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Learn to ski without the snow at Mini Mountain



Ditch the often rainy Seattle winters and learn to ski indoors at Mini Mountain.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Many of the kids Tom Waldron teaches to ski come to class in a T-shirt and shorts. While most skiers start in a uniform of Gore-Tex and gloves, Waldron knows better. He owns Mini Mountain, a local ski school that operates an indoor ski hill in addition to its traditional outdoor classes. “If they learn here and stay dry, that’s half the battle,” he explains, discussing how to get kids to fall in love with the sport.

Located in a warehouse just off 405 in Bellevue, the facility sports two swaths of white fabric “ski slope” that combined are about the size of a tennis court. Both “slopes” rotate like tilted treadmills for giants. They take up surprisingly little room, especially when compared to the sprawling, imposing snowfields where most skiers take their first turns. Instead of a lodge serving up powdered hot chocolate and overpriced French fries, the bottoms of these hills meet a few couches and tables, with one spot occupied by a friendly dog. Lessons, which start for kids as young as 2, are all one-on-one. A 20-minute lesson ($50), which includes all the equipment and is right in town, might be more likely to result in a successful first day of skiing for kids than a cold, windy real mountain.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Jane O’Connell hits the gentle indoor slopes with some encouragement from Tom Waldron.

“People get overexcited,” Waldron says of learning to ski, “and this results in disappointment.” First days on snow for learners are often marked by falls, rarely involve getting on an actual chairlift, and (especially at Seattle’s warm local resorts) practically require getting wet — from rain or spills on the snow. By starting kids indoors, Waldron can make sure that first day on real snow will be inspiring rather than fear inducing. Mini Mountain allows kids to build a foundation of skills so that once they’re on a bona fide slope they can jump straight to the fun part of skiing. Waldron recommends 10 indoor lessons for kids 5 or under, and at least 6 for older kids. But then once they hit the snow, they’ll be off — ready to ride the chair, make turns and stay on their feet. He tells of a 6-year-old who clocked 20 runs her first night on snow.

It’s inspiring even — or especially — for die-hards who want nothing more than to spend family vacations shredding the gnar with their small set. “Don’t rush,” advises Waldron. “It’s a lifelong sport,” and getting kids off to an indoor start helps ensure an easier path to them falling in love with the sport instead of just, well, falling.

Mini Mountain offers lessons inside all year, including summer camps, so kids can start learning any time. And for kids who sign up now for indoor lessons they offer a special two-week, spring on-snow lesson package.

1900 132nd Ave. NE A3, Bellevue, minimountain.com

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