An hour before school started on a recent morning, several Vickery Creek Middle students gathered behind the school to hit the bunny slope.
There’s no snow on the small hill, though it is covered in white, and students strapped to snowboards and skis are at work learning the fundamentals of snow sports.
“Raise your toes up,” an instructor tells a student learning to stop while sliding on a snowboard down Vickery’s “mountain.”
The program, offered by Southern School of Snow Sports, brings a white carpet similar to artificial turf, and teaches fundamentals and safety for five days.
After that, the group takes a daylong trip to the Cataloochee ski area in Maggie Valley, N.C., to test what they’ve learned.
“First we bring a slope to you, then we bring you to the slopes,” owner Trey White said.
Southern School operates in the Charlotte, N.C., and the metro Atlanta metro area, forming Snowriders’ Clubs at the schools they visit.
This is the first year the program has come to Vickery Creek Middle and its third appearance in Forsyth County. The past two years classes were offered at South Forsyth Middle.
More than 50 Vickery students signed up for the program this season.
Mckenna Butler has skied once before, but a collision with a man on the slopes left her wanting to learn more skills before attempting the sport again.
“I wanted to know how I could avoid that again, like get around him,” Butler said.
She signed up with friend and fellow sixth-grader Kelsey Kasischke so the two could share the experience.
“It’s going to be fun to be able to ski with your friends,” said Kasischke, who has previously gone skiing with family.
Seventh-grader Grace Ernest also signed up with a friend, with both girls choosing to try snowboarding.
“I thought it would be hard to learn, but I think we’ve learned pretty quickly,” Ernest said.
The students primarily practiced stopping on their heels during the sessions on the hill.
Though Ernest expected some fake snow, she was surprised to find the “white carpet” as a practice mat for boarding.
“I thought you’d have to go somewhere like Colorado,” Ernest said. “I’ve never heard of anyone having slopes like this.”
White said he’s used this style of teaching for more than 15 years. Nearly four years ago, he started his own business using the practice mat.
The Southern School works with many groups, but primarily visits middle schools.
“It’s just a really good age,” he said.
Following the five-day program, the group, along with friends, family and program alumni, take the one-day trip to Maggie Valley.
Vickery Creek and South Forsyth middle school students will each go for a day in early January.
Once at the slopes, students must demonstrate proficiency in the skills they’ve learned before receiving a lift pass.
The day is always fun for everyone, White said.
“The kids have a lot of laughs telling stories of some trick they claim they pulled or they show pictures of each other wiped out in the snow,” he said.
The fun is a result of learning the skills needed to succeed before trying to navigate down a mountain, said White, who emphasizes safety as the primary reason to take lessons.
For his students, he suggests taking the morning session instead of the afternoon to experience temperatures closer to those in higher elevations.
He also recommends first-timers try skiing before snowboarding, though the latter is often more popular with the students.
Vickery Creek eighth-grader Tage Ottesen said he chose to strap on the board since he can do tricks once he gets the hang of it.
Nolan Bell, also in eighth grade, said he prefers the teamwork of snowboarding down a slope over the individuality of skiing.
Whatever their feet are strapped to, White said those who go once often come back to keep riding with the group.
“I get e-mails all the time that say, ‘My kid had so much fun ... when can they go again?’” he said.