When winter is in full swing, families start thinking about a ski or snowboarding vacation and signing their kids up for lessons. But how do you know which ski resort is the best for your kids? Who is your perfect ski instructor? How does ski school work? Are your kids safe when you leave them? These questions and more go through a parent’s mind. TravelingMom asked Colorado ski instructor Trish O’Connell to weigh in and offer 16 tips for putting your kids in ski school.
Whether a first time skier or a seasoned pro, planning a ski or snowboarding vacation with the kids can be stressful. In addition to the logistics of actually getting to your ski resort destination, there’s the stress of putting your kids in the hands of strangers. Even when these strangers are trained and professional ski instructors. Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) 2014/15 Instructor of the Year, Trish O’Connell from Steamboat Ski Resort, shares her expert advice on ways to ensure your child has a fun, safe and educational ski school experience with 16 tips for putting your kids in Ski School.
1) What is the ideal age to start a kid skiing? Snowboarding?
Trish O’Connell: This varies with each child. Most ski schools accept children in group lessons at 3-years-old. Snowboard equipment is now available for kids this age as well and many do great. If the child is potty trained, not in need of a nap, follows directions, and generally is comfortable with other kids and adults, they should do well in ski school. It’s also important that they are excited to ski! Pushing too early only sets them back.
2) When are you too old or too young to take lessons?
NEVER TOO OLD TO TAKE LESSONS! EVER! The equipment is user friendly and helps makes skiing almost effortless. If you have a desire to ski, you can do it. As for too young….as long as the child can stand they can ski. With that said, don’t push. Whether a child starts at two or five they will be at basically the same level by the time they are six. If they have fun sliding on skis, go for it. If they have more fun sliding on snow without skis….let them.
3) What is the advantage of a full-day lesson over a half-day lesson?
A full day lesson provides a much better pace for children to learn. It allows them to develop a relationship with the instructor and the other kids in class. Having lunch as a group is often the most fun part of the day. Instructors are great at telling jokes and stories and doing different activities that help kids relax and enjoy the day. Typically, skills are introduced in the morning and the afternoon gives them time to practice and explore.
4) What advantages does a group lesson provide over a private lesson?
Group lesson versus private is a choice that depends on each family and how the child learns best. Many, if not most, kids thrive in a group setting. They are used to being in school and often learn from watching others. It’s helpful for them to see their peers doing the same thing as they are. However, it totally depends on the child, some kids struggle with all the excitement around them and do better one on one.
5) When considering enrolling kids in ski school, where should parents start?
Your preferred ski resort website is a great place to start. If there are still unanswered questions, call the ski school directly. They are happy to assist and may help to put parents’ minds at ease.
6) What equipment is required for the student? What equipment does the resort provide?
Every resort is different but most resorts require kids to wear a helmet and almost all ski shops have them for rent. Skis, boots, ski clothing, goggles and good gloves or mittens are required for all skiers.
7) Is the ski pass included or sold separately?
This varies with each resort but most all ski resorts require a lift ticket.
8) What are the top three considerations parents should note when enrolling kids in ski school?
First of all, make a reservation. At busy times ski schools fill up. Second, make sure the child is dressed appropriately for the weather and everything is clearly labeled with their name. Dressing in layers is best. Helmet, goggles, good gloves or mittens, and sunscreen are essential. Third, note the time of lesson and arrive 15 minutes early to avoid stress. Also, be on time for pickup. The child will be anxious to show what they have learned!
9) What can parents do before the lesson to prep the child for ski school?
While it’s a good idea to talk about what the child can expect, I recommend keeping it brief. The more a child thinks about things the more stress it can cause, especially the unknown. Making sure they know there will be someone to take care of them and feed them is usually enough. Basics, like a good night’s sleep, healthy breakfast, and hydration are always good. Allowing time for a trip to bathroom before the lesson is a must. Many resorts have pictures and videos on their websites of kids in ski school. This can help ease their minds as well as let them know what to expect.
10) What qualifications do ski instructors have to achieve in order to teach kids?
Resorts differ on this as well but typically instructors are trained on physical and mental developmental stages for children. When resorts hire instructors they are looking for patient people that enjoy kids.
11) Talk about what ski schools do to keep kids safe during the lesson?
Safety is the main priority in ski school. Most resorts have special bibs for kids in preschool. They are brightly colored and easily identifiable to area employees. Lifts are slowed for them to get on and off and they will typically ride with an adult. Many areas have tracking devices for all kids in ski school. Also, instructors have extensive training in safety. The kids will be hydrated, wear sunscreen, kept warm, and fed when hungry! They ski on appropriate terrain. Most lessons incorporate Your Responsibility Code. Kids that come out of ski schools usually have the best etiquette and safety awareness of all those on the mountain!
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12) What is taught to the kids about safety during the lesson?
Their safety and the safety of the other skiers is stressed as the top priority of the day. Your Responsibility Code is taught with the emphasis on always skiing in control! Instructors spend quite a bit of time on lift riding as well.
13) What can parents expect their kids to have learned after one lesson? Three lessons? Five lessons?
Again, different for every child but hopefully they will learn how to put on equipment, walk on their skis, glide and be able to stop after the first day. Three lessons typically has them riding a chairlift, turning, and comfortable on green runs. After five they may be exploring steeper terrain. Mental and physical development play a huge part in progress. Also, their desire to ski and motivation for skiing make a big difference. Skills acquired and actual achievement are not nearly as important as having them develop a love for the sport. If after a week they are still happy to put their skis on, even if they are only walking, it has been a success!
14) What would you tell the parent who is concerned about budget? Safety?
Of all the components of a ski vacation, lessons are the most important. Having a safe and independent skier is worth the expense. It is always a good idea to look online for deals. As for safety, every effort is made by the resort and the instructor to keep people safe. It is truly the top priority. Try not to let your fears show to your child. It is extremely hard to learn new skills if there is fear. One of the things that makes skiing fun is the excitement and adventure. It is part of the sport. Embrace it! (or at least embrace it in front of your child).
15) How can a multigenerational family make the most of a ski / snowboarding trip when not all are skiers (due to health)?
There are many ways to have a multigenerational vacation. The gondola will transport non-skiers to the top of the mountain. From there you can snowshoe on easy trails or just take in the view and join your family for lunch or photos. The Strawberry park Hot springs are a great way to enjoy the scenery and outdoors. Steamboat has an authentic western downtown. There are numerous shops and restaurants to enjoy. It is fun to just absorb the friendliness and hospitality of our great community.
16) Why do you enjoy teaching kids to ski?
Kid are great! They have boundless energy, excitement and optimism. They are eager to please and impress. I am in awe of the trust they put in the instructor. They try their best to do what is asked of them and because they rarely think of consequences, they are usually successful. Teaching kids helps keep the kid in each of us going strong. Over a day’s time, I learn more from the kids then they probably learn from me.
Steamboat is Rated North America’s #1 Family Resort.
TravelingMom asked Colorado ski instructor Trish O’Connell to tell us why she feels Steamboat Springs is renowned for its family programs. She told us:
“Kids ski programs, kids-only terrain and lifts, and family vacation deals like Kids Ski Free™, are just a few reasons why Steamboat is rated North America’s #1 Family Resort. The kids ski program enables a seamless drop-off right at the ski school and has special GPS units that allow supervisors to track children on the mountain. The kids can go online at the end of the day, plug in their number and see exactly where they skied. Another highlight is the terrain. Steamboat has an incredible amount of intermediate terrain great for family skiing. There is also plenty of challenging terrain for those whose skills are improving rapidly! There are numerous terrain parks and kids play zones scattered around the mountain.”
“There are an abundance of activities off the mountain as well. Horseback riding, sleigh rides, tubing, ice skating, hot springs, snowmobiling and dog sledding are a few of the many activities to engage in and help create wonderful family memories,” O’Connell points out.
She adds, “I am sure many of the Colorado Ski resorts have great family programs. I think what makes Steamboat stand out the most is we are a top-notch authentic town with a first class resort. Steamboat is truly a wonderful community, a tremendous place to live, and a great place to raise a family. I think the joy that we take living here transfers over to our guests. We take a lot of pride in our town and it is important to us that our visitors enjoy their stay.”
What Are You Waiting for? Book Your Family Ski or Snowboard Vacation Now.
Finally, two more tips and words of encouragement for putting your kids (and adults) in ski school from Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA):
Anyone Can Learn To Ski Or Snowboard.
Across CSCUSA there are a myriad of learning programs covering all ages, abilities, and disciplines. Resorts offer imaginative lessons including groups, privates, semi-privates, family privates, adaptive, terrain park specific, bumps specific, kids’ telemark skiing, teens only, and more.
Ski School Can Be Affordable, Hassle-Free And Is Often The Highlight Of Kids Resort Experience.
January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard month in many ski resorts throughout the United States. Discounted lesson programs and packages can be found at all CSCUSA resorts and at participating ski resorts. Lesson packages sometimes include rental equipment, lift ticket and lunch. Kids love being with other kids while exploring parts of the resort designed especially for kids.