Teaching Your Kids To Ski
By Steve Kopitz
Twenty-two years ago I arrived at the hospital to visit my first born son the day after delivery with a fluffy white stuffed polar bear in one hand and a set of small plastic skis in the other. I guess I was setting the tone of what was to come. I had successfully taught my wife to love skiing, so now my kids would have no choice. My son, Brad, started skiing at 22 months old. I would take him out to the local hill with a child carrier backpack and the small plastic skis I had brought to the hospital. My wife tied his pacifier to the string on his hat so he wouldn’t lose it on the hill.
Now it was time to “hit the slopes”. When I arrived at the chairlift, the lift operators didn’t know what to make of this- me plus a kid in a backpack with a set of small skis hanging off the back. They helped me get the pack off my back and set it on the chair (with my son in it) securely next to me. When we got to the top I lifted Brad off the chair, strapped him to my back and went for a run to test how this would go. He loved it. His head bobbed over my shoulders while he gleefully shouted, “Go faster Dad, go faster.” He was hooked.
After a few more runs I lifted him out of the backpack and strapped on his plastic skis. These were the kind that did not use ski boots, just his regular snow boots so he could move around pretty freely, but they had no support. Now he was ready for his first experience on skis. I put him between my legs and off we went. I would mostly snow plow while Brad just stood and enjoyed the ride. Once in a while I would let him loose. He would scream with delight and then after a few seconds usually fall. He seemed to like to fall as much as he liked to ski.
After three or four runs with him skiing between my legs and picking him up after a fall, my back was killing me. I needed a better way of supporting him while skiing without trashing my back. My next idea was for my wife and I to ski side by side with a ski pole stretched between us. Then Brad could hold onto the pole in the center for support while all three of us skied side by side down the hill. This worked well enough for his first season, but next season we would need real skis and boots to provide him the support required to be able to really learn to ski. We also needed to come up with a better way to control his speed and direction on the hill. . The next year we showed up at the slopes with real ski boots, K2 Mickey Mouse skis, and a 20 foot rope. I put a slip knot on one end to put around his waist and a small loop on the other end to use a handle.
Brad’s new skis and boots allowed him to stay upright, but at this point all he could do was go straight, no turning, and no stopping. The 20 foot rope prevented him from getting up too much speed or crashing into anything or any one. The only drawback was that we could not control the direction he was going. But he was having a blast and so were we.
The next year it was time for our daughter, Jessi, to learn to ski. She was a late starter at 3 1/2 years old. She started with real skis and boots. No plastic skis for her! With her we tried a new device, a Hula Hoop. We put the Hula Hoop around her waist and held onto it from behind. This worked quite well as it caused less back pain for me and Jessi felt safe inside the ring.
Then I found the Holy Grail! It was a harness that fit snugly around the child and had two 20′ ropes, one on each side of the harness. This was ingenious because not only could I now control the speed of my child, but also I could steer her by pulling on one rope or the other. The beauty here was not only that my child was completely safe, but that she felt like she was really skiing and turning, a great confidence booster. I strongly recommend one of these if you are planning to teach your young child to ski.
Of course, another option is to enroll your child in ski school. Most programs do a great job of teaching your child to ski, making it fun, and giving Mom and Dad a chance to hit the slopes for a little free skiing. I prefer a combination of teaching them on my own and enrolling them in ski school.
Here are my tips for teaching your child to ski:
Get your child boots that fit.
Be careful with the hand me downs. If the boots are too large, they will be swimming in them and be unable to control their skis and be more likely to fall. If the boots are too small, their little feet will be in pain and they will not like skiing. I know most parents want boots to last a couple of years, but if your child’s feet are growing that may not be possible.
How to check if the boots fit.
Unfortunately, you can’t just push down on the toes of ski boots like you can with a soft shoe. First, do not ask your child if the boots fit. They are used to soft, loose shoes and have no idea what ski boots should feel like. There are, however, a couple of tricks you can use to check if your child’s boots fit.
• After your child has put his foot into the boot, have him slide his toes to the front of the boot. Now, insert your hand into the back of the boot and slide it down to the heel. There should be no more than one finger of room between the heel and the liner. Any more and his feet will slide around. If you can’t get your finger inside the boot, then the boots are probably too tight.
• Another way to check is to remove the liner from the shell of the boot. Do this by unbuckling the boot and pulling on the rear cuff of the liner until it slides out. Now insert your child’s foot into the liner. Push his heel all the way to the back of the liner. Now you can push down on the top of the toes just like a shoe to see if they fit. If the toes are pushed up against the front of the liner, the boots are too small. If there is no more than about ½ -3/4 of an inch, then the boots should fit fine.
Selecting the proper length of ski.
The rule of thumb for a young child’s skis is no taller than chin height.. For real little kids even a bit shorter is fine. Here you may be lucky enough to get two years out of a set of skis, if he or she doesn’t grow too much between seasons. Do not buy the skis that are too long! Longer skis will be harder to control and may cause your child to fall more often and get frustrated. It’s better to err on the short side for younger kids.
I strongly recommend that you do not let your child use ski poles until he or shee is at least 6-7 years old. Ski poles cause kids to learn bad habits such as standing upright and keeping their weight too far back on the skis. This is probably the number one problem that most adult skiers have; they sit back on their skis. Instead, have your child keep his or her hands on their knees while they ski. This teaches them to keep their weight forward and also keeps their center of gravity lower. This will build good technique and balance for the future.
As I mentioned earlier, a ski harness is a great way to start with small children. It makes it much more fun for both the child and the parent. One company that makes such a device is Lucky Bums. They offer a few different products that help in teaching your child to ski. Another item they offer is a Tip Clip. This is used to connect the tips of the skis together so it is very easy for the child to do a snow plow, also known as Pizza. Lucky Bums offers both items separate or in a kit.
Do not use the terms “snowplow” and “parallel.” Those are too abstract for children to comprehend. Call the snowplow – Pizza -and the Parallel – French Fries. This is a concept children can visualize and relate to. Show them at the top of the hill what to do with their skis when you say “pizza” and what to do when you say “french fries.”
Start by holding your child between your legs and skiing very slowly. As your child feels confident, start to let out the harness just a little at a time. As he or she skis down the hill with the harness on say, “pizza” and have them do a snowplow. Then say, “french fries” and have them make their skis go straight. All the while you should keep their speed under control as well as control their direction with the harness.
Teaching to turn:
After your child feels confident that he or she can control their speed and come to a stop when needed, then it’s time to begin to teach them to turn on their own. Have them experiment (with the harness still on) with putting their weight on the outside ski. This will turn them in the opposite direction. As he or she practices they will get better and you will begin to allow the harness straps to be slack, unless, of course, they get into trouble.
When you and your child are ready, it is time to remove the harness. Do not push your child to do this until they are ready. Depending on the age and ability of your child, this may happen over a few hours, days, weeks or even a few years, if you start with a very young child.
Teach your child that anytime he or she feels they are skiing too fast or feels out of control they should fall over on thier side! While this may seem obvious to you, it may not be obvious to your child when they start to get in trouble.
Be sure your child is dressed properly.
If your child is cold they will not like skiing. Here is what he or she will need:
• 1. Warm, waterproof jacket
• 2. Nylon waterproof ski pants
• 3. Long underwear top and bottom
• 4. A turtle neck or other thin layering shirt
• 5. A fleece or warm sweater
• 6. Warm, waterproof mittens or gloves. I recommend mittens because they keep fingers warmer.
• 7. Neck warmer
• 8. Hat or ski helmet
• 9. Ski socks. Do not use everyday socks. They are not warm enough.
• 10. Small goggles
Extras: Hand warmers, a candy bar or granola bar, a little stuffed animal to put in a pocket, a pacifier tied to a hat if he or she is very young.
Wearing a helmet.
I strongly recommend wearing a helmet. I know you’re wondering why your child would need a helmet when you will be with them as well holding the harness. The reason is that it’s not about your child running into something; it’s about someone who may be skiing fast or out of control running into them. What’s your kid’s head worth anyway?
Falling is good.
Remember, skiing is not about trying not to fall. It’s about getting better at skiing and having fun. My motto is “if you’re not falling you’re not trying.” For kids, the falling can be as much fun as the skiing.
Make skiing fun.
Try some of these:
• 1. Sing songs as you go down the hill.
• 2. Stop and have a snowball fight.
• 3. Make sounds like a race car.
• 4. Have your child make sounds as he or she skis down the hill.
• 5. Tell them how well they are doing.
• 6. Take frequent breaks. Kids love the hot chocolate as much as the skiing.
• 7. Have the other parent or a friend ski in front and play “Follow the leader.”
• 8. Have the other parent or friend ski in front and backwards so the child can ski to them.
• 9. Stop on the side of the hill and go into the woods or just have a snack.
• 10. Take some videos and show your child how they look on the TV later that day.
• 11. Have a little race with them.
A couple of final thoughts.
• 1. Be patient. This is the most important rule of all.
• 2. Be flexible. I know you wanted to ski until lunch, but your child wants to go inside. So go inside.
• 3. Put your child in ski school some of the time so you can ski too.
My kids are now grown up and they are both great skiers, but more importantly, they Love to Ski! The best part about teaching your kids to ski is that it is something that the whole family can do together no matter how old they get. Last Christmas we all went on a family ski vacation to Switzerland and we all had a great time together. If we had gone to a beach resort or on a cruise I’m sure that I would not have seen my kids for most of the trip.