A first time ski experience for kids is a big deal for all involved, especially because our primary objective is that our kids enjoy it as much as we do. In reality though it is not always smooth sailing and can require more patience or planning than anticipated. Here a 8 things that we can do to ease our little ones into skiing for the first time and set them up for a fun first ski experience.
1. Create familiarity
Whether meeting an instructor for the first time or clipping the skis on with mum and dad, skiing can be a bit overwhelming as so much of what they encounter is alien to them, and they have very little to relate it to. From wearing clunky, heavy ski boots and having goggles slapped across their eyes to riding chairlifts metres off of the ground – it is a lot for them to process and feel comfortable with. Introducing the idea of skiing prior to the trip goes a long way to minimising their unease at the unknown, and can be done through things as simple as Youtube clips of skiing, their favourite cartoons that have `ski episodes` – such as Peppa Pig – or even children’s ski books like `Joey`s First Ski Lesson`. Even talking about skiing and the snow ahead of time will go a long way.
2. Introduce the equipment
Another thing we can easily do prior to hitting the slopes is introduce them to the equipment. That may be by bringing them to the shop with you or trying it on a home a few times. Encourage them to put it on themselves and teach them the names of various items. Added bonuses of doing so are making the `getting ready process` on holiday much faster because they are already a little practised, and will also bring to light if anything does not fit properly; much better than making that discovery on the slopes.
3. Make sure they are comfortable
No matter your age, it is hard to have fun when you’re uncomfortable. Unfortunately with the sport of skiing this can be a common complaint as not only do we have the cold to combat but also wearing specialised equipment that we do not otherwise wear. Therefore, make sure that your kids are dressed warmly with a fully waterproof and windproof outer layer as well as a good base and mid-layer. Mittens are warmer than gloves and less finicky for small children, and neck warmers and balaclavas not only protect the face and neck against the cold but also create a barrier between the skin and chin strap of a helmet. For the hardware; make sure whether you are renting or buying that you have a professional fit the boots and wear them with one pair of ski socks pulled up high above the boot cuff. Ill fitting boots are one of the most common complaints for adults and children alike, so do spend the time getting the most suitable and pay close attention if your child complains of rubbing or soreness. Lastly, protect the eyes and head with a fitted helmet and UV goggles; they should fit snuggly around the bridge of the nose with no visible gaps.
4. Mentally prepare yourself
It is highly unlikely that after just an hour or two you and your kids will be cruising the black runs together; learning to ski for the first time takes time, work and patience from both the parent, child and/or instructor. Once your little one is kitted up and keen to get on the slopes, take a moment to manage your own expectations so that you can keep a positive, pressure free attitude and make it as enjoyable as possible. A child`s centre of mass, balance and muscle development are different from adults so they may not learn a skill in the way that you think that they will, and it can feel like progress is slow initially. Fortunately kids have a way of understanding what works for them and can come on leaps and bounds quite suddenly. Hang in there, bare with them during tantrums or frustrations, and accept from the outset that this probably wont be the day you’ll be skiing the whole mountain together. Deep breaths…
5. Hire a pro
This may seem obvious but taking a lesson or two takes the pressure off of the parents, and in many ways the child too as they generally learn better from a `stranger` than from their parents. This may bypass some meltdowns and facilitate a much faster learning experience as instructors are well practised in teaching little ones to ski! They should have a tool box of tactics and approaches that parents may not be aware of or feel comfortable teaching. Of course, lessons are not essential but if you are able to hire an instructor for the first lesson or two it is highly recommended.
6. Practise practise practise
Kids can only absorb so much new information at once and often have an keenness to learn new sports through `doing`. Once new skills have been introduced be sure to give plenty of practise time by putting lots of mileage on the clock, with frequent but gentle reminders of the skills they are working on. Things can suddenly `click` for kids with repetition so do provide the time for this to happen.
7. Let them set the pace
The pace of a day skiing with small children Vs adults is much, much slower. It is so important that kids go at their own pace and not that of their parents. For very small children this may mean practising for twenty minutes on the bunny hill before breaking for the toilet, a warm up, a snack or just a roll in the snow! The trick for us as parents is to follow their lead as only they know how tired and comfortable they are. When we ignore their cues to take a break and push our agenda we end up having unnecessary falls, mid slope meltdowns and generally negative experiences. These experiences can then lead to bad associations with skiing that at the least will slow their progress and at worst put them off it entirely for a while.
8. Make it fun
Seemingly obvious but most importantly is to make it a fun experience. With all of the effort and energy required from us as parents it is all too easy to loose sight of why we are doing this, but few things compare to seeing your kids squealing with delight as they ski themselves down the slopes. So, let your inner child come out and engage them with games – such as `follow the leader`, and allow them to ski the areas that they find enjoyable, giving ample time to repeat their favourite runs. Most kids enjoy small bumps or jumps and little trails through the trees, so providing it is safe to do so by all means indulge them and enjoy it with them; your own energy, enjoyment and enthusiasm will be the most powerful motivator of all.
Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.
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