F ROM JANUARY TO MARCH, NEARLY 300 KIDS BETWEEN PRE-SCHOOL AND fifth grade participate in Strider-Gliders, Tahoe Cross Country’s after school ski program. Children spend at least one afternoon a week playing in the snow, inventing games and skiing with their friends. While the kids think they are just having fun, the organizers hope they are developing a life-long love of winter sports.
Groups of similar ability and age ski from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. with volunteer instructors. While teaching kids how to ski is a goal of the program, it is a task that is accomplished differently with kids than with adults. If you take longer than 30 seconds to explain skiing technique to children, their eyes will quickly glaze over, followed shortly thereafter by those eyes rolling up inside of their heads. Adults are just so boring. Children learn getting out there and skiing—and watching others. The good news is that kids’ brains are like sponges, and they learn how to ski much faster than adults. So, at Strider-Gliders, kids tromp through the woods, race each other around trees, or play tag. As long as they are skiing, they are learning.
While skiing once a week is a good start, a goal of Strider-Gliders is to get the kids out skiing as much as possible. In November, after paying the $80 program fee and a security deposit, participants receive cross-country skis, boots and poles to use for the entire season. They can ski free anytime at Tahoe Cross-Country and are encouraged to do so. Many strider-glider kids can be seen on weekends, skiing with friends or their parents. Strider-Gliders has turned many of their parents into cross-country skiers as well. Strider-Gliders also provides a drop-in day, where the older kids have the option of skiing an extra day every week.
Two years ago Strider-Gliders initiated a program that was an instant success: Laser Biathlon. The biathlon involves racing around a course cross-country skiing, then stopping several times in a shooting range to fire at targets. Thus, you are racing in one of the world’s most aerobic sports, screeching to a halt, then trying to relax and shoot at targets. Any shots missed means you have to ski penalty laps, so it’s not only the faster skier who wins, but the best shooter. Laser biathlon works the same way, except the kids shoot at targets with safe laser rifles instead of the real ones. There are two reasons why biathlon is an awesome activity to do with children: 1) Kids love to shoot at stuff. Targets will do. And 2) The faster they ski around the course, the sooner they get to shoot again. They have a blast and ski hard.
The biathlon students are taught all of the same safety procedures used in regular biathlons, so that when a real biathlon ski event occurs in the region, they can easily make the leap to using the real rifles. After the program’s first year, fifth grader Camille Syben, one of the Strider-Glider biathletes, attended a biathlon event at Auburn Ski Club on Donner Summit.
After ticking off five targets in a row, a former U.S. Ski Team biathlete said, “Geez, who is that kid?”
Standing next to him was Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association director Valli Murnane, who proudly proclaimed, “That’s one of our Strider-Glider kids!”
The Kids Great Ski Race for all Strider-Glider participants is the culmination of the Strider-Glider year. A series of races are held from just a few hundred yard shuffle for the little tykes, to a competitive 5K sprint for the oldest. While the final racer often crosses the finish line well after the others, he’s still greeted by loud applause from his fellow students and the crowd of parents. Just like the rest of Strider-Gliders, it’s not about winning, it’s about participating, although the winners do receive prizes.
When they reach sixth grade, Strider-Glider kids can join the North Tahoe Middle School Nordic Team. The school is located adjacent to Tahoe Cross-Country and last year over 70 kids, about one-fourth of the total enrollment for the school, were on the Nordic team. The middle school team accommodates every level of skier from the serious racer to the kids who just like to hang with their buddies and go out skiing after school. Either way, a huge number of middle school kids are cross-country skiing a few days a week. Like Strider-Gliders, the middle school team focus is more on having fun, than on winning races, and they are participating in a sport that they can continue doing long after they have had to give up basketball, football and soccer.
After middle school, children can be a part of the North Tahoe High School Team as well as the Far West Nordic program, where the Devo and Comp teams are training top Nordic skiers to compete with the best cross-country skiers in the world. While the primary goal of Strider-Gliders is introducing kids to a great sport, many of these kids have gone on to become top local and regional racers. Perhaps, some day, a kid who began cross-country skiing as a pre-schooler chasing his friends up the hill in Strider-Gliders will reach the U.S. Olympic Team and bring back to the Tahoe region a little trinket that over the years a slew of Tahoe downhill skiers have garnered: an Olympic medal.