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Ahhh…SKIING! The sport that can fill you up with adrenaline just about as fast as it can empty your wallet. That’s right, skiing can be expensive; really, really expensive. However, if you’re careful about how you go about it, it’s a sport that most people can afford (check out our post on 5 ways to get your kids skiing for cheap). One of the major ways that you can save money is to teach your own kids to ski.
How to teach your own kids to ski
Once of the first questions that people ask me when I tell them that they can teach their own kids to ski is:
How good of a skier do I need to be to teach my own kids to ski?
Can I teach my own kids to ski? If you are at least an intermediate skier and are willing to invest some time and a whole lot of patience, you too can teach your own kids how to ski. Skiing requires 2 major things – balance and control. Your skill depends largely on your ability to master these, so naturally they are the foundation of teaching your kids to ski. Here are a few foundational skills that you need to focus on when teaching kids to ski.
Teaching kids to balance on skis
Before you even get out on the snow, practice balance. Walk around in ski boots (it’s harder than you think), and then graduate to walking around with your skis on. If you lives somewhere that it snows, get some of these skis for the kids to play around on in the backyard (note: you can’t use them at a resort but they’re a fantastic way to get kids started and moving – also, don’t give them the poles yet). Practice falling down and learning to get up before you start.
Tip #1 Getting Up When you Fall on Skis
Before you hit the snow, teach your kids how to get up. Your back will thank you!
1. Have your kids sit on the back of their skis and grab their knees. Pull up.
2. Sit down on the uphill side of your skis. Put your hands on the ground in front of your boots and push.
Remind your kids that you always want to get up with your skis pointing across the hill (not up or down).
3. Head here for more tips on helping kids get up when they fall
Your goal when skiing with your kids is to teach them to balance. Balancing independently is an important skill to learn when going down the mountain. Although it is tempting to hold onto your kids as they are skiing, independent balance is critical to skiing, so the earlier that you practice this, the better. To do this, start on a very gentle slope (the bunny hill of even your backyard) so that your child can get comfortable with gliding.
You’re going to stay on that gentle slope until your child can glide on their skis and stop, which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the child.
Tip #2 Harness or Not
Head to any beginner lift, and you’re bound to see tons of kids with a harness and a leash on. This is one of those sights that can be awesome or terrible. Harnesses are great. Most of them are equipped with a handle to help you put your child on and off the lift or to assist them when standing. When used this way, they’re GREAT, and in fact, we have our youngest wear this harness every time we ski, mostly for the handle.
However, a majority of the time, you’ll see kids careening out of control straight down the mountain, towing their parents along. BAD! A ski leash should only be used to guide your child, or as an extra safety precaution not as a way to get around actually teaching them or to go on terrain above their level. 90% of the time, I see these used incorrectly, so be wise. Bad habits learned on a ski leash will be hard to break!
If you want to learn how to use a harness the correct way, we’ve written an entire article on using a ski harness the right way.
If you decide to get a harness, we’ve tried a few and this one is our all time favorite because the elastic bungee straps make it really gentle and smooth when you’re pulling on them.
The first thing that you need to teach, once your child starts moving is how to STOP! A wedge (also called a snowplow or “pizza”) is the best way to do this for any beginner skier.
Tips together and backs apart.
Before you head out on the slope practice moving skis in and out of a wedge so that your child can understand the motions before they start moving. If you are comfortable, this would be a good time to ski backwards (in a backwards wedge) so that you can make sure that they are doing it correctly. Just try and avoid the trap of allowing them to stop by skiing into your arms!
Tip #3 Get an Edgie Wedgie
Edgie Wedgie: A bungee that attaches to the tips of skis to hold them together when forming a wedge shape.
In my mind, it’s the best purchase you can make when teaching kids to ski and it only costs around $15.
Most kids have a difficult time making a wedge shape, and the edgie wedgie solves that by allowing them to simply spread their legs apart and making the wedge for them. It is an excellent tool for learning skiing muscle memory. Unless your child is really young (3 or under) shoot for no more than a few days with it on to avoid dependence. Our tip? Buy one before you head to the hill and keep it in your pocket just in case!
I’ve taught each of my 5 kids as well as hundreds of kids when I was a ski instructor and I used an edgie wedgie to teach almost every one of them.
Once your child can start and stop, work on movement. Turning is essential, and no matter how good your child is at stopping, they need to know how to maneuver.
Children’s skis tend to go where they are looking. If they are looking at a big tree or rock, they’ll likely run into it. The good news is, if you can get them to watch you, teaching kids to turn can be as easy as a game of follow the leader.
Make large S turns down the hill and have your child try to stay in your tracks. Start with very large turns (all the way across the hill) and work your way down to smaller ones (about 15 to 20 feet apart) Pretend you’re explorers, race car drivers, or even bobsledders to get your kids engaged and following you on your turns.
Tip #4 Watch Where You’re Going
Kids tend to go where they are looking. If they’re checking out the big trees, chances are they’ll smack right into one. When skiing with your kids, get them to focus on watching you. This way you can model safe turning and show them what to do. Be prepared to make faces, tell jokes, or even bust out a toy to help keep their eyes on you.
Before you head off of the beginner hill, your child needs to know how to stop and make regular turns independently. All 5 of our kids have been taught to ski primarily just by mom and dad, and now we can take everyone out for the whole day, feeling confident that they have the skills that they need to ski well.
Perhaps the biggest skill that you need when you’re teaching your own kids to ski is a good amount of patience. Teaching kids to ski is physically exhausting, mentally draining, yet endlessly rewarding. You’ll probably encounter tears and frustration at some point, but that’s the reason that ski resorts have hot chocolate.
When tensions get high, head into the lodge and get some hot chocolate and let everyone relax for a bit. I swear it works wonders for us!
How long does it take kids to learn to ski?
Setting realistic expectations when teaching kids to ski is incredibly important. However, it’s not going to happen overnight! Many parents expect that they can take one ski vacation and their kids will learn to be good skiers, but truthfully, skiing is a sport that takes years to develop good skills.
Some kids will learn to get up, stop and turn, all in one day. For other kids, especially younger kids, those skills may take an entire season to learn. Generally, the younger you start your kids skiing, the longer it will take.
How old do kids need to be to start skiing?
Most resort ski schools start around age 4, so I typically recommend that parents start teaching their kids to ski around that age. However, since my husband and I both have experience as ski instructors, we’ve taught all of our kids to ski starting around 18 months. Granted, they don’t do very much until they are closer to age 3 and I’ve only had 2 out of our 5 kids who could stop before age 2.
For us, we decided that since we love skiing so much, we’d rather be on the ski hill together than sitting in the lodge swapping out runs while one of us watched our toddler.
If you want your kids to learn to ski more quickly, I’d recommend starting around age 6. By this age, they have better motor skills and they follow directions more easily.
Once kids reach their teens I actually feel that they learn slower than younger kids, so take advantage of that elementary school age window.