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Winter Wonder Beyond San Francisco: Family Snow Days!

Updated: Dec 29, 2018

When my family moved to San Francisco nearly 18 months ago, we wanted an adventure - to engage San Francisco and explore the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Even before we moved, we sought to learn some ways that families enjoy living in the city. We asked lots of "favorite" and "how to" questions. We elicited insights from new family friendships at Epic Church, Classical Conversations San Francisco, San Francisco Homeschool Band, SF Waves Fastpitch Softball, San Francisco Youth Chorus, and a local volleyball program. Our new friends shared a wealth of knowledge about the richness of San Francisco and surrounding areas.

We also gained some excellent advice from a few like-minded families who truly love where they live and thrive in this city. One common encouragement: in order to enjoy the city – to see the beauty among the ashes – travel outside of the city for a day or two. That brief escape can fill you up. Our family ventured to nearby areas such as Napa Valley, Sonoma, Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, and other delightful places. As we gained fondness for our new home, we also realized our enjoyment of it grew when we got away - here and there - for a weekend to quieter, slower places.

We have five children ranging in age from two to 13, so we’re always looking for fun activities that we all can enjoy. Last year, several San Francisco families encouraged us to visit the snow, so we made it a sport and took on the challenge of learning to ski. Skiing has been both a family adventure and an opportunity to teach our children new, practical skills in the beauty of nature. As parents who are called to teach and train our children even on the ski slopes, we engaged what Classical education calls the “Grammar stage” of learning as a developmental season or stage in which students learn “the language of each subject." Within the context of skiing, we focused on teaching basic terms like snow, cold, ski lift, and gondola. Before stepping foot on the snow, we taught them the essentials of how to dress for 20 degree weather. They understood immediately that they absolutely needed “under-layers,” snow clothes, long socks (sometimes two pairs), gloves, helmets, and the unfortunately-uncomfortable ski boots.

Our other, middle school-aged children took to the skiing methods and routines rather quickly – and discovered ways to help us with their younger siblings in order to maximize time on the slopes. For them, learning how things function on the mountains – including the significance of a “green,” “blue,” and “black” -- meant they understood their skills and which runs they could take on. As beginners, they initially practiced “pie,” which enabled them to stop; from there, they moved into the routine of practicing “S” as they gained experience with turning. It’s amazing how an activity like skiing can mirror the classroom: today, one middle school daughter came up from behind me, almost crashing into me, giving me the chance to explain people in front of you have “the right of way.” (Apparently, she did not Google the “Etiquette Rules for Skiing!”) As a student in the “Logic stage,” I was hardly surprised when she argued with me, giving various reasons why it was my fault that we nearly collided; when she claimed that she is a “better skier than me” (she’s not), I called out her Ad hominem fallacy of personal attack.

Last season, we were newbies to all things snow. Thankfully, some experienced snow and ski families shared incredibly helpful tips. Those with little children, recommended Soda Springs for first visits. Since our family includes teens and tweens, we scored 3-3 passes at Boreal, which included three ski lessons, ski equipment rentals, and a season pass. For our crew, that was the right option for the price (note: if you plan to ski with seven people, you should consider marking it as part of your family’s annual budget). We also explored King’s Beach, which is quaint and lovely, and Incline Village’s Diamond Peak. Now into our second season, our children chose their Christmas gifts (we give "memories") as the Epic ski passes, and we found a new love for skiing at NorthStar; in addition, we plan to explore Heavenly and Kirkwood (and welcome tips and recommendations).

In no way have we mastered the Grammar stage of skiing, though we are all gaining knowledge and experience in ways that show significant progress -- in fact, you should see our two year old take on the bunny slopes! For our family, learning to ski has helped grow our relationships. During one run, our kids were up ahead and I was following behind, in case someone fell or needed help. From a distance, I saw a snowboarder essentially slide tackle my seven-year-old as she slid to the ground. Shocked! The nerve! I was going to let him know “the right of way” etiquette that I mentioned above! My heart raced as I started upon her – first to see if she was okay and second to give him my two cents. And then, I saw him clearly – and was speechless. NO! It wasn’t. Oh yes, it was - her daddy! Both of them laid out, laughing. In disbelief, I started cracking up! That same man saved me the next day, as I was improperly aligned on the ski lift and otherwise would have fallen from it had he not grabbed me by the neck and pulled me up!

Skiing has taught my family new skills (not the least of which is humility!), given us new ways to explore California, and helped us appreciate the wonders of God’s creation. It has even provided an opportunity to give and receive the love and grace of God. Later that evening, around the fireplace, we discussed small miracles. I shared how two of my girls and I went up a blue, but did not know where it led; my younger one was scared, asking me to return down the mountain with her on the Gondola. I began to get a little concerned myself. Then, from out of nowhere, a woman who introduced herself as Diana appeared with a huge smile, asked if we needed directions, and told us that she would take us down the best, most straightforward path. She patiently waited on us and encouraged my young daughter each time she made progress down the mountain. Her hope-filled words and joyful spirit caught my attention. We made it down together safely, and I believe Diana helped us get there without trouble. When I attempted to thank her at the bottom, though, she was gone. Disappeared. Sometimes, I wonder if The Lord sends angels in our midst - or perhaps uses others exactly when we need them most so that we can see His small miracles all around us. How often do we pause to reflect on the small miracles around us and thank Him for eyes to see what He is doing in our midst?

I love how the wonder of winter, the snowflakes falling on my children, teaching a new skill, contagious laughing, and opportunities to see small miracles can deepen our family’s friendships. I have also come to value and appreciate how we can thrive not only in the beauty and wonder of San Francisco itself, but also by exploring the lovely areas that surround it. I am thankful to those families who encouraged us to periodically retreat from the city because that simple practice has grown our love for living in the city.

What are your favorite family activities around San Francisco? What areas are you keen to explore together? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the different environments around the Bay Area!

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