How to Prepare your Kids for Skiing
By Susan Kerr
As a girl growing up in New York City, the thought of skiing was so alien to me that I would have given better odds to my landing on Mars than going down a snowy slope with two skinny boards beneath me. Little did I know what love could do.
My husband Jack was born and bred to ski, even going so far as spending summers traveling to places where he could downhill ski. He managed to keep this passion in check during our formative dating years, but by the time we were married, it was too much for him. We started going to the mountains almost every winter weekend. Like it or not, sink or swim, I needed to learn to ski. And I did learn, (not with his help and thus the reason we’re still married) after many hours spent with diligent and patient ski instructors.
Then along came the kids, now aged 14 and 11, who are two passionate and tremendous skiers. Sometimes I look at them (not while I’m skiing because they are way beyond my ability) and wonder how did they get to this point. Well I’m here to tell you it can be done. You-whether you’re nuts about skiing or have never skied in your life-can turn your children into skiers. And for those of you who are into snowboarding, the same advice holds!
1) Prepare for foul weather. Remember, this isn’t lawn bowling!
* If at all possible, try to make your child’s earliest ski experiences take place during good weather. A fine, sunny day goes a long way. But since we can’t always choose the weather, remember skiing also can be tons of fun during a snowstorm. What’s probably most important is your attitude. If you grumble about the cold or wet, chances are your kids will too.
*Buy, rent or borrow the best clothing you can. A lot of people make the mistake of going out and buying cheap clothing at the local discount store. That’s fine if you know you’ll be in pristine conditions, but skiing is a foul weather sport. It can be cold, snowy and, especially, wet (even on warm days because that’s when the snow is melting). Kids get acclimated to bad weather quickly if you make them comfortable. Make sure you get well-insulated, water-and wind-proof clothing (not cotton or wool!!!). If you expect skiing to be a once-a-week-a-year adventure, look into renting items from ski shops or asking around to borrow them.
*Check your car and the weather forecast before you go . Not only do you need to prepare your clothing, but you must also prep your car if you’re planning to drive. Make sure you’re driving an all-wheel-drive vehicle or carry chains if you’re not.
2) Mom and Dad or Ski School?
* Who gets the joy of teaching your child to ski? That depends on your child’s age, level of parent’s expertise, budget and patience. When our children were still in diapers, my husband Jack (an expert skier) would connect himself to our daughter with one of the ski ropes and snow plow down the hill with her leading the way. This apparatus is available in all ski stores, but is best when the children are still very young and small. It’s back breaking work for the parent, and if the child is old enough to read, he should be skiing without being tied to mom or dad.
* Ski schools are there for you! Many children learn a new skill best from someone other than a parent. Skiing can be frustrating in the beginning, but kids will probably take it out less on someone new. Plus, any school worth its salt will try to make the experience as fun and relaxing for your child as possible. Also, unless you are an expert skier yourself (and even then there’s no guarantee), chances are you’ll impart to your child all of your bad skiing habits. We’ve all seen the parent who can barely stand up on skis himself yelling clearly unhelpful and misguided advice to his kids as they’re barreling their way downhill.
* Call the ski resort or check its web site as early as possible to see what the rules are for enrolling in ski school. Some will take, and even require, advanced reservations. If you don’t have a reservation, plan on getting there when the resort opens. Many ski schools, particularly on busy holidays, will fill up by 9 a.m.
* If you’re going to be skiing often, look into the mountain’s race programs. Most ski resorts have special programs for kids who ski a lot. My daughters started in a race program at the age of four and stayed with it until 12. These programs are separate from ski schools which are meant for kids who only occasionally ski. The race teams take kids of all levels of ability and put them with a coach. Definitely not an option for those who aren’t sure they like skiing, but it’s probably the best way to teach your child to ski.
* If you do decide to be your child’s teacher, have fun! The beauty of skiing is it’s one of the rare sports that actually can be enjoyed by the entire family together! Plus, how many other sports involve hot chocolate?
3) Equipment you need to bring vs. what to leave at home.
* If you go to ski school, you won’t need to bring equipment for your child other than clothing and gloves. They supply the skis and boots. But check this out first with the resort.
* Equip them with boots that fit! Other than being cold and wet, nothing is worse for a kid than ill-fitting boots. Properly fit boots require only one pair of ski socks, not six! And don’t try the "you’ll-only-be-wearing-them-for-a-few-hours- so-it-doesn’t-matter-that-they’re-too-small" trick! Believe me, your kids won’t fall for it.
* If possible, borrow or rent your equipment before you get to the slopes. While ski areas generally have much better equipment than a non-ski area, if you’re planning to rent and only have a weekend, there’s no point wasting all Saturday morning getting your equipment. Otherwise, everyone will be grumpy before you even step out on the hill.
* Get your child a helmet! I cannot stress this too much. If it’s the first time out and you know your child will be in a very restricted, closed off flat area, you may convince yourself to make an exception. But once your child is out on a slope with other skiers, a helmet is a must. Once they start wearing them, they’ll never go back to a hat, especially since on those cold, snowy days a helmet keeps the head nice and toasty.
* No matter what your child says, she doesn’t need poles until she is an intermediate skier. Poles will only get in the way of learning the sport (and make too tempting a weapon against little brother or sister) and should be earned.
4) Safety first, or why skiing is both thrilling and dangerous.
* I’ve seen too many kids snowplowing down a hill completely out of control. The thing to remember about kids is they’re smaller than adults, and if they hit an adult or vice versa, the adult is going to win the battle. Teach your kids ski manners…that the person further down the hill has the right of way.
* Let kids know that conditions change, even within the same day. As the day heats up, there can be slush and mogels where in the morning there was nice packed powder. Likewise, always be aware of ice, and other unmarked obstacles.
* Ski lifts are serious! Every kid gets on a lift and sooner or later has to try rocking it. Make sure they use whatever safety bar is available. Nothing terrified me more than my young daughters on lifts alone because there was no way they could scoot all the way back. Somehow they survived, but teach your kids to listen to the lift operators. I know kids who have fallen off lifts after years of riding them because they were showing off to their friends. This is why an adult always should be present with kids.
* Make sure you have a prearranged meeting place and time. Point out landmarks to your kids as you’re skiing so if you become separated, they have some clue as to where they are. Cell phones work great for older kids. Also, make sure your kids have contact information with them (e.g. a piece of paper with name and phone number) so if they do get lost, the ski patrol can quickly find you.
Perhaps one of the most important tips is to choose a resort where you feel comfortable and whose prices meet your budget. Ask around, get suggestions, or look on the web to get more information on what’s out there. With proper preparation and attitude, skiing can quickly become one of your family’s favorite activities.
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