Your Child's First Ski Lesson

Parents often fret about how to get their child ready for their first ski lesson, and in doing so often make the experience more difficult for the child. Here are some dos and don'ts for parents wanting to introduce their young ones to snow sports.

Kids Having FunKids Having FunEvery instructor has probably had the experience: a parent with a sheepish look shows up at the ski school meeting place with a crying child in tow. I especially remember one such occasion where a cute five-year old named Claire showed up, tears streaming down her face. The reason was same as on previous occasions. Claire's dad wanted to be sure the lesson would go well, so he decided to do some basic practice with his daughter to get her ready. It hadn't gone well. As is often the case, dad had skipped many steps and had done the equivalent of throwing a dog off the pier to teach it to swim. Yes, the dog survives, but fears water for the rest of its natural born days.

I sat down in the snow so Claire and I were eye-to-eye and asked "Are you having a tough day?" Through her heaves and sobs she managed to nod and say "Yeeeessss." "Is skiing hard?" "Yeeeeessssss." "How about we pop those skis off and just walk around for a while?" "Oookayyyy," her face still contorted by sobs.

Every instructor probably has a handful of tales like that, and in most cases the meltdown could be avoided if parents knew how better to prepare their child for that first lesson on snow.

What Happens in a Learn to Ski Lesson?

Parents mistakenly assume there's some prerequisite for the beginner lesson and that their child will be "behind". Nothing could be further from the truth. All ski schools assume that their beginners have never seen snow, don't know the front of ski or snowboard from the back, have no idea how to put skis or a snowboard on or take them off. Your kids don't need to know anything about skiing ahead of time.

Once kids have been introduced to the equipment and the snow, we'll practice walking around, scootering on one ski, walking around with two skis, climbing uphill, straightrunnning down a gentle hill, stopping and eventually turning. Basic turning and stopping with a wedge (snowplow) is the goal of a beginner lesson, not a prerequisite, yet parents often start by trying to teach the wedge to their four-year old.

Some kids will progress quickly. Other kids may simply not learn those skills in the context of a two-hour lesson. But that's okay. Parents often ask "How did he do?" Unless the child has been rude or aggressive to other students or just had a really bad day, my answer is always the same: great. If a child fails to turn and simply falls down before careening into the group, I always make sure to say that I'm proud of him for bailing out before he hurts someone and stressing what an important skill that is (I've seen plenty of adults fail to implement that basic skill). As far as I'm concerned, that kid is doing great and should feel proud.

In short, the instructor won't even assume that your child knows what skis are so you don't need to "practice" for a lesson. But there are things you can do to set your child up for success.A Little Support from MomA Little Support from Mom

Priming for Success

All of that is to allay your fears and to hopefully prevent you from transferring them to the child. But that doesn't mean you should do nothing. You can, in fact, take some basic steps to increase the odds that the lesson will be a success for your child. First, let's define what I mean by success. Success simply means that your child has fun and wants to go again. Anything she learns beyond that is gravy, because a kid who has fun and wants to go again, will eventually pick up the skills. A child who has a rotten time, but learns the skills, has gained nothing except skills that she never wants to use again.

  • Suited up for learning. Dressing for success is important!
    • A mountain environment is high and the snow is reflective, so even more so than the beach, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential, no matter the temperature. Also, it is not always cold where there is snow.
    • We often see children dressed in suffocating snowsuits even though it's a 50-degree spring day. Dress for the temperature, not to match some magazine picture of what you think skiing should be.
    • At the same time, kids need to be dressed for winter. That means hat that covers the ears, gloves, and pants that shed snow.
  • Mentally ready