Invest In Lessons
Teaching a child to ski isn't like starting her off in softball or soccer. You can't just go out in the backyard and start tossing or kicking a ball around. It is usually in the child's best interest, and well worth the investment, to enroll her in a qualified ski school so she can get proper instruction based on her age and ability, even if you are an experienced skier.
Whether the mountain is in your backyard or you will be taking a family vacation this winter to a ski resort, knowing what to expect when you enroll your child in ski school, and what questions to ask of the instructor, can make all the difference in making her first skiing experience a positive one. It will also make your own vacation more fun and less stressful to know your child is in good hands.
Is Your Child Ready?
Every child grows and develops at a different pace. Your child is ready to learn to ski if you can answer "yes" to the following questions:
- Is he comfortable being dropped off in a school or pre-school type environment?
- Does he have the strength and endurance to be physically active for up to one hour in the cold and in weather that may be wet and possibly windy and stormy?
- Is he physically strong enough to walk around in skis and boots?
- Will he wear proper clothing without a fight?
The most important factor to consider is whether your child will have fun. Children have a lifetime to learn a sport. If you want them to succeed, it is important that they enjoy themselves.
If you decide to take your child on the slopes yourself keep in mind that taking your child skiing in a backpack can be dangerous on crowded slopes because of the risk of someone hitting you and your child. Ski harnesses give children an idea of how skiing feels, but put them in the same category as training wheels on a bike. The earlier you can get your child skiing independently the better.
It is important for your child's comfort and performance that you take the time to get your child properly fitted for ski equipment, just as you would for regular shoes. For many years ski manufactures were just making adult skis and boots smaller to fit kids. Now, top ski and boot manufactures make equipment designed to meet a child's specific needs.
When renting and purchasing, beware of what you are getting. Here are some things to consider:
- Buy or rent? If your child is only going skiing a few times in a season, it probably better to rent. Children grow quickly and it is difficult to keep up with their growth and keep them properly fitted. If you live near a ski area and you are going to ski more than several times a season, look for a ski shop that has a long-term rental program.
- Ski length is important: For beginners, the skis should reach between the child's chin and nose. For intermediates, skis should be at nose level. Most children's skis now have a side cut (the ski is narrower in the middle, wider at the ends). As with adults, sidecut skis for children should be 15 to 20 cm shorter than regular skis (Even World Cup racers are now using shorter skis with sidecuts).
- Boots should be flexible. Too stiff a boot will make it difficult for your child to move. Some shops simply rotate their old adult boots into their youth rental stock, so look for junior models of boots when purchasing or renting. When at all possible get boots with front entry buckles: they offer the best support and allow mobility to help performance.
- Other suggested equipment: Helmet, goggles or glasses, waterproof gloves, ski pants, coat, long underwear, ski socks (one pair), neck gator and sunscreen. HELPFUL HINT: Label all belongings and attach all items when possible.
When Your Child Is In Ski School
Here are some do's and don'ts:
- Do encourage small successes ?children need positive reinforcement.
- Don't push your child past her limits.
- Do know when it's time to stop. Parents and instructors need to be conscious of when a child is tired. A child can be like the Energizer Bunny, always going and going. Remember, as with adults, accidents are most likely to happen when a skier is tired. You don't want your child to get so totally exhausted that she won't want to ski at all the next day!
- Don't hover. Hanging around too much while your child is taking a lesson makes it difficult for an instructor to teach; she shouldn't have to compete with parents for a child's attention.
- Do identify reasons for problems: try to find out why if your child is having a difficult time in ski school. It could be due to separation anxiety or simple fear. A good instructor will work with you and your child to ensure a positive experience.
- Do try to sign your child up for three days of lessons in a row. Continuity, familiarity, and repetition reinforce movement patterns. Most children 4 years and older can successfully learn to stop and turn on easy novice runs over the course of three days.
Ski Schools: What To Look For
Many ski schools will take children as young as 3 years old. Find out the details of a specific program. Ski school quality is truly a function of the quality of the staff.
In selecting a ski school for your child, ask:
- Is the staff certified and experienced working with young children? If a ski school uses its kids program to train adult instructors, it may be a tell-tale sign that it is not geared to kids. Look for programs that hire staff specifically to work with children and have low staff turnover; these are signs that it is probably more committed to the specific needs of children.
- Is the pre-school nursery licensed by the state? If your child is under the age of 3, check to see if the pre-school nursery is a state licensed program.
- Is the staff screened and trained to provide childcare? Training should include a mixture of on-mountain instruction and childcare.
- Are parents welcome to observe from a distance? Ask if you and your child can observe a class before signing up.
- Does the program have a separate play area? Some children need a little extra Tender Loving Care. If a child is not sure skiing is for him, it is important that he have a good time even if he decides not to ski. If the experience is fun, he will want to come back to learn to ski when he is ready.
- Does the program track where each class is on the mountain? That way you can check in on how your child is doing or if you need to cut the day short unexpectedly.
- Does the school provide progress reports for each child? Getting feedback is helpful in deciding whether more lessons are needed and to help insure proper placement if you enroll your child in a school at another ski area.
- Are private lessons available? If you child has a difficult time in a large group environment, you should have the option of investing in private lessons with a children's ski instructor.
- Is adequate security provided at drop-off and pick-up? Investigate whether or not the program has a security system in place for when kids are dropped off and picked up.
- Are safety and fun the program's main goals? They should be.
Keep these pointers in mind, and your child should have a safe, enjoyable experience learning to ski!
Sue Way is Director of Children's Programs for The Aspen Skiing Company in Aspen, Colorado