The first time my husband and I took our three-year old son skiing, we made a rookie mistake. We thought we were prepared.
We put ski boots on his soft, tiny feet and let him march around the house. We popped a helmet and goggles onto his head and played “pretend” games. We watched videos of children skiing and talked about the fun we’d have together.
Being lifelong skiers, my husband and I smugly thought we had it nailed: We’d put him on snow. He’d love it. We’d ski together as a family.
Not surprisingly, things did not work out as we planned.
Getting him on snow was easy. He was game, but we were naive.
While the coat he was wearing was cute, it wasn’t warm. Soon, he was cold and unhappy. Not even hot chocolate could staunch his tears.
I was a full year before we got him on snow again.
This was just one of the lessons we learned when teaching our kids to ski.
Tip #1: Get the Right Gear
The next time we skied, our son wore a proper ski coat and pants. He also wore one pair of thin wool socks, polypro base layers and a fleece. We put mittens on his hands and had hand warmers at the ready.
Plus, since we rented skis and boots for him for the season, we knew the hardware was tuned, properly fit and ready to go. At the suggestion of our ski tech, we purchased an inexpensive bungee that clamps onto the ski tips to keep them from crossing or spreading too far apart.
This time, he was physically comfortable and ready for fun!
Tip #2: Focus On Fun
Sometimes, adults forget that kids are motivated by fun. The first few days on snow are not about learning technique. They are about happily spending time together and building a positive association with skiing or snowboarding.
Find a flat or nearly flat place to practice basic movement. Pull your child around with your ski poles. Encourage them to shuffle their skis and start sliding. Make up silly games and use funny noises. Laugh a lot. For like 30 minutes. Then take a break for hot chocolate.
When your child is ready to go back outside, get out there and play some more.
Don’t even bother putting on your ski boots and skis.
Tip #3: Take Lessons
When your child is ready for the next step, sign him or her up for a lesson. Group lessons are usually the most economical and enjoyable, since kids like being with other kids.
If you can, take a tour of the children’s center a day or two before the lesson. Point out other kids skiing with their instructors when you see them on the hill. Look at a resort map and find the magic carpet and ski school. Each of these things will help familiarize your child with the idea of lessons and build a sense of comfort.
Although you won’t be with your child during the lesson, let him or her know where you will be and what time you’ll be back for pick up. If you’re anxious, hide your concerns. Don’t give your child any reason to worry.
If your child has separation anxiety, talk to the instructor and come up with a game plan. Remember, they’ve seen it all before.
On the day of the lesson, arrive early so that you aren’t rushing. Introduce yourself and your child to the instructor and then leave. Although it’s oh-so-tempting, don’t “spy” on the lesson. Instead, click into your bindings, hop on the lift, and enjoy some adult skiing.
Just remember to be on time for pickup.
Tip #4: Reinforce What Has Been Taught
After the lesson, check in with the instructor and get a report.
Find out what was taught, where the child skied and specifically ask how you can reinforce what your child just learned.
To minimize confusion, learn and use the same terminology as the ski school. Get recommendations on what runs and trails to try. And find out what level lesson to sign up for the next time.
Tip #5: Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
According to Kevin Jordan, the Children’s Coordinator at Snowmass, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is taking a child down a trail that is too difficult. As Kevin puts it, “This is a sure-fire way to regress, rather than reinforce, what your child has learned.”
Although it’s hard, parents need to have realistic expectations. Most kids aren’t going to grow up to be the next Ted Ligety or Mikaela Shiffrin. And that’s probably not your goal anyway.
So don’t push your kids too hard or too fast. Remember to laugh and play together. Create positive opportunities and experiences that will instill a love of skiing in your children.
Most of all, be patient and focus on fun. Before you know it, you and your kids will be skiing the same runs. And then one day, they’ll pass you by in a puff of powder and perfect turns down a steep line.
At that point, your job is done. Now you just have to keep up.
Christy Sports is the presenting sponsor of the Colorado Ski Country USA 5th and 6th Grade Passport Program. With this pass, 5th graders ski free (and can get a free 1st-time lesson and rental) at 20 member resorts. 6th graders ski at each of these resorts for a one-time fee of $99. It’s the best deal in Colorado for skiing families!
Also, January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, with great deals on children’s lessons at resorts throughout Colorado and Utah. For more information, find your resort on the LSSM webpage.