There are few sports that you can do together as a family regardless of age. Skiing is the perfect combination of exercise, getting outside, thrill, adventure, and challenge. Like most skills, it takes practice and commitment, but it is the gift that keeps on giving. Teaching your kids how to ski, especially in a place like Colorado, opens a whole new world and community that is unlike any other. Get ready for some runny noses, hilarious falls, and memories you will never forget while skiing in Colorado.
Skiing in Colorado is heavy on the gear. While you can always buy everything new, it is a large investment for an activity your kids don’t even know how to do yet. Check out rental opportunities, borrowing items from family and friends, and recycled-gear shops to save money.
- Boots – Ski boots have a bad rap. They’re stiff, they’re cold, they give you bone spurs, and they’re hard to walk in. That is, if you have a poorly fit pair of boots. When you show up to the rental shop or the store, or you’re borrowing a cousin’s hand-me-downs, know your child’s shoe size and find the equivalent ski boot size. The conversion is not always perfect, but it’s a good starting point. Take the liner out of the boot shell and have your kid put their foot in so their toes lightly graze the front of the boot. Have them flex their ankles forward. You should be able to fit about an inch between their heel and the shell. Once you think you’ve found the pair, put the liner back in and have your kids put their feet (socks and all) into the boot. Buckle them up and have them walk around. They should feel snug but not too tight. Different boots have different widths and insteps, so you may need to try a few models. Remember, if your kid’s boots don’t fit well, it’s a lot harder to control a ski and ultimately, your child will be uncomfortable. Comfort is key to having a good day on snow.
- Socks – Do not underestimate the importance of ski socks. Frostbite, blisters, and numb feet are all products of poor sock choice (including cotton, crew cut, etc.). Spend the money on one nice pair, and let them dry at night. Your kids will thank you. Smartwool, Darn Tough and Farm to Feet all make great ski socks for kids.
- Skis with bindings – When it comes to your kid’s first pair of skis, don’t worry too much, they just need some boards to play on. As long as they’re somewhere in the recommended range of length they’ll be just fine. Make sure to have a ski or rental shop adjust the bindings to fit your child’s boots.
- Sun Protection – You’re up at higher altitudes in Colorado than most places in the country, which means the sun is stronger. Compound the increased UV intensity with the reflection of the snow, and even the beach-goers “who never burn,” will feel the heat. Make sure your kids have sunscreen on any exposed flesh in the morning and can reapply more in the afternoon.
- Eye Protection is equally important when it comes to sun protection. Snow blindness is common at higher altitudes and can ruin anyone’s day. Make sure your kiddo comes prepared with either sport sunglasses or goggles, and reiterate the importance of keeping them on while they’re outside.
- Helmet – Your child should always have a helmet on and buckled when on the hill. Whether your child is falling over or not, often other out-of-control skiers are the greatest risk on the hill. When your child is wearing a helmet, have them shake their head firmly ‘yes’ and ‘no’. If the helmet moves or slips, downsize until it no longer moves.
- Pants – Beginners will be on their butts. Make sure your kid has waterproof pants on. Whether they’re insulated snow pants or shells, as long as they don’t get soaked every time they fall down, they will be in good shape.
- Jacket – The outermost jacket really depends on what you wear underneath. If a kid is bundled beneath, any waterproof layer will be sufficient. If your child tends to run cold, get a jacket with insulation.
- Layers – What they wear under their outerwear will make or break your child’s day. Make sure they are equipped with different layers so they can take them off and put them on depending on the temperature and how they’re feeling. Usually top and bottom long underwear, a turtleneck or light pullover, and a vest will allow enough options for most temperatures.
- Mittens – When your hands are cold (like your feet), it’s hard to think of much else. Make sure your child’s gloves are warm and water resistant. Mittens vs. gloves is an age-old debate, but I would recommend mittens for small kids because they’re easier to put on by themselves, and there’s plenty of space to shove a handwarmer in there on a freezing day.
- Lift tickets – Colorado has made getting your kids into skiing a no-brainer. Passport Programs: Fifth graders can ski 66 free days all over the state and they get a free full-day beginner lesson if they’ve never skied before. Sixth graders get an enormous discount on a pass that allows them to ski 88 days around Colorado. Most mountains offer deals for kids ages 12 and under for free skiing in Colorado. Call guest services before planning a ski trip to find the best bang for your buck.
- Find a teacher – If you don’t know how to ski yourself, spare your child, and hire someone or ask for help. Skiing is a very technical sport and along with good visual aids, experienced teachers have tons of tricks to help your kids understand movements.
- Getting up – Anyone who has ever learned how to ski or has taught skiing can tell you that falls and tumbles are all part of the experience. If you’re not falling, you’re not trying something new. Save your back and endless hikes by making sure your kids can stand up on their own after they’ve fallen. Make sure they also know how to pop their skis on and off. This will save everyone energy and time and it will make your child feel more self sufficient and less scared when things go awry.
- Stopping – At the end of the day, if your kid can stop, they can continue to learn on different terrain safely. Most kids learn to stop in a wedge. Do not leave the bunny hill until they’ve mastered the stop.
- Turning – As glorious as the stop is, the turn is even more magical. By transferring weight into the front of your boots from foot to foot, kids begin to learn how to turn. Often, they will favor one side, or get so excited turning, that they will “forget” to stop. Master stopping and turning before leaving the bunny slope.
- Expectations – The only thing scarier than trying something new is disappointing your parents. Mind steps 3, 4 and 5, and know that as long as you create a supportive and encouraging environment, your kids will continue to love to ski. Everyone learns in different ways and at different paces and often parents are caught up in the competition and the price involved with skiing. Take a deep breath. It’s just a sport.
- Sun Blindness, also known as Photokeratitis, is like a sunburn on your eyeballs that can cause temporary and sometimes permanent blindness.
- Bunny Slope- The easiest beginner hill at a ski area.
- Magic Carpet-A conveyor belt like ski lift that kids ride to get to the top of a slope.
- Wedge- A triangle shape you make with your skis when first learning how to stop and turn.
- Good is good. Bad is bad. Kids, especially young ones, haven’t developed the ability to process type two fun or to rationalize “sucking it up.” When things feel good, life is good. When things feel bad, skiing is bad. Use this duality to make any decisions. That means hunger, bathroom breaks, staying warm, feeling comfortable in a group, and feeling safe ALL come before any skiing or learning.
- Skiing is fun. Snow is fun. The second it stops being fun for your kid, they will lose all desire to learn. If having fun means throwing snowballs and having hot cocoa breaks, that’s okay. Kids who associate being on skis and snow with having fun will be excited to keep venturing into the cold and eventually will learn the hard skills.
- Be patient—Kids are young, their muscles are smaller and less developed than ours. Between staying warm and learning ridiculous movement patterns they’ve never done before, skiing can be exhausting. Have patience and know that with time and practice, movements will become easier and muscles stronger. Rome wasn’t built in a day and most kids, especially young ones, will not learn to ski in a day, either. Let them rest when they’re tired and take breaks when they’re frustrated. It will pay off in the long run.
- Bribery is key. If your kid loves gummy bears, use them as a chairlift snack. If your kids love to hit the little jump on the side of their favorite trail, promise if they listen and try a new skill you can go that way next run.
- If your kid can rock the wedge stop and turn, that’s amazing. They may even be able to get down blue and maybe some black trails in a power wedge. But once kids have a taste of “big kid” terrain, they tend to care less about how they’re getting down the hill. Blue trails should be a reward for learning parallel skiing—it’s safer, more technically sound, and honestly, more fun.
Kids are not inherently safe. Be explicit about safety measures they need to take and lead by example.
- Know the Code. Everyone on the hill should know and respect these rules. If kids learn them when they’re young, following the code becomes second nature.
- Know the gear. Make sure your kids know how to use and put on all of their gear properly. A helmet is no good unless it is buckled.
- Make sure kids are with an adult on all lifts when they are starting out. Emphasize the importance of lift safety and help children practice safely loading and unloading to prevent scary and sometimes fatal accidents.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Skiing is a sport you can spend the rest of your life mastering. Between alpine racing, freestyle, backcountry, bumps, etc., there are endless techniques, tricks, terrain, and movements to practice.
Moving from a wedge to parallel skiing is a big deal and is typically the next biggest step after learning how to stop and turn in a wedge. Kids are often hesitant to try something new after having just achieved control of their skis in a wedge. Encourage the challenge of parallel skiing by showing them all the possibilities, including new terrain, that will open up to them when they can ski out of a wedge.
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