If you love to ski, you’ve probably dreamed of the moment your child will join you for an afternoon on the slopes. But how do you know when they’re ready? How do you pick a resort that’s family friendly? And how do you encourage a scared child to strap on a pair of skis and slide down a mountain?
First, says Kieffer Parrino, who runs the Children’s Division of the Telluride Ski and Snowboard School in Colorado, you find an instructor you trust. “Most children are a lot different with a parent around,” says Parrino, who, despite 10 years of experience as an instructor, didn’t even try to teach his daughter to ski. “To hover doesn’t help the child. They typically will not try something new if they see mom or dad there.”
A family-friendly resort will have lots of beginner runs, including a “magic carpet” lift for the bunny slope. At Telluride, all youngsters start with the magic carpet, which gently pulls the standing skier uphill, and don’t progress to a chair lift until they can demonstrate that they’re skiing in control and know how to stop. They often offer discounted “learning to ski” packages or beginner-only lift tickets.
Investigate ski schools the way you would any other childcare. What is the student-instructor ratio? Have all the teachers had background checks? Do they seem aware of child safety issues like food allergies and helmet use? Are they willing to treat each child as an individual – for example, catering to your son’s fear of chair lifts with extra attention?
If your child isn’t interested in learning to ski yet, don’t push it, and don’t expect a 3-year-old to race down the mountain like Bodie Miller. According to Parrino, most preschoolers enjoy the sensation of “sliding” in skis, but will not be ready to ski independently until closer to 4 or 5. On the other hand, 7-year-olds who already know how to roller blade or ice skate usually learn fast.
The trick is to challenge your child without spoiling the fun. Parrino suggests keeping the bunny slope interesting by introducing new skills rather than rushing off to more challenging terrain. When your child really feels ready for something steeper, try a “fun run” down a harder slope, and expect their style to slip a little. Invest in a helmet for your own peace of mind, and away you go!