Skiing with kids well worth the hassles; Swiss dominate racing

Less than 5 percent of an estimated 9.5 million skiers in the United States are under 12 years old. (No one can agree on how many ``skiers'' there really are). But judging from all the attention being paid to children's ski classes, equipment, and clothing, you'd think this might be the sport's dominant age group. Of course kids are a natural way to get young families skiing. Falling down, laughing, sharing triumphs and pratfalls together boil down to fun, relaxation, and ``When can we go skiing again, Mom and Dad?''

So now we have an explosion in children's ski school classes. The popular Skiwee program, which is at some 60 ski areas in 27 states, has devised a day (or portion thereof) where young children learn to ski together under the tutelage of specially trained instructors.

Well-trained professionals certainly can ease and speed up the difficult, exasperating, and tedious parts of learning to ski. But professionals are not part of the family, and I think parents who always abandon their small fry to the ski school make a mistake, just as do those who usually leave the kids at home on ski trips.

Sure, skiing with the kids can mean extra hassles. And Mom and Dad should be allowed some ski time on their own. But ``family skiing'' is more than picking kids up at the child care center or getting everybody from the car to the base lodge without dropping a glove, a ski, or screaming at someone at least once.

A few years ago, a supervisor of children's ski classes at Ski Windham, N.Y., listed five questions for those thinking of starting their children skiing. How much effort are we, the parents, willing to make? How much does my child want to ski? How independent is my child? How familiar is my child with snow? Does our whole family ski?

If several of the above produce positive answers, your child is probably ready for skiing. If most of the implied conditions are not met, it's probably better to wait until children are older, readier, and wiser so that they can enjoy the experience.

And speaking of being wise about skiing ... if the mob scene and lines at Stowe, Vt., over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend were any indication of conditions elsewhere, I can only hope that newcomers to the sport picked another time to take up skiing. World cup report

In December it was the Swiss. In early January it has been generally the Swiss, and after that there isn't too much to talk about.

Pirmin Zurbriggen, the 1984 World Cup champion, increased his lead by winning last weekend's Lauberhorn combined (best finish in both downhill and slalom) in Wengen, Switzerland, and is once again looking too good in all disciplines to catch. His countryman Joel Gaspoz, who won the slalom at Wengen, is third in the standings (Markus Wasmeier of West Germany holds second place), while three other Swiss skiers also rank among the top 10.

The women's competition, meanwhile, is the same story. Defending World Cup champion Maria Walliser, Vrenie Schneider, and Brigitte Oertli, all from Switzerland, were the top three finishers in Sunday's giant slalom at Pfronten, West Germany, and also stand 1-2-3 in the overall standings - with countrywoman and former champion Erika Hess in fourth place.

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