“Once you take your first ride up a lift, your life will forever be changed.”
No stranger to regular readers of this blog, allow me to state the obvious for a moment for any newcomers: we are a skiing family. From the time my juniors were quite small, we have been trekking several times a year to the mountains in the hopes for some fun in the snow. Both learned at a young age (Buddy boy was 3 and little Miss was 2) and have taken to the sport like ducks to water. I’ve learned a lot over the years watching the kids learn to navigate their way down a mountain and after being asked for the umpteenth time if I have any tips or suggestions to get kids started, I decided to blog about it.
Please note: this is written from MY point of view as a skier and “sometimes snowboarder”. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY believe that young children can be plopped on a snowboard just as easily as skis and do NOT subscribe to the belief that they need to master one before the other. My kids are skiers that dabble in snowboarding and if I was a stronger snowboarder I would be happy to write about that as a family sport but I’m just not. If your child shows an interest in snowboarding over skiing, perhaps you should inquire about what is available around you to help them learn their preferred sport.
10 Tips for Skiing as a Family
Disclaimer: these tips are merely suggestions and things that worked for us or other families I’ve spoken with and might not be right for your family.
- Invest in lessons. I cannot stress this one enough which is why it is the first to make the list. I am fully capable and able to teach people to ski but there is just something incredibly stressful about trying to teach someone you love a skill. Ski instructors around the world are well-equipped to teach littles how to navigate skis. As part of their training, they have learned to really understand how even the youngest skiers think and respond. Trust them. Respect their training. Let them do their job! Swiss ski schools start at 2 years old and French typically start at 3. Always call ahead and ask if you think your child could handle lessons at an earlier age than is listed on your local ski station’s website. My daughter was eager to try which is why she started at 2 instead of 3 (which is normal in France). Bringing me to number 2…
- Don’t assume they are too young. This is very personal choice and I am not suggesting you do anything that you are NOT entirely comfortable with. Skiing is an easy skill set easy enough for even the youngest in your family to learn so don’t deprive them by assuming they cannot handle it. Many places have contained ‘play areas’ (French skiers think Club Piou Piou) where the littlest kids can play with skis strapped on their feet. With this method, they unconsciously learn technic through play. Both my kids started this way and really elevated quickly from the play area to the pistes.
- Rent. In the first few years of a young skier’s life, I highly recommend you rent their gear. Whilst children’s skis and boots are NOT expensive, they do grow very fast making owning gear not worth it. Our local sports shop here in Switzerland does seasonal rentals where you can exchange at any time for free if they kids grow mid-season. An EXCELLENT solution for families! Inquire if something similar exists near you.
- Forget about the poles. What? That’s right. FORGET about the poles to start. Young children are more often than not completely unable to grasp the complex set of motor skills needed to learn skiing with poles. I have seen children (and adults, Mr H will attest I made him ditch his poles to start!!) that I want to rip the poles away from. In the early days, poles are more of a headache than a necessity. In fact, most times it results in a very classic break or ligament tear in the thumb/arm area. Let them master their feet and carving skills before adding more gear to the mix.
- Helmet and goggles. These are a non-negotiable in my world. You may have your own personal opinions and feelings on the matter and that is great. However, do yourself a favour and protect your kids from UV and head trauma. Nothing in life is a guarantee but why take the risk?
- Proper clothing. I thought skiing in jeans ended in the 80s but after seeing some bizarre outfits the last few years, I have begun to wonder what do I know?! Please get your kids some proper waterproof, warm and well-fitted gear. This goes for the aforementioned helmets and goggles, too. If it doesn’t fit or keep them dry and warm be prepared for a less-than-fun day. Also, put some tissues in their pockets. You’ll be happy you were prepared for this one. Trust me and don’t ask why I know this.
- Listen to them. If they are cold, tired or scared, don’t push them. Teaching young children to ski should be viewed as an investment in an activity you all can do together as they get older. They don’t need to attack challenging runs their first few times out. This will come in time if they want. Also, if they want to practice more, take them to the green/bunny run and enjoy. A kid showing interest is a great thing so bank on it, don’t ignore it.
- Pack snacks. Snacks and a bottle of water should be with you at all times. You will absolutely require water if you are skiing at higher altitudes. Healthy, good energy snacks like granola bars, bananas, nuts, dried fruit and even some dark chocolate are always on hand when we ski. Before I had kids on the slopes with me I was anti-backpack while skiing but it has become part of my standard gear now. I truly hated it at first but it has proven invaluable. Somedays we pack our lunch and stop slope side for a bite to eat. Many European resorts also have designated heated on-piste/slope picnic rooms. Scope it out before you head up for the day and you could save yourself some major cash if you are skiing on a budget.
- Skin protection. UV rays at higher altitudes are a LOT stronger than normal so be wise and protect your kids with some strong SPF (types that are designed for sports/labelled waterproof are best) and lip balm. Both my kids carry lip balm in their pockets as chapped lips and skiing go hand-in-hand!
- HAVE FUN! I shouldn’t have to say this but the amount of on-piste family drama I have seen over the years makes me feel like it is necessary to point out. This is a fun past time and sometimes people forget that in the moment…especially the ones that seem to ignore point number 1 😉
Now get out there, dress warmly and have some fun!!
Photos: Jennifer Hart