It’s every parent’s dream: Cruising down a ski slope on a bluebird day with your happy kids shushing right along next to you. But the reality is it could take many seasons to get there: Learning a new skill is tough (for anyone!) let alone a small human extra sensitive to cold, prone to meltdowns and demanding snacks from the Waffle Cabin at regular intervals.
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I can remember my early days on snow. My father first taught me when I was a toddler, and would hold me between his legs as we rode the J-Bar at Waterville Valley Resort, in New Hampshire. He’d then let go at the top, and follow close behind as we skied down.
I loved skiing with my dad—but didn’t enjoy the cold. What I can say, though, is that when I was 16 years-old I joined the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for a 10-year stint, so in teaching me to love skiing—my dad did something right.
Even if you don’t have Olympic dreams for your kids, here’s how to keep them happy on the slopes so they can learn to love skiing, too.
You’ll know to dress your kid in warm clothing but breathable layers are a must—just as they are for you. Your child is going to spend a lot of time down in the snow so choosing a fabric like merino wool is ideal for its quick-drying abilities—especially when next to the skin. Avoid cotton at all costs.
It goes without saying that those base layers should be topped by waterproof outerwear. Ski clothing can get expensive so shop secondhand to find quality gear that wont be painful when they grow out of it. Many ski destinations have secondhand ski and snowboard shops, and tony Telluride (in CO) even has something called a ‘Free Box,’ where people can take and leave gear as needed.
Start Learning Off the Hill
Sometimes ski instructors start ‘Never Evers’ off without even hitting the slopes, and will sometimes encourage children to ‘walk’ with one ski on to get a feel for the snow. My father started me skiing in a similar way—first strapping on my skis outside our house in New Hampshire, before gently pulling me along the road.
Know that its Going to Take a While
In the early years, while your kids are stuck on the bunny slope – there will be a lot of tears, a lot of quitting and frankly a lot of money spent on lift tickets and lessons. This is all part of the long game. You are paying money and putting in a ton of time these first few years so that you can reap the benefits a few seasons from now. Its really all worth it, but its hard to connect with that blissful future state when you’re peeling your tantruming 6-year old up off the magic carpet all afternoon. This is true for your ski seasons too – you will pay for lift tickets only to spend your entire bluebird day on the bunny slope with your kid between your skis.
Be Happy! You’re Skiing!
As with anything in life, attitude is really everything – so be sure to keep the skiing experience fun. Remember to stay cheerful yourself, even if you are spending more time picking your kid up versus skiing down, and offer praise for the smallest accomplishments.
Speaking of fun: If the weather is extra cold, windy, or stormy—it might be best to skip the ski day altogether, unless your child truly doesn’t mind. Forcing anything will create a negative association, so best to wait it out.
Sign Up for Lessons
Do not expect to be able to do it all yourself. Lean on the professionals and get that kid a lesson! (This is also an excellent time to do a grown-up run or two and make sure you get some real skiing in.) Resort ski schools can be excellent for helping kids learn to love skiing, and as good a skier as you may actually be, teaching someone else may not be your superpower. Putting them in lessons means your kid will not only properly learn how to turn and burn, but he or she will be able to ski with other kids, too.
Ski Schools often offer special ticket-package deals, and some resorts may even offer kids free lift tickets altogether. Check the website for any deals or age requirements.
Organizations like Ski Utah offer special programs for children, too, such as the 4th, 5th, and 6th Grader Passport Program, which features 45 days of skiing at Utah’s 15 resorts for just $55.
Encourage a Little Competition
NASTAR races are a fun way to motivate kids (or anyone, for that matter) as they involve skiing an easy giant slalom (GS) course on an intermediate-level (blue square) slope. NASTAR allows you to ‘race’ a top skier’s pace-set time with an age- and level-related handicap, and then win a gold, silver, or bronze medal for your efforts.
It’s great fun and so rewarding to score a medal. The golds can be hard to come by but a bronze is typically easy to reach.
Ski resorts sometimes offer their own fun races, too. The first one I skied was the co-ed ‘Lollipop Race’ when I was six years-old, at Waterville Valley. I won the race—which I enjoyed and likely set me on my ski team path—and scored a giant lollipop for my efforts.
Chances are, your kid would enjoy the same.