The best time to learn to ski is somewhere between the ages of 4 and 8. But there are opportunities for things to go wrong on any vacation involving kids that young, and skiing has its own potential pitfalls, from the weather to all that strange gear. We did our first family ski weekend when our daughter was 5. She liked it enough to want to try it again, which made it a smashing success in our book.
Here is some of the legwork we did to help ensure a fun trip for all of us.
When it comes to skiing, a warm kid is a happy kid. So it pays to invest in some basic winter gear. The absolute essentials to me are: thermal underwear; snow pants; warm, moisture-wicking socks; a mid-weight fleece and warm, waterproof mittens. While all this gear costs money and kids outgrow it quickly, our daughter wore much of it all winter long for ice skating, playing in snow and just walking to school on very cold days. And since she was warm and comfortable skiing, the money was well spent.
Some kids will ski all day long and love it. But be prepared for the possibility that after half a day younger kids will be cold, tired and ready to do something else, especially if temperatures are low or the mountain is crowded.
Staying at a resort or ski town with a tubing hill, mountain coaster, ice skating, a zip line, or other activities makes the weekend about winter fun in general and gives you a back-up plan in case skiing doesn’t work out.
We also try to book a hotel with a good pool, and many have indoor water parks. Even older kids who can do a longer ski day are done by 3:00 or 4:00, and a pool and hot tub are good ways to warm up and ease sore muscles (yours) before dinner.
Teaching someone to ski is a skill. Ski instructors have vocabulary, games and tricks they use to make skiing fun and not intimidating and to help kids learn. Unless you were a ski instructor you probably don’t have this arsenal of tools. Also, most kids complain less and try harder for other people than they do for their parents. So hire someone else to teach your kids how to ski.
We have done private and group lessons. Kids absolutely learn more in a private lesson than with a group. But they aren’t as much fun and some kids find it a bit too intense to be out on the slope by themselves with an adult they don’t know. The group lessons are fun and social and my daughter prefers them. I think they are the way to go when your child is starting out and needs a fun, no-pressure learning environment. However, it’s hard to find a ski school that offers real intermediate and advanced group lessons. So a private lesson might be worth paying for when your kids are ready to move beyond snowplowing and ski school is just not getting them there. If you can book a private lesson with a sibling or friend, it’s so much the better.
Even if we’re staying in a hotel I like to have a kitchen or at least a microwave. I also make a point to pack instant oatmeal, popcorn, hot cocoa and, if I’m really on my game, a Ziploc bag of mulling spices (ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom) to steep in cider or red wine (for Mom). It helps to have something warm and fast on hand in the morning when you’re trying to beat the crowds to the lift line. And the other items are handy for taking away the chill aprés ski or when you’re playing games and watching movies in the evening.
Skiing has a lot of exotic equipment. I’ve seen and heard about kids putting on those stiff, heavy boots, freaking out and refusing to move until someone took them off, bringing a swift and early end to their parents’ weekend plans.
I’m a big believer in telling kids ahead of time what to expect and this is particularly true for skiing. Tell first-timers about the boots and the skis and the lifts and the bunny slope, so they know what’s coming. We told our daughter she would get big heavy boots and wouldn’t be able to walk normally in them, but that they were good for pretending you’re a monster. And after she put them on we tried stomping around like a monster. It definitely helped.
Your kids might take to skiing and come out of their lesson ready to ski all afternoon. Or you might have a walking popsicle who’s done for the day. We did two half-day lessons on our first ski weekend. The repetition of learning two days in a row enforced those important basics and she came off the slope eager for more, but not too much more. After a few runs down the bunny slope with dad she was ready to do something else. But she liked it enough that she was willing to go again, and the best ski trip is one that leaves kids wanting to come back for more.
What are your tips for skiing with kids?
Eileen is a journalist whose work has appeared in the HuffPost, U.S. News, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Parents.com and many other publications. She has traveled on five continents, three of them with her daughter. She calls New York City home. You can read Eileen's blog at Familiesgotravel.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
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