Let's be honest: skiing is not (at least when you're starting out) a particularly kid-friendly sport. It takes place in a cold environment, requires lots of fiddly, awkward, and expensive gear, and it's physically demanding. Getting your kids into skiing is a battle compared to introducing them to traditional team sports, but it's worth fighting! The joy of sharing the mountains with your kids is indescribable, but getting to that stage is a classic example of 'nothing worth having comes easy'.
In this article are some lessons I've learned from introducing my kids to my greatest passion. The lessons were hard won and are still being learned and re-learned regularly, but the rewards are coming now, and I'm here to tell you that there is light at the end of the cold hands/stiff boots/tired legs tunnel!
As the Chinese proverb says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Whoever coined that phrase probably had slightly loftier visions of how it might be applied than trying to squeeze a toddler's foot into a ski boot, but the basic premise is spot on.
Equipping your kids with ski gear, transporting them to the mountains, and then getting them onto a lift can seem overwhelming, but there's no need to do it all perfectly the first time. The key is to get started: buy some secondhand gear (see below for more advice on this) and go to the nearest snow-covered incline. Carry the kids up, and then let them try to slide down! You'll need to hold their hands to start, but letting go for ever-increasing distances is enough to give them the basic feeling of sliding downhill. The rate at which kids learn is extraordinary, and within 4 or 5 short hike up/ski down runs on a little hill, you should see some improvement.
You don't need to get them the best gear or go to a ski resort - just get something resembling ski gear, strap them in, and start sliding down whatever hill is available. Even getting them used to the boots and skis is helpful, and watching them figure out how to remain standing all the way down the hill is lovely. Get started as cheaply and efficiently as you can and go from there.
Buy Cheap Gear
Even if money is no object, it's hard to imagine a greater waste of your hard-earned disposable income than buying new ski gear for kids. Online marketplaces are awash with snowsuits, skis, and boots, so pick up some old gear for the kids, expect it to get destroyed, and you won't be disappointed!
Kids' ski gear has a hard life for the same reasons that all kid clothing has a hard life - little ones aren't very good at caring for it. As long as they're warm and comfortable, it's all good. They'll grow out of/destroy all their gear quickly, so don't spend much on it, and don't get stressed about it! I've always sold used kids' ski gear and often got what I paid for it in the first place via the same online marketplace I bought it from! The net cost of buying and then selling ski gear is minimal, often non-existent, so don't be put off by the price of new gear in the shops.
Regarding the skis and boots themselves, a mountain guide once told me, "Good skiers can ski on any ski; bad skiers can't tell the difference." Kids are firmly bad skiers for at least the first couple of years, so don't break the bank buying gear that won't make any difference to their performance.
Keep It Fun
One of the most frustrating elements of parenthood is that you never know when the good or bad days are coming. Some days, you arrive at school/the ski hill/a birthday party and have a little angel; other days, you're the parent of a devil! This experience applies to skiing; you will have days when your kids don't want to know. At times, they'll be grumpy, say they're cold and tired, and have zero enthusiasm; on other days, they won't be able to get enough.
In my experience, the key is to make each day as fun as possible and bail if it's just not happening. I live an hour's drive from where the kids are learning to ski, and on no less than 3 occasions, I've driven all the way there, got one (ONE!!!!!) run out of the kids, and then bundled them back into the car and driven home. On each of those three occasions, I recognised that no amount of cajoling or encouragement was going to get them excited, so I cut my losses and went home. Pushing them to keep going when they're not having fun is a surefire way to put them off skiing.
In contrast, when the going is good, and they're excited, we ski as many runs as humanly possible and try to maximise the fun. Recognise when it's a good or bad day and act accordingly, but don't force them to ski when they're not having fun. If it's a good day, go for it; if it's a bad day, go home and try again next week. The week after one of our "one run" days, we returned to the ski hill, and my daughter enjoyed skiing so much that she cried when the lifts closed! You'll have good and bad days but just try to keep it fun, or bail if you can't manage it on any given day.
When you're actually on the hill and skiing, keep the fun coming by allowing the kids to decide how hard to push it. Most young kids haven't developed the desire for a challenge that many adults have, and they just want to have pure, type-1 fun. In my experience, kids don't particularly enjoy being pushed onto ever more challenging runs and prefer to stick to easy, fun runs that they know well. Lap that green groomer repeatedly, and only challenge them when you're sure they can handle something tougher. A winter spent happily cruising the same easy runs will pay off far more than a season of them falling, failing, and getting scared. The progression will come with time, so don't rush and keep it fun, fun, fun.
Get Back on the Horse
No matter how diligent you are, your kids will fall over skiing. They'll get snow down their jackets, they'll hurt themselves, and they'll hit other people/signs/poles. It happens to the best of us.
We have a rule when skiing that we always finish on a high, so if your kid has a crash, pick them up, dust them off, and get them right back on the skis. If the memory they leave the hill with is negative, it's infinitely harder to enthuse them again next week.
One of the low points of teaching my daughter to ski was her hitting a 6-foot male skier, who fell over and landed on my daughter. You can imagine her reaction. As irony would have it, the lifts were closing, so we couldn't go for another run to finish on a high, so I took her for a hot chocolate at the base station, and we looked at videos on my phone of how well she'd been skiing earlier that day.
By the time she'd finished her hot chocolate, she could barely remember her crash (and I've never mentioned it again) and was instead fired up at how well she'd done that day. We couldn't get back on the skis, but I quickly dusted her off, calmed her down, and then focused on the positives from the day. I think she was still shaken up that evening, but by the time the next weekend rolled around, she was ready to ski again. Focus on the positives.
Don't Give Up!
After weeks and months of putting boots on, picking kids up, and dealing with "morale issues" (tantrums), it can be easy to give up. I got pretty close. But keep on going, and (don't ask me how) it will suddenly click one day. I will never forget the day my daughter suddenly didn't want to be on a ski harness, didn't want to snowplow, and just set off down a groomer with her skis parallel. There was no warning that it was about to happen; she just did it. Every skiing parent I know has had the same experience - you keep banging your head against the ski wall, and then one day, it all just comes together with no warning and seemingly no reason.
Teaching kids to ski is hard, but being up in the mountains alongside your child is an extraordinary feeling. Sharing the views and the exhilaration of sliding down snow together makes all of the time, frustration, and expense more than worth it, so get started, don't give up, and reap the rewards.
Check out our guidebook to one of the world's most famous resorts, and picture yourself skiing there with your kids when things are tough!