If you’re excited to get your kids on skis, hold on. It’s not as easy as bundling them up and sending them down a sledding hill.
“When you’re skiing with the kids, it’s not about you at all,” says Julie Bielenberg, whose husband Ben started teaching their two oldest children to ski at age two and takes them skiing every weekend. “He’s very patient; his enthusiasm and sense of commitment motivate the kids. If you don’t have that, they won’t like it.”
Other avid skiers agree. “Do anything to make it a good day,” advises Patrick Fitz-Gerald, who skis with his six-year-old daughter Larkin.
“The first couple days are make-it or break-it days and are key to creating lifelong learners,” says Barry Hanson, general manager of Keystone’s Children’s Ski & Ride School, Special Programs.
So, how do you make those first times on the slopes positive? Here are tips from parents and instructors on how to inspire a love for the slopes.
Most ski schools begin at age three with ski/play programs. But Rob Nevitt, a parent and veteran kids instructor at Eldora, thinks age six is when they’ve attained the mental and physical maturity needed for learning. By then, their muscles and balance are developed, they’ve been through kindergarten, have less separation anxiety, and do well in class situations.
Just like adults, kids must have a good boot fit and proper size skis to do well. Ski school packages usually include rentals. Many in-town ski shops offer seasonal rentals, or allow you to buy skis new or used, then trade for larger size anytime during or after the season. Beginners don’t need poles; they just get in the way. “Poles are useful when they start to do well on blue slopes,” says Nevitt. “It’s the instructor’s call.” Kids think helmets are cool, so customize them with paint, stickers, or fun head pieces. Goggles, not sunglasses, should fit snugly on the helmet. If you’re worried about your kids’ skis separating while they ski, Edgie Wedgie is a helpful device that clips on ski tips to keep them close together.
Dress them in layers: base layer, fleece or sweater, waterproof jacket and pants, thin ski socks, and mittens (easier to get on and warmer than gloves) clipped to their sleeves. “Neck gaiters keep their necks warm even if they unzip their jackets, and they will because they get hot from falling and getting up a lot,” says Fitz-Gerald. He also stuffs a business card with his cell phone number in his daughter’s pocket.
Make a list, check equipment, and lay everything out the night before. Dress kids fully in the lodge. Fitz-Gerald has a foolproof command when helping to dress his daughter: “Point and Push.” Legs into pants. Toes into boots. Hands into sleeves. Fingers into mittens. Done. “Dress them before dressing yourself ‘cuz it gets hot working on it,” he adds. He “gets one layer out of the way” by having Larkin sleep in long underwear. Pack a backpack with all the gear, extra gloves and socks, water, and snacks, and have them wear snow boots to walk from car to base. Don’t let them walk on wet floors in socks; wet socks in ski boots keep feet cold all day.
David Chambers, who teaches kids at Wolf Creek, watches for physical obstacles like altitude sickness and lack of athleticism. “Altitude can really mess with kids. Some get pale and want to throw up, so make sure they are acclimated, drink water, and eat a good breakfast,” he says. “Being overweight is a serious handicap too. I always ask what other sports they play. Kids who do athletic things with their parents usually have the best time.”
Have them walk around the house in ski boots and get them used to snow. “Allowing children to explore cold weather and snow prior to ski school is beneficial,” says Hanson. “Make it a family experience,” says Gina Carbone Fenton who has four skiing sons. “If mom, dad, and siblings love it, chances are your little one will too.”
Avoid bad weather days for the first time, if possible “Everything they know about skiing is that first impression,” says Nevitt. “Wind is a deal breaker,” says Fitz-Gerald. “It makes everything miserable.” But lessons don’t cancel due to weather. It is, after all, a snow sport. “When it snows, we play different games like being in a snow globe and catching snowflakes with our tongues,” says Brigid Kenny, a coordinator at Beaver Creek Children’s Ski & Snowboard School.
Everyone agrees lessons with trained professionals are the best way to learn. Summit County parent, Amy Kemp, thinks having the same instructor and same group of kids every week has been key to her daughter’s motivation. “It’s a process,” says Nevitt. “A long-term investment.”
A pre-winter visit to Snobahn, the indoor ski teaching treadmill at Southglenn, can help kids find their ski legs without intimidating obstacles of weather, crowds, and unfamiliar slopes. At Camp Keystone, Hanson developed Mountain Maze, an indoor interactive first experience kids can try with ski boots on.
Don’t hang around after putting your child in a lesson and don’t try to teach them yourself, unless you are an experienced skier with ample patience. “It makes me sad to see frustrated parents yelling at their kids,” says Nevitt. “I see it every day.”
Have Realistic Goals
Kemp’s daughter, now five, is skiing blue slopes like a champ. “The best thing is that she’s learning confidence and that falling down is part of trying and getting better—a great lesson in life.”
Nevitt recommends the book Ski Tips for Kids: Fun Instructional Techniques with Cartoons ($15, Falcon Guides) that breaks down the basics of teaching never-evers for parents and kids to read together.
“Parents should allow their kids to enjoy the experience, not focus on what they can do,” says Hanson. “Every accomplishment is huge. It’s all about the fun of learning. The goal for the end of the first day is to have them able to put on equipment and slide down our easiest terrain.”