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The #1 mistake that I see ski parents make when teaching their kids to ski is using a ski harness incorrectly. While it may seem like a small problem, kids who learn how to ski with a harness used incorrectly take much longer to be able to be independent skiers and quickly develop lots of bad habits that are hard to break.
As a former ski instructor, I’ll show you what NOT to do when using a ski harness with kids and also the best ski harnessess you can buy to teach your own kids to ski.
You’re getting ready for ski season and trying to figure out the best way to ski with your kids WITHOUT spending a small fortune on ski school every day.
And then you think “I’ve seen people use those ski harnesses, and that looks EASY! I’ll just grab one of those and we’ll be set.”
WRONG! While kids ski harnesses can be a great tool, if you use them the wrong way, they’ll actually make your kids WORSE SKIERS! Yes, a kids ski harness, can often do more harm then good, so keep reading so you know how to use a ski harness for kids the correct way.
How to use a ski harness the right way
The problem with ski harnesses
From my own experience skiing, I would assume that close to 90% of the people that I see using ski harnesses on the slopes are using them incorrectly. It’s like the skiing version of the teenager “walking” the dog who is really just pulling him on his skateboard, but the kid is the dog taking the parents for a ride. Not a good foundation for a lifetime of ski habits!
If you’ve been anywhere near the slopes in the last 10 years, you have to know what I’m talking about and have doubtless seen some kids on a harness taking their parents for a ride down the slopes.
So for years we avoided them when we were teaching our kids how to ski, because as a ski mom and a former ski instructor, I’ve seen the bad habits they create. Because like most things that bug me, there are only certain things about ski harnesses that drive me crazy, and after using a ski harness to teach our youngest kids to ski, I now know personally that if you use them right, they can be great tools.
When to use a kids ski harness:
Like I mentioned a harness is just a tool to teach your kids how to ski. Teaching your own kids to ski is totally doable, but you really need to know what you’re doing and not just wing it. We talk all about the beginning steps that you need to take in our Ski School Series. The best tools you can buy to teach kids to ski are an edgie wedgie and a good harness. You should also check out our top tips for skiing with toddlers (and actually enjoying it).
We think that harnesses (with the leash) should really only be used by small kids who can already balance and just need a little redirection. They are really ideal for kids under age 4, and I don’t recommend them for kids over the age of 5 since they have the motor skills and strength to ski independently. Generally, you should just consider every child ski harness, a toddler ski harness. Overall, a ski harness is great for teaching kids to ski, it’s the ski leash for kids that creates problems with balance.
Before you ever put a harness on your child, they need to learn how to balance. This is a critical skill that will be the foundation of their skiing, so check out our #1 way to teach a toddler to balance on skis. They are great for picking kids up and helping them got on the lift if you have one with a handle like this harness, so the harness alone can be a great addition to any day. In fact, we always have our younger kids wear a harness and only get the leashes out probably 10% of the time.
Harness leashes are great TOOLS for times when you’re having difficulty getting your child to turn and they just need a little help figuring that out. All it takes is a little tug to turn them, but a kids ski leash should never be tight for long periods of time. We also put a ski harness for toddlers on our kids for the first few times down harder terrain so that they have a bit more confidence knowing that they’re not alone and that if there’s a problem, someone’s right behind them to help.
If you’re like us and have multiple kids on the slopes, having the youngest wear a childrens ski harness can be a lifesaver to help give the littlest skiers a boost when they’re trying to keep up with a crowd. For us, the kids all want to ski together, but with such a HUGE skill range this is a good cheater way to all get a run in together (however, we only do that for one run a day so that our youngest actually has to LEARN to ski, instead of just taking off down the hill after his speedster siblings).
When NOT to use a skiing harness for kids with a leash:
Don’t use the skiing leashes for kids on the very first day of skiing:
This will prevent them from trying to learn how to stop and turn on their own. Also, if your leashes are tight the whole time, your child is depending on it too much; it’s time to take it down a notch either in speed, terrain, or both. In fact, I believe that your child needs to nkow how to confidently stop before you ever get out the leash for a kids ski harness.
Don’t repeatedly use a child ski harness for your child to go on terrain that their not ready for:
We’re all about a run or two for some togetherness time, but if you’re relying on it the whole day, the ski training harness not helping your child. Consider this a learn to ski harness, not a crutch to tackle terrain that is above a child’s ability. If you have to hold your child tightly with the harness for the entire ski run, the run is too difficult for your child to be skiing on.
Don’t use a skiing harness if you as the adult are not a strong skier:
It’s amazing how much it will make your legs burn to ski in a wedge behind a 30 pound kid whose only goal is to go down. Also, if there comes a point when you realize that your child is leaning into their harness or otherwise not balancing well, it’s time to put it away for a while and get back to basics and a gentler slope.
Don’t use a children’s ski harness with just a leash or a static cord:
You need leashes with some sort of bungee so that your child doesn’t get hurt or pulled over when there’s some tension. We’ve used this harness for 6 years and it’s been a lifesaver for us. The elastic has just the right amount of give to be gentle but still structured!
Teaching kids to ski timeline (and when to use a ski harness for kids)
1- Start on a gentle slope and teach your kids how to shuffle their skis and get up when they fall. Learn how to do that here. Our favorite place to teach our kids to ski in Colorado is Arapahoe Basin because it has the perfect gentle slope for learning!
2 – Practice gliding down a super mild slope (magic carpet areas are ideal for this). This is where kids learn to balance on their skis.
3 – Learn how to stop. Call it a wedge, call it a pizza, but whatever you do, make sure that your kids can stop solid before taking them up the chairlift. If you get an edgie wedgie, it’s so much easier because all they have to do is move their legs apart and it makes the wedge for them. We’ll show you how to teach your kids to stop here.
4 – Practice turning. For the most part, kids skis will go where they are looking, so simple follow the leader games are the best way to teach this.
5 – Put a harness on and head up the chairlift!
What we use to teach our OWN kids to ski
Like I mentioned, we put a harness on our younger kids EVERY TIME, mostly just because the handle makes it so easy to help them on and off the lift and it saves your back when you’re picking them up all the time as well. The harness that we use can easily fit both our 2-year-old and our 5-year-old, so there’s lots of adjustability. The harness that we use has a backpack that the straps can fit inside so that they stayed stored when not in use, which is a majority of the time. The best feature about this harness is that it has the elastic bungee straps, so that when you give a small tug, it’s gentle to your child and doesn’t just make them fall over.
The Best Ski Harnesses for Kids
Looking for the best toddler ski harness? Or maybe you want the best kids ski harness, or the best harness to teach kids to ski…If you want more information on how to choose the best ski harness for kids, check out this other article I wrote comparing the different types of harnesses for skiing and which ski harness will be the best for teaching your kids to ski. It will help you decide if you want a kids ski backpack with a harness, a simple ski leash for kids, or if you want to skip the kids ski leash and harness altogether.
Best Ages For A Ski Harness
Generally, I do not recommend using a ski harness with kids over the age of 5. Technically, they should really be called a toddler ski harness, because that’s who they are designed for. A kids harness with a kids ski leash is a great tool, but it really is only one step in the learning process. In our experience, we’ve seen that older kids who are using a kid ski harness become dependent on them very quickly and don’t learn critical skills for learning to ski correctly. However, a properly trained ski harness toddler who stops using a harness as soon as they can stop and turn independently will progress much faster.
Warnings About Using A Ski Harness For Kids
In the last few years, I’ve seen videos all over social media of people taking toddlers and preschoolers who can barely ski down black diamond runs, while holding them close with a ski harness. This is incredibly dangerous because it makes the parents unbalanced on already difficult terrain and it can be very easy for them to fall onto their child while skiing with them. It also teaches kids that they can ski anywhere on the mountain regardless of their skills, which is not true. To keep themselves safe and other skiers and riders on the mountain safe, kids need to know their limits and ski within them. This includes only skiing terrain that they have the confidence and ability to safely ski down.
Ski harnesses can be great tools for teaching kids ages 5 and under how to ski. Older children and adults should learn to ski without a ski harness.
No! In fact, we use our kids ski harness without the leashes almost all the time. Leashes on a kids ski harness should only be used when the child is attempting new terrain. The handle on the back of a child ski harness is one of the most helpful aspects of a harness.
Most ski schools do not use ski harnesses for kids. Most of the time, kids learn better when they learn to ski without a harness attaching them to someone else. Ski schools often opt for vests with a handle.
We recommend that toddlers wear a harness specifically for the handle on the back for an adult to grab. Avoid using the leashes unless absolutely necessary.
The best tool to each a toddler to ski is an Edgie Wedgie. Many parents often find that a ski harness is a helpful ski training tool.
It a common misconception that the only way that kids can learn to ski is in a ski school. The truth is that parents can teach their own kids to ski, especially in the beginning stages of skiing.