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Not your mother’s gym class

It’s a dream. I can’t believe how smoothly it’s running. It’s January at Stowe Elementary School, and it’s time for gym. But not your mother’s gym class — oh no. When it’s time for gym class, the kids in grades three to five rush to get dressed for cross-country skiing. As they pull on their winter outfits, they call out to Brian Barney, the gym teacher, asking what their number is.

I’m not really sure what’s going on, but that’s OK because my job is to help and to teach the kids once we get outside. He consults his list and gives out numbers. He organized the list in December to find out exactly what size boots, skis and poles every child needs. The kids then rush over to a wooden rack that has numbered ski boots, and grab their boots. The rack also has its own numbers, so the kids know exactly where to put them back. I think I could use Mr. Barney’s help organizing my house. Then, if it’s their first class, the kids line up to go outside, where their skis are cooling off outside the library door (again, they already know what length to look for; thank you, Mr. Barney) and head for the fields behind the school to put on their skis.

When we arrive at the fields, we find that a track has been groomed by the Stowe Parks and Recreation Department; its crew also grooms the Stowe Rec Path three times a week. It’s totally awesome to have a groomed track around the outside of the athletic fields. There’s a small hill for practicing gliding, snowplows, sidestepping and herringbone. And, of course, we go over how to get up when you fall down. The kids can hardly believe how lucky they are. And we, the instructors, are pretty psyched as well. It’s a big, open space where we can see everyone, so they practice at their own speed.

I did ask some speedy kids to repeat after me, “This is not a race; it’s just for fun.” The kids can ski on their own, taking a lap around the fields, or staying on the little hill for practice. It’s a bit of organized chaos in a good way. Some kids have never cross-country skied, and some have been skiing since they could walk. They all are working hard, learning together, and having fun. Mr. Barney gives a big yell that carries across the field when it’s time to head back inside. Sometimes we finish with a group game of sharks and minnows, limbo or a relay. Time will tell what works — we’ve had only four days of classes at the time of this writing. We do know that the kids are learning and building their skills on skis and enjoying the winter weather.

Skis are off, put back politely in the location they came from, and kids head back into the gym to change boots and clothing. Did I mention the totally neat ski holder on wheels that Brian made? I could definitely use his help organizing my house. Now it’s the switchover. One class takes boots off and the next is putting them on right away. Brian’s prior hard work has paid off because he has his list to refer to, and each kid knows exactly what boots and skis to look for. And we do it all over again.

We are incredibly lucky to have this program in our school system. Its called SKIS — Skiing Kids In Schools. It will move to Stowe Middle School in February, so check in with the gym teacher to be a part of it. Many people have been integral in making this happen: Pascale Savard, Friends of the Rec Path and the Stowe Tour de Snow, Oakland Foundation, Concept2, MVP Health Care, Canopy Holdings, Everbank, Swix and the Trapp Family Lodge Outdoor Center. The head coaches are Robyn Anderson, Ryan Kerrigan, Hannah Miller, Brenda Goss and Kristina Frame (one for each day of the week), and many great parent volunteers are helping as ski teachers or in the gym. Most importantly, Brian Barney, with his unparalleled enthusiasm and organization, has created excitement in the kids, so they want to get outside and learn.

These skis are available to kids who want to join the Tour de Snow on Jan. 15. Check the website for more info:

Parents, now’s the time to brush off your old X-C skis or get some new ones, because your kids will want to show off their new skills and take you on an adventure through the woods.

Kristina von Trapp Frame, herself a Stowe Elementary School graduate, is the mother of first-grader Annie and third-grader Stella. The SKIS program is the beneficiary of Stowe Tour de Snow this year.