Don’t be that parent who tries to teach your little one to ski. We beg you, please don’t. We’ve seen you in the lift queue, urgently explaining how to sit on the chair as the queue grows shorter. We’ve heard the tantrums and witnessed the regretful expressions half way down a blue run. Skiing is a pursuit best taught by professionals; try to do it yourself and you risk putting them off for life.
At The Snow Institute, Sally Lee-Duffy is an expert at teaching adults and children of all levels and abilities to fall in love with skiing. Having spent 20 years as an instructor, Sally knows a thing or two about teaching children to ski in a happy, safe and nurturing environment.
If you’re here in Morzine, Les Gets or Avoriaz and your little ones are skiing for the first time, it’s normal not to know what to expect. You fear they might not like it, but worry not!
The most important part of your first family ski holiday is remembering that the little ones come first. If you put the time and effort into making this holiday about them, they will be hooked and you will enjoy skiing as a family for many years to come.
Skiing as a kid is all about having fun. Pushing them to learn to ski, especially (if they are between 3 and 5 years old) is never a wise idea. Skiing is a new and scary experience for the first few days; after all, they are left with a stranger in a group of kids who they may or may not know and with lots of awkward kit that feels very alien to them.
There will be tears, but it is always best to leave them with the instructor and watch from afar if you feel the need too. Don’t ever let your children see you and trust that the instructor will always contact you if needed. Parents are always very surprised about quickly children calm down and start to learn to ski. Usually, a whole new world of sliding and speed can be quite interesting and distracting for them.
On the first day of ski lessons, children have lots of new things to deal with. When you drop them off, make sure they have all their kit, including a helmet or hat, goggles or sunglasses, gloves or mittens, warm clothes and, most importantly, a snack in their pocket.
If little Johnny flat out refuses to wear his goggles or his gloves, no worries. Don’t force him if it could lead to tears. If there’s an item that you can’t get them to wear, leave them with the instructor. They’ll get the item on in time, once they are used to the rest of the kit. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes! We’ll never let children ski without any essential kit, but sometimes it just takes a bit longer and with no parents!
The youngest children we teach are aged 2 years. With these really little ones, it’s all about the experience of being on skis, using the lifts, learning to stand up, balance and slide with the help of an instructor. Bit by bit they become more independent. Some 2 year olds will learn to ski during a week’s worth of lessons, but most children this age just enjoy the experience of being on skis while getting used to the kit. In our experience, this means they are prepared for the following year, when they come back bigger and stronger. With this age group, we only recommend a maximum of one hour lessons at a time and this will include a couple of little stops to play in the snow.
Once children are aged 3 years and above, the whole week of lessons is based around them learning to ski on their own. At this age it does take longer than when they are slightly older (6 years+) as they need a lot more help from the instructor and regular rests. Their legs are still small and not so strong, but don’t worry if you do see a lot of snow angels or snowman making. Rest and play is an absolute necessity when learning to ski at this age.
Yes, we know that you want them to learn to ski as quickly as possible, but it is essential that you don’t push them too much. Otherwise, they will get halfway through the week and be way too tired to carry on. Cue the tears!
We also know that you’re dying to take your little one out on the mountain, so they can show you their new skills. We always recommend that for the first two or three days, they only ski during their lessons. They won’t have much energy left for anything else! Once you get past day three, you can ski with them as much as you want after their lessons, but it is key to not over tire their little legs, which can happen very easily. They might want to carry on, but if they do overdo it, they won’t have the legs to ski with the instructor the following day. We find that this is very important for their progression and enjoyment. Everyone knows that tired kids are not much fun, especially on holiday!
If your little ones don’t want to ski with you after their lessons, take them away to play, have a snack or even better treat them to a hot chocolate. This way they won’t feel pressured to do it, they’ll want to ski on their terms and that’s totally fine!
- Beginners don’t need ski poles. They become devices for hitting things and they don’t need that distraction!
- Kids skis should no higher than their chins in length and no lower than their chest when stood up beside them
- Make sure their ski boots are the right size. If too big, this can lead them to lean back even more than they do naturally. A good way to check is to take the inner out of the shell and measure against their foot. If it is a lot longer, they are too big
- Mittens are always much better than fingered gloves as little kids really struggle to get these on and this leads to frustration. Ones with Velcro or zips are great for the very little guys, big pull on ones can sometimes come straight back off again.
- Sunglasses or goggles, choose whichever is easiest for them to wear or they want to keep on!
- When you’re skiing with beginners, don’t worry about getting them to lean forward with their hands on their knees the whole time. They naturally sit back until their bodies are strong enough to stand up more. They will find their natural position, which is further back than adults and older kids. As long as they are not “sitting on the toilet” and standing up, this is fine if slightly further back.
- When skiing with your little ones after their lesson, don’t be tempted to ski with them between your legs. You’ll undo everything the instructor has just taught them! Also, they won’t bother to turn as you head down the hill, unless you give them something to turn around or someone to follow!
- Once you’re all confident enough to ski together, let them go in front of you and tell them where you’d like them to stop. Give them the responsibility and the confidence.