So, you’re thinking: How hard can it be to teach a child to ski?

Pick up some sticks at U-Rent-Um, load the kids up with hot chocolate and Gummi bears and plop them on the bunny slope, where you can give them a tight-lipped lecture about how they are going to have fun, dang it, while trying to wrestle their boot into a binding.

Not a good plan, say three Coloradans who have spent decades teaching kids how to ski.

“What I see with parents is they become very demanding,” said Franci Peterson, who was director of Ski Cooper Ski School for more than 20 years. “They forget how hard it was for them to learn to ski. Parents expect their kids to learn as adults do.”

Peterson should know.

Despite being a certified ski instructor, she let her husband teach their two children to ski.

“He was a little more detached,” Peterson said.

Their children, now grown and good skiers, decided to spend the money for professional lessons for their own kids.

There’s a reason, said Dave Holdcraft, general manager of the children’s program at the Breckenridge Ski and Ride School.

“We really train to deal with the different physical, emotional and cognitive needs of kids,” Holdcraft said.

“We have the environment to set them up to be successful.”

The professionals’ advice may be a tad self-serving – they make their living teaching skiing, after all. And paying for ski lessons can be a hard nut to swallow.

Lessons, even for young kids at the smallest ski areas, are not cheap.

Prices vary, depending on the number of hours of instruction and whether lunch or rentals are included, but prepare to dish out at least $100 a day.

For parents who can’t or don’t want to spend that kind of money, there are instructional books for sale on the Internet, and there’s lots of free advice on various Web forums.

But anyone who has taught his own kids to ski knows it can be a frustrating experience, with no guarantee that the sweet little things will progress – or stay with the sport after they’ve been berated enough times down 1,200 vertical feet.

Plus, teaching the little brats really cuts into your own ski time – and kids can sense that frustration.

“Parents or husbands, wives or boyfriends – it’s really tough to get over that relationship,” said Jack Sciacca, director of instruction at Monarch Mountain. “Being a good skier does not translate into being a good teacher.”

Ski School - OutThere Colorado


Professional instructors offer tips for the parents of young children learning to ski:

• Children ages 3 and 4 usually are not ready for a full immersion into skiing. They are not very strong physically. Their endurance isn’t great. They have short attention spans. It’s better to strap some play skis on them and let them slide around in the backyard or at the base of the mountain. Let them watch the big kids learn to ski. Pull them around in a sled. Take them in frequently for hot chocolate. Most areas do offer classes for kids this young, but they are mostly get-acquainted experiences. Monarch and Breckenridge offer one-on-one lessons for kids this young. Ski Cooper limits class size to three.

• Kids ages 5 to 8 are ready physically and mentally to ski or snowboard. They’ve learned socialization skills in kindergarten or elementary school. They don’t mind being away from mom and dad. They’ve started to develop fine motor skills. They’re ready to have fun with new chums. In fact, group lessons for kids this age are often better than private instruction.

• Try to arrange lessons on midweek days before the Christmas holiday, during January, or even after Easter. Weekends are crowded and lessons are often booked during traditional ski holidays – Christmas, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and during spring break.

• Many ski areas offer – but don’t necessarily advertise – multiple-day packages that can save parents money over individual lessons while providing their kids a lot of time on snow during the season. Monarch even offers a package that includes bus service from Colorado Springs and a season pass along with either five or seven lessons. Check the website of your favorite mountain to find out what packages are available.

• Make sure your child arrives for ski school well-fed, well-rested and with hat, gloves, goggles or sunglasses and warm clothes. Many schools strongly recommend kids use ski helmets; others require them.

• Consider renting children’s ski gear for the season. Many Colorado ski shops offer season-long rental packages, which can save money and a lot of hassle. But be aware that some ski areas include rental equipment in the price of the lesson. In either case, make sure the boots fit well and the skis are not too long. Shaped skis, particularly light ones, work well even for children.

• There are no hard-and-fast rules on how many lessons kids should take. Ski Cooper’s Peterson likes to see kids take two lessons and then ski with their parents before taking a third. Breckenridge’s Holdcraft said kids, once they get a good foundation, will often become better skiers than their parents, and then it may be appropriate for them to take more lessons or get into a freestyle or racing camp.

• Put your patience into practice. Kids – and adults, for that matter – don’t become good skiers by taking a couple of lessons and then skiing once or twice a season. Real expertise take lots of mileage on a mountain, skiing various terrains in different conditions. If you’re going to invest in lessons, try to follow up with regular ski outings with your kids. They’ll dig you.

• Let kids learn at their own pace. If it isn’t fun, you may not be raising a lifelong skier. “If parents or adults say, “You should be doing this or that,’ it takes the fun out of it. It’s another thing they have to do, like school,” said Ski Cooper’s Peterson.

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