As a mom who loves to ski, the chance to teach my son to love the slopes is something I’ve been waiting for since the day I found out I was pregnant. (In that, “OMG, I didn’t realize until now but I’ve been looking forward to taking him skiing since he was in my belly!” kind of way.) But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really sure HOW to teach a three year old to ski. I mean...I didn’t even know where to begin.
So I did what anyone would do and got a job teaching ski school! (Ok, ok, most people would search for blogs like this one and fall down the You Tube rabbit hole lookng for tips. But I’m an overachiever with a slow winter work schedule and a mother-in-law who has been teaching ski school for 8 years who practically filled out the application for me so...here we are.) But all kidding aside, learning techniques to teach tiny people to ski was one of my primary reasons for taking the gig. I still have a lot to learn (and endless certifications to pursue) but this season has taught me so much about the do’s and don’ts of toddler skiing.
DO: Look up You Tube videos of children skiing to watch with your kiddo. This will give them a connection to other kids their age skiing and gets them stoked about what they will be doing. This dad/daughter duo is one of my favorites on the internet. Dad has a contagious stoke and joy for being with his daughter on the slopes that can’t be matched and the little girl is having a blast.
DON’T: Buy snow clothes for your child at Target. While I know the price of winter gear is daunting, especially for people who will keep growing, discount store snow clothes will not be truly waterproof or particularly warm. A kid who becomes soaked and cold will not have fun, and if they don’t have fun they won’t want to do it again. A few tips to keep the price down: Try SIerra Trading Post for reasonably priced kids gear. We found the Little Bear’s snow pants on there this year for $24, roughly the same as Target gear but it is actually waterproof. If possible, you can buy your child one size too large coat and pants and get two seasons out of it. Don’t buy it so big and floppy that they trip over it or can’t move, but a little big is fine. You can also check out the Obermeyer iGrow system. There is stitching at the legs and arms that you remove to lengthen them in season two. If you combine this technique with the “buy a little big” technique you may get 3 seasons out of your child’s snow gear.
DO: Practice footwork before you hit the slopes! It can take tiny people a lot of practice to move their feet into the “pizza” shape that they will need to be able to control their speed. They won’t really want to practice this over and over on the slopes because...they just wanna SKI! (Really, can you blame em?) Help them learn to lean into the balls of their feet and slide their heels to the pizza shape. Feel free to physically move their feet for them a few times until they get the idea. Little children have difficulty moving their arms and legs separately so capitalize this and encourage them to make their arms into pizza too! It will help. And be the cutest thing ever!
DON’T: Use those leashes or ski behind them to hold them up. These things make me crazy. Children already have a great deal of difficulty getting their weight forward when skiing and pulling on their backs or being behind them encourages them to lean back into it. Additionally, instead of learning from day one to control their speed they learn to hurtle down the mountain with the expectation that someone will magically stop them. I’ve seen many many children come to ski school who were basically “foot sledding” down the hill at 2 and 3 years old who then, at 4, come to ski school to learn to ski for real. Problem is they have a TON of resistance to learning technique because they spent the previous two seasons flying downhill. That’s what they think skiing is all about and changing that pattern is extremely difficult.
DO: Ski backwards in front of them! This way you can ensure their safety as they learn speed control and they will naturally want to lean forward, which is the body position you want to teach them. You can have them press the palms of their hands into your hands as they ski. It will give them confidence, move their weight forward, and encourage them to look up at you instead of at their skis. From this position you can also reach down and physically move their feet into the pizza shape if they are having difficulty.
DO: Use “tip clips”. They go on the ends of their skis to prevent ski drift. Tiny people don’t always have the muscle control to slide their heels out into the pizza shape without their legs completely drifting into the splits. This gives them a bit of support and helps lock in the muscle memory of what correct positioning should feel like.
DON’T: Wake your kids at 4 AM and feed them donuts and red gatorade while driving swiftly to high elevation. Seriously people. What is up with this phenomenon? I can’t tell you how many bright red piles of donut puke have ended up in the snow from this mixture. Driving to high altitude can cause altitude sickness by itself, add in a giant pile of fried dough, sugar and red dye and you have a seriously queasy combination! Instead, encourage healthy protein rich breakfast and drinking water to combat the change in altitude and help your kiddo feel their best. If at all possible, spend the night near the ski hill beforehand so they can be well rested and have a bit of time to adjust to the altitude.
DO: Keep it fun and light! Expect that they will struggle at least a little. Expect not to see a future olympian their first day out. Laugh with them when they fall, cheer for them and be stoked no matter what. Take lots of breaks to make snow angels and throw snowballs. Visit the lodge for hot cocoa and snacks. Getting wound up about their performance or getting everything “right” will stress them out and make them not want to do it again next time. The MOST important thing on your first few visits to the mountain are cementing positive happy memories with their parents that make them want to come back again and again.
DON’T: Try to “get your money’s worth”. I completely understand the desire to make the most out of that $30 gear rental fee, or the expensive lift ticket. I really do. But teaching a toddler to ski and love it is a long game. My 3yo son is good for about an hour before he is doing the “limp noodle” flop onto the snow and descending into that particular delirious laughter that indicates an attitude crash is coming. Expect to spend about an hour on the slopes with your little one at first. Prepare yourself mentally to count the cost of that hour as money well spent investing in your child’s love for the sport rather than insisting on going all day and causing exhaustion and resistance next time.
DO: Look into creative options for acquiring ski equipment. It is wise to just do a day rental the first time or two out (make sure they actually LIKE skiing first), but that will get very expensive very quickly. If you live near enough to skiing, check the local ski shops for season rentals. For around $150 you can rent skis for the whole season for your kiddo. Not only does this cut the cost of ski rental for trips to the mountain, but if there are small sledding hills near you that regularly get snow, you can hit those up quickly and easily if you have gear for your kids. If you have 3 or more children, it might make sense to purchase equipment each year for the oldest child and pass it down. As you become integrated into the “skiing with kids” community, it is very likely that parents of older children will offer to sell you their children’s old equipment for a reasonable price.
If teaching your kiddo to ski still seems overwhelming, ski school really can be a great option. Here are a few dos and don’ts for trying ski school.
DON’T: Lie about your child’s age so they can take a group lesson. It happens all the time and it really serves no one. At the ski school where I work, group lessons start at 4, but you can get a private lesson at any age you want. Parents, desperate for somewhere to send their children so they can ski for a few hours, and unwilling to pay for private lesson rates regularly send their 3 year olds to group lessons claiming they are 4. I get it. I really do and I don’t judge you one bit. Mama’s gotta ski amirite!? But here’s the thing. There really is a pretty huge developmental and social difference between a 3 year old and a 4 year old. (And let’s not forget that your child’s group lesson could have children who are 5 or even 6 years old.) The 3 year old will be unlikely to keep up with a group of older students causing the 3 year old to feel frustrated and the rest of the class to have to do a lot of waiting. If your goal is getting professional instruction for your tot but you are queasy at the price of a private lesson, call ahead to the ski school and ask if they have any one hour lesson deals. At the mountain where I work we have “early bird” 1 hour privates. It’s roughly the cost of a two hour group lesson, but gets your child out 1x1 for an hour before the rush of the group lessons hits the bunny hill. As mentioned previously, 1 hour is enough for tiny people anyway and they will make more progress in a 1 hour private than a 2 hour group lesson. If you goal is a babysitter, hire one of those. It will be cheaper.
DON’T: Make your child go to ski school if they don’t want to. This is not preschool. The advice at preschool is, drop your child off and they will eventually stop crying and join the class. That is very sound advice. The dynamics of ski school are very very different. At preschool the child can be in the room with everyone else, be comforted when needed by an adult, and the rest of the class can go about their business until your child is ready to join in. At ski school we are putting on coats and mittens and moving the class out to the ski slopes. “Sad Pandas” (our ski school’s name for crying or sick children) often simply refuse to move or do anything but wail and scream. The rest of the class cannot go about their business. What ends up happening 90% of the time is the sad panda has to have their parents called to pick them up early and the parents are now out the cost of ski school having gained nothing.
DO: Tip your child’s instructor. Ski instructors are making roughly minimum wage and are only being paid for the 2 or 4 hours a day they are physically teaching (even though they may be “at work” 6-8 hours). They depend on tips to be able to afford to be ski school instructors. No one teaches ski school to get rich, they do it because they have mad love for the game and a passion for teaching the sport to the next generation. But they need to eat too. No instructor expects to be tipped or is mad if you don’t, but they deeply appreciate it when you do.
Woohoo! Alright everyone! Are you ready!? Let’s get those kids out there to ski! Do you have any other great tips for teaching toddlers to ski? Still have questions? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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