If you want your kids skiing competently by the time they are teens, it’s worth starting lessons early while they’re young. Many mountains will take kids into ski school programs from as young as 3 years old. But be warned, this is an investment on the part of you as a parent for the future. If you are expecting your kids to be zipping down the runs after a couple of lessons on your first family holiday ski trip, think again. It’s far more likely there will be tears and tantrums – and that’s just from the parents. Here are our suitcases&strollers travel tips for what to expect when taking pre-schoolers skiing.
· Prepare your kids by talking to them repeatedly about what to expect. Prewarn them that if they get wet, they will get cold. Let them know they are likely to fall down over and over again. And explain that they need patience – skiing is not a skill one learns immediately. If you keep up this mantra, eventually, as their confidence builds, they be able to take onboard your advice.
· Remember that everything takes time for beginners – and with kids who are new to the snow, time frames can treble. If your kids have never seen snow, strapping on some ski boots and expecting them to skip happily from the lodge is completely unrealistic. It will take time for them to get used to the volume and type of clothing they have to wear, the sensation of walking through snow and across ice and to master the ability to do all of this while carrying skis in very uncomfortable boots. It is no exaggeration to say that a walk that would take an adult 10 minutes to do carrying skis can take a pre-schooler over an hour. It’s worthwhile waking up very early every morning to give everyone involved time to get where they need to go slowly and without any added time pressure.
· Plan to spend your first day just moving around in the ski gear and getting used to conditions. Let the kids spend an hour or two in their helmet, goggles, gloves and boots moving around in the snow before you even try to strap on the skis. Planning this around a fun family holiday activity (like tobogganing or building a snowman) will distract the kids as they get used to their new outfits. It’s best for the kids to understand how not fun it is to get snow in your gloves or wet feet before they start learning to ski, rather than when they are already in the (very expensive) ski school.
· Remember: all kids spend the first day crying and hating the snow. This is normal and doesn’t mean you have made a critical error in judgment. Once their confidence builds and they understand how to move in the snow, the tantrums will quickly stop.
· Gloves, googles and helmets are critical. Triple check that you have these in the right size before you send your kids into the ski school. Apart from avoiding being told off by the instructor, making sure your kids are clothed in the correct sizes is the best way to ensuring they stay warm and happy rather than wet and miserable. If your child has extra small hands, use an elastic band or some loosely wrapped tape to stop gloves from falling off.
· Quit when the weather is bad. A family ski holiday with pre-schoolers is a long term decision, so cut your losses. If you try to teach your kids to ski when it’s wet, windy or in a blizzard you are only increasing the chances that they will be cold and unhappy and not want to return in the future.
· Have a chairlift plan. If your lodge or ski school requires to you to take an open air chairlift with a pre-schooler who is a beginner, plan ahead of time how you will keep hold of your child. Chairlifts are not like amusement park rides and often do not have safety railings or straps for very small children. Check out the lift ahead of time to see which position you child should be seated in to be safe. Speak to the lifties about how they can help, what’s the best way to lift your child into the seat and if they can slow down (or stop) the lift for you. Watch other parents to see how they are using their skis and poles as extra barriers to keep their kids safe.
· Plan your accommodation as close to ski school as you can. It can take an excruciatingly long time to get from Point A to Point B when skiing with kids. The closer you are to the ski school, the less this commute will impact your adult ski time. This is particularly relevant when choosing which ski field you will go to – it is always infinitely easier to choose a mountain with ski in/ski out accommodation than one that requires you to drive up the mountain each day. Alternatively, if this is not possible, plan to do the ski school pick and drop off in snow boots, rather than ski boots, and leave your own skis at the lodge. (Some mountains have a ski valet service specifically for this purpose at the major chairlifts.) That way you will only have children and their skis to deal with, rather than adding in your skis and boots to the mix.
· Manage expectations and remember this is supposed to be fun! Start with enrolling your child in a half day program first to see how much they enjoy it. If they love it, it’s easy to extend them to a full day. If they hate it, offset the rest of the day with activities they will like, such as snowball fights, and try again tomorrow.
For more travel tips on skiing and snowboarding with kids of all ages, see the suitcases&strollers story here.