What kinds of questions should I ask when I call the school? The more you find out about the program in advance, the more you can help your child know what to expect from the experience. You can also print this "Quick Questions" form to help you keep track of the answers. Here's some things you may want to ask:
- What types of programs do you offer?
- Does your snowsports school have a daycare service? (Some areas offer a daycare/sports school combination program.)
- Are both group and private lessons offered? If so, what is the cost for each?
- How many children are in a lesson together?
- When are the lesson meeting times?
- What are the lesson prices? (Children's lesson pricing is likely to be different from an adult's. Depending on the school, teenagers may be included with either children's or adult lessons.)
- What is included with the lesson pricing and what is extra? (Lift tickets, lunch, rental equipment, etc.)
- Do you offer any special package deals? (These might include a discount for more than one day in the school.)
- What do I need to bring for my child?
- What if my child doesn't ride when the lesson is over? Are there other activities he or she can do?
How do I know it is a quality snowsports school?
Ultimately, whether you plan to visit a major destination center or a small area close to home, be sure to choose an area that offers instructional programs led by experienced, qualified ski and snowboard instructors. Professional instruction is the key to greater enjoyment and progress. You are likely to find instructors who belong to a number of organizations who support professional training. Members certified by the largest of these national organizations, the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and/or the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) are trained in customer service skills, riding mechanics, and learning theory. Some PSIA and AASI instructors hold specialized accreditation in children's instruction. Above all, they are committed to helping you and your children have fun!
Consistency is important to children. They prefer to continue with someone they like. Good instructors are popular, so make your reservations early and perhaps choose a couple of instructors your child will enjoy.
What is the best age for children to ski/ride?
All children develop emotionally, physically, and mentally at different rates. If you feel your child will tolerate being away from you for the duration of the lesson, will be comfortable with the surroundings, and can use the bathroom on his or her own, it's time to look into snowsports schools. With that in mind, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your child comfortable being around adults? Can she communicate with them?
- Does she tend to experience separation anxiety?
- Does she go to daycare or play groups?
- Does your child play with others and share?
- Is she "potty trained" and able to use the bathroom facilities independently?
- Has your child been exposed to snow and winter conditions?
The answers to these questions will help you determine whether your child is ready and willing to take lessons. These factors will also help you determine whether he or she - along with the other children in the program and the instructional staff - will have a good experience.
Skiing: Many snowsports schools offer lessons for children beginning at the age of three or four. The programs can vary from one-hour private lessons to all-day group lessons. The all-day programs are usually designed to combine on-snow time and indoor time. Some even provide lunch and access to rest areas for short periods; even so, they should not be considered a daycare. It is important that your child is old enough for the program. One year can make a significant difference in the developmental skills necessary for certain activities.
Snowboarding: Areas tend to offer snowboarding lessons for children who are a bit older - around six or seven. Appropriately sized equipment for younger children may be limited at the area you choose, so be sure to ask about availability and make any suggested reservations ahead of time. Results tend to be better for older children because of their higher developmental stage. Many experts agree that before age six, children tend to find snowboarding difficult for their little legs. Because snowboarding engages so many small, less-developed muscles, it can be a bit frustrating for young children. Many areas recommend starting children on skis first, perhaps even nordic skis, so they can learn balance, stance, and gliding on two planks rather than one. Once the child develops a sense of these movements - and a good dose of confidence - the chances of success on a snowboard can increase tremendously.
Can I pre-register my child for ski/snowboard school? It depends on the area. Some areas will allow you to pre-register. If this is an option, make sure to do it! It will save you time when you get to the area. Otherwise, plan to arrive early enough to guarantee your child gets in.
How early do we need to get there before the lesson? You can't be too early, especially if you have to do the ticket/equipment/lesson sign-up dance at different stations. Even if you are pre-registered, it may take some time to check in and get your child fitted for equipment, so plan your arrival 1 ½ hours or more before the lesson starts so you won't be rushed. Here are typically the things that you will need to do before your child even starts his day:
- Wake up
- Dress in winter clothes (this can be a challenge if you and your child are new to skiing)
- Eat breakfast
- Drive, walk, or shuttle to the area
- Rent equipment, if needed (this will probably take at least an hour or more)
- Walk to the snowsports school (this will also take a bit longer due to walking in boots, especially for beginners)
- Fill out paperwork and sign child in to school
- Drop off child
Will my child enjoy a group lesson? Lessons range in length anywhere from half an hour up to all day. Children may not feel as conspicuous when they're with others who are also struggling to learn and many times they end up making a special friend. Consider these questions about your child:
- Does he like being around other kids?
- Does he need personal attention?
- How long can he really stand in the cold on skis or a snowboard before a meltdown starts to happen?
Be fair to your child. If your child has a good vacation, so will you. If your child is sick, tired, and crabby, you will suffer, too.
Would my child prefer a private lesson? If you decide that a private lesson suits your needs and your budget, you can request a specific instructor or type of lesson. For example: "My daughter wants to ski/ride with a female instructor who is very fun and energetic." Most resorts will try to accommodate your request, particularly in private lessons. If your child and the instructor click, you can always ask for the same instructor in the future. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your child prefer personal, one-on-one attention?
- Do you imagine a situation in which your child may want more flexible scheduling or pacing than might be available in a group lesson?
Should I consider booking a family lesson? If your family has a set goal of riding together with an instructor consult with the booking agent or instructor about the possibility of structuring a lesson whereby the family can ski as a group and interact with each other. Some areas even offer private lessons for younger children and one parent that are geared toward teaching the adult how to ride with their younger child.
Before you decide to book a family private lesson, keep in mind that the instructor will normally teach to the lowest level in the group. Someone in your family who may ride at a much higher level is likely to be bored. Kids and adults learn at different rates and find different things fun. It may be a better idea to match like abilities and ages and everyone will have something awesome to talk about at the end of the day when you reunite.
What level group should I put my child in? For a first lesson, this is obvious. For return visits, you have several factors to consider. The person who takes your registration for the snowsports school may be able to guide you a little but it is best to talk with an instructor when you arrive. Here are some of the questions you might be asked:
- What was your child doing on skis/snowboard the last time?
- What was the terrain like?
- What did her last instructor say to do next?
Prepare your child for the idea of being shifted to another class so she won't feel she hasn't performed well. You want her to be in the class where she will have the most fun.
Many areas have a "hang tag" or "report card" where instructors can check off what children worked on or learned. This is a good item to save for your child's next lesson since it can serve as a guide to place your child in the correct class in the future.
Keep in mind that your child may have grown or had changes in coordination since the last snowsports lesson. Start out easy at the beginning of the season. You wouldn't want your child to get discouraged if all the muscles don't remember all the moves. Consider snow conditions, too: heavy slush, deep powder, and ice are much more difficult than new, packed powder and this may mean your child will need to drop down a level to have fun.
My child has attention deficit disorder or another special need. Is there anything we need to do differently? Your child may learn well in a typical class situation or might do best in a private lesson. Ask the booking agent if the snowsports area has a special program that addresses the needs of your child and has instructors specifically trained to work with him or her. If you do register your child for a typical class, give the instructor all of the necessary information about your child's abilities and challenges, including behavior, so that everyone can have a fun and successful lesson.
Release and Liability Forms
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! It's everywhere you go: at work, at home, and even when you are on vacation. Make sure as you fill forms out that you understand the risks you are taking when sending your child out on the mountain. Skiing and snowboarding are sports with risk and your child needs to know he or she is responsible for his or her own actions on the mountain and he needs to be aware of others on the mountain. Talk to your child about Your Responsibility Code (you can find the Responsibility Code on many trail maps).
Some schools require you to show proof of identity or turn in a special form to pick up your child. Be sure to add names/signatures of every adult who is authorized to pick up your child in case you are unable to arrive on time for pick-up. Keep in mind how important that paperwork is. Put it in a safe place and be sure the person picking up has it. The instructors do not necessarily know who you are and will not be able to remember every parent. If mom drops off and dad picks up there is no way to tell if that child is going with the correct person unless there is a claim system. These systems are for the safety of your child and if you don't have the correct paperwork, it may take you a bit longer at pick-up time. The best thing to do is to know the system and be prepared.
What should I expect from my child's lesson? The most important thing is for your child to have fun and want to participate again. Younger children may have a hard time adjusting at first, especially if they have never been in snow before. They may or may not want to try and that needs to be okay.
Older children are usually more ready to participate and will at least try. The main thing to remember is you want your child to have fun and stay safe. If you child learns some things too, that is an added bonus. This is a vacation, not a preparation for the Olympics.
What will my child learn? Depending on which lesson your child is in and how long the lesson is, your child may learn different things. A young first-timer (never ever skied or snowboarded before) may learn how to put on equipment, stand, balance, walk, get up, and glide. A second-timer young child may still be working on stopping and may take three to four days to be ready to ride a chairlift.
Older kids may do all of this, plus stop, turn, and perhaps ride a lift, depending on the length of the lesson. Older children will typically continue to perfect what they have learned. Also, they can work on turning, speed control, and riding on slightly more challenging terrain.
When you do decide to head to the mountains and try snowsports, remember the number one thing that kids should be able to do is have fun. Skiing and snowboarding can be very physically demanding sports for some, even though it's second nature for others. Fun may mean sliding around for 10 minutes to an hour and spending the rest of the time making a snowman or sledding. Children who are fairly athletic and experienced with other sports may end up sliding the entire day and at the end of class, beg for more. Both of these situations are normal - pace and activity choice varies widely.
Each child learns at a different pace. Be sure you understand your child's skill level and how this fits into the lesson system. This may vary from one snowsports school to another. Check the "report card" or ask your child's instructor for a recommendation for the next class. Find out what trails are comfortable and fun for your child, as well as those which might be a bit too challenging. Don't guess. Most people, especially children, need a series of lessons to learn the appropriate, courteous way to explore the mountain. This can be a good investment in the future.
Can I observe my child in the lesson? If you really want to see your child skiing/riding, you can ask the instructor where the class will take place. You can spy from behind a sign or a tree but don't let your child see you! Children often listen better, and learn more with less fuss, when parents are not present. Let the instructors do their job. They are good at it and you're on vacation. And, ideally, they are fired up enough to want to take a run with you after the lesson. Be prepared for that.
Younger children often have a tough time separating from their parents but you will be surprised at how often they will quickly adjust and have a great time once their attention is focused on the instructor and the fun activities in the lesson. Make sure your child knows what time you will be back. You could even arrive a bit early for pick up to have your child show you how much she learned.
When your child's lesson is over be there ready to pick her up on time. This means approximately 10-15 minutes before the end of the lesson period. You might even see the tail end of their last run so your child can show you what he learned. This will give you time to hear a review of the lesson and learn about how you can successfully tour the mountain on terrain you will both enjoy. If you were late, think of how sad your child would be if he were the last one to be picked up. Some programs charge extra for a late pick-up.
If you cannot be at the meeting area on time, arrange for one of your designated people listed on the release form to take your place. That person may need to check in at the office to pick up an alternate claim release form for your child if you have the original.
What kinds of questions should I ask the instructor after the lesson? First, listen to the instructor talking to the children at the end of the lesson. A good teacher will gather the class and check for understanding to see if they remember the high points of the lesson. You will also see how the instructor relates to the children. The instructor is responsible for all of the children, so be patient if the instructor's attention isn't devoted to just you and your questions.
Once most of the children have been picked up, you can ask specific questions, such as:
- What did your child learn?
- What can you remind her to do when you take her skiing/riding?
- What trails would be appropriate?
- What might your child learn in the next class?
Listen to the information the instructor has for you about your child's behavior (good or bad), so you can coach for success in the future. If the behavior is not what you expected or would have liked, remember that you weren't there. Children often behave differently when not with their parents. Just listen and coach your child toward better behavior in the future and be sure to commend good achievements.
Do I tip the instructor? This is a personal choice but as in any service position, tips are always appreciated. Tip your instructor if he/she did a good job. Whether the lesson was good (your child learned a ton and had lots of fun) or bad (your child learned nothing and cried all day long) your child's instructor probably earned his wage and more.
How can I help my child become a better skier/rider? Practice! Miles, miles, and more miles. Your child needs miles and you both need to go out and have fun. It's hard to teach your own children, but the more mileage they get, the better. Make sure the terrain is appropriate and go for it! Beyond that, continued lessons will contribute to continued progress.
© American Snowsports Education Association Education Foundation