I have a theory: the family that skis together stays together. Why? Because it doesn’t come cheaply and if your parents are footing the bill, you’re going to have to hang around them at least some of the time before hitting the slopes at high speed in your teens.
However, skiing and snowboarding with kids—particularly young children—is not always easy, especially for first timers. There’s the fitting of equipment for a start—not the simplest of tasks when kids haven’t skied before—and schlepping the little ones’ skis and boots around, from car park to resort base and from resort base to slope. (You might think they’ll carry their own gear, but they more likely to leave it behind somewhere, which makes things even more expensive.) On the upside, even the youngest kids take to it pretty quickly and soon enjoy the enormous freedom that will have you chasing a fearless six-year-old down the mountain at high speed.
Reducing the hassles is just a matter of planning. Here are our top tips.
1. Dress for the mountain
Warm kids equals happy holiday. Layering is the trick, along with elastic attaching accessories such as gloves and hats to jackets to reduce their chances of getting lost. The basic kit is thermal underwear, then thin layers of clothing, covered by good windproof and waterproof outer jacket and pants, gloves, goggles and thick warm socks. Perhaps two pairs. You can always strip off layers if you’re too hot, but you can’t add them in a blizzard if you don’t have it.
2. Look for beginner’s packages
Most resorts have good value lift, lesson and equipment packages, especially for families new to skiing. These deals often include accommodation in your choice of condo or hotel. And if you’re not locked into busy vacation periods you can find some great deals.
3. Choose resort carefully
Check the resort caters to your skill level (or lack thereof). Are there easily accessible lifts and dedicated beginners’ slopes? Beaver Creek has expansive dedicated learning areas slopes, including the Buckaroo Express gondola especially designed for beginners. Buttermilk is another superb beginners’ mountain with 35 percent of its runs classified as Easy (Green). The Hideout, its new integrated play-and-learning area for children in ski school aged 2-and-a-half to 6 years old, is particularly impressive.
4. Use a helmet
Hire a protective helmet—it’s usually included as part of the ski rental package for kids. It’s not only best practice as far as safety is concerned, but it will also keep small heads warm when the temperatures plummet. At most snowsports schools it’s a mandatory requirement, especially for children.
5. Leave instruction to the experts
Teaching kids the basics well is essential to getting them sliding on snow fast, and if there’s one golden rule for families just starting out on their skiing or snowboarding journey it’s to leave the instruction to the experts. It’s the quickest way to develop confidence and ability on the slopes, your kids will have fun and learn about mountain hazards and safe skiing etiquette as well, and you’ll limit the chance of on-mountain tantrums—yours and theirs.
6. Into the blue
Beginners won’t stay that way forever, so it’s important that there are intermediate (Blue) runs that will provide progression for novices without being too terrifying. You don’t want to go from beginners’ slopes (Green) to difficult (Black) in one step. Aspen Snowmass gives you access to extensive groomed intermediate runs across four mountains. In Utah, Park City is America’s single largest ski and snowboard resort with a huge expanse of intermediate runs.
7. Ski to your ability
Skiing last season with my seven-year-old daughter we took a wrong turn and ended up on a Black run. Although she’s a competent intermediate skier, she was terrified, and I was super stressed. It rocked her confidence and my nerves. So never bite off more than you can chew. Carry a printed trail map with you and stop and check before taking a wrong turn.
8. Go private to improve quickly
Good instruction is the key to learning to ski or snowboard well. Both are technical sports, difficult for even the most athletic person just to “pick up”—although kids generally do better than grownups. Group lessons provide a great starting point, and loads of fun for kids, although if you want to progress quickly nothing beats a private lesson.
9. Take a day off
Learning to ski or snowboard is physically exhausting, both for adults and kids, especially if you’re falling over. If the weather’s bad, then as well as being unpleasant, it can be a little scary. Sometimes you just need a day off. Go ice-skating, take a dip in the pool at the indoor leisure center, have a spa treatment or catch a movie.
10. Make it fun
Most resorts have lots of organized fun for kids, usually linked to the snowsports school. For example, Snowmass dedicates every Friday to honoring Ullr, the Norse God of Snow, with a nighttime party at Elk Camp, where the entertainment includes tubing, ice-skating, a snow slide and kids’ snowbikes. Plus, there are bonfires, hot chocolate and s’mores to keep things toasty.