After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, Leah now enjoys writing about science, gardening, and travel.
Skiing With (Little) Kids
Skiing with preschoolers and young elementary school children has unique joys and challenges. Every child learns at a different pace, and very young children may tire easily or become cranky as the day wears on. Having the right attitude, expectations, and the right gear (such as a ski bib with a handle to help little ones on the lift - see the Kid-Ski Kiddie Lift below) is paramount to a successful ski vacation with small children.
Developmental Readiness for Skiing
Children are generally not ready to enter ski school until they are 3 or 4 years of age. Some parents are able to bring younger children out on the slopes under their own direction, but independent skiing takes certain developmental maturity of the muscles and nervous system. Ponder the following questions prior to signing a 3 year old up for ski school:
- Can my child walk up stairs, alternating feet?
- Can my child pedal a tricycle?
- Is my child completely toilet trained?
- Is my child able to separate from me?
- Will my child have a more positive experience by waiting another year?
Toddlers who cannot alternate feet while walking up stairs or who cannot pedal a tricycle are probably not physically developmentally ready for ski school. Most ski schools require potty trained children and a minimum age of three years.
Have the Right Skiing Expectations
A 3 or 4 year old child will not be racing down the mountain after a single ski school class. The main goal of most ski programs for preschoolers is to teach children the joy of skiing. Some children may only accept putting on one ski, and be "done" for the day. Positive encouragement and a fun environment will get many children up on skis for the first time, and learning to form a basic wedge. It may take several lessons and some growth before a 3 or 4 year old is ready (and able) to use the chair lift.
It is imperative to find a ski school program meant for young children. Preferably, this program will be taught by instructors who have received specialized training in how to teach preschoolers how to ski. Check with the ski resort to verify the child ski program instructor certification and the minimum age required for ski school.
Kid's Ski Equipment
DIY Ski School: Teaching Your Toddler to Ski
Some expert skiers may opt to teach a very young toddler how to ski without engaging in ski school lessons. In general, it is better to have a professional instructor teach your child to ski. For parents who want to teach their child without attending classes, here are some helpful tips:
- Have the young toddler watch ski school classes in session.
- Have the toddler ride the "magic carpet" (moving sidewalk) style lift without skis on.
- Place one ski on the toddler and let them experiment with the sliding sensation.
- Have the toddler ride the "magic carpet" lift while wearing one ski. Repeat the exercise with the child wearing the alternate ski.
- If sliding on one ski has been mastered, try adding the second ski in flat terrain.
- Once two skis and basic sliding have been mastered, find a gentle slope with a safe run-out area. Try runs with a "magic carpet" style lift.
Most young toddlers will not be able to maintain a standing position on skis, due to the muscle strength and maturity required for this task.
Several products are available to parents who would like to take very young children skiing. The Kid Ski Lift is a harness which features a handle on the back of the vest, allowing parents to assist children on and off the ski lift. Ski trainers are reins which help parents control a child's speed and direction on the slopes, and can come in very handy with an adrenaline charged three year old! Edgie Wedgies can help very young toddlers and preschoolers maintain a wedge position on skis, and may be useful for parents teaching children too young for ski school.
Keep children facing forward, as twisting or looking backwards will increase falls. To keep a child facing the correct direction, try the following:
- Clapping hands. Have the child clap their hands in front of them while skiing. This will keep the body straight and facing in the correct direction.
- Airplane. Have the child hold out their arms as wings, and pretend to fly as an airplane down the slopes. This maneuver will keep the child focused and facing downhill.
Ski Helmets: Lids on Kids
Most ski resorts now require children to wear a ski helmet on the slopes. Head injuries are particularly devastating to the developing brains of young children. Helmets help protect tiny noggins, and are extremely good at keeping heads and ears toasty warm.
Helmets may be rented at the ski rental shop on the slopes, or may be purchased in advance for families who will be skiing on a regular basis. Fun helmet covers can be found to add a whimsical or "cool" look to the helmet.
Ski goggles are necessary to prevent little eyes from wind, snow, and the glare from the reflecting snow. Scarves or neck warmers should also be purchased prior to any ski trip: wind and cold air that find their way into a ski jacket can make a little preschooler very cold in short order.
Take Breaks Often When Skiing With Kids
Little guys work very hard when skiing, and will probably need frequent hot cocoa breaks. Ski schools may offer a "full day" lesson for small children, but the lessons are generally broken up into two smaller increments with "down time" in a kiddie play area.
For parents on the slopes with preschoolers, it is a good idea to stop for a hot cocoa break every few runs. If a preschooler still naps, then don't continue skiing through nap time. The result will be an over-tired child who will be frustrated by skiing! Keep the child's schedule as close to the routine as possible, and stop skiing when the child is showing obvious signs of fatigue or frustration. Remember, the point is to keep skiing fun and enjoyable for everyone out on the slopes!
A Four Year Old Skiing
Get Waterproof Ski Pants
Children should never ski in jeans. Denim is extremely cold and heavy when it becomes wet, and the fastest way to hypothermia is a small child wearing wet clothing in freezing weather. Get the appropriate ski clothing, including ski bibs, ski pants, or a full ski suit.
While a full ski suit might sound like the ideal solution, be aware that these suits might be difficult for a child to remove during the young preschool (and potty training) years. Ski bibs might be easier for the child to handle, and will keep the child warm and dry- as long as an appropriate ski jacket is layered on top of the bibs!
Kid's Ski Jackets
A proper ski jacket should be waterproof, fit well, and have layers to keep a child warm. A cotton jacket has no place on the ski slopes: find something with Gortex or other waterproof shell. Columbia, Spyder, and other ski clothing manufacturers make quality ski clothes for children. Try on the jacket (and all other ski clothing) prior to the ski trip to make sure it fits appropriately!
Jackets with a removable shell are a good idea for ski areas which have a great variation in temperature. On a sunny, warm, "bluebird" day, the child's coat can be thinned down to the shell or fleece layer, and bulked up again for a colder day.
Tipping Ski Instructors
Parents often wonder if ski instructors should be tipped after a day of instructing little ones. The answer is a resounding, "Yes!" Ski instructors spend anywhere from 1 hour to 6 hours with little ones, instructing them on the basics of skiing. In addition, ski instructors help the children with their gear, fetch hot chocolate, and take numerous little preschoolers from the ski run to the "potty run." It is customary to give a tip - the dollar amount will vary dependent on the area. In a smaller, more rural town, a $10 tip may be just fine. In a well developed ski program with specialized children's ski instructors and a six hour program, a $20 tip is more appropriate. All tipping is strictly voluntary, but please remember the time and effort instructors have put into teaching children to love the sport of skiing!
Keep Fingers Warm When Kids Ski
Older preschoolers and elementary school children may prefer gloves for skiing, as the individual fingers allow for more dexterity. For younger preschoolers, however, stick to ski mittens. They are warmer, allowing the fingers to create a pocket of warmth within the mitten shell. Young preschoolers also have difficulty isolating fingers into gloves, so mittens are easier to put on and take off. Snowstoppers manufactures mittens and gloves with a sleeve, preventing a gap between the jacket and mitten.
The Best Age to Start Skiing
© 2011 Leah Lefler
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 22, 2011:
Very true - I have heard tales of parents sending children out in jeans or sweatshirts, and that is not appropriate skiing gear! Kids definitely need good waterproof snow pants, layers of clothing, and a ski jacket. Mittens/gloves and goggles/sunglasses are also a must!
lyddia pearson on August 22, 2011:
Great advice on skiing with toddlers and the importance of ski safety starts with making sure you buy the right kids ski clothing.