New England

Tips for Teaching Young Kids How to Ski

Keep reading for lots of information from ski and ride professionals. There are certain childhood memories that stand out. One for me was counting my turns as I skied down a trail with my father. I loved this game. He would ski behind me as I would yell out the numbers as I made pretty […]

By Heather Atwell

Mar 09 2011

Keep reading for lots of information from ski and ride professionals.

There are certain childhood memories that stand out. One for me was counting my turns as I skied down a trail with my father. I loved this game. He would ski behind me as I would yell out the numbers as I made pretty turns down the mountain.

When I started teaching skiing, I realized this was a game masked as a learning tool. A couple weeks ago, I tried this with my five-year-old nephew, who loves to ski but has not yet become all too fond of turning. Based on some unscientific research, I think most young kids love to ski but aren’t really that thrilled about turning.

So, we skied down the mountain. My nephew was counting the whole way down, shouting out his updates. Somehow he managed to make 20 more turns than I had made. The next run, the same thing happened. Well, I knew how he made 20 more turns. He used a looser definition of the term “turn.”

Over hot chocolate, we discussed the turn situation. Of course, I was trying to be the diplomatic aunt, albeit, a little conniving with my attempt to get him to make more turns. I explained I was fine with only making 80 turns even though he made 109 because my turns were really curvy and helped me control my speed. He was neither impressed with my turns, nor convinced that I was “okay” with being the loser in the game. His response: “You are not okay with the fact that you only made 80 turns and I made 109.” I responded that every fiber of my being was okay with the fact that I made 80 turns to his 109. My nephew’s response as he sipped his hot chocolate and shook his head, “Every fiber of your being is not okay with the fact that I made 109 and you only made 80.” Thank goodness he doesn’t say things like, “Loser,” because in his estimation, that is what I was.

The thing is, I know this kid is going to kick my butt skiing in about thirteen years—or at least I am hoping he will. By then, perhaps the fact that my turns were prettier than his when he was five will have more of an impact on him. (I know—whatever, Aunt Heather.)

Tips to Teach Kids to Ski or Ride

If you are teaching your favorite little ones to ski or ride, here are some excellent tips, courtesy of a few select ski professionals in New England.

Burton’s Riglet Board and Riglet Reel—Best for Small Tots

I started teaching my daughter Ryder how to snowboard last year when she was 2 and a half. I used the Burton Riglet board and Riglet reel to tow her around the base area before riding the magic carpet and introducing downhill sliding. The Riglet reel (a retractable cord attached to the nose of the board) is the best aid in getting your 3+ year old started on the board.

Jeff Wise, Stowe Mountain Resort, Director of Communications and former Snowboard School Director

Living Room Skiing and Riding, Toys on the Mountain, and Marshmallows—Best for Small Tots

To get three-year-old Bridget comfortable moving around with ski boots and skis, we had her practice at home wearing her ski boots, scooting around on the carpet in her skis, then out in the snow-covered driveway. At the ski area, she would forget all about the potentially awkward feeling of moving around in skis if we threw rubber duckies in the snow for her to retrieve. And stashing a treat like mini-marshmallows in your pocket can prove to be just the reward a little skier needs for successfully making a turn and getting down the slope.

Martha Wilson, Outdoor Mom Blogger for Bretton Woods

Your Kid Needs to Stand Up on His/Her Own Two Feet—Little Tots

Another important element to teaching kids to ski is to ask them to be in charge of their own balance. It may be slow going, but in the long run, if your kid can stand up on his or her own right from the beginning, you’re on the right track. If you feel you must help, be sure to be in front of your kid (as opposed to behind) to encourage the balance to be toward the front of the ski. Kids have a higher center of gravity than adults due to their disproportionally large heads, so balanced over their skis will look different in them than it does with an adult (lower, further back), but they need to be balancing on their own.

Katherine Rockwell, Pico Ski & Snowboard School Manager

Let Your Kids Set the Pace—All Ages

One of the most important things about teaching your kids to ski is to go at their pace. It can be really tempting to push them to stay out that extra half an hour, or go on that blue trail, but in the long run, taking it slow is the key to longevity in the sport. With very young kids, you may only be out on skis for 20 minutes, if you even get to skiing at all. It is just as important to make snow angels, explore snow banks and chase you around as it is to actually be on skis. The first time your young kid is cold or unhappy out skiing will stay with them for a long time. Watch for signs of stress, be it emotional or physical and get back inside or off skis before it bubbles all the way to the surface.

Katherine Rockwell, Pico Ski & Snowboard School Manager

Activate Prior Knowledge—Best for Kids (and Adults) 6 Years and Older

Work on movements that kids already “own” from playing other sports and then transferring those familiar movements into skiing and riding skills. This technique works really well with improving balance. If your kids play soccer, you can say something like, you know how you have to put your weight on one leg when you kick a ball? That will help them focus on where their balance is when they are skiing or riding.

Rob Bevier, Okemo’s Ski + Ride School Assistant Director

Make Skiing Fun and Develop Fundamental Skill Development—Best for Ages 7 to 12

When I am working with a bunch of kids, (typically “Superstars” ages 7-12 in the Killington Ski School) the first chairlift ride often begins something like this: “I saw a dead skunk in the middle of the ski trail, I one it, I two it, I three it, and so on until the unsuspecting skier cries I EIGHT it! The kids all get hysterical and the one who “ate it” gets to think up an even more gruesome scenario as the game continues. (We sometimes think of nice things to eat, a candy bar or hot fudge sundae, but more often than not the grosser items win out). I like to encourage levity on the chair so that when we land on snow we are ready for some serious work! The kids loosen up a bit and are eager to listen to the next installment. I like to have fun on the hill, but what could be more fun than learning how to ski well? For this reason, I steer clear of on hill “games” and prefer to get results from solid skill development and positive reinforcement. It all depends on what level you are teaching, but I also tend to use every possible natural feature: bumps, banks and “woodsies” to get kids comfortable with changes in terrain. Often we’ll try to make our skis “purr” on fresh corduroy. On moguls and fresh powder we hop and bounce along, or do sneezing turns which require a quick rise as we AH! And a slow sinking CHOOOO! After teaching for 25 years it still amazes me that new fun can be found every day, all it takes is a little imagination. I do, however, possess a Secret Weapon, that never fails if our young skier is reluctant. It’s the Sound Machine! I actually have two of them that make a variety of sounds ranging from the “howling powder hound” to the “screaming banshee”. There is of course the ever popular farting and burping sounds as well. The burp sound helps us recall the fundamentals of skiing: Balance, Edging, Rotation and Pressure, and that is as technical as I get!

Amy Chessia, Killington Mountain Resort Ski Instructor

Don’t Go Too Steep—All Ages

Regardless of age, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is taking their kids too steep too soon. If your kids can’t ski a green trail with parallel skis, they are not ready for intermediate trails. It is one thing to make it down, and another to ski it in control and balance. The bad habits we form from defensive skiing on trails that are too steep are very difficult to break. As I was taught growing up, there’s no such thing as a “nice big wedge.” It’s either nice or it’s big. The wedge is a tool to get to parallel skiing, and if we have our feet wide underneath us, we ultimately can’t steer both feet in a parallel turn. No matter how tempting (and no matter how bored you are on the beginner trail), taking the time on the greens to build those skills is the key to accurate, balanced skiing in the future.

Katherine Rockwell, Pico Ski & Snowboard School Manager

Lessons with a Professional Instructor—All Ages

If you’re tired of skiing on the greens with your kid, you can always put them in a lesson. The social aspects of lessons are really valuable, as is the opportunity to work on skills on proper terrain while giving you a break to go make some turns yourself.

Katherine Rockwell, Pico Ski & Snowboard School Manager

Properly Fitting Equipment—All Ages

Properly fitting equipment is paramount to success. If finances are prohibitive, I recommend renting equipment rather than buying equipment “to grow into.” Ski boots are like the steering wheel of your car- you want them tight enough that when you move they move (and in turn move the skis). Too big and it’s like driving a car that takes half a turn of the steering wheel before the car even responds. That’s stressful, dangerous and ultimately will have you doing anything you can to avoid driving in the future. Also consider seasonal rental programs at local shops that offer a mid-season switch and get the boots your kid needs now and upgrade as they grow.

Katherine Rockwell, Pico Ski & Snowboard School Manager

Bribery—Any Age

Bribery is alive and well. A few pieces of candy in the pocket can be a great motivator/distraction when a little one has a bad tumble or is struggling.

Karl Stone, Ski NH Marketing Director