Oh, how we do love family ski holidays... Magical moments playing in the mountains with your kids and discovering a love for snowsports… right? For a seasoned snow family, yes, but for many newbies, a family ski holiday is a crash course in parenting, where families soon realise how ill-equipped they are to participate in snowsports together without getting ski patrol involved.
Droves of optimistic parents arrive at resorts every year with visions of quality time spent with their kids, learning about a new winter wonderland, only to be crushed by the sobering reality that getting kids organised and skiing or snowboarding safely with them on the hill is practically an art form.
But, how do ski instructors manage with 4 - 12 kids in a class? While I could spend pages explaining the tricks of the trade; it’s sufficient to say that through comprehensive training, instructors develop ninja class handling skills that would make any parent envious. To save you time, lots of tears and mountains of stress - we have condensed some must-have information for parents taking their kids to the snow for the first time.
Triple the amount of time you think you will need to do anything.
Onions have layers, so do children who go skiing. It’s worth purchasing thermal undergarments as they can also be used for camping and other chilly adventures. Never dress your kids in cotton to go skiing; it will get damp from perspiration and make them cold. Buy decent merino or acrylic layers, and remember, you can always take layers off if they get too hot.
Getting from A-B will feel more like going from A-Z. It might seem like a walk in the park to get dressed and on the snow, but it will be an ultramarathon for you and the kids; dressing, zipping, tucking and clipping all their gear on. Get your kids involved in dressing themselves, you’d be surprised how quickly they pick it up.
Invest in Ski School. This cannot be stressed enough; on their first day on the mountain take your kids directly to ski school. They will learn more in a few days than you can teach them in a month… plus, no matter how well you think your kids listen to you, they will listen to their instructor better. Take a back seat and let the pros teach your kids to tear up the mountain.
The holy grail of the family ski holiday is to participate in snowsports together without getting ski patrol involved…
Skiing with your kids together as a family: 101
Here’s how to make it happen
Learn how to load your kids on the chair BEFORE you line up. Every chair can be slightly different.
Kids should always stay behind the lead adult in the group so they can control their speed. Kids aged up to about 10 years old do not understand the relationship between speed and the distance required to stop very well, if at all. They are also learning how to control their speed through turn shape... If you let them ‘freeski’ they will most likely straight-line to the bottom and collide with anything that gets in their way.
When little kids say they are cold, they are probably closer to freezing.
Only take children up on the lift to ski the piste IF they have learned to stop and control their speed adequately. Carrying kids between your legs or using a harness is dangerous on a busy ski slope and it can disrupt their motivation to learn when you effectively do the hard work for them. Their reward will be so much sweeter when they achieve the goal themselves.
Helmets: no explanation needed here. No helmet, no skiing.
Chocolate should be stuffed into their little pockets at the beginning of each day. It’s not bribery, it’s just plain common sense.
Finding Nemo; what to do when you ‘misplace’ a child? Okay, let’s face it, your kids are probably going to ski off on you, so don’t panic. If they have been skiing around the mountain with ski school then they should know the plan when they find themselves separated from their group. Make sure you are all in on the plan together. Most kids are taught to find someone in a uniform with a radio, a lift attendant, ski patroller or another instructor. If you do the same thing you will be united with your little escapees in no time.
Jumpstart their skiing journey with private lessons. If you’re keen to fast-track your kids off the bunny slope, book some private lessons. One or two private lessons will accelerate their progress so they can spend their week in a higher level group, practising their skills over more of the resort.
Their ski instructor is worth their weight in gold. When you pick up your kids, take the time to have a chat with their instructor. Especially if you plan to ski on the hill together. Young kids play all sorts of games with their instructor and may respond better to their verbal cues than yours. For example ‘RED LIGHT’ might be more effective than ‘STOP’ if your kids have been using this all day.
No pee, no ski. Before your kids get dressed everyone must hit the bathroom. There are no exceptions to this rule; unless you want to spend all morning dressing your kids twice every time they walk out the door. Failure to heed this advice and you will learn very quickly what a ‘code yellow’ means in ski school vernacular.
Plan ahead. Everything can be made much easier if you do your research online before you arrive at the resort. Forms for ski school. Ordering rental gear. Learning about the transit system. Best accommodation to rent. Do your homework or get the info from your trusted ski travel specialist.