If you’re a ski parent, passing your passion for the sport on to your children is as important as teaching them how to tie their shoes. Kids who start perfecting turns before they have full command of the English language often reach adulthood as strong skiers with a healthy love of the sport. For parents who want their children to follow the path to skiing greatness, the question of how and when to let the kiddos roam free on the hill looms. Parents looking for a quick and consistent answer are out of luck.
Jamie Maybon, children’s coordinator at Snowmass Ski School and mother of a seven-year-old skier, weighs in on the subject. “It depends on the mountain, it depends on the kid,” Maybon says. “Each ski area has different terrain. Each child develops differently.”
While the decision is complicated, don’t let it discourage you from letting your budding skier leave the nest. Maybon names plenty of milestones that signal a child’s readiness to venture out on her own. Start off by making sure she’s mastered the chairlift and can get up from a fall by herself, stop in any conditions, and handle all her gear. Check her knowledge of the mountain by skiing together before splitting up for the day, pointing out rest areas, emergency phones, and patrol shacks along the way. And as easy as it sounds, go over the Skier/Rider Responsibility Code together. “To make an educated decision, parents need to understand how their children think and what their physical capabilities are,” Maybon says.
If you’re still not confident in the child’s ability to ski alone, remember there’s safety in numbers. “I tell my seven-year-old that skiing alone is never a wise decision,” Maybon says. Organize a group of your kid’s friends (of the same ability) to ski together for an afternoon. Reduce risk by narrowing the area of the mountain that little rippers can explore and setting a meeting time and place an hour after you split up to evaluate your child’s status.
Many resorts require kids under six to ride the lift with an adult, since skiers younger than that often can’t physically board a lift without help. But even to the most passionate ski parents on staff, six still seems too young to go solo.
The takeaway? You know your kid best. Check out kidsonlifts.org for more stats, info, and advice.