The #1 question parents ask is “when I can start my kid on skis or snowboarding?” The next is “where should I take my family skiing?” and “how do I assure my kids will love skiing like I do?” Here are my tips as a former ski instructor, ski journalist, and skiing mom of two, about introducing the sport your love to your little loved one!
1. The magic age for starting your child skiing or snowboarding isn’t magic. It requires good judgment, versus overzealous ski parenting. Every kid is different; some 3-year olds are active, adventuresome and ready to get on snow ahead of certain 4 or 6-years old. You know your child best, if they like to play in the snow and have balance and coordination, these are signs they are ready to try skiing, along with the obvious – potty trained.
2. Your child should be excited about skiing – eager to give it a try. Parents can plant the seed with fun photos, ski videos and children’s books on skiing, but you should not push skiing until they are enthusiastic.
3. I recommend getting your child on skis inside on a carpeted area before you hit the slippery cold snowy slopes. An inside downhill dress rehearsal is ideal, having acquired skis and boots in advance at your local ski shop, ski swap or hand me downs. Let your little skier try out the gear in the comforts of home. Let them clomp around in the playroom or carpeted basement in those awkward ski boots and even click into their skis and waddle around to get the feel for the equipment. This is a great first step to making the first day less intimidating.
4. If you’re a DIY do-it-yourselfer, pick a nice sunny soft snow day to take them out for a couple gentle runs on the baby slope. Use a harness if you wish, but I think its best to guide them by snowplowing next to them (use a ski pole – giving your child the handle end and hold it across both of you) or put your child between your skis if you are comfortable with that, for that first glide. Keep the experience happy, safe and positive. Take photos, have fun. As soon as the child’s interest wanes, take them in for hot cocoa. One ski run is better than none.
5. Don’t think that you’re not a good parent for not teaching them to ski or ride yourself – the opposite can be true. Ski lessons and kids learn to ski camps are well-planned at most ski resorts. Instructors are experienced instructors and family ski areas offer specially designed terrain, animated areas for kids, and successful teaching strategies and techniques.
6. Call the ski area in advance or go online to get the scoop on learn to ski programs and snowboarding lessons for first time kids on snow. Reserve space and confirm what’s included (i.e.: lunch, equipment), what you need to pack, drop off and pick up times, and costs for hourly, half day and full day ski lesson programs. Ask for forms in advance to expedite registration.
7. Ask about deals on ski resort lodging that may include free or discounted kids ski tickets and lesson programs. Avoid peak holidays and school vacations for the best prices, and fewer kids in camp. Also, think small, you don’t need a big ski resort with huge vertical for your child’s first foray into skiing. Save time and money by going local to start.
8. Prep your child in advance for their ski lesson with a description of their on snow day. Tell them Mom and Dad are going to bring them to camp, leaving them with an instructor and other fun kids who are also learning to ski for the first time. Tell them about snacks, lunch, and what time they will see you at the end of the lesson – no surprises. Pack the proper gear, label everything for ski clothes and gear along with favorite snacks or toys.
9. Take ski pictures to document your child’s first big day on the slopes. Ski pics are great later to amp up your new skier for their next ski adventure, and you are building their alpine archive in case they become famous free skiers. If they are in a lesson, do NOT disrupt them. Watch from away, unobserved. Parents can unwittingly upset the progress made by popping up in their kid’s ski lesson space.
10. Teach your kids the joy of après ski. That doesn’t mean taking them to a loud bar with sticky beer on the floor and drunks dancing in ski boots. I am recommending cocoa, s’mores, a swim in a heated pool (or a bubble bath), followed by family ski stories shared by a fireplace as the perfect end to your child’s ski day – and a good chance they will want to repeat.