The Complete Guide To Skiing with Kids

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So you’re determined that this is the year that you get the whole family on skis!  Congratulations!  

Now whether the idea of skiing with your kids terrifies you or excites you, we’ve got the tips and tricks that you need for a successful ski trip with kids.

First of all, remember that skiing with kids is no walk in the park.  Trust me – we’ve got 5 kids so I know EXACTLY how challenging it can be.  The good news is that I know exactly how fun and rewarding it can be to ski as a family as well.  The good days outweigh the bad and the smiles always outnumber the tears – I promise!  

big family skiing

Now, before you go on, I want you to know that I’ve had TONS of experience skiing with kids, so I really do know what I’m talking about.  For starters, I began skiing when I was just 4-years-old, and grew up skiing in the Rocky Mountains.  My husband and I are both advanced skiers and each worked our way through college as ski instructors in the winters, teaching hundreds of kids to ski, and actually met each other on a chairlift at Snowbird Utah.  Since then, we’ve had 5 kids, and they’ve all been skiing since they were toddlers.

I figured it out the other day, and my husband and I have been teaching our own kids to ski for the last 12 years STRAIGHT!  That’s a lot of time on the bunny hill skiing! So we really have seen pretty much everything about skiing with kids, and have gotten so many questions through the years, which we’ll attempt to answer below.

mom and kids skiing

The overall goal of skiing with kids is to get them to LOVE skiing for life, so everything that we do is designed so that skiing is FUN.  As soon as it stops being fun, we either take a break or call it a day. If done right, you can create kids who love skiing for life.  However, if you push your kids too hard or get them on difficult terrain too soon, you can make them hate the sport for life.  

Here are the most common ski questions that we are asked:

At what age can kids start skiing?

Truthfully, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of when the best time to teach kids to ski is, but I think that younger is always better.  We have 5 kids and 4 of them were learning to ski at age 1.5 (the last one didn’t learn until he was 3 because we were living in the Middle East).  We are definitely on the early side of things when it comes to skiing with our kids.  

two babies skiing

Since my husband and I both LOVE to ski so much, we knew that we wouldn’t be taking off a few years of skiing just because we had little kids (and resort daycare is $$$ so that’s not happening), so we decided to take them skiing with us.  Toddlers usually can’t do much on skis, but we’d much rather be on the bunny hill with a toddler than stuck at home!  

dad and baby skiing

Generally speaking, I think that 3 or 4 is a great age to start skiing.  If you are planning on putting your kids into ski school, most programs won’t take kids in group lessons until they are at least 4-years-old so keep that in mind.  We’ve taught all our kids to ski on our own so that gives us some flexibility (read all about our favorite way to teach toddlers to ski).   

Just for fun, I wanted to share this clip of our 1.5 year old skiing from last season!

Also, when you are trying to determine the best age for your kids to ski, think about their personality.  Right now our 2-year-old is more stoked about skiing than just about anyone I know, but every kid is different.  

Most of all, remember that you don’t want skiing do be a one and done experience.  If it stops being fun, take a break and try again later. Make sure to read this article on how to help a reluctant skier if your child is struggling.

If you wait until your kids are well into their teen years to learn to ski, they’ll have more fears and reservations about learning.  Yes, it’s still possible and plenty of people learn to ski as adults, it’s just one of those things that kids pick up really easily.

Should I put my kids in ski school or teach them myself?

Don’t worry, we know that there plenty of success stories of people who learned to ski without attending ski school, our kids are some of them.  We also know of many examples of individuals or families who’ve dropped the sport all together because of inadequate instruction.

ski school with ski instructor

Again, this question will depend a lot on your skiing abilities as well as the temperment of your child.  For an in depth discussion on the pros and cons, make sure to read teaching your kids to ski vs putting them in ski school.  I go through what you should teach them if your go the DIY route, and when ski school is the best option.  

small kids skiing

Here are a few other questions to get you thinking about whether ski school is a good fit for your family:

  1. Am I at least a solid intermediate skier (confident on all blue runs).  If not, put your kids in ski school.
  2. Are my kids excited about skiing?  Then ski school is probably a good idea.
  3. Is this my kids first day skiing?  If so, and you’re a solid skier, teach them how to stop THEN put them in lessons.  Those first few days can be a bit tricky for kids, but they’re not difficult to teach.  Save hiring an expert for when your kids need to learn something that’s hard for you to teach.
  4. Can I afford ski school?  Ski school is often $150-$300/ per day for group lessons + lift ticket costs.  That adds up fast, and a ski trip is a lot cheaper without ski school.  
  5. How patient are you feeling?  Teaching kids to ski is not for the short tempered!
  6. Are you okay giving up “your” ski time to be on the bunny hill with your kids?  If you’ve just got a short trip planned, ski school could be your ticket to free skiing for a day or two.
  7. What age are your kids?  Most ski schools take kids from 4-12 in group lessons and ages 13+ in adult lessons.  

What is the best way to teach kids to ski?

Everyone really wants to know what the best way to teach kids to ski is. We have personally taught all 5 of our kids to ski and we have found that the best way is to ski backwards in a wedge and to maintain eye contact with your kids.  Not only will they have lots of fun with us (yes, you should make lots of silly faces), but if they are looking at you, they’re more likely to stay in control while they are skiing.  The most important skill for kids to learn is to STOP, and you should never take a child up the mountain who doesn’t know how to stop. Resorts all have learning areas designed for kids to learn to stop, so if you don’t notice one, ask a ski instructor.  

baby skiing with mom

If you’re uncomfortable skiing backwards (this requires lots of looking over your shoulder and good spatial awareness), you’ll be just fine skiing down forwards.  Just remember to model what you want your child to do, which is ski in a wedge shape, making smooth big turns.  

If you’re teaching a toddler to ski you need to read our article focused on that for some really helpful tips.

How do I teach my kids how to stop on skis?

For kids, the wedge is is hands down the best stopping technique around, so get ready for lots of PIZZAS!  Basically, getting them slightly on the inside edges of their skis and making a triangle shape will stop them in an instant.

baby skiing with edgie wedgie

The only problem is that young kids don’t know what an edge is, let alone a triangle or wedge (which is why it’s often referred to as a pizza stop – kids KNOW pizza).  An Edgie Wedgie solves that, and is our #1 suggested ski tool that every parent should buy (don’t worry, they’re cheap). 

An Edgie Wedgie is essentially a bungee cord that clamps onto the tips of the skis to keep them close together, while still allowing some wiggle room.  It helps so their skis don’t cross, legs don’t get tangled, and it makes forming a wedge about as easy as can be. Truly! All you have to do is spread your legs apart and VOILA!  WEDGE! This is priceless, especially when skiing with toddlers (or anyone under the age of 6 for that matter). Actually, I’ve used them to teach kids as old as 8 to ski, so if you’ve got a kid, make sure to get an edgie wedgie in advance to save a few dollars on the resort prices and have LOTS less tears (both from you and your child)

toddler skiing with edgie wedgie

Should I use an edgie wedgie to teach my kids how to ski?

I’ve spent A LOT of time on the bunny hill teaching our 5 kids how to ski, and I’m surprised how many parents AREN’T using an edgie wedgie. 

 I look at the parents who aren’t using it and pleasantly smile at them, practically begging them to ask me for advice.  In my mind I’m screaming at them “stop being so crazy – this will be a whole lot easier and less stressful on you and your kids if you’ll just fork over the $15 and buy an Edgie Wedgie”, but instead of speaking up, I just smile invitingly (because no parent wants to be told they are doing something wrong ESPECIALLY when they’re frustrated).

dad and baby skiing

Honestly, all I do is tell my kids to make their legs BIG (our code for spread them apart) and magically we get a wedge.  When I want them to go, I tell them to make their legs smaller or do “french fries” and they take off again. When I say this works wonders, this is the reason we’ve been able to ski with toddlers – an edgie wedgie.  

kids skiing with edgie wedgie

What a lot of it comes down to is muscle memory.  When little kids are skiing, there are a lot of new things to master and muscle memory is a major part of that.  The Edgie Wedgie is pretty much the best tool around to help kids figure out that muscle memory so they can focus on figuring out the rest of skiing.  As soon as they can consistently make a stopping wedge, take it off. If might take a day to figure out a wedge, or it could take a couple of seasons (my daughter wore one for 2.5 seasons)s…either way, it’s all just fine.  When your kids have the strength, confidence, and desire, they’ll be able to get it off (no worries folks, I’ve never seen a 10-year-old who still needs one).

skiing with an edgie wedgie

Downsides of teaching kids to ski with an Edgie Wedgie

On the downside, with an Edgie Wedgie on, kids can’t walk uphill (sidestepping or duck-walking) or shuffle fast because their tips are stuck together.  I’ve talked to parents who have avoided using an edgie wedgie for years because they wanted to have their kids be able to shuffle better. Their kids may not know how to stop after a few years of skiing, but they can sure glide and shuffle across the flats. 

When you get an edgie wedgie, make sure to get one that tightens down like a vice instead of an edgie wedgie that just clamps down with teeth on the bottom.  We ruined 2 pairs of skis with one because it wouldn’t hold still and the teeth ate in deep into the bottom of the skis (not sure why it took us 2 ruined pairs to learn this)

This is an example of what NOT to get:

What should my kids wear to ski?

The first thing that you need to consider when picking ski gear for your kids is that all their outerwear needs to be WATERPROOF, especially if they’re just starting out (since they’ll be falling down more).  Waterproof snow pants, a warm waterproof coat (read the best waterproof ski coats for kids), and especially waterproof gloves or mittens (read all about our test of the best kids gloves and mittens to see our recommendations).  

teach your kids to ski

We also always wear wool ski socks that go up over their calves.  Our favorites are these socks and these socks, which have lasted through several of our kids!  Kids should be fine with 2 pairs of socks (one to wear and a backup), and since wool helps repel odors, you can wear them more than once if needed.

Base layers are also an important piece and we recommend either a synthetic or a merino wool base layer.  The best rule of thumb to follow with kids clothing is that if it’s going to touch the skin, cotton is THE WORST!  Seriously, it gets cold and wet and stays cold and wet, so just avoid it!  

How do I know if my kids helmet fits right?

Luckily, helmets are one of the easiest pieces of gear for you to get a perfect fit.  If it fits properly, a helmet should fit snuggly and not twist or wobble around. If you have to force the helmet on, or if it’s sitting really high on the head, those are both signs that the helmet is too small.

mom and kids skiing

Today, most good helmets come with adjustable dials in the back.  Those are lifesavers when getting a good fit, and allow you to get several seasons of use out of a helmet, even if your kids head grows.  

Check out this list for some great ski helmets for kids (make sure to measure your child’s head before buying!)

Should my kids wear a harness when learning how to ski?

Harnesses can be great or they can be horrible depending on how they are used in ski instruction, so make sure you’re using a ski harness the right way

ski with baby
Dad using a Harness to teach a toddler to ski

When you’re teaching your kids how to ski, helping them have good balance is one of the most important skills they can learn.  If your kids are anything like mine, they second I hold onto them, they basically turn into a limp noodle and all balance goes out the window.

So imagine if you will, a big dog running at full speed down the street while dragging its owner on the leash.  This is NOT what you want skiing with a harness to be. Yes, there are leashes, and yes they can be helpful, but 95% of the time they should be loose and your child should never feel you tug on them.  If you want to use a ski harness to teach your kids, read my article on how to use a ski harness the right way to make sure that you don’t totally mess up your kids balance and confidence.  

What ski harness is the best?

If you want one that can do a bit of everything, we use this ski harness for a few different reasons.  I LOVE the handle on the back because it helps me get my little ones on and off the lift (and hold them on when they get squirmy), and it comes in handy when they need help getting up (without breaking my back).  This ski harness also does have leashes in it, but the leashes have elastic attached to them, so if you do use them, it doesn’t jerk your kid around – this is HUGE.  

Truthfully, I think that every parent should get a ski harness, just for the little handle, but if you do want it as a teaching tool, make sure to read Using A Ski Harness the Right Way.  

Do kids need to wear goggles when skiing?

While goggles may seem unnecessary for beginners, I always recommend wearing them for a few reasons.

  1.  Goggles help protect your eyes from the sun.  When the sun hits the snow, it reflects back at your face and can cause a lot of damage to the eyes and skin in the long term.  
  2. Goggles keep your face warm.  Since goggles cover almost half of your face, they really do a great job at keeping wind and snow off your face.

Here are some nice kids goggles that are also very budget friendly. If you don’t have goggles, at the very least, make sure you are wearing sunglasses.  

Should I buy my kids ski gear or rent it?  

While most people think that renting is the best option for kids ski gear, it’s actually the other way around.  Unless you’re just planning on skiing a couple days a year for a ski holiday, buying your kids skis is the best deal.  

little girl carrying skis

Where is the cheapest place to buy kids ski equipment?

Used kids ski gear can be a great deal, and the best part is that it’s usually in GREAT shape (it’s hard for kids to beat ski gear up too much).  Used kids ski and boot sets can often be found on used sites like craigslist or on facebook for about $75 for a set. If you go to a used ski shop, you can often find a kids set up for about $100. 

If you plan even earlier in the year, you can go to fall ski swaps.  We usually find higher end equipment at ski swaps for much lower prices.  Last season we bought our 12-year-old a high end set of skis, custom boots, and poles for $65.  The entire set-up would have cost well over $700 new, and it was all still in great shape.  

little boys skiing together

Are season long ski rentals a good deal?

Many ski shops offer season long rentals and will allow you to trade in equipment if your child grows in the middle of the season.  This can be a good option, but if there are younger siblings to pass the equipment on to, just buy it outright. A season long rental is usually about the same price as buying the equipment used, and even if you don’t pass it on, you can always sell the equipment that you buy your kids.  Considering that you’re not getting new equipment, it’s usually not the best value, though it can be an okay option. It’s certainly cheaper than renting single days throughout the year and then you always have your gear on hand when it snows!

What kids skis are the best?

Luckily, unless your kids are competitive skiers or racers, it doesn’t matter too much what skis they are riding on (at least until they’re skiing black diamonds regularly).  Look for skis that are a little shaped (wider on each end and skinnier in the middle), and aren’t too beat up. Easy, right?!?

The skis don’t matter as much as the fit of the skis does, since having skis that are too big will be really difficult.  If your child is just learning to ski, they should have skis that are about shoulder height. If they are intermediate to advanced skiers, look for a ski that when held up, hits them around the face area.  You probably don’t want skis that are taller than your child’s forehead, but going a little shorter than the chin can be fine.  

How long will kids be able to ski at one time?

For really young kids (ages 4 and under), plan on a 2:1 ratio of lodge to ski time.  So for every 2 hours in the lodge, they will usually be able to ski for one hour. Some kids are totally different, and will need more lodge time and others will need less.  

Our 2-year-old wants to do everything that his older siblings do and we were shocked when we realized that he can ski 3-4 hours straight, take a lunch break and then ski a bit more.  

As a general rule of thumb, we say that if it stops being fun, we stop skiing.  We are hoping to build lifelong skiers, and if they start to hate skiing, we’ve pretty much ruined that.  When kids are tired, grouchy, or just feeling off, we call it a day and try again later.

How many days in a row can kids ski?  

Most kids can only ski 2 consecutive days.  If you’re planning a family ski trip, plan on taking every third day off from the slopes.  Head out ice skating, sledding or even take it slow and go see a movie. Going too many days in a row, will make it hard for kids to maintain their energy and they’ll probably start getting grouchy.  

What are the best ways to save money while skiing?

If you want to make skiing affordable, there are several things that you can do that will end up saving you A LOT of money.

  1.  Be selective about where you ski.
    The best way to save money on your skiing is to be selective about where you ski.  If you’re just getting started with skiing or your kids are learning, skip the big expensive resorts and search for small resorts that are within a few hours drive.  You can often save 50% or more by going to a smaller and less popular resort.  Check out our list of secret family ski resorts in the Rockies if you need a place to start.
  2. Buy packs of tickets instead of day passes.
    Start looking in the fall for deals where many resorts will offer 4 or 10 packs of tickets as heavily discounted prices.  These are often transferable so getting a couple could work for the entire family. If you can’t find those, buy your tickets online at Liftopia, where you can get some pretty amazing discounts off the resort prices.  
  3. Find a resort where kids ski free.   
    While most resorts allow really young kids (often 5 and under) to ski free, there are a few outliers where kids up to age 10 (like at Brighton Resort in Utah) and even 12 in some cases (Mount Bachelor and June Mountain).  Doing a little research can save tons of money.  
  4.  Buy season passes.  
    If you’re planning on skiing several days in one season, buying a season pass is often much cheaper in the long run.  In the off season, many resorts have steeply discounted season passes that are considerably cheaper than a week of skiing would be.  This is how our family of 7 is able to ski so many days every year. It’s also nice to have season passes if you have young kids, so you don’t feel like you just wasted a ton of money when your kids only last for 2 hours of skiing before you go back home. 
  5. Buy your ski equipment.   
    Ski gear lasts A LONG time.  My husband and I have both been skiing on the same ski boots for over 15 years, and our skis aren’t much newer.  We generally buy skis for our oldest son (we typically buy used and spend about $75-100 for a full set up) and then we pass those down through the other 4 kids in our family.  The major exception is kids ski boots. We absolutely LOVE Roces adjustble ski boots and think they’re a much better value (and quality) than used boots.  
  6. Look for deals for first-time skiers.
    Lots of resorts will have special deals for first-time skiers.  These vary but may include free lift tickets, discounted lessons, and deals on ski rentals.  January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month so look for the best deals then.
  7. Stay overnight away from the ski hill.
    I
    f you’re traveling for a ski holiday, go somewhere that you don’t have to stay at the base village.  Lodging prices at ski resorts are often 3 times as high as cities. Where we ski in Utah, lodging right at the base of Park City Mountain would easily cost our family over $1000/night, but if I stay 30 minutes away in Salt Lake City, I can get a room at the Homewood Suites for only $150 a night.  Those are some big ticket savings!
  8. Buy good outerwear.
    I know that they’re just kids and you don’t want to spend a fortune, but when it comes to outerwear, you get what you pay for.  If you want any chance of coats, snow pants, and gloves lasting more than one season, buy high-quality gear.  

    I learned this lesson the hard way when I used to buy mittens for our kids at Costco every year for $20.  Around February, they would start leaking and not being as warm and so I’d go buy everyone another pair, putting about $40 towards gloves each season per kid.  Now we buy gloves that are a bit more expensive the first time around and they last for YEARS.

    If you’re looking for great outerwear for the whole family that doesn’t break the bank, I can’t say enough good things about Boulder Gear.  Our whole family wears their gear and we absolutely love it. We’ve been using their outerwear since our kids were little and it’s some of the best quality for the price that we’ve ever found (+ their kids gear has a grow system so the kids can wear it for several years)
Boulder Gear Ski Outerwear
Decked out in our favorite brand, Boulder Gear

How to ski with kids of different ability levels

Our 5 kids are ages 12, 10, 7, 5, and 2, so naturally we have a wide range of ability levels in our family.  Although it’s difficult, we prioritize skiing together, and do so for a big chunk of our day. Here are some of the things we do to ski with kids of different abilities.

family of kids skiing together
  1.  We find trails with lots of variety to keep everyone entertained.  Right off our normal beginner hill is a trail through the trees with lots of jumps and obstacles that the older kids love to do while the little kids work on their skills.  
  2. Buddy up on hard terrain.  When the older kids really want to ski something harder, my husband and I each buddy up with one of our little ones and are right next to them the entire time, and sometimes even side-slip down a hill with them if it’s too hard for them.   
  3. Let the older kids ski alone.  For the second half of the day, our older kids (ages 10 and 12) are allowed to ski together on designated runs.  They know what runs they are allowed to ski on and we have set up stopping points along the way, so they always wait for each other.  All of the runs that they are allowed to ski on alone are pretty easy for them, so we don’t worry as much. They also share a flip phone that they take with them in case of an emergency where they need us to help them.  Note: Make sure that your kids are VERY good skiers before letting them ski alone.
  4. Divide and conquer.  We often split the family up for a few hours with one parent taking the younger kids and the other taking the older kids.  This is when our older kids really get to try harder terrain out, and go FAST.  
  5. Split up on runs.  If you know the mountain you are skiing on well, it’s easy to split up for part of a run.  If one section is a steep blue, see if there’s an easier green to get around it, and meet up again at the bottom.
kids skiing

Skiing with kids of different ages is a balancing act for sure and it’s ever evolving.

How to keep kids entertained while skiing

Like I mentioned at the beginning, our biggest goal when skiing with our kids is to keep everything FUN.  That means that we play lots of games, let the kids ski off jumps and through the trees, and we always pass out treats on the chairlift.  We like to think of skiing as a team sport in our family.

man and boy skiing

We ski together for at least half the day (more on how we handle that below) and cheer each other on A LOT.  Dad is always complimenting the kids on the BIG AIR they get when they go off jumps, and at least once per run, one of the kids will yell “incoming” as a warning and before I know it, they’re skiing between my legs.  As long as we set the tone to be fun, the kids will follow.

We also reward our kids with treats on the chairlift EVERY TIME. Usually its a couple of M&M’s or some TicTacs (have you tried this amazing flavor of TicTacs – our kids are obsessed), but it gives them something to look forward to throughout the day.

How do I make sure my child doesn’t fall off the ski chairlift

Chairlifts and kids are honestly a horrible combination. Yes, I’m still traumatized from the slippery pink snow pants from my childhood that led me to slip off the chairlift several times (which was probably only 2-3 feet, but FELT like 10 feet to my 6-year-old self).
Many chairlifts have safety bars, so always make sure to use that if there is one on your lift. However, even with the safety bar, young kids can still fall off. This is the real reason that our young kids ski with a harness – so I can always hold onto them on the chairlift. Yes, I keep one hand on the harness handle the entire time. Maybe it’s overkill, but when you’ve got an intense game of I Spy going on and your 3-year-old gets super excited when he points, it feels more like common sense!

kids and mom on chairlift

If you have older kids who don’t wear a ski harness, just remind them that they need to scoot their bums all the way to the back of the lift so their backs touch the chair. Also, it never hurts to have a chairlift safety talk a few times a year to remind kids to stay calm, not throw things and how to safely get on and off the chairlift.

What should we do with our baby while skiing?

I think I’m now officially an expert at figuring out what to do with a baby while everyone else is out skiing.  I mean, we have had to figure this out with 5 babies now!

The real answer is to plan on spending time inside and take turns with your partner.  Skiing with babies is the ultimate in tag team sports.

holding baby while ski

Get to the lodge early and stake out a spot in the corner where your baby or toddler can play.  Some lodges are incredibly family friendly with family dining areas and even play areas, while others are not.  It’s worth calling ahead to a few resorts and asking what their lodge situation is like and if you are allowed to bring outside food in, and if the lodge is only reserved for current dining guests.  
If you’re feeling extra smart, team up with another ski family you trust to trade off babysitting. Leave one adult inside with all the non-skiing kids, and trade throughout the day, so everyone gets more ski time.

If you have family who like to ski, consider making a multi-generational ski trip a priority. Most grandparents are happy to stay inside for a few runs if it gets them a little extra time with the kids (a welcome break for mom and dad).

For really little kids and babies, our favorite is Arapahoe Basin in Colorado for their upstairs A-Frame lodge which has microwaves, toys, and giant foam blocks for kids to play on.  

Are you pregnant and wondering if you can ski? This article that I wrote about my experience skiing pregnant should answer your questions.

Is i safe to ski with a baby in a carrier?

In most cases, the answer is no.  The truth is that most people aren’t good enough skiers to absolutely guarantee that they won’t fall while they’re skiing.  Whether your baby is in a front pack or in a backpack, carrying that extra weight around does affect your balance. One of the only exceptions may be if you’re only going to be on a beginner hill that’s not crowded and you’ll be going very slow.  

If you really want to ski while carrying your baby, consider trading in your downhill skis for cross country for a while as that’s much safer to do with kids (or you can get a trailer to pull them behind you too).  

Additionally, you need to check and see if the resort you are skiing at allows babies to be carried while skiing.  In both Colorado and Utah, most resorts do not allow it anymore, and require that anyone getting on the chairlift in winter be able to walk on by themselves.  

I hope that this massive article has been helpful for you. If you’ve got more questions about skiing with your kids, please comment below!

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