10 Important Lessons I Learned Teaching My Kid to Ski

Sure, my toddler is the one learning to ski. But I’m also learning a bunch in the process, too.

Last March, when my daughter Eloise was 2, we drove an hour south from our house in Bozeman, Montana, to Big Sky Resort. My husband and I had already taken her to ski five times or so at Bridger Bowl, our closer ski area, and I liked the idea of taking her to  Big Sky, the mountain where I used to ski patrol.

It was sunny and warm, so we parked and got into our snow pants, coats, helmets and ski boots at the car. I clipped Eloise’s ski harness over her gear, then strapped our skis onto my backpack, loaded her into a plastic sled and towed her through the parking lot. She giggled when the sled lurched over gravelly snow, and friends from Bozeman waved as they passed by on the free parking lot shuttle.

After our first magic carpet ride, Eloise demanded we go up the chairlift. So we loaded the high-speed Swift Current lift, snuggled our way up and then swooshed into the burrito shack for an 11am lunch. Afterward, she did not want to put her ski harness back on. A shrieking tantrum ensued on the deck, with a fabulous view of the rock-lined cirque above and the rugged tram face. Most scenic temper tantrum ever?

“I like to cry, Mama,” Eloise said when we walked back inside, finally calm and cheerful again. I tried not to laugh. Of the many lessons I’ve learned from my daughter, here was one: Sometimes, we all need the cathartic release of pent-up emotions.

She put her harness on by herself (“MYSELF!”) and laughed as we skied toward Lower Morningstar, one of Big Sky’s classic green runs, pointing at other kids on the trail and making a solid effort to follow my directions (“Hands on your knees. Look forward,” I said).

Two parents ride the magic carpet with their young daughter.

The author and her family tackle the magic carpet. (Photo Credit: Emily Stifler Wolfe)

After a few minutes, we stopped to take photos in the sun. But then, still at the top of the trail, Eloise decided her chin was cold. Which is what you get when you refuse a neck warmer. Full-blown meltdown. The summit towered above us, sun shining off the steeps of the Gullies. I take back what I wrote earlier: This might actually have been the most scenic spot of all time for a temper tantrum.

I scooped Eloise up and skied with her in my arms down to the base area for hot chocolate (for her) and coffee (for me) before heading home. “I want to ski again, Mama,” she kept saying on the drive. “I want to ski again soon.”

Taking your toddler skiing might seem crazy, and sometimes it is. Eloise is now 3, and so far, teaching her to ski has really meant familiarizing her with the gear, the exhilaration and the challenges of the mountains.

Like everything with kids, you don’t want to be pushy, but you do want to challenge them to try new things. It’s the same balance you’ll find in everyday life with a toddler who perhaps doesn’t want to eat her broccoli.

It won’t be long until she’s dragging me down the rolling funnel that is Bridger Bowl’s Hully Gully, and soon after, beating me up the 400-foot boot pack to the top of the Ridge, a classic hike to some of the steepest chutes at our local ski area, Bridger Bowl. Someday, maybe, we’ll be regular ski partners—that is, until she ditches me to ski with her friends. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the process and take it as a learning experience for both of us.

10 Things My Toddler Taught Me About Skiing

1. Forget your poles but not your ski expertise. Toddlers don’t need poles and neither do their parents. After all, you need your hands for lift loading and flying tackles. But bring your pack (filled with warm layers, sunscreen, extra gloves, water) and your mountain skills (like knowing it’s OK to turn around and call it quits). All of that will come in handy when trying to wrangle the kid gear (and the kid) to the mountain.

2. You are the boss of your own skis. Screaming “I want to go over there!” and pointing doesn’t make your skis turn. You have to drive them with your legs.

3. Keep your knees bent. This would have saved me a lot in orthopedic bills over the years. (I’ve had six knee surgeries.) It’s going to help Eloise immensely with lesson No. 2.

4. It’s OK to fall. And sometimes you fall a lot. But you do have to get up and keep trying. Someone, please remind me of this in my career.

5. Don’t be a noodle. It’s great to have help, but in life (and skiing) you’ve got to stand up on your own. On that note.

6. Ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get it.

7. Bring snacks. Know when to stop and eat them. Which is often.

8. Don’t be too competitive with your friends. Seriously! This goes for parents and kids. Everyone learns at a different rate.

9. Get hot chocolate and french fries. But not every time. Healthy food makes you feel good. And on busy Saturdays, it’s no fun fighting through a crowded lodge. If you must have hot chocolate, bring a thermos from home to share.

10. Have fun. Hug on the chairlift. Point out how pretty the mountains are. Squeal when you’re going fast. Eat snow when you fall. Skiing is the best!

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