Our ski and snowboard expert shares her personal tips on how to instill a lifetime love of skiing in your kids.
By Amy Whitley
When I take my three kids skiing, everyone carries their own gear, puts on their own boots and helmets, and gets themselves easily out onto the slopes. Everyone can zip around the mountain with relative ease, and when we all meet up in the lodge for lunch, everyone’s still smiling.
Sound idyllic? Trust me, it wasn’t always this way! In our first few years as a skiing family, when our children were preschoolers, a ski day was a study in patience! We suffered it all: whining, crying, runny noses, full-on tantrums…and the kids got upset sometimes, too. Waking them up early and carrying all their gear and keeping it organized was a challenge, but now, we are reaping the rewards. If you, too, want to instill a love of skiing or snowboarding in your kids, know that my recommendations come hard-won and are all based on our own first-first-hand experience.
There’s no perfect age to begin teaching your kids to ski or snowboard, but I believe early is best, as long as expectations remain low. Introduce kids as young as 3-4 to the concept of a day in the outdoors in winter (complete with a bit of discomfort here and there) and they’ll be rugged skiers for life. We started teaching our kids to ski at age three. Yes, hauling around a kid that age in full ski gear is a pain, but they’ll look adorable in their gear, I promise.
Quick Tip: You can teach your kids to ski yourself, if you know how, but if you don’t, this can be a good age to simply play in the snow with them…pull them in a pulk sled while snowshoeing or just go sledding!
When you’re ready to get serious about learning, you have several choices at your disposal; which you choose may depend on your personal situation. If you live within easy access to a ski area, definitely opt for regular, season-long lessons. Many ski areas have great deals for locals, and some school districts even have after-school programs for kids.
“Progression” lessons (where your child picks up where he or she left off the week before) ensures growth. Be sure to pick a program that assigns the same instructor to your child each week, for consistency. If your local mountain doesn’t offer these types of lessons, consider a set of 3-5 private lessons. While more expensive, you get more done each day!
Quick Tip: Even if your kids don’t think they want to ski race competitively, consider signing them up for your local race team. Our kids learned expert ski skills through the instruction of their race club, and even though none of them wanted to race competitively later on, they have fond memories of the friends they met and the skills they learned.
If you don’t live near a ski resort, you’ll probably plan to sign your kids up for lessons while on a ski vacation. This can be a great option, too, but it’s even more essential to find consistency, since your kids are likely to forget some skills between ski vacations. Take a few minutes to research the ski school program at your resort; the best will outline each level they offer and what ski skills are met in each (so you can accurately place your child in the correct lesson for each kid). Find a ski school program that ensures the following:
Age level distinctions as well as ability level distinctions
Options for half-day programs for young kids
Fun elements like snow castles to play in or snow slides to ski to.
Start times that work for parents (early drop-off options or staggered start times work well if Mom and Dad also plan to take a lesson or join a clinic).
End of day reporting, where the instructor fills you in on the skills learned
Quick Tip: Look for the option to take a family ski lesson at major resorts. Listed under “private lessons,” many parents assume these lessons are costly, but when broken down, a family lesson (usually with up to six people allowed to join) can cost less than signing up all the kids for group lessons, and the whole crew can stay together and learn together.
If you’re an accomplished skier or snowboarder and want to teach your kids on your own, this is, of course, the most affordable option! Just remember to go slowly, allow for plenty of breaks, and designate some runs as “just for fun,” when Mom or Dad don’t instruct. Bear in mind that sometimes, paying a professional will save your sanity!
Don’t forget to teach ski safety, too. When your kids are very young, teach them early and often that speeding straight down the hill (with skis pointed downhill without turning) is reckless (and just bad manners on the slopes). They should know to stop (to the side of the ski run) to wait for adults at every trail junction. And you should consider setting a meeting place should you become separated (the bottom of the lift the child rode most recently is a good choice).
When kids get older, more safety factors come into play. If you have “big mountain” kids who love to explore every side-country (technically in-bounds) gate, every tree glade and every jump, it may be time to sign them up for a class specifically dedicated to teaching them how to perform aerial moves safely, how to navigate terrain parks and powder, and how to stay safe in the backcountry.
Quick Tip: Sign teens who are very adventurous up for avalanche safety courses at home. These courses are usually only a few hours to get the basics, and will teach kids what to look for in unstable snow conditions.
Yes, the act of skiing in-and-of-itself is fun, of course, but for young kids, a few extra treats added in can make the difference between them being eager to get out on the slopes each day, or reluctant:
• Stash chocolate in their jacket pockets (a nice pick-me-up that won’t melt easily).
• Make chairlift times fun with riddles or word games.
• Say “yes” to small breaks in the lodge to warm up with hot cocoa.
• Ensure kids are comfortable with the correct layering and ski gear.
• Consider hand warmers to slip into their gloves.
These small things can make a big difference! Before you know it, you’ll have expert skiers who are out-skiing you on the slopes!
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About the Author: Amy Whitley specializes in outdoor travel writing for families with children. She is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids, a family travel site dedicated to resort, attraction, and outdoor activity reviews for kids. Amy writes regularly for U.S. News Travel and Southern Oregon Magazine as is an editor for OutdoorsNW Magazine and Twist Travel Magazine.