How to check out ski-area nurseries

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Although many ski areas provide nursery service for families with young children, experienced skiers know that ski-area nurseries are by no means all the same.

Here is a short summary of some of the most knowledgeable advice I've been given over the years for selecting nurseries:

If you're not sure about a nursery, go in and take a look without your child first. Look for a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere more than neatness. Some ski-area nurseries have outdoor programs; some do not. Of those that do, some are run by the ski school and others by the nursery itself. Many offer a play-in-the-snow kind of experience, while increasingly popular nursery ''ski schools'' teach children such basic skiing skills as stopping and turning.

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Whether the nursery has an outdoor program and what kind of program it is are of less importance than an overriding staff philosophy that children should not be pushed. Young children mature at different ages and take to the cold, snow, and sliding around at different ages.

Because children don't tolerate cold as well or as long as adults, they should be dressed warmly and in layers. That way, they can escape sweltering during indoor play.

If the nursery provides a lunch and you plan to leave the child there in the afternoon anyway, it's a good idea to take advantage of the service. It eliminates extra partings, which for some parents and young children are difficult, and it allows the child to try ''new'' foods with new friends.

When you do deposit your child, tell him or her to have a good time and you'll see each other later. Then leave quickly. Don't hang around or come back to see how Junior is faring. That usually just makes it tough on everyone.

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