(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.
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Our granddaughter was a guest of Mount Norquay All opinions and ski hill smiles are our own.