"Make a piece of pie, make a piece of pizza," the curly-headed ski instructor cleverly urges her four would-be skiers, girls aged four to six. One by one, as teacher Deedy skis backward, guiding their miniature ski tips into a "V," they snowplow for the first time, their red bunny bibs proclaiming that they belong to "Fun Country."
Warmed up first with games like "Play Soldiers" (shuffling skis and swinging arms), and "Simon Says" ("Touch your knees, touch your skis"), after one hour these baby ski bunnies have not only snowplowed but side-stepped up the hill ("Make choo-choo tracks"), tackled the J-bar lift and discovered the surest way to stop ("Just sit down").
Now, slipping between their teacher's skis to "make a train," they chug back to their very own lodge for mid-morning hot chocolate and cookies, recovering from the 15-degree Pennsylvania mountain air.
Acting like veteran skiers already, new friends Jennie, Rachel, Indrani and Laine (all from the Washington area) can't wait to go back out and attack the slope together.
To the envious beginning adult skiers, awkwardly flailing about nearby with their ski poles and other new paraphernalia, making friends with the mountain like this is only an elusive dream.
But for the staff of "Fun World," Ski Roundtop's separate ski school for children, making skiing easy and fun is the whole idea.
For starters, everything is in one place. The program has its own base lodge, ski lift and slope (although this year a water shortage has limited snow-making so far), 20 specially trained and enthusiastic instructors, junior rental equipment and a nursery/playroom for non-skiing kids where hot lunch and snacks are served.
"Teaching children is fun, for the kids and us," beams the 25-year-old director, Sharon Codner. "But it takes a special kind of innovative style, bundles of enthusiasm, imaginative game-playing, and lots of patience and positive enthusiasm."
"I only wish adults could release their inhibitions, stop thinking in technical terms, and then they could have more fun too," adds the avid skier of 15 years who even returns to the mountain after dinner for night skiing with her fiance.
This Chris Evert Lloyd lookalike, who used to race for the Ohio State Ski Team, hopes parents don't see Roundtop's special facility just as a baby-sitting service but as "a foundation for family skiing, building children's ability and confidence so they can ski with their parents." b
To any skiing parent who has had to choose between the cabin fever of staying home with the kids or enduring the dawn-to-dusk hassle of long lines for equipment, lessons, lift tickets, food and even bathrooms -- sneaking in only a few precious runs during the kid's hour lesson -- this kind of help on the slopes is priceless.
"We left home at five in the morning" says Potomac mother Diane Kaufman, "and without this, we would have left Rachel at home with a babysitter."
After one morning in the ski school program and the afternoon resting in the playroom while her parents skied all day, the Kaufmans have traded their big ski vacation "alone" for a family skiing week with their daughter at a closer mountain.
Justus Wirschnitzer, a Bowie single parent, thought his girls, four-year-old Jennie and 10-year-old Melanie, "needed something more than just a lesson, and teaching them myself is like trying to teach your own child how to drive; plus, I got to ski for the whole day myself!
"Eventually, I hope we can ski a slope together," says the father who expects to return to Roundtop's program first.
One Reston father, Bob Satterfield, left his six-year-old daughter, Laine, and her friend Indrani de Silva, at the school while he skied with his son, Tuck. To his great surprise, they skied so much that they retired mid-afternoon to the nursery to catch the ballgame on TV.
With full-day or half-day skiing sessions and babysitting available for non-skiiing children (even infants -- a boon to nursing mothers), families can mix and match schedules to suit age and ability. To reassure nervous and safety-conscious parents, there's even a mountain-wide paging system.
On weekends, when early-morning skiing time is precious, a parent can drop the children at 8, just when the slopes open, and the specially trained instructors and staff do the rest: fit equipment, check bindings, play indoor ski games, take them to the bathroom, dress them in all those ski layers, get them to the slope, back again for hot chocolate, dress again, back for a hot lunch, and then back out again for the afternoon session.
The instructors don't end their day until 4:30, when all the children have gone and a card is written up on each pupil's success that day. (Repeaters often ask for the same instructor.)
And if you feel guilty about just dropping your kid off and heading for the near-by lift, don't:
"We prefer that the parents leave and stay away," beams two-year veteran Jean Yelk.
"What's worst is the parent who returns eight times a day, upsets the child each time and then goes back out and the kid screams and we're left with them."
"Or the parent who goes to the kid's-class," adds Codner, "and the parents expect so much that the kids feel the pressure and worry that they're not good enough so they fall the minute they see their parent."
Codner, dead serious about kids' having fun skiing, thinks a proper breakfast and, most important, proper clothing are crucial for a successful beginning.
"Here's the parents with down jackets and Head skis and the kids don't even have suitable gloves or jackets." (Codner uses her lost-and-found box when kids come ill-equipped.)
"The most important thing is that they have fun," she adds, "and then the rest will fall in place because they'll want to come back and do it again."