Despite spending a year in high school as a teacher’s aide for my co-op class, and yet another year teaching ESL in Korea in my 20s, I’m a terrible teacher. These two experiences are the sole reasons I didn’t go to teacher’s college. My patience wears thin very easily and I become frustrated with repetition that seems unreasonable.
There aren’t as many arguments and there are far fewer tears. Because there is nothing worse than a parent like me sucking the ever-loving joy out of something wonderful like reading or bike riding. Or skiing.
That’s why I knew, when we started our ski journey as a family a couple of years ago, we were going lessons ALL THE WAY. Even if I’d been a skilled skier, I still would have opted for lessons for all of the reasons I mention above.
Lessons are, of course, not the only way to teach your kids to ski. And there are different kinds of lessons, too. So after experiencing every kind of lesson out there, and observing lots of skilled (and not so skilled) ski-loving parents trying to get their kids to “pizza” and “French fry” their way down the slopes, let me give you my thoughts.
Here are the different ways you can teach your kids to ski:
1. First of all, if your kids are brand new to skiing, for the love of all things good and Holy, start on the bunny hill. Don’t take them up a chair lift and hope you’ll both get back to the bottom happy. I have seen so many parents (a) walking with his or her kid’s skis in tow down the side of a run because it was clearly too much for the child to manage, or (b) parents calling ski patrol to come “rescue” them. HINT: that’s not what ski patrol is there for. Find a ski resort with a magic carpet and spend a lot of time on the bunny hill before attempting any other kind of run.
2. If you’re a truly excellent skier yourself (and I mean, you can comfortably ski without poles and go backwards when you need to), and you were blessed with a lot of patience and wonderful balance, you might be equipped to teach your own kid how to ski. There are lots of ski harnesses on the market — some of which can be purchased at the ski resort of your choice — and I’ve also seen makeshift harnesses out of rope. I suspect the former is much more comfortable for your kid. Another product worth considering if you’re doing this yourself is a ski tip connector, which keeps your child’s skis in a wedge position, making it easier for them to learn how to stop and turn.
3. But if you’re not an expert skier or you know your kids don’t learn well from you, enroll your child in lessons or Snow School. There are usually a few options, and this is where you really need to know your child. While it might be tempting to use Snow School like day care so you can have a free day to spend skiing on your own, full-day lessons might not work for every kid — or at least not right away. If you have a child with separation anxiety (like I do), even a one-hour group lesson might be too much of a challenge. The key here is to be realistic and ensure you give your kid the right kind of foundation upon which s/he develops a love for the sport. I’ll use Tremblant as my example here because it’s where we all learned to ski and my kids have done every kind of lesson there:
- Private lessons: Obviously, this means the lesson is one on one. Your kid and an instructor and no one else. There’s magic in this combination because of the undivided attention your child receives. It means the instructor goes at your kid’s pace and no one is slowed down or feels like s/he needs to keep up. This is where we needed to start our son who has high anxiety in new situations, especially when it involves leaving us. Private lessons meant he could develop a bond with an adult he could learn to trust. Who he knew would keep him safe. A kid can’t learn in a state of constant fear. So, yes, private lessons are exorbitantly expensive, but if you’re committed to skiing as a family and your child has some special needs, this is the ideal place to start. It probably won’t need to be this way forever, but getting off on the right foot is so important. I have also had amazing experiences in private lessons as an adult, so don’t think it’s just for kids. PRO TIP: If your child does have a quirk or two, be sure you discuss this with the head instructor in advance so they can pair your child with the best instructor for his/her needs.
- Semi-private lessons: A much more cost-effective way to go if you want the feel of a private lesson but have it shared among siblings. My kids have done more semi-private lessons, especially at Tremblant, than anything else. It does mean that your kids need to be around the same level, though, so if you have one daredevil who’s ready for black runs while her brother still won’t try anything but greens, you should split them up so they both thrive. But if they generally keep up with one another, this is such a great way to begin and then continue building their skills.
- Group lessons: Like its name, this is a group of kids skiing together with one instructor. Depending on their ages, the ratios may vary — anything from four kids to one instructor to 8:1 if they’re older. Group lessons can be an hour or more, but you’ll usually find that the kids vary from one lesson to the next. So if your children do better with consistency, or are social animals there to make new friendships over the course of a ski trip, Snow School might be the better option. Group lessons are one of the least expensive lesson choices and for kids who are cool as cucumbers in new situations and can adapt easily to various instructors, this is a great option. These can be booked as one-offs or you may end up putting your kids in daily, like you can at Smugglers’ Notch, where they have two-hour group lessons included in some of the packages. A consistent instructor is usually not guaranteed with group lessons.
- Snow School: Although most ski resorts, like Tremblant, use “Snow School” as an umbrella term for all of the lessons, I like to think of Snow School as a lesson class all on its own. It’s more like Ski Camp. And that’s because there’s usually consistency from one day to the next with your child’s instructor and many parents tend to put their kids into Snow School for half days or full days for the duration of their trip. Kids get to know each other and form friendships — especially in full-day Snow School since they all eat lunch together and some have indoor time where kids can hang out, do crafts and so on. And having the same instructor means they can help build new skills each day rather than always starting from scratch because they need to evaluate your child. I don’t need to mention the benefits to you, either, right? A morning, afternoon or full day all to yourself is kinda dreamy. But ONLY if you know it’s right for your kid. Snow School can also be incredibly wallet-friendly; again, using Tremblant’s Snow School as my example, when you consider that your child is cared for and given quality instruction from about 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. and it includes a hot lunch, a range of $115-165 per day per child is very reasonable.
4. Remember that not all instructors are created equally. If your child expresses discomfort or straight-up tells you s/he doesn’t like the instructor, request a new one. You’re paying for this, right? You want your kid to be happy and learn in a positive environment.
5. Bribery. It works, man. At the beginning, we put M&Ms in our kids’ coat pockets and gave their instructors permission to dole out candy as they wished for a job well done. #NoShame.
6. Rest. Your kids, especially in the first couple of seasons when they’re building up the right muscles, may need more rest than you do. Even if it means breaking up the day into more bite-size pieces and taking a break every hour or two for a hot chocolate. Even though Big B and I can happily ski all day, we know our kids have variable interest depending on how cold it is, how much sleep they got the night before, whether their morning was spent in an intense lesson, and so on. You listen to your own body, so respect when they listen to theirs.
7. Every once in a while, even after your kids are pretty good skiers, make them fall on a run and get themselves back up. I find it really challenging to get even my 55-pound daughter up when she’s fallen when we’re on a steep pitch. If you’re not sure how to teach your child to turn their skis to the trees and use their hands or poles to hoist them back up, it’s worth putting them into a lesson and mentioning to an instructor that you’d like to be shown at the beginning or the end. We have spent parts of our kids’ lessons trailing behind them to see what instructors are doing just for our own knowledge.
8. Make sure they’re having fun. If lessons aren’t working this year, stop and try them again next year. After all, the whole point of this is to make sure your kids become skiers who can manage the basics on their own. I can say from personal experience that once ours learned to keep up with us on the slopes, our family activity SOARED. We have a blast together and it’s definitely my favourite family activity because it’s something we can do together. But that’s because we’re all having fun.
Have questions about ski lessons, Snow School or lessons at any of the resorts we’ve visited? Just ask!