(Updated May 2022) The ear piercing wails still ring in my ears 30 years later. Our cherub faced daughter, in her puffy, purple snowsuit, screams during her skiing lessons as though a bear has taken off her arm. Her wee body, stiff as a block of ice, demonstrates that skiing for kids is not her idea of fun.
Wide eyed, her ski instructor helplessly gazes down at the tantrum scene at his feet, while his brood of other students toddle off in various directions. Our daughter’s displeasure echoes through the Canadian Rockies.
It is this decades old memory that haunts me the night before we take our 3 year old granddaughter for her first ski lesson. The staff at Mount Norquay have reassured me that skiing with kids looks much different than it did in the 1980’s. Lying awake I hope for the best and prepare for another sobbing puddle of a small child refusing to learn to ski.
How to Make Skiing For Kids Fun
Children skiing should be having fun
“The philosophy of teaching kids to ski is that fun is built around a skill,” explains Gord Fielding, director of Mount Norquay’s snow school.
As we nervously watch our granddaughter begin her ski lesson, instructor Emily is down on hands an knees in front of our wee one.
“Do you like dancing?”
Our little snow angel nods yes as her face blossoms into a smile, matching Emily’s grin. “Well that’s great because putting on skis you have to point your toes just like you are dancing.”
Our granddaughter happily cooperates with Emily. She begins to take sliding steps with her dancing skis. We can barely believe our eyes how quickly she has taken to learning to ski.
What does success on kids skis look like?
According to Gord, a great deal has changed in children’s ski lessons in the decades since our daughter’s ski lesson meltdown.
“Success is that they want to come back and are smiling.”
Where in days gone by, being able to make it down the bunny hill by the end of the lesson was the goal, today it is all about instilling a love of the outdoors.
“We don’t force a child to move.” explains Gord. “It’s all about the kids and if the kids don’t want to move, the instructor will play games on the spot.”
Who should teach your child to ski?
Brace yourself skiing parents. No matter how great a downhill skier you are, you may not be the best person to teach your child. Gord advises, “When it comes to instruction time, let the pros do it.”
As parents and grandparents we can have a tendency to push too hard.
“Seeing other kids enjoying skiing can really help a child.” A family ski day can be a wonderful outing but even Gord, with his long history of teaching skiing, does not teach his grandchildren.
Ski hill safety
“Safety is above all else,” Gord cautions when it comes to kids learning to ski. Helmets are mandatory at Mount Norquay Banff.
When choosing a lesson for a child, look at the ratio of number of children to instructor. Allowing time for games, playing in the snow and short attention spans, the small group setting, most importantly, keeps little ones closely watched and safe.
I have to go to the bathroom! Planning ahead for ski lessons
It is a guarantee that following ten minutes of zippering a snowsuit, tying a hat and stuffing wiggling little fingers into uncooperative mittens, a child will then need to use the washroom.
Arrive early for ski lessons allowing time for a snack and trip to the toilet. To be on the safe side, choose a kid friendly ski resort, where lessons are steps away from the lodge and bathroom facilities.
Can your little skier move in that outfit?
Thankfully there has been improvement in the design of outerwear since the time of our daughter’s ski lesson fiasco. Where she could barely walk in her sausage like snow pants, today warm clothes don’t need to be bulky.
As an over protective grandparent, I want to add on an extra layer or two to ensure this little skier stays warm. However an overheated child, is not going to be in the best frame of mind for enjoying the ski slope. Everything in moderation, including dressing for a successful ski lesson.
Should a child learn to ski or learn to snowboard?
“That’s the million dollar question.” Gord acknowledges. ” It is easier to pick up skiing as it takes more core strength to turn a snowboard. Once children can balance on skis with both feet it is easier to move on to a snowboard.”
Watching our granddaughter using all her focus to make a pizza wedge shape with her skis, I can see that she will need to develop more control before trying snowboarding.
What is the best age for children to start skiing?
According to Gord there is no specific age but rather the importance is not to force them too soon.
“Let the little one watch the magic of other children on skis and having fun.”
Our daughter was four years old at her first lesson. We told her she was going to ski like her big brother who was already racing down slopes. Likely a terrifying vision and no fun to be seen.
Our granddaughter, a year younger, knew she was going to play in the snow with skis.
When choosing a lesson for skiing for kids is private or group better?
Is the child outgoing and enjoys being around other children? Or do they tend to be shy and do better one on one? Gord suggests that seeing other children enjoying the snow can be just the inspiration a child who is hesitant needs.
Look for a family friendly skiing setting
Being able to quickly adapt a ski lesson around the interests of the child can create a magical experience. As ski instructor Emily kneels in front of our granddaughter, on the magic carpet taking the two of them to the top of the beginner hill, our granddaughter turns back to me with wide, excited eyes.
“GIGI! DO YOU KNOW ELSA LIVES IN THESE MOUNTAINS?”
Unless you have been unplugged from all media for the last few years, you will know that Elsa is the star of an animated movie that has captured the hearts of millions of little ones.
At the top of the magic carpet the two new friends make snow angels, visit a snow man and then make strawberry pizza with our granddaughter’s skis all the way down the hill.
Our grandparent hearts almost explode watching our little skier’s toothy grin.
So was there any crying?
Oh yes indeed. There were some terrible wails from our new little skier. When it was time to leave for the day she was heartbroken skiing lessons were over. Giving back her ski equipment, the staff at the rentals building got more than an earful.
“I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE! I WANT TO GO ON THE BIG CHAIR!”
Apparently skiing for kids has become far more fun over the decades. Well played Mount Norquay.
Other articles on Mount Norquay
Banff Family Activities for Toddlers Teens and Grandma
Mount Norquay Tubing Brings Out Your Inner Child
Spring Skiing – When Air Won’t Hurt Your Face
Our granddaughter was a guest of Mount Norquay All opinions and ski hill smiles are our own.
What a lovely post, Sue! I didn’t learn to ski until I was a teenager, but I sure did enjoy the sport, once I did learn. It’s so fun to watch the little ones take to a sport at a young age like this. Your granddaughter looks like a pro in that last photo. 🙂
Jim i didn’t learn to ski until I met Dave in my late teens. I’ve never been an expert but I still like getting out there and enjoying all that beauty as I meander down the easy slopes. I’m glad to hear it has been a joy in your life as well. We truly couldn’t believe how well our granddaughter did and we give a great deal of credit to ski instructor Emily. Watching her ski with that smile on her face was more than we had dreamed for her first time out.
How precious and exciting that she enjoyed her ski outing. I can so relate to this post. When our children were young and we lived in Colorado, we did a combo of group lessons and private lessons. They have the fondest of memories of those years.
Ingrid it sounds like you have some very happy memories of ski lesson for children in Colorado. Our son loved skiing as a kid and still snowboards. Where do those years fly by to anyway?
Absolutely adorable. Her smiles (and departure woes at the end) say it all. Glad she was in good hands! She has such a look of confidence. Did her mother ever get over the trauma of her first ski lesson?
Lisa I think her Mom recovered better than her parents after that ski lesson. However her Mom was as delighted as we were at the success of learning to ski for this little one. Such big smiles all day long and oh what a meltdown when we had to leave. I really should have taken a photo.
She is so darn cute!! What a little trouper and so eager to learn something new. She is as adventurous as her grandmother, I can see. Wishing you and your family a fabulous Christmas!
Darlene I have to admit we were a bit surprised at her enthusiasm for ski lessons. I do think huge credit to Emily who made it like playtime from the very start. We are doing our best to inspire the sense of adventure. Since she has been quite little we pick her up and tell her we are going an an adventure. Here’s hoping there are many more on the ski hill.
This warmed my heart Sue! For a start when did she get that big?? I loved reading the steps involved and how proud you sound but also admitting to your overprotective grand-parenting. She will be skiing happily for many years if those shots are anything to go by!
Debbie I have no idea how she could be old enough to ski! Where do the years go? We are excited at the prospect of her loving skiing and especially with her grandparents.
a very heartwarming post, Sue. your granddaughter is so adorable! 🙂
Thanks so much. We are completely biased but think she is pretty special, particularly on skis.
I can relate to your daughter. As a young child, I flunked out of ski school. Luckily, it did not ruin my experience and I eventually became a capable skier.
It is great advice not to necessarily have the parent/grandparent/uncle etc teach the kid. Just like with golf or tennis or other sports, leave the teaching to a pro. It saves stress for everybody.
I’m smiling wondering how you flunked out of ski school Jeff. Glad to hear it didn’t deter your from getting back on skis.
Yes wise words on letting the pros be the ones doing the teaching. Amazing how much better kids respond to a teacher. Very true about the less stress for all involved.
How lovely to hear that she had a wonderful time and didn’t want to stop. A successful day all round.
A big surprise for us. To be honest I was braced for a major meltdown a generation later. Wonderful to see that with the right ski lessons it can be a completely different experience.
Isn’t it incredible Sue how some memories are etched into our brains and can be recalled like it was yesterday? I loved seeing the photos and reading how much your granddaughter enjoyed her skiing lessons. Until she had to go home, of course. 😂
So true Shannyn! Etched as if it was just yesterday. I’m relieved it was not a repeating performance over the generations. Full credit to Emily her instructor and the philosophy applied.
So cute, Sue, and I’m happy to see some things have changed. I remember well taking our kids out west to ski and the youngest being totally miserable. The heavy boots, the thick pants – he was in meltdown mode by the time we picked him up at the end of his first day. I think it turned him off skiing for years!
Lexie it sounds like our kids skiing was in a similar time and in this, case a similar experience. Our daughter never fell in love with skiing as her brother had. I wonder if those initial lessons had been like our granddaughter’s experience if things would have been different. For now we will just enjoy this little one’s enthusiasm on the ski hill.
Beautiful post Sue. How lovely it must be to see your granddaughter learning and growing in front of your very eyes. Magical for all of you. Wonderful experience.
Magical is a fabulous word to describe her first ski lesson. Watching that little one blossom under Emily’s skilled guidance was a marvel to watch. Thank you for the kind words.
She is so cute Sue. Fun, not force, needs be the driver for little kids to enjoy skiing or anything. We can introduce kids to potential hobbies but yep, they make the choice from there. Thanks for the informative post.
‘Fun not force’ …that could be a tagline for the lessons I think. We are completely biased about this little one so will readily agree that she is a cute one. 🙂 Thanks Ryan.
What fun watching her learn. Emily certainly has a knack for teaching children. I hope your granddaughter continues to enjoy all sorts of outdoor adventures!
There was no way my husband was going to go anywhere near teaching our daughters to ski, lessons were a must!
That made me chuckle Amy. Yes ski lessons are definitely the way to go. Thanks so much for sharing the article on Twitter. Much appreciated.
Great post!! I never thought about starting kids skiing at 3. Our older two were 4 & 5 when we moved from Colorado to San Diego and our youngest was born in San Diego. I think they were teenagers when we took them back to Colorado for a skiing vacation. They picked it up quicker than we did in our 20’s, but I can see how much better to start earlier.
Kirt I learned to ski as a n adult when we met Dave. He had been skiing since he was a small child. I never really excelled at it. I’m a true example of starting younger makes better sense. Thanks for sharing your own family’s ski experience.
Your granddaughter is looking like a pro there Sue. Even though I live within 20 kilometers of 3 downhill ski resorts I only tried skiing for the 1st time in 2012 when I was 53. I worked one winter at one of those resorts and took advantage of the free lift tickets and half price rentals for employees. As I have cross country skied a lot, it was not to bad transitioning to downhill.
I loved working the smaller hills where children like your granddaughter were learning with instructors like Emily. It is amazing how fast they learn. Each run there is improvements. Until they are flying past someone like me.
Thanks for sharing Sue. It brought me much joy to read! 😀⛷
Carl good for you to try at the age of 53! So many people feel they are too old to try so applause all around. These little ones are such fast learners and yes such fun to watch them on the hill. We have just signed our granddaughter up for a series of lessons in February so hopefully her joy of the sport continues.
Wishing you a joyous Christmas season and all the best in 2020.
Thank you so much Sue. Wishing you a absolutely wonderful Christmas and New Year yourself! 🙂
This is so cute!
I was in a neighborhood group that went skiing and took lessons. I believe I was 10. We had so much fun!
Thanks for the memories!
And your little one is toooooo cute!
Thank you Nancy. Of course we are completely biased. Did you keep on skiing through your lifetime?