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How to Introduce Your Kids to Skiing: A Parent's Tips

With fewer kids participating in outdoor activities these days, it’s always good to hear about parents who buck the trend. My question: What are their secrets to making sure the outdoors is fun?

Gavin and JasonJason O., manager of the REI Westminster, Colo., store, shares the following tips (and a mistake or 2) on how he and his wife Tara recently got their 4-year-old son Gavin enthused about skiing. 

We spent a few days beforehand pulling together his clothing and some gear to make a successful outing. Of course, we somehow forgot ski socks that first day (d’oh!), but we had some REI wool hiking socks which worked out well. We bought Gavin a really cool snow helmet and some goggles. The REI long underwear was great as well (yes, avoid cotton). We decided to rent skis and boots, but next year we’ll buy for sure as $27/day rental adds up pretty quick. 

On the day of:
We woke up in the morning to find frozen pipes… great… a little hassle before we got on the road. (Tip: We used handwarmer packets to defrost the pipes. Attach them with duct tape to the frozen section of the pipe and “presto,” the water runs!)

We drove to Eldora, a “locals” mountain above Boulder, Colorado. We should really get up here more often, as it’s only 35 miles from the house. Temp in the canyon on the way up was -7°F (whoops, was this the wrong day to do this?). We had some handwarmer packets ready for Gavin (he thought they were “very awesome”).

Gavin chose to jump right on the chairlift (versus the “magic carpet” lesson area) with Tara while I took the photos. She had the great honor of leading Gavin down his first run! This is something I know she was looking forward to since even before Gavin was born.

Gavin on chairliftI watched as Tara carefully guided his little body on the chairlift…his legs were so short that the skis were pointing straight up! Once ready to go, they slowly slid down the run with Tara giving gentle tips and encouragement along the way. What a special moment for us as a family. Oh, and Gavin’s favorite part? “Unloading.”  What? Really? OK, he is only 4, after all.
The weather stayed cold and a little windy. After the second run, we asked Gavin if he wanted to do another, but he said he wanted to go to the lodge instead. Fortunately, his grandma was visiting and watching our 14-month-old so we could have this time with Gavin. Grandma then watched both kids while Tara and I took a few runs together. It had been over a year since we were able to do that. What a treat!

Gavin and Tara exiting liftThat was it for Gavin’s first real ski experience. I’m glad that we had “right sized” our expectations beforehand. We dropped off the rental gear, loaded up the clan and went home. All of us had a great time, for sure.

Since that day:
The best news is that Gavin had enough fun that Tara took him up again. We even signed him up for 5 days of lessons. After his first lesson (full-day from 9:45-3:00) he actually cried because he didn’t want the skiing to stop (we're proud parents, you can bet).  I’m thankful that we had that first day as a family with a couple of runs.

Our tips for success:
• Kids are hearty, but good clothing helps. We had blowing snow and cold, but Gavin stayed comfortable and loved every minute.
• Accept a few hand-me-downs but let your little person pick out a few new things, too. (Gavin picked out his helmet and goggles.)
• Consider buying the ski gear. We’ll be getting boots and skis next year and have another little one who can use them one day.
• Grandmas and close friends are lifesavers—especially if the parents want to do a few runs.
• Mittens are easier than gloves.
• Handwarmer packets proved fun and practical.
• Neck warmers are worth their weight in gold.
• Mmm, have some hot cocoa and favorite treats ready at the end of the day.

For more tips, see the REI Expert Advice Kids and Skiing article. Have your own tips? Please share.


Posted on at 5:19 PM

Tagged: eldora, family, handwarmer packets, kids, skiing and snow sports

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I agree with buying him boots and skis. I found great stuff at and found it was cost effective even with 1 week of use during spring break. I have been able to sell used kids' ski and snowboard gear the next season on both Craigslist and Ebay.
The other thing I've done with my kids is not push them. If they want to hang out with Nana one day, that's fine. Interestingly, my son who started out snowboarding prefers skiing now and my daughter who started out skiing now prefers snowboarding. The most important thing is that they have the opportunity to try.

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here's the very best tips I can offer to parents introducing their kids to snow:

1. a lot of ski shops now offer "seasonal rentals" ... you get your own gear for a season, but can swap it if the child's size/ability changes over the course of the season.

2. little people's bodies grow/develop at all different rates. often their head is the heaviest part of their body! their core strength develops last. motor skills and the cognitive ability to send good signals from their brains to a specific body part varies greatly between kids. so if your child is young, small for their age, doesn't have good balance/coordination and/or doesn't have strong muscles you need to accept that they need to ski in a wedge, they will lean back and use their whole body for strength and that helmet just might make them look like a "bobble head doll". it's ok! the primary goal is to have fun playing in the snow and becoming familiar with skiing.

3. learn this term "over terraining". =D often we gauge ability by the color of the slope we can survive. ;) "my joey skis the blues; my amy skis black diamonds" everyone skis their best on easier terrain -- including kids! and, they only associate skill with the ski trail coding system if you instill that value when you're out on the slopes. "over terraining" happens when you bring people to any slope (or condition!!) that exceeds their ability to make rhythmical/shaped/in control turns and stop safely. once this happens two bad things can happen: 1) your child can get scared/fall and get hurt and it changes their enthusiasm about skiing, or 2) your child can develop defensive/bad habits that will affect their ability to improve as skiers.

4. I hope this doesn't come across as too pedantic or judgmental ... every time we bring our kids to the slopes it's for THEIR ski day, not ours. they may only want to ski for 45 minutes. they may get cold. the snow might be in poor condition and you're stuck on the bunny slope all day. whatever ... you're there to have fun with your kid and get them hooked on skiing so that SOMEDAY you guys can cruise the blacks together.

5. last but not least ... ski resorts have some excellent instructors (some!) ... if you have the money and interest you can hire (private lesson) a *certified* (yes, they have special certifications for this) children's ski instructor (definitely call ahead to book this as there are not a lot of these folks) for a "family lesson". a family lesson is a time where the instructor teaches your child about skiing and teaches you about teaching your child about skiing! they work really well.

best of luck!


I agree, the first few trips out really need to be be about the kids - it may last an hour, and it may not. It may be the day you need to just go in and have coaoa! I was pertified that my son would not enjoy skiing! We put all the gear on around the house before going out in the weather, that helped him get used to it. My other parent tip is to carry your child's favorite treat in your pocket, you may need a little help sometimes (or a snack every lift ride)! I cannot tell you how many times we have shared our treats with little ones that were having a tough time on the slopes.


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