There is no shortage of blogs and videos full of great tips to teach young kids to ski. Tips to get your kids used to the gear, play games to make it fun, bring treats for the lift, keep the day short in the beginning, and many others are all rock-solid advice and were helpful when I first taught my son to ski. Our intent with this post is not to reinvent that wheel but rather to offer a few other tips that we don’t see as often.
Telling a kid how much fun skiing and snowboarding are is one thing but a video is worth a million words. When I was a kid, it was Warren Miller films but, today, just a quick YouTube search will get you hundreds of great videos that inspire and excite kids for what they can learn to do. And I would not only show them Olympic races or X Games halfpipe tricks… just basic videos of families skiing and even instructional videos can show a kid how fun snow sports are but also make them look like something they will be able to learn.
Tip #1 will excite your child to want to ski or snowboard but the reality is that learning these sports is tough. With my son, I prepared him in advance, telling him honestly that it will be difficult, I told him that he will fall, that the snow will be cold, that he will probably feel frustrated and that that is okay. It’s just part of learning. Obviously every kid is a little different and this tip requires finding the right balance so your words are not discouraging but, for my son, I believe it really helped. When those moments of difficulty and frustration happened, they were not a surprise and he was ready to just accept it, get back up, and “try try again.” Oh, and from age 4 on, he has carried all his own gear. That's just part of the deal if you want to ski.
It may seem self-serving to include this tip in a SHRED DOG blog post but it really is critical. If your kids' winter clothing keeps them warm, dry, and comfortable, the success and enjoyment of their learning experience will be based solely on other factors. If they are cold and wet, then absolutely nothing else will turn around a bad experience.
Many other tip lists suggest putting kids in ski school versus only teaching them yourself and I agree. On one hand, I know how to ski and snowboard but I’m not an expert at teaching others (and especially not an expert at teaching kids). But, more importantly, at least for my son, I believe he listened better and got less frustrated when coached by a ski school instructor. With me, I heard a lot of “I AM doing it that way” when clearly he was not (I have lots of video to prove it)! And the reason I recommend morning lessons is so that you can ski with your child in the afternoon. Right after each lesson, when it was still fresh in his mind, I would ask my son to teach me what he learned. I told him I learned a long long time ago and maybe he knows something now that I don’t. Kids feel empowered when they think they know something you don’t but, more importantly, when he “taught” me by both explaining and then showing me what to do, it really reinforced what he had learned that day and made practicing a lot more fun.
Many parents swear by learning tools such as harnesses or ski tip connectors like the Edgie-Wedgie. With my son, the only product I actually used and can weigh in on was a Lucky Bums Ski Trainer harness. It seemed like a good idea at first but, to be honest, we only used it for a few runs. He didn’t seem to need it and I felt like it was preventing him from learning to control his speed on his own. My perspective on these tools is that they may be helpful for some kids in the very beginning but should be used very sparingly so they do not become a crutch, inhibit learning real technique, or create bad habits.
If your kid is anything like mine, at some point tucking straight down the hill becomes the priority. Rather than just telling him to practice his turns, we played follow the leader and he had to not only follow my line but match my tracks turn for turn. Another great variation of follow-the-leader if your child has friends that are better skiers/snowboarders, is simply to join up with them for the day. Not many things help a kid progress faster than trying to keep up with friends all day (and if you hear "wait up!" even once, I'd be very surprised).
While I certainly agree with the advice that says don't overdo it and don't push your kids too hard too fast, I also found there were times to challenge them and push them into a new comfort zone. But I always tried to find ways for my son to WANT to try a new challenge. Kind of like how Tom Sawyer convinced his friends to want to whitewash the fence for him. With my son, I would say “I could teach you something but maybe I shouldn't because most kids don’t learn it until they’re 10.” Or “Want to learn to do something that your mom doesn't know and you can teach her later?” To give credit where credit is due, check out this great post on ultraskier for more on the Tom Sawyer method.
If you have other helpful tips that worked for your family, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below!
Coach Nelly is back with Part 3 of our guest blog safety series, this time teaching beginners (and reminding everyone) of safe terrain park etiquette.