Whether you are looking for a mid-year break on the slopes of Australia or a white Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere, downhill skiing or snowboarding with kids makes for a fun and healthy family holiday. Skiing with kids is a healthy and fun way for the whole family to interact in the great outdoors. Here is the beginner’s guide to how (and why) it's important to teach your kids to snow plough.
Skiing and snowboarding not only encourages a love of sports and gets young bodies moving, they’re a memorable bonding experience for the entire family. The whole process of being in the snow and then returning to open fires and hot mugs of chocolate makes for a pretty unforgettable holiday with kids.
For young children, skiing and snowboarding are also fuel for the imagination. Zig zagging through trees or sliding over the smallest humps can seem like amazing daredevil stunts for small minds. The combination of speed, adrenalin and being outdoors are all the perfect ingredients for a fun time.
The younger you introduce downhill snow sports to children, the more likely it is they will master them quickly. Learning how to ski or snowboard for kids under 12 is likely to be less frightening for children than it is for adults since they have a shorter distance to fall and it’s easier to incorporate the right techniques early.
Even if you are a dedicated black run skier or boarder, it’s worthwhile investing in half day lessons with an independent instructor for the kids. Part of the joy of a ski holiday is interacting with other children which is easily accomplished in group lessons. In addition, instructors understand how to teach young kids, to encourage confidence and not to push too hard when they are not ready. (Plus there is the added bonus that you then get adult time before you meet up as a family in the afternoons and you don't end up in this situation below.)
Most ski slopes begin official lessons for children at the age of 3, but manage your expectations. These are largely on flat slopes learning how to stand and understand the motions of the movement.
When selecting your mountain, look for a strong focus on children’s ski programs as an indication of how kid-friendly the slopes and facilities will be. For instance, at Sierra at Tahoe there is the dedicated Burton Star Wars Experience specifically designed to encourage budding young snowboarders.
The biggest hurdle to children enjoying skiing and snowboarding is being wet and cold. The easiest way to avoid this is to invest in a couple of pairs of high quality gloves. While most gloves are snow-proof for adult purposes, children often like to pick up the snow more than we do. A cost effective way to keep little hands dry while they are playing (not skiing or boarding) is to put rubber washing gloves over the top of their ski gloves.
Also consider buying a good set of goggles so the kids won’t be bothered by the sun or a windy day. Don't forget that it is still possible to get sunburnt while skiing. For sun smart tips, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
A good ski outfit is easily rented, but must have the flexibility of pockets, a hood and zips that can be easily maneuvered while hands are gloved. Waterproof as much of the outfit as possible.
If money is no object then you can also purchase ski or snowboard boots, but remember that most children will only use these one to two weeks a year before they outgrow them.
For safety reasons it is essential that kids ski with helmets. Invest in a whistle with a large thick ribbon (for easy access), a thermal blanket (or a space or Mylar blanket) and some high calories snacks (such as chocolate bars) and keep them in their pockets at all times. Make sure your mobile phone or cell number is on your kids at all times – whether written on some masking tape on their helmet or on a piece of paper in their pockets – in case they get lost.
If you are skiing or boarding with a backpack, carry an extra set of gloves and a spare sweater for your children. But always remember maintaining their body warmth is key – so don’t remove boots in the middle of the day unless absolutely necessary and always change them indoors, not on the slopes.
A word of warning if you are bringing toddlers with you – who are too young to ski – being cooped up all day in the lodge can result in cabin fever and the tantrums to match. You will need to bring along lots of activities to entertain them and warm gear so they, too, can go outside to play in the snow occasionally.
Look for ski in and ski out accommodation. It’s hard enough carrying your own skis or board up a hill or over to the shuttle at the end of a long day – and it’s highly likely you will be carrying all your kids’ gear as well. Mountains where you can live on the slopes (such as Falls Creek in Australia) mean you can stop off home any time you choose – whether for an early afternoon or for a lunchtime break. Plus you avoid the additional hassle of a getting up early to catch buses up the mountain (where there is also a risk of motion sickness) or cranky kids who are wet and cold on the way home.
Obviously it’s important to select child-friendly accommodation, but opting for a place that’s likely to attract a lot of children (such as Club Med Shaoro in Japan) will keep the kids entertained in the evenings or on days where they just don’t want to ski. Alternatively, skiing is the ideal group holiday so organise to go with other like-minded friends with children of similar ages.