As a lifelong New Englander, I have fond childhood memories of skiing with my family in Vermont’s green mountains: the picturesque views from the chairlifts, the exhilarating rush as I went down the slopes, and the promise of a warm hot chocolate at the end of a perfect day. My brothers and I have had the good fortune of skiing our entire lives, with our dad giving us the majority of our lessons, and I knew that one day I wanted to pass along this experience to my children.
Growing up, I would often invite non-skier friends with me on my family trips to the mountains, and I enjoyed teaching them the mechanics of skiing for the first time. So when it came time to teach my daughter—at the ripe old age of three years—how to ski, I figured I had it in the bag.
But what I didn’t know is that teaching kids to ski (especially a toddler) is very different from teaching a young adult or an adult to ski, and I had to recalibrate my approach to make the experience more enjoyable for both of us. Here are some tips I learned along the way.
Before You Get On the Slopes…
1. Consider Your Child’s Age
I’ve seen children as young as 18 months out on the bunny hill, but, you may consider that to be a little too young. On the other hand, you may be gung-ho at getting your tot out on the slopes. The choice of when to start your child skiing is up to you. But you may find that waiting until your child is three or four years old (preschool age) will improve his ability to understand and execute the ski lesson properly. And save you and your child some tears.
2. Talk It Up Ahead of Time
Get your kid excited for his first time on skis by talking about the trip ahead of time—like a day or two in advance. Any earlier than this, and you risk confusing your child. Tell stories about your own experiences skiing, and show him pictures of some of the cool gear he gets to use. Keep it fun.
3. Rent, Don’t Buy
Speaking of gear, when it comes to the major equipment—skis, boots, helmets—rent, don’t buy. Kids’ bodies are still growing, so what you purchase this year—even at a great deal from your Facebook tag sale group—likely won’t fit their needs in a year or two. Kid equipment rentals, especially when purchased off-mountain, can be relatively fair in price, too. As for the other stuff, snow bibs, jackets, goggles, and gloves can all be purchased second-hand, or borrowed from family or friends who live in colder parts of the country. Check out kid clothing consignment shops to score great deals.
4. Lower Your Expectations
Teaching kids to ski is a very rewarding experience, but it can be frustrating at times, too. Especially if you go into the situation thinking your child will turn into Mikaela Shiffrin by the end of the week. Start the lesson with few expectations, and take your cues from your child. Some children learn fast, while others need a few repetitive lessons under their belt before they get comfortable moving up to the next level.
5. Keep ‘em Warm
The fastest way to ensure a negative ski experience is to under dress your child. So take the time to add that extra layer of long underwear, add a neck warmer, and tuck some hand warmers into their pockets. Keeping your child toasty warm means fewer meltdowns on the slopes.
While on the Slopes…
6. Get Animated!
I’ll be the first to admit that a few hours on the bunny hill with my child can feel like I took in a little too much laughing gas at the dentist’s office. But those exaggerated “You did it!” exclamations, high-fives, cheers, and smiles are all very much appreciated by your child. Sometimes props also help—like setting up a small obstacle course for your child to ski under or around. In the end, your child may not remember the lesson as well as you hope, but he will remember the feelings during it—and the more fun and happy you make it, the more likely the child is to want to go skiing again.
7. Teach Through Games
Successful skiing is all about two things: keeping balance and maintaining control. When teaching an adult to ski, you can discuss concepts like shifting weight while turning and keeping your center of gravity. But these concepts will go over your child’s head, and probably bore him in the process. Instead, teach these lessons through games. You may not feel like you’re getting through to your child, but believe me, he’s learning a lot through play. Teach him the “pizza slice” (the ski wedge for stopping and slowing down) and “French fries” (a more parallel ski stance for gaining speed) and make a game of calling out each and having your child mimic your moves. For turning, have your child play follow the leader. Or have him point out specific objects to turn his shoulders and help him learn how to turn.
8. Take Breaks
Skiing can take a lot out of a little tot, especially during his first few times on the bunny hill, so make sure you take plenty of rest breaks. Even if you’ve packed a lunch or are only on the slopes for part of a day, let your child enjoy the lodge and perhaps a hot chocolate or a cookie. It adds to the experience and the fun, while also giving your child the rest he needs to perhaps complete a few more turns on the bunny hill before the day ends.
9. Quit While You’re Ahead
Kid meltdowns in general are not fun, but a child melting down on a ski slope brings that to a whole new level. Meltdowns occur when kids are tired, or frustrated, or perhaps just not ready for a day of skiing. Follow your child’s cues, and finish up the lesson at the first sign of an imminent meltdown. Remember, you can always come back another time to finish the lesson. It is best to keep the memories positive and tear-free.
10. Consider Professional Help
Every mountain offers some sort of ski lesson program. You might want to check out your options for putting your kid into a group or private lesson with a professional instructor. Perhaps you’ve reached your limitations in your teachings and your child now needs more nuanced lessons. Or perhaps you’ve reached your limitations as a parent and want to keep your interactions with your child positive. Or perhaps you feel your child will learn best from someone else. Whatever your reasons, this is why there are professional ski instructors out there. Use them. And, besides, there’s nothing wrong with Mom and Dad wanting a day to themselves on the slopes.