Snow Trax | Let's Ski: An Ode to Beginning Skiers |
Youngster with hot chocolate.

By Daniel Gibson |
Top image: Doses of hot chocolate are a key to successful kiddo ski outings, as seen here on the deck of Rhoda’s Restaurant at Taos Ski Valley. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

The future of skiing rests on the wobbly legs of beginning skiers and snowboarders, and you must admit, it’s a tough go. Often out on old or inadequate gear, dressed in an odd assortment of clothing, they have to wait in long lines to get rental gear, then more lines to board pokey chairlifts. Then, like novice swimmers tossed in the deep end of pools, they crash coming off the chairs and have to figure out how to get to the bottom of the slopes alive. It’s amazing any of them come back for a second round, but they often do.

Equally impressive are the legions of parents who organize these outings and spend days, months, and even years tethered to the bottom of the ski areas while their friends dance through the powder above. So, here’s a tribute to beginners, and their long-suffering mentors.

Mature ski Beginners

Adult beginning skier Samantha Terrell of Waco, Texas, negotiates that crazy stuff called snow at Ski Santa Fe on a recent day. Photo by Daniel Gibson.
Adult beginning skier Samantha Terrell of Waco, Texas, negotiates that crazy stuff called snow at Ski Santa Fe on a recent day. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

Not all beginners are kids. On a recent outing to Ski Santa Fe, I found 42-year-old Samantha Terrell, from Waco, Texas, on the slopes during her very first day on those devilishly slippery planks called skis. She noted, “I’ve had three crashes, and am getting good at falling!”

So, why take up a new sport in middle age? “I’m not getting any younger, and have been suffering from physical ailments and pain,” she explained. “So I said to myself, ‘If not now, when? Let’s go try this. Let’s do this!’”

Despite the long, long drive from home, she said, “It’s absolutely been worth it. Time and money allowing, we plan to do more.”

Her husband, Jason Terrell, was working on day two of skiing. His first time out was 25 years ago. “My wife and kids,” he wisely said, “are what motivated me to get out here again. We’ve been talking about it for years but I had a lot of problems with my knees, and they are finally feeling better, so we thought we’d give it a try. I’m loving it! I’m really enjoying being out here with them, on this beautiful day. I love the speed! My turns are coming along, and I expect we’ll be trying it again in the future.”

Kids on Skis

Young future skier in pink snowsuit.Most new snowsports enthusiasts, though, are kids. Sumayya Abouelhassan of Albuquerque, 9 years old, skied a few times last season but really jumped into it this year. Her greatest challenge so far, she noted, came at Taos. “I accidentally went onto Powderhorn, and I had to go down it. That was my first blue run.” She’s working hard on her technique. “I’m not too good on my right foot yet; I can’t turn very well on that one,” she said. “But I’m good at stopping.”

The aspect she most enjoys is the ride up on the chair lifts. “I like the views!” Sumayya exclaimed. “And, I like cold weather, so that hasn’t bothered me. But I don’t think mom will be joining us. She says she doesn’t want to ski at all.”

Sumayya’s ski buddy is her stepsister Lucia “Lulu” Schiller-Mason. Approaching her ninth birthday, she’s actually not a beginner, as she’s been on skis for some five years already! “I guess I’m an intermediate; I ski the blues a lot. But next time I’m probably going to do some blacks. I tried one earlier this season, and I had this tumbling accident, and both my skies came off and then I was done for the day.”

Training Young Rippers

Overseeing their skiing introduction, as well as for two boys — a son and stepson under age five — has been Jakob Schiller of Albuquerque. He, like all parents in his boots, should be given a medal by the ski industry. Jakob noted that he’d only had a few runs off the top of the resorts this winter, when someone else could briefly watch over his charges.

He explained how he slid into this role. “I carried both of my kids on my back a couple of times when they were 2, and they both began skiing when they were 3,” Jakob explained. “But, that was a little bit obsessive. I love skiing so much and I wanted to share it with them. I figured if we started as early as possible I could raise some really ripping skiers. But I think I was a little bit too gung-ho. If you wait a little bit longer, and they are more physically developed, they pick it up faster.”

Tips for Getting Kiddos on skis

A dad works with his daughter on the beginner slopes of Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Daniel Gibson.
A selfless dad works with his daughter on the beginner slopes of Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

Jakob has many other hard-won tips for parents and their children. “The most important thing is having an enormous amount of patience, from the moment you get up in the morning. As much as you want to get to the hill, and get them booted up and on slopes, you can’t rush them. I made that mistake a few times! They only have so much stamina and energy. You’ll ski a few laps and then they’ll want some hot chocolate. Then you’ll ski a few more laps and they’ll want lunch. And after a few more laps, when they are really young, they need a nap. So, you have to keep your expectations pretty low. The consoling thought is that you are outdoors with your kids, they’re getting some exercise, and you’re teaching them something they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives.

“Weather is a huge factor,” Jakob continued, “so making sure they are dressed right is very important. A pair of bib overalls that are really waterproof are key, and a warm jacket. Hand warmers go in their gloves right away. I’ve always shelled out for good boots. REI carries boots, made by Dalbello, for even tiny feet. A cold, uncomfortable boot ends your day before you’ve even begun. I pass the boots down, but retire them after three seasons or so. On the drive up, I stack them up by the floor heaters so they are as warm as possible to put on. You can find new skis online, with bindings, for $125 a pair. They’re not great skis, but they are good enough.”

Mom with kids at Taos Ski Valley.
A hero mom heads to the car at Taos Ski Valley this winter, with one little ripper and one in training. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

ski Programs for Kids

And what about putting kids in a group program? “My mom (journalist Kay Matthews) taught me how to ski, so I kind of took it upon myself to teach my kids, but it’s one of those situations where spending some extra money makes great sense,” Jakob said.

“We are really excited about the White Tornadoes program at Ski Santa Fe,” he continued. “They don’t begin enrollment until fall but I’ve already called to find out when it opens, as it fills up right away. Not only will it allow me to have five days of skiing next winter, but it places the kids in classes with their peers, and that provides tremendous motivation and role models, while being taught by professionals. It’s worth every penny!”

Dad Time

Has it been worth all the effort? “I haven’t gotten a lot of vertical feet in these years,” Jakob noted, “but I’ve come to love just being on skis and outdoors and sharing that with them. And, in a few more years I’ll have a posse that can ski all over the mountain with me.”

Jakob added that skiers are a hard-charging bunch, and it is tough sometimes to forgo his own turns to wait in another line to board the beginner chair. The former editor at Outside magazine and a columnist for them today, as well as a staff member of Central New Mexico University’s   marketing department, added he’d been able to slip in some free skiing at Sandia Peak this season using his alpine touring gear and skills.

Sandia never opened this season, despite having a very good base, due to the fact they could not find enough qualified staff. “It turned into this great experience for skiers in Albuquerque. If you show up at six in the morning on a weekday, there’s a handful of cars there already, and on Saturdays there’s 30 to 40! It’s been like our own, private AT ski resort. It’s allowed me to breathe a bit as a skier.”


Ski season 2021 – 22 is on its final leg. Most regional areas will be closing in late March or the first week of April. Some though, like Wolf Creek, will probably extend their season — at least on a weekend basis. For details, check ski area web sites. A handful of areas north of us — including Arapahoe Basin and Loveland in Colorado — go late, as do Alta and Snowbird in Utah, and sometimes Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Pacific Northwest has had a HUGE winter, so look to Washington and British Columba areas for skiing into May and even the summer. As for this column, this issue wraps up my seasonal coverage of the regional scene. Happy trails!


Dan Gibson
Snowsports journalist Daniel Gibson, photographed at Red River.

Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). His new book, Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico, was recently released from Arcadia Publishing with 183 historic photos. He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including PowderSki, and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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