How to Introduce Your Child to Skiing
Ski expert Abe F. has been skiing since age two and shares tips from his dad on how to launch children into a lifelong passion for the sport.
With guidance from my dad, both my brothers and I began skiing at just two years old, and we’ve all maintained a lifelong passion for the sport. So, I asked him if he had any tips for getting young kids into skiing and he had plenty to share. What follows is all his best advice in his own words!
Introducing Young Children to Skiing to Ensure a Lifetime of Passion and Fun
If bad experiences are the best teachers, then I was learning to teach my kids how to ski like a pro before they were even born.
My lifelong ski adventure began one Saturday afternoon in the early 1970s when my clueless, though well-meaning, parents brought my brother, sister, and I to Pine Hill, New Jersey to try something new. I couldn't have been older than eleven. Having seen Disney’s Dean Jones classic, Snowball Express, I was interested.
After renting us boots, skis, and poles, my mother explained that we were just there “to get the feel for skiing” and that we were not going to be purchasing lift tickets or lessons that day.
Instead, she insisted that we spend the day sidestepping up and down a fifteen-foot vertical area at the bottom of the hill, away from the lift lines (thankfully far enough from the action to avoid complete humiliation). I remember being dressed in jeans and an army jacket and watching the hordes ascend the hill’s two T-bars and soar effortlessly down, full of glee. Meanwhile, my siblings and I ascended awkwardly up our little patch of the hill, standing sideways and clomping one foot up after the other only to slide back down for a few fleeting seconds and do it over again, again, and again.
The only part of the day I enjoyed was going into the lodge after more than an hour of our sidestepping drill for some hot chocolate and a plate of crispy french fries.
After warming up, us kids were not too eager for more sidestepping outside but having been reminded about the rental expense, we dutifully returned to our little piece of the hill; outskirt vagabonds observing the “real skiers” from afar. Left foot up, right foot up. Left foot, right foot. Skiing this was not.
Despite this unimpressive first foray, something about the gear and motion and atmosphere appealed to me. I would return to the slopes a few times every winter starting from middle school through college. After a winter of ski bumming in Stowe, I eventually blossomed into a pretty strong downhiller.
By the time I was thinking about kids, I was thinking about how to get them into skiing. Here, I share some goals and ideas that helped me instill a love of skiing in my kids. Technique came later, and by the time they were young teens they gave me tips while I struggled to keep up. I have no doubt that my early focus on their comfort and fun put them on the path to passion:
Make the new skier eager for the experience
Watch hours of Warren Miller movies with your young student. You won’t go wrong with Snowball Express. Talk about the thrill of skiing, even in the heat of summer. Make hop turns and do 360’s while screaming “woo-hoo” on the grass. Tell the student with a big smile that you can’t wait for ski season.
Get the child skier comfortable with ski gear before arriving at the slopes
Obtain gear in the summer or fall. Consignment shops and ski swaps are a good place to start. Encourage the newbie to walk around in their ski boots, click in and out of their bindings, flex the ankles, and bend the legs. Jump, hop, do the twist. Hands up, head up, lean forward.
Demonstrate the difference between sliding and stepping
They may have watched those Warren Miller movies dutifully, but new skiers are still going to walk, not slide, the first time they put their skis on the snow. Pull the child across the floor and urge them to keep their feet still. If they are too young to understand words, explaining “slide” may mean grabbing them by the tush, propelling them forward and saying “slide,” “slide,” “slide,” until it makes sense to them, or you faint from exhaustion.
Make sure to pull the student with care
You pull your kid on skis with your pole. To avoid impaling your young loved one, always hold the pole above the basket with the point facing you. You might think there is a safer way, but there are none that you are going to carry with you up the ski lift.
In training, pull them on the lawn, across a wooden floor, or over the wall-to-wall carpet. Don’t jerk, pull gently. Pull them from one end of the house to the other and back again. Eventually, you two will form a rhythm.
Over the years on the mountain, you could be pulling your kids across long flats, out of heaps in the deep, or even uphill if they’ve overshot the group on a wrong turn. A day will come when you will never have occasion again to pull your child on their skis. Before that day, it is a technique worth mastering.
Set modest goals for your first day out and keep all focus on your child
Do not plan a big trip to a fancy ski resort for the first day on skis. Find a low-key, local hill. Try to maintain a ratio of one or two adults per child. Don’t get up at 4:00 a.m. for a three-hour drive. Be patient. Stay cheerful. Pack the night before and bring an extra everything. Bring waterproof hiking boots for the kids, not sneakers.
Preserving energy starts in the parking lot
If your young student is under seven years old, think like a “ski butler.” All ski areas have a “skier drop-off” to unload gear and organize next steps. Don’t ask your kid to walk a quarter-mile across a parking lot in ski boots while carrying skis and expect them to remain cheerful. Do the heavy lifting for them.
We all want our kids to be independent, but use common sense. Some adults can’t learn how to carry skis properly after years of trying. Do not force your kids to carry heavy gear before they’re ready.
If you follow this advice, someday when you are an old man, your sons may carry your skis while hiking up the Aspen Highlands Bowl or across the Headwaters Ridge at Big Sky to say thanks for all you did for them.
Make them sidestep
Considering my introduction, you might not have expected that I would include a sidestepping exercise as part of a kid’s first ski day. Rest assured, I would not recommend a day, let alone a half-hour, of sidestepping drills. Any lifelong skier will tell you, however, that sidestepping is a valuable skill for any level skier. To this day, I sometimes find myself perched on some super steep, above-treeline slope, like the top of Imperial Bowl at Breckenridge, and I become a mountain lion standing sideways, steady as a rock, looking at the vistas ahead and thanking my mom for those drills on that long-ago day.
It’s hard to believe that generations of kids took their first runs as rag dolls, dragging between a parent’s legs before someone invented a simple harness to put some distance between student and teacher. How many dads must have skied over the backs of their own kid’s skis or pulled upper body this way while lower body went that way?
Invest $35 in a harness—it beats skiing a kid between your legs. That said, once in a while you will put the kid between your legs anyway.
An Edgie Wedgie prevents tip crossing and helps guide the kid’s skis into the snowplow. It works so well that eventually you’ll wish for a similar device to guide the kid’s skis out of the snowplow. In the meantime, just say “pizza, french fry, pizza, french fry” about 11,453 times; they’ll figure it out just fine.
Try to get onto the lift on the first day
Unless a kid is afraid of heights chances are good that they want to ride the ski lift on their first day out. Take it from someone who knows. The details of loading a young child onto a ski lift are beyond the scope of this essay. Should you need assistance, just ask the lift operator to slow down and give you an assist. What could go wrong?
Take in the entire ski-lodge experience
Hot chocolate, nachos, Joey Leone on the guitar at Killington’s Snowshed Lodge. Some of the most enjoyable things about skiing take place off the hill and in the lodge. Let your child experience the joy of après-skiing as early as possible. It may be years before they will be doing frozen vodka shooters. Long before that, they will be bragging about taking big air off cliffs and surviving wicked wipeouts—just like the big kids.
In conclusion, giving the young student a good start on their lifelong journey as a skier depends more on your concern for their comfort than your focus on their technique. A ski day should be full of laughs and adventures, not hassles and struggles. Ideally, your kid will have a sense of familiarity with the gear and environment of the ski area before arriving at the mountain. Remember, be the “ski butler” and serve your kid those early mountain experiences on a smooth, silver platter. A little bit of sacrifice will pay dividends for many years to come.