This was going to be the year you put your child in ski school. She’s finally strong enough. He’s finally comfortable being outside in the cold. But now, COVID-19—and all the necessary precautions that go with it—has thrown a wrench in your plans.
Before you throw your hands up in exasperation (again!), consider another possible solution: giving your child a ski tutorial in your backyard or at the local park. I know, I know. This kind of do-it-yourself instruction often leads to tears and a desperate need for chocolate—and the kids need consolation too!
Going into the lessons with a solid game plan is key, so we tapped into a few local experts for their tried-and-true teaching tips. Read on for ways to build your child’s on-snow confidence without ever leaving your neighborhood.
Play the Long Game
Sure, you’re excited to get your newbie confidently zooming down the hill like a miniature Lindsey Vonn, but it’s more important to focus on the real end goal: spending quality time skiing together.
“You’re planting a seed slowly but surely so that when they’re older and independent, you can celebrate all the hard work,” says Brooks Crosby, founder of Shredder Indoor Ski & Snowboard School. “You have to have a plan and have the right mindset going in as a parent.”
Skiing is a technical sport requiring leg strength and balance. Be sure to set realistic expectations for what your child can do their first few times out. Thirty minutes, two runs, just one meltdown and a round of hot chocolates might very well be the definition of success.
Begin on Grass
There’s no need to wait until a blanket of white covers your backyard to start the learning process. Begin by encouraging your child to get a feel for the equipment simply by walking around on the grass in their ski boots.
“The hardest part of skiing is getting your child from your car to the top of the hill,” Crosby laughs. If your child can feel confident walking in their clunky boots on the grass, that’s a great first step toward feeling comfortable enough to traverse snow.
When your little one is ready to add in skis, talk them through the ski’s different parts so that they can build up their vocabulary. Point out the tip and tail. Help your child get their boot into the binding and add in some playfulness.
“Instead of, ‘Put your foot in here and step down,’ pretend like this binding is an alligator and they have to stick their toe in his mouth,” says Leota Sweetman-McPeek, a Grand Junction-based ski instructor with 50 years of experience.
Take Stock of Your Surroundings
You and your new skier are ready to try these skills on snow. But where to go? Look for a place with a mellow pitch.
“You want to make sure your kids are safe,” Crosby says. “Start small and work your way up.”
If a steeper neighborhood hill is your only option, begin lower on the slope near where the terrain flattens out. Remember that the skis will move quickly over the snow, so even a small angle will suffice for first-timers.
Also keep in mind that smooth snow is the easiest surface to navigate. Think of your own time at the resort skiing freshly groomed corduroy, compared to the difficulty of crossing end-of-day chop. The same goes for your new skier. When picking a hill for your newbie, avoid the local sledding hotspot with its tracked-out terrain (and rogue tubers!). Seek out untouched snow whenever possible.
Keep an eye on the weather, too. “If it’s 20 below, it’s O.K. if you don’t get out at all,” Crosby says.
Try Some Basic Skills, But Make Them Fun
Always strap on your own gear and go through the activities alongside your child, Sweetman-McPeek advises. Not only does sharing the experience make it more enjoyable for you both, but giving your child a visual demonstration makes these new-to-them ski concepts much clearer.
Next, pick a flat spot and give your child a tutorial on stopping and starting. Demonstrate wedging to slow down and then invite them to name the motion themselves as they try it out. “Should we call it a pizza? A piece of pie? The letter A?” Let their imagination run wild. Then show them how to place their skis parallel to one another and explain that this motion will allow them to go faster. Repeat the kid-created terminology exercise. “French fries, anyone?”
When your child is ready to head downhill, pick an area with a mellow slope and help them up to the top. Station another person 10 yards down the hill to play catcher. Gently release your child down the hill to your partner. Once they’ve made it down without falling a few times, you can begin teaching the skier’s stance: A forward lean with hands in front of their body and their head up.
Is your child making it down a hill with a confident grin on their face? Congrats! But don’t give up future plans for an on-snow ski school or off-snow program like Shredder. Your child will build on the basics you’ve taught them, and become a confident skier much more quickly with additional guidance from a professional.
The professionals agree on what to prioritize when teaching a child to ski: “The first order of business is having fun,” Crosby says. “Just go out and have a good time.” Here are some simple games to inject a touch of playfulness into your lessons.
Red Light, Green Light
How to: Assign one person to be the caller. Gather at the top of the hill and when the caller yells “green light,” begin to ski down. When the caller hollers “red light,” everyone wedges into a stop. Repeat the process down the hill. Feel free to add in “yellow light” as well to practice skiing at slower speeds.
Yellow (or Red, Blue, or Green) Snow
Equipment: Food coloring
How to: Let your child squirt a few drops of food coloring in a line across the snow at the end of your makeshift run. Head to the top of your hill and have your little skier practice stopping on their colorful line.
Equipment: Handkerchief, bandana, or scarf—ideally three or four
How to: Ski (or shuffle if you’re on flat terrain) a few turns ahead of your child, drop the hankies onto the ground, and have your child lean over and pick them up. This exercise is great for honing balance and flexibility, Sweetman-McPeek says.
How to: Sing silly songs as you put on your gear, like “We Are the Champions” to get inspired; make up a ditty about pizza pie and French fries while working on starting and stopping; belt out “Let It Go” (with special emphasis on the line about “the cold never bothered me anyway”) if the whines set in.
Don’t want to pay top dollar for a fast-growing child’s ski equipment? Many ski supply stores such as Christy Sports, REI, Epic Mountain Gear, and Larson’s Ski and Sport, as well as ski schools like Crosby’s Shredder, offer season-long rentals for reasonable rates. Inquire at the same stores about purchasing used equipment, and selling it back to the store the following year to get your child’s next size up.