

If that sounds stressful, it's actually the opposite, Downey says. Because it works. "And to be able to get them all out there for a good day of skiing without hassle is a beautiful thing," she says.

Chris Laidman of Dover, Mass., a regular at Attitash Bear Peak, N.H., has certainly had days when things don't click. The mother of two, ages 6 and 3, lives to ski, as do her kids. When she and husband David were expecting their first child, the two lifelong skiers sought out a vacation home near a great family resort, settling on a house near Attitash. Not having to lug gear across state lines weekly, they reasoned, would make ski life a snap. "Our house is two miles from the hill," she says, "but there was one Saturday morning when I had to go home three times. Some days just never seem to get going."

They were right about ownership: It makes family skiing less stressful. And Laidman has since worked out a better system. "We have shelves now and put all our gear there," she says. "Our 6-year-old is at a point where she can dress herself. Mind you, sometimes the boots are on but the pants aren't. But she's getting it."

Once on the slopes, keeping a ski day on track can be a graduate course in management as well. For Downey, coordinating the hunger, fun, instruction and rest needs of four children could be compared to directing a symphony. Her first strategy? It starts with a good "home base."

"For us it's a table in the lodge. We put our stuff there and claim it for the day. We know it's the one place where we'll eventually hook up." She suggests all families-whether resort regulars or vacationers-find and "mark" a central spot, keeping that as the constant check-in station.

Then there are the walkie-talkies that are now ubiquitous. They work, but require rules, Downey warns. "My kids are absolutely not allowed to use them except for trying to locate us or one another."

Dan Kramer of Denver takes day-trips with his three kids most weekends, hitting a different area each time. Packing is one thing, he says. Coordinating a fun day for all is quite another. Advance intelligence is key.

"You have to find out ahead what time ski school starts (for hiss young son), where the NASTAR hill is and when it's open (for his twins), where the best place is to have lunch, what runs are open, which lifts run late. My best weapon for organization is knowing the ski area," he says.

Kramer insists that the twins, who are allowed to ski without him, review the trail map with him ahead of time. "You can get them online, but I like to have a real one. I mark it up and make it clear to them where they are and are not allowed to go." He also chooses a lunchtime check-in spot. "There's a 45-minute window of time when the boys must check in," he says. "Usually by then they've had enough of being alone and don't mind Dad coming along for the afternoon. They throw me a bone."

Parents work hard up to the moment skiing begins and throughout the day to keep everyone warm, happy and skiing. It can be challenging, but the rewards are worth it. "The kids just plain love to ski," Downey says. "And it's a sport for a lifetime." Laidman agrees. "My 3-year-old starts down the trail, throws his arms out and screams, 'I'm flying!' It's cool to see him love it so much. It makes a couple of trips back to the house all worthwhile."

Smugglers' Notch, Vt., is offering SKI readers free use of its new slopeside child-care center (normally $60/day; ages 6-24 months; blackouts apply) with the purchase of a vacation package. Call 800-451-8752, and mention you read about it here.

Tips To Succeed
Getting out the door is easier if you have a strategy. Here it is:

  • Infrastructure: Set up a "ski station" in your house, where all equipment and clothing are stored. The ideal place: in front of a heating duct near the laundry. Dedicate a cubby or laundry basket and a hook on the wall.
  • Backpack: Each child should have one, for ski-use only.
  • Ski Bag: Most families can fit skis and poles in one bag for easy transport.
  • Routine: Kids report to their stations before and after each ski day to dress and undress. Clothing is stored in the cubby; boots and gloves are set to dry; goggles and helmet go in the backpack, which hangs on the hook along with pants and parka.
  • Backups: Sprinkle extra gloves, goggles, hats, socks, etc., among the family backpacks.
  • Checklist: Got everything? Memorize a mantra to recite before starting the car: "Skis, boots, poles; hat, helmet, goggles; gloves, pants, parka."
  • Dedication: Dedicate gloves, socks, backpack, etc., for ski use only, so they don't end up in a locker at school.
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