Enjoying time together in the outdoors keeps National Parks TravelingMom’s family happy and healthy during the winter. Years ago, she figured out families that ski together, vacation together longer. Read on to plan your family ski getaway with this comprehensive guide.
Why Go Skiing or Snowboarding
We started skiing as a family after I saw so many families with older teens and college students at ski resorts. Since it’s an individual sport, teens and college students have the freedom to explore and meet up with their family later. That and poor college students can’t afford to ski unless Mom and Dad spring for a trip.
Kids pick up skiing or snowboarding quickly. After one lesson, most can safely navigate the beginner terrain. It’s kinda like bike riding. Skiing and snowboarding have a feel to them, so most won’t forget the basics from year-to-year.
Even after a 10-year preggo break, I was able to get back on my skis. And as a mom, I just ski down the green runs in big swooping carves enjoying the scenery and the smell of the evergreens. It’s pure bliss and erases any lost boot/glove/whatever drama that happened earlier.
January Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month
My kids started learning to ski at different ages and I found they all picked it up fairly quickly. So don’t stress about age, just sign them up for a beginner ski/snowboard package, which includes a group lesson, rental equipment, and beginner lift ticket for the day.
The industry understands it’s important to get kids hooked on skiing early. January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, and there are great deals on learn to ski and snowboard packages across the country.
For example, in Pennsylvania, Shawnee Mountain Ski Area in the Poconos kicks off a month-long promotion on January 2018, with a $29 Learn to Ski or Snowboard package for the first 100 people who buy. The package includes an all-area lift ticket, rental equipment, and first-time group lesson.
Since most new skiers start closer to home, the industry has a site listing all of the January Learn to Ski and Snowboard deals.
January is an ideal time to learn. As a bonus, the slopes are less crowded after the winter holidays.
Your Family’s First Ski Trip
Taking the kids skiing for the first time seems monumental. I know, I’ve been there. I’m here to help.
Learning to ski in my 20s was easy. I picked out the perfect outfit, took a lesson from the cutest ski instructor and then drank a cocktail. My glamorous ski days started late and ended early.
Then I became a mom and everything got more complicated. My kids, now 10, 13 and 15, started on the slopes when the youngest hit 2 and the oldest was 7.
So where do you start if you have never skied as a family?
Finding A Family-Friendly Ski Resort
Before I look at the lessons for the kids, I find a family-friendly ski resort – the kind that truly likes and caters to families. To find one, consider the following:
Location–To save money, I prefer a ski resort within driving distance.
Parking Lot— I prefer to park in front of the resort instead of riding a shuttle. I never get everything I need in the first haul.
Family-friendly Green Trails–Next, I look over the resort’s trail map, located on the resort’s website. I count how many green trails they offer. This information is also listed as a percentage of the trails based on color – green, blue, and black.
- Green – The easiest and great for mom and the kids.
- Blue– Dad will head here no matter what.
- Black – DANGER! The people strapped to a Ski Patrol stretcher started their day on a black run.
Beginner ski lifts–I prefer resorts with conveyor-belt type lifts for beginners. Conveyor, surface, or Magic Carpet lifts keep the kids on the ground and not dangling from a wire like a trapeze, especially important for kids under 8.
Beginner Areas—I make sure a beginner area is available to all skiers and not restricted to the ski school.
Tips for Learning to Ski and Snowboard
Ski and Snowboard lessons are a must for kids, notes Linda Irvin, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ski Area Association. “Most parents can’t teach their kids. All the ski slope meltdowns happen when parents try to teach their kids,” she says.
I couldn’t agree more. All the instructors I’ve met through the years are great with kids. They pace the program according to the ability of the kids in their class. They’re patient with missing gloves and potty breaks. If they tell corny jokes and rattle off riddles, even better.
I prefer ski and snowboarding lessons in a separate fenced-off area with its own conveyor-belt or Magic Carpet lift, like Liberty Mountain Resort. I want my younger kids in an area away from the older kids with different needs and skills.
TravelingMom tip: If the ski school offers rental equipment, use it. The instructor will fit the kids and they’re pros at getting little feet into ski boots, which is more challenging than it sounds. Plus, it means you won’t have to lug more gear.
How to Cut Costs on a Family Ski Trip
A family ski getaway doesn’t have to cost a fortune. My top tips for keeping costs in check include:
- Find regional ski resorts. Ski resorts can be found across the country. For instance consider Pennsylvania, home to 19 different ski resorts for your family ski getaway.
- Look for online specials and discounts. Purchasing lift tickets a week or more in advance can save up to 40 percent. Some resorts even offer free skiing for students in 4th and 5th grade.
- Buy beginner packages. Most ski resorts offer beginner packages. For example, participating ski resorts in Pennsylvania offer a beginner lift ticket, a group lesson and rental equipment for $59. Book the deal before Dec. 30, 2017.
- Ski midweek if you can. It is not only more affordable but less busy. You avoid the weekend crowds and get more personalized attention from instructors or other ski area staff. Plus, you can save $5 by downloading a coupon: https://www.skipa.com/deals/daily-deals
- Go on an off-weekend. Some ski resorts feature demand pricing during winter school breaks. That means they boost lift ticket prices during those popular times such as Presidents’ Weekend.
- Check out consolidators. Lift ticket consolidators sell discounted tickets in advance.
- Pack a picnic and snack bag. Most resorts allow picnicking outside on their decks.
Tips for the First Day
If you’re timid about the first day, don’t be. Here are a few tips:
- Reserve lessons and lift tickets in advance. First, I find some resorts offer discounts for advance lift ticket purchase. Second, ski lessons sell out, especially during holiday breaks and three-day weekends.
- Eat a good, solid breakfast. Sounds a bit old-school, but I recommend old-fashioned oatmeal. It’s warming and won’t burn off in the first hour. My kids don’t know they’re hungry until they get cranky and argumentative, not a good thing when learning a new skill.
- Rent your equipment from the resort. This is key for your first experience. It simplifies the process and most first-time skiers don’t need specialized equipment.
- Arrive early, ideally before 9 a.m. Getting your lift ticket and fitted for equipment takes time. And the first ski lessons of the day or full-day ski school start early.
- Book the earliest ski lesson for the kids. That way, kids can practice their new skills after their lesson and before the lifts close for the day, usually at 4 p.m.
- Be patient and don’t be in a rush to move up the mountain. This is hard for kids, and sometimes Dad, to understand. Accidents happen when skiers and snowboarders overestimate their ability.
The First Lesson
All-day programs start around 8 or 9 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. Most programs will fit kids with equipment. Usually, there’s a morning lesson, then lunch followed by an afternoon lesson and practice.
I like to stop by and look in on my kids while they practice. Most resorts allow this, like Blue Mountain Resort. If the ski school frowns on this and it’s important to you, this ski school probably is not the best fit.
Half-day morning programs start around 8 or 9 a.m. and finish up before noon. Most programs start with a lesson and then practice toward end of the program. The same schedule holds for the afternoon programs. I recommend the morning program unless you have a cracky morning kid.
Groups lessons last about two hours with solid instruction. The group will be skiing or snowboarding as a group.
Preschool Skiing and Snowboarding
For the youngest skiers (ages 3 to 6), ski lessons emphasize fun. If kids start to cry, they go inside and play where it’s warm.
Preschoolers will learn the basics, like stopping and maybe some turns. Instructors jog beside them yelling Pizza! and French Fries! Pizza to make a wedge to stop. French fries to keep the skis parallel.
Most ski resorts keep the preschoolers corralled in a separate area with a dedicated surface lift.
Don’t expect your preschooler to race down the mountain after one lesson. Try a Ski with Me class for parents and kids to learn together to increase the fun on the slopes, available at many resorts, including Liberty Mountain Resort .
Finding snowboarding lessons for kids under 5 can be difficult. Most resorts start preschoolers with skiing first. If you prefer your kid to snowboard, do your research to find a resort offering Burton’s Riglet Park Program, like Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
Note: All preschoolers have to be fully potty trained to be allowed into ski classes.
School Age Kids
Kids just want to play on skis and snowboards. Races and follow-the-leader are better on the snow, even with an occasional snowball.
For the older kids (ages 7 and up), skip the ski school and sign them up for a beginner ski/snowboard package that includes a group lesson, equipment and a lift ticket for the day. Older kids need to learn the basics, like turning and stopping, then practice for the rest of the day.
They pick it up fast since they have the coordination. However, they can have a problem controlling their speed. Most resorts allow non-skiing parents to walk in the beginner trail area to keep to eye on their kids.
If you’re skiing for a three-day weekend, I suggest signing the kids up for two lessons on consecutive days then practice the final day.
TravelingMom Tip: Keep school age kids off the chairlifts for the first day and use surface lifts, if available. Then move up to riding chairlifts with a ski instructor who will teach kids how to get on and off a ski lift.
Need ski lessons for a person with physical, sensory or intellectual challenges? Some resorts offer adaptive ski and snowboard equipment and trained instructors, like Camelback Mountain.
Teen and Adult Lessons
Teens and college students want the challenge of more difficult terrain. They seek the daring thrills that skiing and snowboarding provides.
Teens will usually have special group lessons. Their classes move fairly fast and many teens can ride down most green runs after two lessons.
I learned to ski in my 20s and went on to raise a family of skiers and snowboarders. Now all my kids ski better than I do.
Group lessons might not be the way to go for first-time adults. Group adult lessons combine too many people with different levels of fitness. Try a semi-private or private lesson for adults learning to ski or snowboard for the first time.
I see lots of adults learning to ski. Give it time and go at a comfortable pace.
Women Only Groups
Some resorts, such as Liberty Mountain Resort, offer groups or lessons just for women. Since most moms take a sizable break to have and raise families, we need a little encouragement to get back on the skis.
Make the effort; I did. A day skiing with my kids is so much better than a day babysitting a snack bag in the lodge.
Babies and Toddlers
Ski resorts feature lots of stairs and icy patches, not a good fit for strollers. Unless Grandma wants to sit by the lodge’s fireplace with the baby, I recommend skipping family ski trips until all the kids can ski, usually around age 3.
How to Dress for a Ski Getaway
Before I buy new stuff, I dig out what my kids already have. If you have to buy, head first to thrift stores and the Internet for deals on like-new kids gear.
Layering is the name of the game here. And each person perceives cold differently so I tend to over-layer rather than under-layer. It’s easier to remove a layer than to add a layer you forgot at home.
Winter Coats—Grab the one with a hood and throw it in the washer. After a good cleaning, grab several cans of water repellent, spray down the coat and let it cure.
Snow Bibs or Pants–I prefer bibs for most kids since ski pants are hard to fit around a kid’s waist. Everyone gets black so I can hand them down. Kids sit in the snow a lot, so I spray the pants with water repellent, especially the seats of the pants.
Base layer–Most kids have them for sports. Skip the waffle-weave long underwear and go for a polyester or spandex-type base layer since it doesn’t itch.
Fleece Layer—Again, another item most people have. Wear it or pack it just in case.
Ski Gloves–Make sure they’re water-repellent gloves; anything else and the kids’ hands will get cold and wet. I buy inexpensive gloves for the kids since one will get lost, every single time. Spray gloves down with water repellent too.
Scarves and Hats— Instead of scarves, my kids like neck gaiters or infinity scarves. Add a ski hat or beanie to wear after taking off the ski helmet to cover sweaty, wet hair.
Socks–I use the two-sock method for my family, a polyester sock liner first, then a thick-blended ski or hiking sock.
Hand Warmers—Tiny pouches that warm up when needed. Buy them at home and bring them with you to the resort. They work wonders for cold hands and they can be expensive at ski resorts.
Family Snack Pack
With the kids out skiing and snowboarding, I like to pack snacks for grab-and-go convenience. I use my reusable shopping bag and stash it at the outdoor table so my older kids can grab a snack when taking a break.
- Water bottles
- Gatorade or flavor packets
- Hot water in a thermos
- Instant hot cider or cocoa packets and tea bags
- Instant Cup-of-Soup
- Granola bars and Protein bars
- Peanut butter crackers
- Dried fruit or fruit leather
- Mandarin oranges
- Freeze-dried fruit
- Marshmallows and roasting sticks
Since most resorts feature a fire pit, I hand my kids a fluffy marshmallow to roast at the end of the day. Their faces light up after a long day on the slopes. As a bonus, a toasted marshmallow can prevent an overly-tired kid from melting down on the mountain.
Other Things that Make Life Easier
I pack another bag for the non-food stuff, including a first aid kit with bandages (blisters), a baggie with lip balm and a small can of sunscreen for their faces. Don’t forget the tissues and wipes.
Gloves always get lost, so I pack extra gloves and drop in a phone charger. I keep the ski googles in there but my kids prefer to use sunglasses for sunny days.
Some families change into ski boots at the car but I find that kids slip and fall. I grab my giant reusable bag and haul all of the equipment and boots in there. I can fit all ski and snowboarding boots and helmets in the bag as we make our way to the ski lodge.
Tips From A TravelingMom
- Reservations are required during holiday breaks, like Presidents’ Day Weekend. Ski school sells out.
- Kids should be required to wear helmets.
- Remember: Beginner runs are not the same as GREEN runs. Just because it’s labeled green doesn’t mean your kids are ready to cruise down it after one lesson.
- Some ski schools offer half-day programs but not during school holidays. The ski resorts prefer full-day programs over holiday breaks.
- Kids learn to ski and snowboard faster than adults.
- Remember to sunscreen everyone’s face and keep lip balm in the pocket of each jacket.
- Pack some high energy snacks, like dried fruit, nuts, protein bars.
- Remember to hydrate. Put a bottle of water in jacket pockets and toast the mountain before or after every run.
- Grab your giant reusable bag, if you have one, to lug gear. Can’t be beat for ski boots and helmets