raising little ones in the great outdoors

Father Knows Least

Want your kids to graduate Summa Cum Shred? Sometimes it means letting go.
By Andy Guinigundo

They say that people who are experts at any particular activity are not necessarily the best teachers. I try very hard not to listen to “they” because often “they” are wrong. While I don’t consider myself an expert skier, I am an experienced ski patroller at a little ski area in southeastern Indiana. I know a thing or two about turns. I have skied for nearly 25 years and patrolled for 8 years. I’ve stolen as much winter from southern Indiana and Ohio as humanly possible.

Barreling down a powdery steep carving huge GS turns is more than an experience. It’s an emotion akin to raw joy. Like many parents who ski, I wanted to pass my passion on to my children. I decided I would teach my kids to ski. I was self taught. Under my direction, I’d have them ripping turns in no time. I’ve seen the little ski whizzes buzzing down the black diamonds, no problem…

Year One:

I purchased a little pair of used K2s and a littler pair of used Rossignols for my daughters, four-year-old Sam and two-year-old Kit. Year one was exhausting, yet fun. My wife, Richelle, took one child and I took the other. Skiing consisted of mom and dad holding up a floppy, limp kid while we did our best not to crash. We got out three or four times when I wasn’t on shift for patrol. It was a healthy taste of skiing for all; year one was successful.

Year Two:

Richelle was pregnant. I have known patrollers who skied while pregnant, but my wife would not take that chance. I certainly don’t blame her. Sam and I went out a few times, but in all honesty, she did not progress. Wedge turns were still hard. If she felt like she was moving too fast, she would sit down. I found myself getting frustrated, and yelling, “Turn, turn, TURN!” The command fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately, Kit didn’t get out at all that year. Needless to say, the season was full of unmet expectations.

Last Year:

By late fall, we all had skiing on our minds. The girls kept asking about it. I was thinking about equipment. Do these feet ever stop growing?

“No you can’t switch to snowboarding! I am not buying all new used stuff!” I cried when Sam discussed switching to snow boarding. No offense boarders, but snowboarding was the worst 45 minutes of my life. I would feel totally inadequate as an instructor.

Then an email graced my inbox: “Andy, are you signing the girls up for lessons this year? I am planning on signing my girls up for Monday night. We could drop the girls off and then we ski our butts off incognito [incognito: a patroller skiing out of parka]. Let me know what you think, Suzy.”

Susan? Susan, a patroller whose skiing I envy? Susan, who skis men’s Volkyl AC3s because “those girlie skis aren’t stiff enough”, is going to trust the ski-upbringing of her beloved children to those blue Spyder-coat-clad prima donna ski instructors?

“Maybe we should think about it”, says Richelle. I tried to swallow my pride.

Well, in a moment of peer pressure and weakness and facing the threat of “these classes fill up quick”, I signed up the girls.andypatroller We had a new baby whose two older sisters were begging for their snow time. Richelle or I alone couldn’t handle the two girls. My few years of instruction hadn’t yielded much fruit. I had to admit, it made sense.

January arrived. I met my wife at the local Office Depot parking lot for a strange exchange of kisses, cars, and children. We ran late, as usual. The Subaru came out of hyperspace just about 5 minutes before class time. We grabbed the gear.

“Be careful with the…! You hit your sister in the nose with your skis!”

It was complete chaos. I pulled gauze from the patroller pack to stem the bleeding.

We made it to slope side just as I reached my maximum heart rate. I heard a familiar voice. It’s Saundra who is both a ski patroller and a ski instructor.

“Are your kids in this class?”

“Yes?”, I answered hesitantly perhaps worried that I might be deemed lacking in the fatherly skills department for entrusting my children’s ski education to others.

“Oh good! Freda, Andy’s kids are in the class too,” she said. Freda is a ski patroller and ski instructor too helping to teach the kids class. Freda told me that her children took lessons when they were my girls’ age too. Apparently, the other patrollers weren’t above letting their kids go to ski school.

By the end of the five weeks, Kit was skiing down the beginner hill and making wedge turns. Sam made major leaps forward. The chair lift was no longer a big deal and she was skiing some of the green hills. Her instructor wants me to work on getting her skis back to parallel at the end of turns.

I know when I’m wrong. I now know that I could not have taught the girls that well. Our ski instructors were there for a reason – they love teaching kids. They were very professional and connected with the girls quickly. The girls began to learn skiing like I knew they could.

* * *

So I guess it’s true. Mastery of a skill doesn’t always translate to the ability to teach that skill. That’s why people like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps have coaches. Teaching has a skill set all its own. It is an art unto itself.

ski2009aBeing a parent, too, requires a unique skill set. It may be easy to believe that parenting is about taking the knowledge you already possess and passing it on as if it were some dusty heirloom. On the contrary, parenting is a dynamic ongoing process of learning for both parent and child. In this case, I learned a valuable lesson: knowing when to let go can be as important as being involved. By setting my own ego aside, my girls attained a much better learning experience.

“Daddy, did you see me turn?”

Daddy, did you see me on the chairlift?

My girls couldn’t wait to tell me or show me what they’d learned. They brimmed with the pride of accomplishment. I was proud of them, perhaps as proud as I’d been in their short lives thus far. Am I sad that it wasn’t me who made skiing click for them? No. I’d be more upset with myself had I been too trapped in my own stubbornness and ego to just let go.

As I drove home the last night of class, I looked at the girls in the backseat. They’d fallen asleep. I glanced at the passenger seat and eyed the class photo the girls had been given – my girls with the biggest smiles I’d seen on them. I smiled as I thought about how far they’d come this season. I smiled realizing how far I had come this season.

Andy Guinigundo lives just outside of Cincinnati. When it’s snowing you can find the Guinigundo’s at Perfect North Slopes.

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5 Responses to “Father Knows Least”

  1. Elly says:

    I, too, have introduced my kids to skiing at a very young age in hopes of inspiring them to enjoy the sport/lifestyle as much as I have. I sometimes forget that it requires a TREMENDOUS amount of work on the Sherpa’s part, but if they end up loving it, craving the season’s first snow and ruing the Spring thaw, then I’ve done my job and created snow monsters like myself.

    Andy’s great depiction of his kids first ski experience and the tragic but necessary task of handing over your precious ones to strangers donned in layers of fleece and gortex was charming. I really appreciated his daughters’ excerpts and chuckled at the similarity of my own kids’ responses.

    Cheers to you and your future outdoor adventures! I look forward to reading more as this site grows.


  2. Steve says:

    Great story, I can totally relate. I’ve given this some thought, and I think our own kids are just too good at ignoring us. I bet you could teach someone else’s kids to ski just fine. I don’t want to minimize the skills of a good teacher though. I put my son in a lesson and the instructor asked if I wanted to tag along. I picked up a couple of tips that really helped my own skiing.

  3. Danny says:

    I’m going to have to remember that when my son is old enough to start snowboarding…

  4. James says:

    Wow, what a great article. My family lives above 10,000′ in the Rocky Mountains and the kids only go to school four days a week. On Fridays, they are bussed to the local ski area. When my son first started, I asked my wife to volunteered and help with the program, I guess to sort of spy on my son to make sure he was OK. In the second year she helped administered the program. During this time, I did my best to get him out on my days off. Well this year, I’ve had plenty of days off and volunteered for the program myself. It was a fantastic experience! While they were out with the instructor I got some runs and when class was over, I got to ski with my son and his friends.
    I think because my son has had the opportunity to ski with the older kids, it has given him way more confidence in school and in general.It won’t be long before he politely asks me not to volunteer because I can’t keep up. It’s a wierd feeling and he’s only nine.
    Oh yah, the snowboarding thing has come up too and I won’t comment on that.

  5. Dave Martin says:

    Oh man. Thanks for this article. My little girl turned 3 this past November and I have big plans for this season. But my worry is that I won’t be able to be the one to teach her how to ski. I was a ski instructor for several seasons. Our daughter is very independent, outgoing and fearless. At least that is what everyone else tells us. Any time mom and dad are around she is scared, can’t do anything and wants mommy and daddy. Hopefully this isn’t the case with skiing, but I guess I will have to swallow my pride and let someone else teach her how to ski if she becomes too reliant on me.

    Thanks for the story.

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