When asked to describe myself, I always say “skier” along with “mom” and “writer.” I was brought up in a ski family, and without question, my daughter would be a skier too. I learned, however, that like the weather, I couldn’t control the desires or motivations of my child—but with a little preparation and thought, you can point a child in the right direction. When my daughter was little, she was move interested in making angels in the snow than turns. I worried that she wouldn’t like skiing. After a few ski lessons, she started to enjoy it. It was fun to be with other kids and friendly instructors. Her skiing ability increased incrementally as she developed her motor skills and coordination. Then I made a mistake.
Years ago, I wrote an article called “Confessions of a Ski Industry Mom” for a trade publication. In that article, I confessed to over-training my daughter (taking my child in terrain that challenged her ability level) in a moment of “powder panic” in fresh snow. As a ski instructor, I knew that I should keep my child on gentle or moderate terrain as she developed her skills. But my reptilian skier brain took over that day and it resulted in tears—from both of us. I’m happy to say that years later, there appears to be no lasting damage and now my 12-year-old daughter is officially a skier who loves powder days, jumping off of cornices and carving turns down steep runs.
My husband and I worked hard at being patient and helping her develop her skills by putting her in lessons and ultimately a race program. Then we reinforced what the pros told her to work on. Now we’re a ski family, just like I hoped for. The following tips are insights I’ve learned throughout my journey as a ski parent. Mistakes are bound to happen, but hopefully they turn into learning experiences that ultimately help your child become a lifelong skier.
LEAVE IT TO THE PROS
Every ski instructor I’ve spoken to recommends putting your child in ski lessons primarily because kids respond well to someone else teaching them besides their parents. When you enlist the help of a ski pro, you can still teach your child by repeating what the instructor said. Don’t be shy in asking your child’s instructor or coach what he or she should work on—then talk about that with your child. It’s helpful to use the same language as the instructor does so that you can reinforce the concepts learned in the lesson.
BE A GUIDE
Many parents take their kids on runs because they want to ski there, not because it’s appropriate for their child’s skill level. The best mountain guides do what’s right for the group, not themselves. If you over-terrain your child, it can reinforce bad habits. Children’s physical developments vary and they can’t necessarily ski like you: They often lack the coordination or strength needed to flex their joints and will lean on the back of their ski boots as the run gets steeper. It’s common to see kids make parallel turns on appropriate terrain for their ability level and wedge turns as the slope angle increases. If you see this change in your child’s skiing, head back to easier terrain.
MAKE IT FUN
When I was anxious about whether or not my child would become a lifelong skier, I forgot to make the moment fun. Kids live in the present moment and when I thought about skiing from a child’s perspective, we had a blast. Look at the mountain the way a kid does. Seek out family fun zones. Most resorts have special areas just for kids, often with features to ski under or through or colorful pictures or characters to look at. You can sneak in skill-building activities as well. Try things like hockey stop or hopping contests, counting bumps or fun races on gentle or moderate terrain.
ADDRESS THE FEAR
If you help develop your child’s skills on flat or gentle terrain, he or she should be able to handle steeps as strength and coordination increase. However, some kids get scared when they see something steep or icy-looking. Since kids are visual, have your child focus only on a few turns ahead. He or she can sing a favorite song or leave marks in the snow—anything to help redirect fear and focus on the task of skiing. After you all get to the bottom of the run, celebrate the accomplishment.
FIND THE RIGHT GEAR
Most ski pros agree that a soft-flexing boot is crucial for young skiers. An over-stiff boot means kids will over-flex in the knee and the hip and not the ankle joint, which is important in learning how to carve. I made the mistake of buying a used pair of boots for my daughter that were too stiff and it literally set her back: I could see her standing more upright, thus unable to pressure the front of her skis and turn effectively. The proper ski length is important as well—a rule of thumb is don’t choose a ski that goes above a child’s third eye. The shorter the ski, the easier it is to turn, however too short and the child will “outski” the ski.
LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Zen practitioners talk about raising acceptance and lowering expectation. I learned the hard way that this concept pertains to skiing with kids. Once I became more in-tune with my daughter’s energy level and lowered my expectations, we had more success on the slopes. Sometimes you need to call it a day early because developing muscles wear out quickly and the slopes can be over-stimulating, resulting in the dreaded meltdown. Try redirecting: There are lots of other fun things to see and do at ski areas. Activities like ice-skating, tubing and jumping on trampolines can help with balance and coordination and make ski vacations exciting for kids. Lastly, peer pressure, or including other kids, can help everyone have more fun because skiing with friends helps to ease the challenging dynamic between parent and child.
Read more about U-Flex technology in Elan's Kids skis.