Keeping it fun at Shawnee Peak. (Shawnee Peak/Facebook)
As a skier who taught two sons to ski and then had the youngest son and a grandson take their first lessons in children’s programs, I know there is no one best way or age for all children to learn a snowsport.
Depending on the child’s age and readiness and a parent’s skill, patience, and teaching expertise, it can be a great or a frustrating experience.
However, all manner of lessons are available, from daycare with introduction to snow for the youngest, to private or group lessons - so parents have a choice.
Mary Jo Tarallo, executive director of January Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month, stresses that it’s important to make learning fun and safe.
“Don’t force toddlers to learn. Just because you see an 18-month or 2-year-old on skis on YouTube, don’t think that’s the norm because it isn’t,” she said, noting children learn in different ways and at individual paces.
Watching children in lessons at Pennsylvania’s Liberty Mountain recently, she was most impressed by the dedication of the instructors “who know how to deal with kids. They have an understanding of what a child might be capable of at various ages and use age appropriate methods and language,” she noted.
January Learn-To Month makes it very affordable for children around ages seven or older to learn, and some first-time lesson packages continue throughout the season, Tarallo added.
Tips for teaching toddlers 3-5
Parents’ expectations should be realistic, notes Chris Saylor, Ski and Ride Director at Okemo Mountain.
“Toddlers are not going to be skiing/riding independently for a bit. I put a pair of kid’s ski boots in my daughter’s toy box long before ski season. That eliminated some of the plethora of new things a young child experiences when first going skiing. Just getting boots on can be a bit of a challenge. Get the rentals the night before, sooner if possible, so they can get used to feeling boots and skis on their feet.”
Ron Laprise, Snowsports School Director at Shawnee Peak, also recommends that toddlers walk around the house in boots and skis. “It’s important to get them comfortable with sticks on their feet. Make it fun and then try the driveway or yard so they get comfortable walking around. Then on the hill it will be familiar and you’re a step ahead,” he said.
“Often a successful day for a youngster is a straight run and maybe a direction change. Be patient with your child and instructor. If you’re teaching them, teach one skill at a time. Getting kids to slide straight down a hill is a huge thrill for them. Take breaks often,” Saylor adds.
Older children, teens
Older children experience new things at school all the time, so equipment isn’t as much an issue for them, Saylor notes. His tips: “Keep to the flattest terrain for the biggest success; teach one skill at a time —straight run, direction changes, surface lifts; and keep tasks short and make it fun.
“Teens often want to figure it out on their own. Taking a hands-off approach works well. Talk to them about putting skis on and let them figure it out. Same goes for each skill. They just want to get moving so let them experiment.
“As a parent you know yourself and your child best. Frustration levels can escalate quickly on both sides, so know when to call in help from either another parent or a local snowsports pro. Don’t push to more advanced terrain, first grade takes a year,” Saylor notes.
Laprise adds that for a first time out, it’s important to choose a nice day that isn’t too cold or blustery.
Parents who have intermediate or better ski skills and know the basics like shins to boot tongue and hands forward can teach their own children, but bad habits like being in the back seat are work to undo, so if in doubt, age appropriate lessons are in order, Laprise said.
He recommends “an hour private if possible or small group lessons. Children have different learning styles: some learn by seeing, some by doing, and some by hearing,” and children’s instructors know how to identify and work with that, he said.
“Parents need to be sure kids know the Responsibility Code. Having fun and being safe are critical” to a child learning to love snowsports, Laprise stressed.