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As a ski instructor, I have a first row seat to parents teaching their kids to ski and the chaos that entails. I also get a lot of those same kids the next day when the parents realize they’re in over their heads. Even if you intend to put your kids in ski school for most days, these ski tips will help the time they ski with you.
Below are five tips to help the day go much better and not end in tears—yours or theirs.
MISTAKE 5: Taking them Off Proper Terrain
One season I watched two fathers unload their first-timers off a ski lift at the top of a green run. These kids had never so much as put on skis and they were faced with a tough, icy green run. The dads assumed green meant easy. Green means beginner NOT first-timer and definitely not easy for a newbie. Start on the flats and move to the conveyor belts.
Another day, I was on the lift and glanced down to see a father tying an edgie wedgie to his son’s ski tips. The problem with this scene: they were parked at the top of a blue mogul run. If your child still needs an edgie wedgie, get back to the learning hill.
I know you’re bored. You’ve gone down the kiddie hill and around the cones a zillion times. If you have to go up the rope pull one more time, you will jam a pole into the mechanics to shut that thing down. It’s your one day off and if you can’t ride a real lift, life is unfair.
Remember you’re not teaching your kid for a day, you’re teaching her for life. To help your kid develop a love of skiing and the skills to challenge you, she needs a foundation of safety, trust, and fun.
If it’s a powder day, put her in ski school and go bomb the mountain.
MISTAKE 4: Letting Them Get Out of Control
Picture this: It’s your five-year-old’s second day on the hill and she’s already rocking turns and stops. You take her up on a little steeper terrain totally confident in her ability. You’re right behind her to keep her safe. As she comes down the steeper part, she doesn’t make her turn. Her speed gets faster, and you yell out “Pizza,” but instead she clicks her skis together and shoots straight down the mountain. You chase after her, but a fence catches her first.
By the time you reach her, she’s in tears and screaming, shaken but otherwise unhurt. You feel like a huge cad for not keeping your daughter safe. This is an easy mistake to make, but one you can usually avoid.
Depending on ability and age, it’s usually a good idea to have your child ALWAYS follow behind you. And not just because you have a better chance at grabbing them if they get out of control. For many kids, making a wedge and turning is not their default action. So when they get scared or get in steeper terrain, they go straight down the mountain. And the faster they go, the less likely they’ll be able to get back in control.
If you’re in front of them, you’re leading them. You should be making turns and asking them to follow your turns. And even without you asking them, they will subconsciously copy what you do.
I tell my kids that my skis are pencils drawing a line in the snow, and their skis are erasers erasing my tracks.
Always be very aware of what you’re doing. Make sure your turns are large enough and slow enough for your child to stay in control. Be aware of the mountain and people in front of you, so you can steer your child around upcoming obstacles. This is the reason, I don’t use straps when teaching. It gets kids into bad habits like trusting the strap to stop them and not themselves, leaning back, and flying down.
Always be between them and the bottom of the hill.
Just a quick side note: Kids pick up skiing very quickly. When you see them out on the mountain charging the bumps, it’s easy to forget that your little expert skier doesn’t have the maturity or instincts to make the right decisions on the hill. They still need you to be the adults—as hard as it is.
MISTAKE 3: Giving Kids Poles Too Soon
I’ve seen your kids out there (adults too) dragging their poles behind them down a run. They only put the poles in front when traversing the flat or using them as brakes. So many things wrong with this scenario.
If their poles are dragging behind them, they are skiing way too far back. A skier can’t properly turn or edge, if his weight is on his heels. Poles can also catch in the snow, pulling the kids down. If they’re using them to stop or hold themselves up, they’re not in control and run the risk of injury.
I know kids loves poles. They see other skiers with them and they look so cool, they’re begging for them. And I know you’re tired of dragging the kids behind you on the flats and waiting for them to catch up because you only have two hands but three kids. But if you make it something they have to earn, they will progress quicker.
How do kids earn their poles? When they can ski easy blues with mostly parallel turns, give them poles.
But for the love, don’t just give them out. Teach them proper placement and use. And if your child reverts back to their wedge or uses them as crutches, take the poles away. Repeat to yourself so that you can repeat it to your child, “Poles must be earned.”
I start with them holding their poles but not using them Their hands should be out front with their baskets behind. Once that becomes more ingrained, then we start working on pole plants. There is no rush in this process.
MISTAKE 2: Not Making it Fun
Skiing is a blast, right? Kids should enjoy it from the get-go, of course. You’ve just spent a ton of money on equipment, clothing, and passes so why are they crying?
Guess what! Kids don’t always know skiing is fun. They know it’s cold; they know it’s new; they know it’s scary.
It takes time for skiing to be fun for kids. There is a huge learning curve that they must overcome. The first day I have a kid on the snow, I’m not only teaching her to ski—I’m singing songs, throwing snowballs, playing games, and making her comfortable and happy. We’re also taking breaks. An hour tops for a three-year-old’s first day, a few hours for a four-year-old with a break in the middle, and longer for older kids but with breaks through out.
I’ve played cops and robbers, we’ve hunted for gold, I’ve skied fully doing the Hokey Pokey. One kid asked if we could play cow. I had no idea what that was but said, sure. Apparently all it requires is skiing while making mooing sounds. With older kids, I implement competition, more rewards, and even tell stories on the chairlift.
If you want your kid to have fun skiing, then ski like a kid.
Also, don’t be so focused on going from point a to point b. Slow down and look around at all the fun things to do. Go over jumps, around obstacles, and through trees.
MISTAKE 1: Teaching Them Yourself
Don’t get me wrong, some parents are totally capable of teaching their own kids to ski. However, a lot of adults who’ve been skiing for years forget how difficult learning can be and don’t know how to break down skiing into learnable skills. Screaming “pizza” as your kid zooms down the hill out of control is not helpful, but it’s the only thing some parents know what to do.
Here are some good questions to ask before teaching them yourself:
- Will you be happy and patient spending all day and possibly more days on the bunny hill?
- Do you have expertise to offer beyond yelling “pizza” or “French fries?”
- Can you ski backwards—if only very slowly?
- Can you let go of expectations of how quickly your kid should learn? (IE, my kid won’t need an edgie wedgie. My kid will be on the lift before lunch.)
- Can you accept that having fun is the most important outcome of the day?
If you can answer yes to all these questions, you might have a chance at teaching your kid to ski. But even if you can teach your child to ski, there’s something to be said for you being the parent and not the teacher. Sometimes kids respond better to an authority figure, and they can advance more rapidly when watching their peers. A few days in ski school can bump them up a few levels and get them out on the hill with the rest of the family.
Good luck and remember you’re teaching your child to enjoy skiing for life.
For an outdoor adventure without ever having to get outside, check out the Lost Gorge Mystery series!
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