This post is written by ‘Ski Dad’ John.
I’ve been doing a lot of skiing with the kids this season, actually they’ve been doing the skiing, I’ve been doing a bit of skiing. Despite this it has been tremendously rewarding and I want to encourage parents to take the time and effort to participate as much as possible in the childs learn to ski experience. All our kids have started skiing between the age of three to four. This seems like a good age to start learnng seriously. Sure kids can start earlier, but my feeling is that this is more often in the vein of “having fun in the snow”, rather than learning to ski as such.
It seems that recent years (at least in Australia) have seen an increasing “institutionalisation” of the process of ski education with the task of teaching kids to ski being handed over to expensive toddler ski schools which are often little more than thinly disguised childcare that provides an opportunity for parents to get some skiing of their own. It may be that this comes at the expense of other aspects of the ski experience such as the parent child relationship and the sharing of the learning experience. If this is the case, then the first thing you have to do is abandon this very idea that you are going to get much skiing in. The focus instead needs to be on the teachng of skiing and enjoyment gained through the childs achievements rather than your own. Here are some points to consider:
1. Forget about the skiing. Your skiing that is. Nothing interferes with the moment and flow of teaching kids like thinking you should be somewhere else (just a guess, but fathers may be particularly prone to this). Your child needs to know that all they need to do to have your undivided attention and approval is to participate in the learn to ski experience.
2. Take off the skis. Initially a significant portion of your time is better spent off the skis and on foot in a decent pair of snow/hiking boots walking up and down the lift beside your child, chatting to them and picking them up when they have issues. This is easiest on “magic carpets”, rope tows, and other short lifts. Obviously if chairlifts are all that is available you will have to put on the skis and go with them. It is easier to run beside/behind a learner child and easier to give immediate feedback. Once they have the basics switch to skis so they can learn from your example. Also, if you are on skis then you will again start to think about your skiing as opposed to your childs. Focus on supporting your child to learn to ski, but also try not to be a ‘helicopter parent’ and let them try things out and have a few crashes. Don’t forget to teach them how to crash (skis together, falling into the slope and over the middle of the ski).
3. Get an ‘edgie wedgie’ worm. These little pieces of rubber with attachments that screw on to the front of your skis and hold them together are an invaluable piece of learning equipment. Particularly good in the very early stages of learning when young children may lack the coordination and leg strength to effectively control their skis. The edgie wedgie helps with this, giving them more chance of getting some of the other element sorted out and giving them a valuable boost in confidence. The trick here is to se them as an initial leg up in a “pizza” (snowplough), but to fairly rapidly remove it so that they don’t come to rely on the worm and become convinced they can’t ski without it.
4. Go at your childs pace and mood. Don’t be afraid to challenge, but don’t forget to throw in some silliness and have fun. There must be give and take and collaboration. If your child feels their parental approval and love is on the block every time they put on a pair of skis this will lead to a pretty emotionally charged learning and skiing experience. Don’t insist that they put in eight hours on the slopes. In my experience, small children are pretty much exhausted after 2-3 hours (with breaks) of learning. Older kids can go longer but it is important to keep a good track on their limits.
5. Use simple expressions to describe the elements of good form and use imagery and feelings that will appeal to children but also allow them to visualise and manage the experience of skiing. I use a whole range of expressions such as big and small pieces of pizza, eagle arms (not chicken wings), and prickles in the backs of boots (leaning into the front of the boots) as well constant call and response action and self description (high fives, “are you a powderhound? Yes you are”).
Once you get into it you will look faintly ridiculous, but you will probably have a great time. Your kids will enjoy themselves as well and will thank you for it and look forward to skiing as quality time spent with their parents in an exciting, fun and challenging outdoor learning environment.