If you're a parent who's counting down the days ‘til your kid can ski, you might feel some pressure. Of course you want their first days on snow to be awesome. But should you teach them, or send them to ski school?
Heidi Ettlinger, Professional Ski Instructors of America National Alpine Team member, who not only teaches at her home resort, Heavenly, but spends much of her time travelling to resorts across the country to train ski instructors, gives some pointers. “I work with so many parents that ideally would love to do it themselves,” she says. But, she advises, it’s best to entrust the kids’ ski school.
A certified instructor who will not only ensure a positive first-time experience for your children skiing—thanks to their experience teaching tots—but will also provide advice and tips on how to teach your kids to ski.
“Technique is not a big piece of those first few days,” Ettlinger says. “Sometimes the little folks love nothing more than taking a break and having snow play time.”
What’s the biggest mistake parents make when starting their kids skiing?
The most commonly expressed concern by most parents when they are getting their kids started is that they just want their kids to have fun and love the sport. However, many of them take this responsibility on themselves and miss out on valuable expertise from a professional instructor that can help guarantee a great day.
At what age do you think kids are ready to strap on skis?
Many resorts offer a ski/play program for 3- and 4-year-olds that incorporates snow play with the opportunity to put on skis and boots and slide on short sections of snow under the guidance of professional instructors. Private lessons are another opportunity to start very young children with one-on-one attention as an introduction to sliding and their first sensations on snow.
How can parents prepare for their child's first day on snow?
Simply dressing for weather can be a game changer. Items such as neck warmers (which protect their face and any area not covered by the helmet from blowing snow and cold air) go a long way in creating an inviting introduction to being outside in the winter. Arriving early and having the instructor help parents outfit the child with the correct boot and ski is another opportunity to assure you have all the correct gear and are ready for a great start to the day.
Read more: Ski Gear for Kids
Ettlinger's Top Tips for Your Kid’s First Time on Skis
- Rent kids’ ski gear before you buy or borrow. Kids gear needs to fit them personally, in addition to getting a good boot fit and having a short ski—essential for making learning to ski easier. Luckily, rentals for skis, boots, and poles are generally included in ski school packages.
- Don’t forget the clothing essentials: thermal underwear, waterproof jacket and pants, hat or helmet, gloves or mittens, goggles, ski socks, and sunscreen. Check with the resort or local shops for rental availability.
- Consider a ski/play program for 3- to 5-year olds. This compliments the structure of preschool with plenty of play and rest breaks built in to a program with an introduction to sliding.
- Consider booking a private lesson first as a one-on-one opportunity to get familiar with your child’s equipment and new sensations before integrating into group lessons. This is ideal for young children and a guarantee that your child will receive undivided attention to ensure a positive first experience.
- Meet the instructor early at the end of the lesson to ensure plenty of time to learn about next steps, what they learned, and how you can join them on the mountain.
- Many ski schools invite parents to watch or attend lessons, as well. (And who’d want to miss out on watching toddlers skiing?)
- Avoid rushing during holiday periods by using early check-in opportunities to avoid lines and renting equipment the morning of the lesson.
- Private family lessons, for parents and children skiing at a range of ability levels, can ensure the basics are covered—and that the better skiers don’t get bored. “A fully certified instructor can navigate a day like that, and make it fun for everyone,” Ettlinger says. After all, the fun’s the point—even for non-expert skier parents.
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If you want to teach your kids to ski yourself...
“Be sensitive about the terrain that you have,” she says. Make sure that it’s gentle, perhaps with a magic carpet or rope tow.
“There are a lot of things on the market that help,” Ettlinger says. A harness, an edgie wedgie (a device that connects kids’ skis so it’s easier to form a wedge), and even a hula hoop (placed over the shoulders and under the armpits) can help you assist your kid to slide.
Plus, Ettlinger says, it’s not generally comfortable for parents to speed down a hill with a kid between their legs. “I’ve actually seen a lot of entanglements,” she says, which could ruin an otherwise fun day.
We've got so much more to share about getting kids on the slopes. Visit skimag.com/raisingrippers to enroll in our five-part, take-it-at-your-own-pace online course.
Originally published on January 15, 2015 as a SKImag.com original. Modified in June 2019 with updated photos, links and formatting changes. Modified again in March 2020 with affiliate links.