Skiing with kids isn't easy, and certainly not always fun. You'd like it to be fun, of course. And you've seen those other families on the slopes who seem to have it all together, kids-on-a-leash and all. But from schlepping gear to the hill to getting kids on the lift to soothing late-afternoon meltdowns, skiing with your kids definitely has its challenges.
Is there a way to streamline the process? Are there quick fixes for seemingly big issues? And how exactly does that morning routine work with 3 or more kids and 2 or less parents? Snowpak decided to consult an expert for this piece: a seasoned skier and mom of 12 years from ski mecca Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We asked Renée the tough questions, and she gave us (and you!) the detailed answers. So here you are, readers: the keys to the kingdom of enjoying skiing with your kids. And a big thank you to Renée for sharing her hard-earned secrets to success.
How long have you been a skier? What's your skiing experience?
I have been skiing since I was...well, essentially 6 years old. I found an old pair of plastic skis in the depths of the garage, and took to them like a humming bird to a flower. For 2 winters I would hike up the back yard (it was like Mt. Everest to my 6-year-old self), I would strap on the skis, and start on my journey down...down...down.
I was a trailblazer, so I was the first one in my family to ski. I started by nearly killing myself in a sled, using it like a snowboard – but the skis seemed to make more sense. I started building jumps and flung my little self over them, coming out of my skis each time. It must have been traumatizing for my parents to watch, so for my 8th Christmas, under the tree was a used set of boots and skis for me: real ones! Growing up in New Jersey limited my options, but they brought me to a local hill (Camp Gaw) and signed me up for a lesson, and I was on my way!
I was a ski instructor, was part of a freestyle team in college for one year, and i just love skiing. I started when I was age 6-8, and now...gulp...40. :)
Where did you grow up skiing? And where do you ski now?
I grew up skiing in New Jersey: Camp Gaw and that hill that turns into Action Park in the summer, also in NJ. I broke my wrist trying to snowboard at Hunter – that was the one and only time I was at that mountain, and I think I've skied at every little hill in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and have skied quite a bit in New Hampshire and Vermont. My middle school had a weekend ski program, and my parents would take me the other times! Now I ski out west, primarily at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. I do ski backcountry and in other locations out West.
Did you grow up skiing with your parents, friends, or in ski school?
I skied through school and with friends a lot. That made for interesting bus rides on the weekends! My parents also signed me up for overnights in Vermont via some other program, which I remember being extremely cold, but a lot of fun. My dad eventually picked it up a little – enough to justify ski trips for the family. My (older/only) sister even began to ski, but by the time they got into it, I was well past their levels.
During family trips to Vermont my mom would hang out in the lodge, my dad would stick to greens and blues, my sister would try to hang with me on blues and occasionally I would accidentally venture off and 'get lost' on the rest of the mountain, giving everyone else an anxiety attack, but enjoying my adventure ten-fold.
How did your skiing life change when you had kids?
Oh boy! We have 3 kids, and they were all diligent nursers NEVER taking a bottle – ever. The first nursed for 16 months, the second for 22 and the third for 28. That was not the plan. I didn't ski much once I found out I was pregnant, since I didn't want to fall on my belly, and being that we didn't have a nanny or babysitters AND my husband works a lot to support us, I was home with each of the babies a lot.
My kids' ages are essentially 12, 9 and 5, so there were small fits and spurts where I was able to take a powder run here and there. It helped me milk my ski boots for years and years, since I hardly got to wear them. Thankfully my feet didn't change size at all (which can happen after you have kids), so I was able to squeeze into them in-between each kid.
Two years ago my very sweet husband bought me a full season pass to JHMR since our youngest kid was finally going to Pre-school. It was like a tease, because the preschool was only from 9-12, which didn't even give me time to make one run. I did manage to get out a little on the weekends, or, if there was a BIG powder day my husband, Tim, would let me go and help watch the little guy. Last year and this year will be nearly identical as far as skiing days: Tuesday and Thursday our youngest is in Preschool from 9-3 and on Wednesdays he goes to ski school. FANTASTIC! Next year my life changes, as he will be in kindergarten. Stop the press!
How many kids do you have? Ages? Are they skiers?
We have 3 kids: 12, 9 & 5. Skiers, of course! The 12-year-old, a girl, is really into Ski Club. She started with us and then went into the JHMR program: Teton Village Ski Team. This is her second year with Ski Club, and she loves it. Our 9-year-old is also a girl and started in Ski School, then Ski Team, and this year she will be a U10 Ski Club kid. Our little guy is going to start his second year of ski school, and really loves skiing, but is a huge talker and loves the social aspect of it all.
Did you put your kids in ski lessons, or teach them yourself?
We thought, as parents of Ski Teams, a coach, an instructor, that we would teach them. Well, its not that simple. Taylor, the oldest, we started her on plastic skis (do not do this to your child!) days before she turned 2. This is also too early to start a kid. She would have been better off sledding. The following year she was in the absolute smallest set of real boots and skis that we could find. There is a good reason ski school doesn't start kids before the age of 3. Anyway, she turned 3 and we would take her, between our legs, with the edgie-wedgie holding the tips of her skis together, to get the sensation of skiing. I think it felt better for us, as avid skiers, to see her skiing. She was eh-eh into it at that point. Now she loves knowing that she was on skis at the age of 1. Ryan, the 9-year-old, was freshly out of my belly when Taylor was starting her skiing carrier at the ripe age of 3. We would go to the hill and watch, hoping that Ryan, a 3 month old, would be inspired. I think we ruined that inspiration on a backcountry skiing adventure that was cut short from cold weather on her little cheeks. We never did that to her again.
Tim would continue to take Taylor skiing on the weekends. She did not want to learn from him and he wanted to teach her. Fantastic. Ryan and I started skiing, and by the time she was 5, we got smart and started putting her in ski school.
Our third arrived when Ryan was 4, so that was yet another winter inside for me. We let each of them wear their skis in the house to get used to the funny feeling of falling over and getting up, but we were smart by the time Ty was ready to ski and just put him directly into Ski School.
Our kids love skiing with us and are still slightly reluctant to take direction from us, but they know that we know what we are talking about. I'm sure this 'struggle' isn't specific to skiing!
Which do you think they like better -- skiing in lessons or skiing with you? Or both?
They like both. They love skiing with friends, learning from their instructors and skiing in fun groups. But they really look forward to testing out their new skills with us, seeing if they are faster than us yet, and being one-on-one. I think we have a great family dynamic, and the kids and us really love being together.
What's your morning routine like to get the kids out on the hill as smoothly as possible?
Oh boy. Well, the oldest is 12 and knows what she likes. She skis enough days/week to know exactly what she needs, if she is training or free skiing, and what equipment that entails. Sometimes her ski boots are nasty and wet and need parental supervision to get properly dried, but she is pretty easy for the most part. Ryan is also quite responsible about her gear – and is usually sitting around fully dressed with goggles on, in the house, waiting for the rest of us. Tim is in charge of the skis and poles being loaded into the car. Ty is like getting a rag doll dressed. He either wears pajamas or clothes under his one-piece snow suit, and of course at the last minute he has to go to the bathroom. He finally understands putting on his boots with my help.
Everyone is supposed to carry their helmet, mittens, buff and goggles to the car themselves. Ryan wears hers, Taylor does it, Tim tries to reassure me by telling me he has everything, and I bring up the rear by carrying Ty under one arm and his helmet-pack in my free hand. Smooth? Never. But somehow we get there, and more often than not, we have ALL of the parts that we need. The kids' passes are all attached to their gear – one less thing to forget.
How many of your kids do you ski with at a time? What feels manageable?
I ski with 1-3 at a time. Taylor and Ryan don't need help getting on the lifts anymore, and they will take some easy runs with me and Ty. Ty is the leader when it's all of us. When it's me or Tim with both girls, they ski to the easiest level, of course. There is always an 'easier' way down a pitch. I love 1 on 1 so I can really have the best time with that kid. I love all of the combinations though. Last year we started a new thing where the girls can ask for 1-2 days to be pulled from school for a powder day with Mom! With 3 kids, any 1 on 1 time feels really special, and its all about building memories while have a blast.
How long do you ski for? Do you take breaks? What does your day usually look like on the hill?
I ski as many hours as possible Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday, while still trying to be responsible. Ty gets dropped at school at 9:00, picked up at 3:00 and has ski school for the same amount of time. Wednesdays I get to ski the most, since he is right at the mountain. The weekends with Ty are different. The girls each ski both weekend days: full day Saturday and the second half of the day on Sundays. I usually bring Ty out after lunch each of those days and let Tim ski a few runs by himself in the mornings. Last year we even had 2 ski dates together – those are the best dates!
Do you ski ahead of them, or behind? Who chooses the runs?
If we are trying to show that specific child what we are 'talking about' to try to help them with something we are seeing that needs 'fixing' then we will ski ahead of them. I love skiing behind them in case they fall and to watch their form and their growing love for the sport. Sometimes I'll zoom past them while making a race car noise. Ty sometimes like to be ahead, sometimes behind. We all pick the runs, depending on how much energy we have left when we meet up. On my 1 on 1 days with the girls when I pull them from school, we choose the runs together.
Are you able to get out onto the slopes on your own or with friends anymore? How do you find the balance?
A lot of my friends have gone back to work, but I do have friends who get a day off, have 'sick' days or other friends who work at the resort and have days off on my days on skis. I also have other friends who are a little older and are usually available when I am skiing. I don't mind a half-day alone, but I really like skiing with someone else. Because I used to teach skiing, I sometimes ski with someone of a lower ski ability and help them so that I can make a new ski buddy. However, on a powder day, I either ski alone or with someone of the same skiing ability. As they say: no friends on a powder day.
Can you ski everything your kids can ski? Any advice for if/when they become more skilled than you?
It's important to remind them that they are human and not superheroes. If they are skiing above their parents' skill levels, they should absolutely ski with at least one friend, they should know how to get in touch with Ski Patrol in the event they need help, and there should be check-in times. Walkie-talkies or cell phones work great for this, or checking in at a base lodge, or somewhere on the hill at a certain time. As a parent, you should support their ability to surpass yours, but the kids need to do it responsibly. This is also another reason why ski school or various ski programs are so great: they are with kids and instructors of their same skill level.
What are 3 pieces of advice you'd offer to parents on how to have fun skiing with their kids?
Have FUN. Keep it fun, make it fun, and be fun!
When they are young, its not all about skiing...it's also about that yummy cookie or great slice of pizza or that hot waffle at the top of the tram (and sometimes just taking the ride back down. As they get older, they still love all of those delicious memories and fun rewards.
Dress up! Skiing is one of those sports where it is totally acceptable to dress up in a tutu over your ski outfit. Even if you as the parent aren't totally into dressing up (Ebay has great retro gear!), kids are usually very into it. Just make sure they aren't going to get caught on the chairlift with their funny outfit.