On the Bunny Slopes

On the Bunny Slopes
by Adam Perry for Local Flavor Magazine
December 2010

Jennifer Flores, director of the Children’s Ski School in Santa Fe, is not an easy woman to get in touch with if you’re not actually up on the slopes with her. Between helping manage the school, giving lessons and training new hires, there’s rarely a dull moment—or a moment spent indoors. And that’s the way she likes it.

“I grew up on a chile farm,” Flores, 26, says. “So we didn’t stay inside and watch cartoons and that kind of stuff. We were always outside, whether it was fishing, biking, swimming in the river or skiing. We did all that.”

She was also hooked on skiing from the first time she tried it.

“I was kind of a daredevil as a kid,” she says. “So I think for me it was more the rush and just going out there and trying new things. You get excited when you take that first jump and all that kind of stuff, so it was just being out there and being outside. We were outside our whole lives.”

Flores was born in Santa Fe and later moved to Lyden when her parents started the five-acre chile farm; two years ago, she moved back with her two-year-old daughter, Mia, and 15-month-old son, Jarrod, following her parents back to Santa Fe. While this is Flores’ first season as director, she’s been teaching skiing at the Children’s Ski School for four years. Although many people who haven’t been here would be more apt to think of cactus and desert than premier skiing, she says Santa Fe is in fact her ideal locale for winter sports.

“Vail and all those big resorts are fun to go to for a trip here and there,” Flores says, “but for me Santa Fe’s nice because it’s close to where I live and the prices aren’t crazy. If you go to Vail you’re gonna spend a lot more money, and I think those resorts, they’re huge, so you don’t get a feel of the whole mountain. You have to stay for a week to get a feel of the whole mountain and really experience it all, whereas Santa Fe is smaller and family friendly and kid friendly for sure.”

A skier since age two and a half, Flores has seen the evolution of the sport in New Mexico since the late ’80s and has some strong opinions about keeping skiing pure.

“In a way it’s changed because of technology,” she says. “When I was young we had just straight skis and everybody would just go out and ski. It was definitely more just for fun. Everybody just went out to ski and have fun, and now it’s still fun but it’s become competitive, and it’s changed in that sense.”

“It’s kind of evolved into an actual big-time sport, and everybody wants to be…they go and put their heart into it and they look up to, like, Sean White and people like that. The parents, too—they put so much time and money into the sport because it’s a big, big sport now. It has become more expensive because it’s evolved. You spend more on skis now because it’s not just straight; you have twin-tipped skis and you have snowboards that just glide, so it’s amazing.”

Despite the cost, a major part of Flores’ work—not to mention her passion—is telling children and their parents about the joy of skiing in the Santa Fe area

“Skiing is definitely an expensive sport [but] if you’re the type of family that goes up all winter long you definitely get your money’s worth if you buy a season pass, because it pays off by far in the long run. You figure you pay $60 for a lift ticket, and if you buy a season pass for $500 and go twice a week, you pay that off easily. And our school is a full-day program with snack and lunch. It’s all about having fun with the kids and making their experience—whether it’s their first or their fifth—making sure that they have a fun day. We want them to definitely want to come back, and we want to make skiing a positive sport for them.”

“They’re literally with us all day. They get checked in, in the morning; they have snacks with us, and lunch with us, and they ski all that other time. It’s just great. We have so many levels that we can teach kids at; it’s experience for everybody. We have three and four year olds who have actually skied so much with us that they’re already up there skiing with six and seven year olds and just doing amazing, because we make it fun and we want them to be out there on the slopes.”

Seeing children get hooked on skiing early, just as she did, gives Flores a sense of satisfaction.

“It’s a positive when you have kids who don’t want to come in for snack and lunch because they’re out there skiing and having so much fun. And we started snowboarding last year with the kids and it was a great success. So this year we’re actually starting snowboarding at five years old, where last year we started at six-year-olds. Next year we might even start snowboarding with three- and four-year-olds just to see how it goes.”

According to Flores, what’s now the Children’s Ski School was at one point the only ski school in Santa Fe. They had been hosting lessons for children here and there, but many parents wanted a full-day program, which equals not only fun-filled training for the kids but also free time for mom and/or dad. Flores’ dual excitement around both skiing and childcare made her a perfect fit.

“I’ve just always had a passion for working with kids. I’ve been a nanny since I was in the 11th grade, and I have a younger sister who’s six-and-a-half years younger than me, so she’s been my little shadow her whole life. I’ve just always been into kids. I’ve done youth programs for the City of Santa Fe; I volunteer at church and am currently teaching Sunday school. I just have a passion for kids and believe that they’re our future. They’re gonna be what you shape them to be, and if you show them all the positives in life they’re gonna be fantastic in their future because they’re gonna think positive about themselves and have a positive experience in life.”

Having grown up on the slopes, Flores’ daughter, Mia, is naturally an avid skier, too. Mia started skiing even earlier than her mother, and she’s been zipping up and down the mountain ever since.

“My daughter started right before her second birthday, actually,” says Flores. “It’s been a good experience, because this is my fourth year at the ski area, so she’s literally lived on the mountain for a good portion of her life. She skis and snowboards now; she’s amazing at both. When you do it as much as she does, sometimes she doesn’t want to go up there and that’s fine, but when she does she has so much fun. It’s one of those things where I’d love to see her on the mountain rather than sitting at home watching cartoons and playing video games, stuff that’s not going to teach her anything.”

“To me, skiing is like education. She’s learning about [the] outdoors; she’s learning new things; she’s learning how to be in classes with other kids and get along with other kids. It’s one of those things that’s just positive; there’s not one thing I could say that’s negative about her being a skier and snowboarder for as long as she has so far.”

Flores says her son, Jarrod, will try skiing in a few months, just before he turns two. As with any child, spurring Jarrod’s interest in winter sports is mostly about getting him outside, according to Flores.

“We have a daycare [at the Children’s Ski School] that starts at three months old, and we take kids up to three years old. Just getting them out there in the snow, sledding and building snowmen with them and stuff like that, that’s all in the experience, too. You’re getting them outdoors and in the snow. It’s part of the learning process, because a lot of kids freak out when they see snow for the first time and touch it and feel how cold it is, so getting them used to that is definitely the first step.”

Training new staff has taken up most of Flores’ time preparing for the exciting new season in Santa Fe, but when she spoke with Local Flavor there was one other little detail on her mind.

“Hoping for snow is a big thing,” she said with a hearty laugh. “We need more snow to get it off the ground and start things going for the season. It’s gonna be awesome.”

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