Have you taught your kids to ski? It can be daunting, especially if you’re just learning yourself. If you can get them started young, however, skiing becomes a part of their way of seeing the world and helps foster a love of the outdoors. At three, an age many ski schools recommend starting kids on skis, these kids are enthusiastic, fearless and used to falling! If you think your kids are ready, what’s the best way to get started? Here are my six tips. Red, at seven, is now in race training, having skied since he was barely three. At three and a half, Smalls is loving his first season on the mountain and can’t wait to catch up with his big brother.
1. Get them used to their ski clothes
By the time you’ve layered your kids into thermals, bib ski pants, sweaters, jacket, and gloves, you’re both exhausted. Possibly sweating, if you’re doing it indoors, and at least one of you needs a snack then a nap. All these layers can feel odd to a kid who isn’t used to it, especially when you add on hard boots and a heavy ski helmet and goggles. Get your kids used to all the layers as much as possible before you even go skiing. Layer them up and get outside in your yard, if you have any snow, or even if it’s cold. If you’re skiing with a group at a resort, plan a short trip out to the snow purely to play, with no intention of skiing. Even when kids are used to putting on all the layers, it’s still hard work. If you can prep them to know how it feels to do all that work and then have fun outside, it will make everyone’s lives easier.
2. Short and sweet is the way to play it
Don’t plan for a mammoth session outdoors, even once your kid is able to move slowly on their skis without falling over. All that getting up and down is hard work for them, so plan for twenty or thirty-minute sessions, to begin with. We do a lot of hot chocolate and snack breaks. Sometimes, if it’s sunny and not too cold, we’ll have our snack outside, or maybe even build a quick snowman. That makes it easier to get back onto the slope again. But if I sense that Smalls is getting frustrated and the session isn’t going anywhere, we’ll cut it short and go inside the lodge. Especially if you’re skiing with other friends or family, you might find you’re at the resort for a large part of the day. Set your kid up with the expectation that you’ll be going in and out to the snow lots of times, and that way one bad session isn’t going to be the end for both of you.
Make sure you take lots of snacks, but also lots of other activities for them to play with on their breaks. We take magnetic tiles, coloring books, small cars, anything he’s showed an interest in the week before. And be prepared for them to nap – even if you think they’re past those days. Learning to ski is hard work!
3. Find someone else to teach them!
I can’t emphasize enough how fast our kids progressed when they joined ski school. Something about the combination of an adult who is not their parent asking them to do things, plus lots of other kids their age doing the same thing just clicked for them. It probably helped that this gives me and my husband time to ski or focus on the other kid, and everyone comes back more refreshed and ready to ski together after having had fun. If paying for lessons isn’t an option for you, consider trading with another parent with a kid the same age, or teaching both kids together. Turning it into a fun playdate and taking the focus off your expectations that this is a lesson can really help.
4. Once they’re moving forward, find a gentle slope
One of the things that really helped Smalls was having to take the green cat track back down the mountain after lunch. Red is in race training and we had to pick him up for lunch at a lodge halfway up the mountain. That meant Smalls got to ride on his first chairlift, which he loved. But it also meant we had to get him back down to the base. At this point, he’d only spent about three hours on skis total. We took the cat track back down, a gentle winding slope, with many sections that weren’t as steep as the bunny hill he’d been learning on. We couldn’t have done this on his very first day, but we knew he could stay upright and move forward at a reasonable pace without falling over. My husband spent a lot of time skiing backward and letting Smalls ski towards him. Smalls really wanted to hold onto a pole, or a hand, or a leg if possible! When he did, he would sag and let us do all the work, and we knew he could ski forward, it was just a case of helping him have the confidence to do it. We would do a few seconds of holding him, a few seconds of him skiing towards us, and gradually extend that time out. When it was steep, he skied between my husband’s legs. When he got really tired, my husband carried him (good thing those baby skis are so short!).
Obviously, a cat track so early in the learning process is not for every kid. But I was surprised at how much better Smalls got during that trail. He could see the lodge where we were heading for and knew we couldn’t just stop here. He felt the pride of being a big kid and skiing down like everyone else. He was so excited when we made it to the bottom and he was overtaking people on the flat as we made our way to the lodge.
5. All the snacks
If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you’ll know this point is in EVERY one of my lists of tips and tricks! Make sure you keep snacks in your pockets, in the bags kept in the lodge, all the places. It’s easy to forget how much energy these little ones burn while they’re getting up and down and trying to learn. Plus, I’m always okay with a bribe if it keeps us moving along. I keep candies they don’t normally get at home in my pocket – M & Ms and Smarties, that are small and easy to dole out over time without them getting too much sugar.
6. Quit while the going’s good
Even when Smalls is enjoying skiing and wants to do more, I often decide to end that session. You know your kids and can sense when they are getting tired or bored. The worst outcome is to leave the slope kicking and screaming. While that has happened a few times, if possible I try to plan our exit when he’s just mastered a new skill. I’ll often ask him if he wants to do ‘one more run’. If he says yes, I know he’s still keen and I give him that extra chance to consolidate what he’s learned. If he says no, I’m happy to take him for a break knowing that we ended on a high note.
Any tips and tricks you want to share? I’d love to hear them and test them out tomorrow when I’m planning to take Smalls up for a sneaky mid-week ski. The advantages of being my own boss!