Virtual Ski Lessons Offer a Unique Way To Teach Kids Skills for the Slopes
This virtual adventurer community launched by two Colorado moms is making the outdoors more accessible for families with young children.
Heather Balogh Rochfort was a twentysomething ski-school and adaptive-ski instructor long before she became a parent to Liliana in 2017. But even she learned a new trick or two while teaching her daughter through WildKind’s Virtual Ski School, an online curriculum she and Brooke Murray launched in January 2021. One of those strategies includes teaching Liliana to “put out a fire.”
“She’s working on moving her turns into parallel turns instead of sitting in that big power wedge that kids sit in,” explains Balogh Rochfort, of Carbondale, who is also the author of Moms Who Hike: Walking with America’s Most Inspiring Adventurers (Falcon Guides, 2021). When the child is turning, “put out the fire” reminds her to lift her uphill leg and plant it back down on the snow, like you are stomping out a fire with your foot. This encourages the child to put pressure on the downhill ski, in order to move into parallel turns.
“[My husband Will and I] are using that trick to help her move into those turns because she thinks it’s fun,” Balogh Rochfort says. “We’ll be like: ‘There’s fire! There’s fire!’ She just thinks it’s a game.”
Making skiing fun for children is one of the primary goals in the curriculum that’s offered to members of WildKind Inc., an online community that helps parents level up their adventure with kids. Balogh Rochfort and Murray debuted the company in July 2020 with a tutorial on camping.
The website states: “Living an adventure-fueled life shouldn’t end when family begins. Through hands-on experiences and virtual courses, we’re here to help your family ski the backcountry and camp the frontcountry before your toddler reaches kindergarten.”
Steps For Young Skiers, Colorado and Beyond
As avid outdoor enthusiasts before becoming moms, both women continued their lifestyles once they had kids in tow. Before long, social media followers were asking the women for advice on how to adventure with their own children, sparking the idea for WildKind. The number one question they received during winter was how to teach kids to ski, Balogh Rochfort says.
“We have all these parents that are like, ‘I can only afford one lesson this year. I would like to teach them on my own but have no idea how to begin.’” After all, not everyone has the variety of ski school options that Colorado families do, she says. And full-day lessons can be costly: upwards of $200 per child. The women asked themselves: Why don’t we start creating some resources to do this?
They reached out to Aspen Snowmass, whose representatives were “stoked on it,” Balogh Rochfort says. The resort also granted two days of filming at Snowmass Ski Resort and access to Kevin Jordan, senior coordinator of the kids’ division, examiner for the Professional Ski Instructors of America, and father of two. “He really put effort into building this course out for us,” Balogh Rochfort says.
Jordan coaches families through four modules, including everything they’ll need for success on the slopes: Preparing for the First Ski Day, Your First Day on Snow, As the Season Progresses, and Moving to the Big Hill. From choosing the right gear to handling the first time on a magic carpet and selecting the ideal terrain, the courses also include checklists, buyers’ guides, and game ideas. Members can self-pace according to their child’s skill then advance at their own speed, even if it’s over several seasons.
One of WildKind’s members is Amelia Kermis, a mom of two from Buffalo, New York, who had trouble finding a ski school to accommodate her then-two-year-old daughter last winter. “We don’t have any place that does ski school for kids younger than [age] four, so we really needed to find alternative options,” Kermis says. “Both my husband and I are good skiers, but we really wanted to get some more expert advice and it’s really hard to find good resources for little kids. That’s what drew us to WildKind.”
Other Options for Getting Kids Outdoors
In addition to offering families courses on topics like skiing, car camping, and backpacking (coming in spring 2022), WildKind offers online discussion forums, area meetups, and private meetups. The company also partners with brands to sponsor family outings—like one with winter sporting equipment manufacturer Nordica at Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort—and offer discounts on gear and clothing.
“Some of the gear necessary for family adventure can carry a steep price tag and can be a limiting barrier for folks wanting to take their children outside,” Murray, a mom of three from Littleton, says. “One of the first things Heather and I wanted to tackle was decreasing that barrier for families. Having a large community has made it possible for brands to work with us and offer our members their very best pricing or special discounts.”
WildKind also launched WildKind Closet in June 2021, a nonprofit that offers families low-cost, summer gear rentals. Not sure if your family will enjoy camping enough to invest in the equipment? “Borrow a tent for a season and see how your kids like it!” Murray says.
“We know that it’s not always possible for families to get outfitted with a whole new arsenal of gear for a very fleeting season of life,” Murray adds. “[WildKind Closet] gives families the opportunity to use an item of gear for a season so they aren’t missing out on those precious camping trips with their children.”
A Community for Adventurers
For parents like Kermis, a former backpacking guide, WildKind has been the very thing she’s sought since becoming a mom. “[It’s] been amazing to find a community of like-minded parents who don’t tell you that you’re crazy for taking your kid hiking or skiing at age two and instead provide real-world advice to keep them warm, dry, happy, and most importantly, safe,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed using the skiing and camping guide and I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.”
Need to Know: Full memberships to WildKind (“Summit”) costs $15 per month or $160 annually, which includes access to all current and future programming, as well as perks like discounts, giveaways, events, and virtual lessons on various outdoor topics. Families may also purchase ski school for $109 with a chance to upgrade to a Summit membership for an extra $50.