St. Anton am Arlberg is known as a sophisticated ski resort with challenging slopes. Nonetheless, this is also the place where hundreds of kids learn to ski each year. Especially young kids are fearless when it comes to mastering the big white.
The man-sized bunny rolling around in front of the large tepee doesn't stand a chance. He's well outnumbered by a pack of kids who gleefully attack him with snowballs after a long day at the ski school. Hoppl, the school's mascot, seems a bit tired while the kids are still bursting with energy.
The Ski School Arlberg is Austria's second largest ski school. Most people don't think of beginners when they think of St. Anton – the terrain here seems more suitable for experienced skiers and snowboarders. And yet, each season between 350 and 400 ski instructors work in the region. "If you learn how to ski here, you can get down the hill anywhere in the world," ski instructor Patrizia Haselwanter proudly explains.
The 27 year-old from Tyrol has been working as a ski instructor at Ski School Arlberg for eleven years and has been skiing since her early childhood. Her father first took her on the slopes when she was a mere two and a half years old. A bit later Patrizia went to ski school and has loved skiing ever since. Even more than the sport itself, the skiing expert adores working with kids: "I always knew that I wanted to be a ski instructor for kids." About 1200 children learn how to master the slopes in St. Anton each year.
The youngest participants in the school's courses are around four years old. Barely one of them is fearful about skiing. "If a child is scared, it's most often because the parents are, too," the instructor remarks. Kids are all equally brave, no matter where they are from. Lots of guests in St. Anton are from abroad: from Germany, the UK or the Netherlands. Even children from lowlands are fearless. "The only difference I've noticed is that kids from, say, the Netherlands tire more quickly because they're not used to the altitude." Her young students are not only undaunted, they also learn the technical aspects of skiing quickly – unlike the adults! "You show the kids how to do it once and then they just follow your lead. Adults have a harder time because their heads get in the way and they keep thinking of all the things that could happen," Patrizia elaborates.
Children learn more quickly and easily; they also give back a whole lot. It could be a heartfelt thank you, a smile, or a drawing. As rewarding as teaching kids to ski is, it can also be quite a challenge. Ski instructors are responsible for around ten little ski bunnies for the entire day. "Of course it's daunting when you start, fearing that a child may get lost or hurt," Patrizia admits. But like her colleagues she quickly mastered her insecurities and began focussing on the teaching.
By the end of the course, almost all kids can actually ski – the Ski School Arlberg boasts a success rate of nearly 100 %. "Years later students return to St. Anton with their own children. They want their kids to learn how to ski in the best ski resort in the world as well!" Patrizia says with a huge smile.