My first memory of skiing is actually not being allowed to ski. It was nap time at the Penguin Playground, the daycare center in the base lodge at Okemo Mountain, and while I usually partook in this early afternoon hour when all the toddlers cozied up with blankets and pillows on floor mats to rest up before our parents came off the slopes to pick us up, I distinctly remembered that on this particular day I was to have special privileges to go outside and pitter patter around on skis. My Mom had specified this on the daily schedule she filled out for me that morning. But because I was a regular there at the Playground, the staff overlooked the change to my usual routine, and I didn't get my allotted ski time that Saturday. I was 3 years old and ready to furiously stick it to the man. I also just wanted to ski.
Things looked up the next couple of years, when I graduated to Ski Wee and then to the mountain's race program. My family was tightly woven into the Okemo ski community: skiing was our pastime, our weekend adventure, our family thing. Looking back, especially to those early years, it's quite extraordinary that I have no bad memories of the sport as I was learning it. The most traumatic experience was the day that I didn't get to ski. And to this day, wherever I am in the world, I wake up some mornings wanting nothing but to strap on some skis and speed down a mountain.
Teaching your kid to ski is a gift that will give them years of outdoor fun and family connection, if not an entire lifetime of it. But supporting them in that process is not always so simple. After coming full circle from learning to ski when I was 3 to teaching little tykes twenty-something years later, I've witnessed and exercised through trial and error what works, what doesn't, and what will really turn a kid on or off to skiing. Here are 7 tips to help get your kid stoked on skiing and on their way to successfully falling in love with the sport:
Send Them To Ski School
I know this can hurt, Mom and Dad, but your child is highly more likely to enjoy skiing if they start learning in ski school. They may kick and scream as you drop them off or swear they won't go outside all day, but chances are there will be a big turnaround once they warm up to the instructors, to the other kids, and to the professional and fun teaching approach of top-notch ski schools. Instructors are pros at age- and skill-specific learning progressions, connecting with kids, and creating safe and fun learning environments. And your kids will listen to them more than they would to you when it comes to getting out on the slopes.
Bundle Them Up
Skiing can get cold – frigid, in fact. The busiest week of the 2015 season brought sub-zero temperatures to much of the Rocky Mountains for 8 straight days…but the skiing went on. Young skiers – especially those just starting out – need plenty of warm layers to stay comfortable on the slopes. What does that mean for you? Overestimate. Play it safe. Bundle them up in as much puffy down and merino wool they need to keep them warm and toasty, and don't forget the hand warmers and balaclava. The last thing you want is your child to associate skiing with feeling helplessly cold. Minimize chances for creating negative associations with the sport by dressing them properly.
Yes, take breaks: take plenty of them. When it comes to learning how to ski, it's true that a kid needs to get in plenty of mileage, but pushing youngsters to perfect their skills with hours of back-to-back laps is not only ineffective – it's unhealthy and unsafe. New skiers tire easily using their muscles in ways they haven't before, and taking breaks ensures they won't overwork themselves and lose control due to fatigue. Taking breaks also keeps kids wanting to go back out for more, and promotes a healthy mindset towards the entire experience of skiing.
Encourage Fun (Not Performance)
This is a biggie: not just for skiing, but for all sports. Even if you desperately want your kid to be the next Lindsay Vonn or Travis Rice, know that they won't get there safely or happily if they are pushed to perform – especially from an early age. A priority for new skiers and riders must be to have fun, because fun is the factor that will keep them excited about learning, practicing, and improving. Mix things up with hot chocolate breaks, snowball fights, and runs down slopes that may be boring for you but are super fun for them. Laugh. Play.
I have witnessed both sides of the spectrum regarding safety and parents skiing with their kids. On the one end, there are overly ambitious adults who whisk their kids away to terrain way too advanced for the children's skills, then get frustrated when there are tears and protest at the top of the slopes. On the other end, there are parents who just aren't familiar enough with terrain choices and skiing in general to make confident decisions while skiing with their kids. A safe middle ground can be found in educating oneself about appropriate terrain choices for a kid's ability level and listening to the child's wants and needs on the hill.
Enjoyment of outdoor winter activities doesn't come naturally for all kids, and skiing is no exception. A great way to smoothly transition kids into skiing is showing them an array of other outdoor winter activities. Try hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, tubing; play in igloos and ice castles; build forts and snowmen and snow angels. The pace and excitement of ski resorts can be overwhelming for young kids, and familiarizing them with simply being outdoors in winter eases the shock.
Watch For Triggers
Triggers are those things that instantly create negative experiences for your children in their overall experiences of skiing. A trigger could be cold toes, low visibility, crowded slopes, or loud lifts. If a kid has a fall getting off the lift, gets up, skis down, and suddenly refuses to get back in the lift line and shouts something like, "I hate skiing, I'm never going up there again!" you can deduce that the lift unloading fall was the trigger. If you can, identify it as soon as possible, and diffuse the situation by talking about it and helping your child to develop trust that the problem can be fixed, and they can enjoy skiing once again.
Skiing is an activity that can be highly challenging to learn, but also rewarding beyond expectation. Keeping it safe and fun for your children as they delve into the learning process is key to their successful enjoyment of the sport, and using these 7 insider tips will help. Good luck, have fun, and keep it safe; and if you need any help finding the best ski vacation deals, we've got you covered.