I really didn't know what to expect from ski school in the US. Two years ago when we went ski-ing in France, it took Littleboy 1 a good four days to actually join in with the class, rather than sitting in what we dubbed the 'crying hut' all morning.
As I described here, perhaps it wasn't surprising, given that the ski school met each morning at the bottom of a mini cable car. You waved goodbye to your child as he entered a crowded sort pigpen, clutching his little skis, surrounded by howling French children, and was taken off quickly by a ski instructor. It was emotionally draining, both for him and us, not to mention disorganised and chaotic - on the first day he came back with the wrong skis, and we never found the original ones (luckily the hire shop was very understanding....)
This time I was reassured by the fact that the two boys would be together - I thought this would be comforting for Littleboy 2 who had not skied before and is prone to tantrums when things aren't going his way. But I guess I was still a little apprehensive - would they be too cold? Would they lose their hats/gloves/goggles? (Littleboy 1 lost two pairs of mittens last term at school, so his track record is not good, and his brother has a tendency to take things off and throw them indiscriminately on the floor). Would they resent not ski-ing with us?
But American ski school was a revelation - or at least, the school at Smugglers' Notch, the resort where we holidayed. (It has in fact won many awards for its ski school - which is known as the Snow Sport University, a slightly pretentious name, but perhaps justified.)
We dropped the Littleboys each morning in a large, heated hall. On the first day it looked like chaos but in fact, it was highly organised, with each child being allocated a group led by two instructors. The children took off all their outer garments and immediately started playing with Lego or colouring. Meanwhile, their accessories and ski jackets were placed inside their helmets (labelled) in a crate, ready for when they started skiing. They managed not to lose a single item all week - not even a tiny ski glove went missing. (In fact, the only person who lost something was The Doctor, who sadly dropped a very nice hat I bought him last Christmas).
They were then taken to the ski slopes, where lessons began. Whereas in the French ski school, Littleboy 1 seemed to spend the best part of two weeks marching around in a circle on skis, in one week here both boys not only learnt to ski, but by the end of the week were ascending the mountain in a chairlift and skiing down a green run in formation behind their instructor. They even competed in a little 'race' one day, in which (hilariously) an instructor with a mike announced them as if they were Lindsey Vonn about to compete for Olympic gold.
They had frequent hot chocolate breaks, a hot lunch, and at 2.30pm finished ski-ing for the day. They then were entertained indoors (one day a magic show, sometimes a film) until the parents collected them at 4pm.
By the second day they were so excited to go to ski school that they barely even paid attention as we waved them goodbye in the mornings. They loved their instructor, were always enthusiastic about what they had been doing, and generally seemed to be having a fantastic time.
As well as going to sneak a look at them on a few occasions, we could also track their progress online due to a GPS device that was strapped to their leg all day and recorded every turn they made. At the end of the week they received a detailed report of what they could do, as well as a lovely 'diploma' from the Snow Sport University (yes, Americans just love to graduate!).
Now I don't want to knock the Ecole de Ski Francais too much - I'm sure we'll be going back to them, and they do a decent job - after all, The Doctor learned with them as a child and he is a brilliant skier. But we both agreed that there is much that they could learn from this system - efficient, very child-centred and also reassuring for the parents, so that everyone can enjoy their week.
As for the boys, Littleboy 1 was consistently praised by his instructor for being the strongest in his group - although his tendency to head straight downhill rather than turning, when he gets the chance, has not diminished. He has also already (horrors) asked if he can learn to snowboard (the answer was no, not until you can ski properly.)
But I was particularly impressed by Littleboy 2 - only just four - who progressed very well and did not complain about the cold once (unlike his parents, wussily huddled in the bar with our Irish Coffees). During the week he also appeared to have acquired a girlfriend - we arrived one afternoon to find him arm in arm with a little blonde chick who seemed to be all over him. It won't be long till he's chatting up chalet girls, I'm sure.........