So you’ve decided to become a ski family. Congratulations! You’re about to discover one of the best ways to spend time together, regardless of how old your kids are. With one year under her ski belt, Indulgent TravelingMom Andrea Traynor offers you advice on everything from when to go and what to wear to how to navigate your first chair lift and the ultimate in child motivation on the slopes: bribery.
Less than a year ago, we needed tips as a first-time ski family. Big time. And now, we’re eagerly awaiting the first snowfall so we can get out our gear and get back on the slopes.
Although my husband had a few years’ worth of lessons when he was a kid, he was by no means a skilled skier. I’d been once during my university years with disastrous results and swore I’d never go again. My kids were what the ski instructors call “never-evers.”
We had no idea what we were in for, but approached skiing as an opportunity to learn something new together as a family.
And it stuck.
We became fanatical and ultimately skied every chance we could last season, heading to Tremblant in Quebec four times and trying out many hills and resorts in Ontario.
Preparing for your first family ski experience is daunting to say the least. What do we need to bring? What should we wear? Where should we stay?
Dear first-timers: let me help you prepare.
WHEN SHOULD FIRST-TIME SKI FAMILIES GO SKIING?
Like most travel, holidays, school breaks and weekends will be busiest. Going midweek or off-peak will mean fewer people on the slopes, which is best for beginners.
It can get pretty overwhelming when the hill is packed with skiers and boarders, especially when they’re whipping past you at Mach 5, so if it’s remotely possible to go during “low season,” do it.
WHAT SHOULD A NEW SKI FAMILY BUY?
Don’t buy anything. Yet.
Well, not the big stuff anyway. In addition to good-quality outdoor wear that you probably already have if you live in a winter climate (see below), good-fitting, fog-resistant goggles are worth the $40 to $100 investment for each family member.
Until you know whether this sport is for you, rentals are where it’s at. They should be properly fitted for each individual, so if helmets feel wobbly, boots are pinching or your skis are taller than you, request help from a different staffer at the rental shop. Bindings will need to be adjusted for novices to ensure skis come away from boots easily during a tumble, too.
Please do NOT borrow old ski gear from family or friends unless it’s last year’s stuff and has been properly serviced and fitted for you and your skill level. TravelingMom Tip: Downhill skis in particular have come a long way in the last few years, making it easier for new skiers to build their skills. Take advantage of the latest gear’s technology.
WHAT SHOULD WE WEAR?
Warm clothes are essential because they will make or break your experience.
You know how in the real estate world experts say “location, location, location”? Well, in the ski world, it’s “layers, layers, layers” – so come prepared. I prefer merino wool base layers because of its temperature-regulating properties. You don’t want anything that doesn’t breathe because any extra sweat can actually make you colder.
Waterproof ski jackets, pants and especially mitts are essential since weather in the mountains is unpredictable. We’ve skied in freezing rain and slush, and – trust me – you don’t want to be wet on a 30-minute run. Yuck.
Those little hot-packs that you can shove into boots and mitts? Absolutely get them for your kids’ hands but don’t bother with the feet. Our experience was that they got bunchy and uncomfortable in boots.
For other ski wear you may want to consider, check out this post on TravelingMom.
HOW CAN FAMILIES SAVE MONEY?
Skiing is expensive.
But you can find ways to save money. Many resorts offer family ski package deals that include lodging and lift tickets for each member of your brood. Some resorts will even add in lessons or other activity passes. If you don’t see something listed on the resort’s website, try calling the front desk. The worst they’ll tell you is no!
You can also often find discounted lift tickets if you buy them ahead of time. Google is your best bet.
Eating out for every meal can get costly. We like the option of having a condo-style room with a kitchen so we can at least eat breakfast at our home away from home. We save even more by ordering in pizza or making our own dinners as well – but not at the expense of indulging in at least one fabulous restaurant meal so you get the full resort experience.
Personally, I like to spring for lunch on the hill since I find packing them is a pain and proper storage isn’t always available. But making your own is definitely an option, too.
WE HAVE TICKETS AND RENTALS – NOW WHAT?
Take lessons. All of you.
If you can afford private lessons, you’ll be on your way faster. Be sure to reserve these in advance so you can do them at the same time as your kids. Group lessons are also very effective and shouldn’t be overlooked and some resorts offer fabulous deals on kids’ lesson packages (often including equipment rentals!).
HOW DO WE GET OUR KIDS ON THE CHAIR LIFT?
I wish someone had told me that (a) chair lifts are trickier than they appear, and (b) each lift operates differently. We’ve had our fair share of mishaps getting on and off lifts – many of which could have been avoided.
Watch the lift for a couple of minutes before getting on for the first time. Do this every time you ski at a new lift – even at the same resort.
How many people can get on a single chair? Does the floor move you forward? Or do you have to inch yourself up to the chair? Are there gates that stop you from moving into the loading area too early? Or do you have to stop yourself from racing ahead before it’s your turn? Can a staffer help you lift your kids on until you get the hang of it? How are people closing the bar and positioning their kids in the lift?
It’s important to know that the lift speed can be adjusted with a simple thumbs up or down to the operator and staff. This is key for families with little kids and new skiers. No one is going to be upset if you slow the lift down a bit to get on and off, but you will hear a few groans if the lift has to stop because you didn’t get on properly or fell getting off.
To ski or snowboard? That is the question. And you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.
We planned to trying skiing our first time out and snowboarding the next, but decided to keep working on our ski skills once we’d invested in lessons. Just do what makes sense for and interests your family members.
Start out with half-days and work your way up. Skiing is very physically challenging and when you’re first learning, it’s mentally challenging too. If you’ve rented a room at a great resort where there’s more to do that just ski, there’s probably no shortage of activities to fill the rest of your day.
If you have older kids, and they’ll be skiing without you, have a designated meeting time and area mapped out ahead of time. While there are some resorts that tag little kids with GPS trackers, it probably won’t be the case with teens and you obviously need to know that they’re safe throughout the day – without relying on cellphone service.
Be patient with yourself and know that it’s OK for your kids to see you fall. Mine watched me make mistake after mistake and wipe out a dozen times before I got the hang of the hill. They both told me that it made them feel less anxious and embarrassed about falling themselves.
Oh, and don’t be surprised if your kids learn faster than you. My five-year-old was a beast on the hill by the end of the season, conquering black diamonds with ease. The tricky part became following her, so I had no choice but to up my game.
Last but not least, bribery is a wonderful thing to keep kids motivated. Put a small pack of candy or a favourite treat in their coat pockets and let instructors know that they have full authority to dole it out for a job well done.
And, hey – don’t forget to have fun and reward yourself either.