Ever since my son was born, I’ve been counting down the days until I could share my passion for skiing with him—the time has finally come to hit the hill! Woo-whooo!
Last winter we gave him a taste of life on planks. He was only 15 months old but could walk well and was strong enough (and interested!) to try out his first pair of skis. As a former ski racer and instructor working with kids from 2-15 years old, I knew a few tricks to get him started and I’ll share them with you as well!
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT—Similar to other sports, I believe comfort is KEY! There are a lot of amazing skis out there but buy appropriately for your child’s ability and size. I’m a big believer in buying used but make sure it’s still in good condition and the quality is there. We bought a used pair of light plastic skis to start. (You can find similar pairs at MEC) This allowed us to avoid buying ski boots and actually made it possible for him to do some basic maneuvering. (I don’t recommend these skis if you are going to try going downhill – these are more to get a feel of having planks on your feet). Keep in mind, he was 15 months old and we didn’t want to overwhelm him.
If your child is older, skip to real equipment but make sure to check local stores in your area for buy back programs. Ski equipment is expensive and kids grow fast! Many stores will “buy-back” your previous year’s equipment and discount the amount from your new purchase. We bought our skis from Abominable Sports and boots from Mountain Cultures.
2. EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST—In my personal opinion (and having worked at a local ski store for 3 years) it’s best to prioritize boots and proper fit over anything else. If your kid’s feet aren’t comfortable and warm, they won’t last long and skiing will quickly become a painful memory. Next, skis. At this point your kid won’t be carving or needing ultimate performance. In my humble opinion, find some good graphics and a price point that fits your budget. Depending on how much you’re planning to get out, and if you can pass them down to younger siblings, buying can be cheaper than renting in the long run. And poles…FORGET ABOUT POLES! Every kid wants them and begs for them but they are not required. In fact, they work against you when you’re trying to learn.
3. START ON A SMOOTH SURFACE—You don’t need an actual ski hill to start learning. Find a smooth, packed strip of snow, and have your child stand in their equipment. (We practiced in Confederation Park for all you Calgary folks). Depending on age and strength, this can be more challenging than it sounds. Next, get them to stomp their feet. Once they get a feel for the skis, have them take small steps forward. Eventually show them how to advance in a gliding motion. Have them play some games that get them stepping and gliding with their skis. And when I say “glide” it will probably look more like an awkward, waddle, shuffle sort of thing. Some suggestions to get moving include tick-tocking in a circle (standing in one spot and stepping the skis around like the handles of a clock), doing the Hokey-Pokey (sliding a ski in and out, shaking it in the air), or making a ski track for them to follow.
If you’ve made it to this point (nice work!), now you will want them to get a feel for pushing their feet outwards. Try getting them to push their feet out to the side one at a time (like a slide slip out). Next, hold their tips together and have them push out to make “a pizza”. This requires some leg strength and coordination so younger kids may not get it—in fact, you may notice that they just knock their knees together. Help give them a sense of which muscles to activate by pushing their skis out into the position or asking them to push their ski into your hand. This is something you can practice lots at home before going to a hill. It’s fun to be at the hill but it can also be a lot more distracting.
4. DEVELOP BALANCE—Balancing on skis is one thing, but balancing on the move is another. Get your kid to put their skis straight and push them along (did I mention these steps can also be used for a workout routine ha). You’ll notice that they will probably either bend at the waist or start to fall backwards into your hand. If that’s the case, get them to put their hands on their knees. Eventually try gliding them along with some speed and letting go so they can adjust and balance on their own.
Once your kid can stay somewhat balanced, repeat on a small incline. This will give them a taste for speed which they will either find thrilling or scary. You may want to stay on this step for awhile as they get the hang of things.
5. MAKE A “PIZZA”—Once your kid is feeling well balanced on their skis, it’s a good time to practice making those pizzas again! Remember they may need your help to slide their skis into the correct formation until they develop the muscle memory. If you find yourself getting discouraged because your kid isn’t quite getting it or just wants to go fast down the hill, have no fear. The pizza can take a while to master and there are a few tricks!
Pizzas can be really hard for little legs to do stationary so it’s best to find a low-grade incline. Snow conditions can also make it challenging if it’s “sticky”, clumpy, or very icy. Before going down the run, have your child start in a pizza. You may have to hold their tips together and help them slide into formation. Slowly pull their skis forward. They will most likely start to straighten their skis once they begin to move. Stop, and ask them to pizza again. After practicing the pizza once or twice, let them ride it out and have some fun. To distract them from the pressure of making a pizza at the beginning of each run, try to work it into a habit or routine. I ask my son to look for skiers and make sure the hill is clear while I place his skis into the formation—this will not only help teach good habits but it also makes things feel less “directional”.
Eventually they will start to initiate the pizza on their own and may experiment making it on the move. It may start super small but if you see their knees knocking or a small pizza forming, make sure to cheer! Eventually it will come but could take a few trips to the hill. Depending on your child’s strength and age, there’s also a great device called an Edgie Wedgie that can help immensely! Click here to read more about it.
6. START-STOP—Once they can make a pizza on command, you can start getting them to practice making it bigger and smaller. Slowly, they will begin to feel the added control and you can begin teaching them to stop. I’d love to make this one sound simple but I normally expect lots of Red Light, Green Light games where kids go flying. That’s an exaggeration but honestly, stopping is something kids learn by “feeling it” in my opinion. This can take awhile to learn and throughout the process, it may be tempting to throw in the towel and just buy a harness. What are my thoughts on harnesses? Well, that deserves a separate article…
DON’T MAKE IT FEEL LIKE LEARNING—It’s easy to get stuck in “parent mode” but the best teaching happens when it doesn’t feel like teaching. Coming up with games and taking breaks is important. I like to pretend we’re squishing bugs to practice stomping. Stuck with glue to slide. I also making lots of swishing sounds as we go along. Asking them what their favourite pizza is and then “making it”…you get the idea.
Keep in mind, 15-30min on skis can be a solid day for a toddler. Grab a break with some water and/or snack. Play a bit of chase in the boots or roll around in the snow. You’ll find this helps re-focus them if they start getting restless. If they really want to pack it in, go with the flow and call it a day. I know it’s hard to get out and a short afternoon can be frustrating but it’s not worth the battles if they end up hating it.
As you can see, it can take “a bit” of work to get kids started but I GUARANTEE it’s worth the effort. Once they can balance and stop, they will progress exponentially. You’ll notice I didn’t talk about getting up or turning. Those deserve posts of their own and your eyes deserve a break at this point as well 🙂
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