Editor’s note: Learning to ski is different for every kid. This story is not meant as medical or safety advice. Please talk to your child’s doctor to decide the right time to introduce your little one to the slopes.
My daughter was born during a massive snowstorm. By age two, she was skiing off the magic carpet and last winter, age three, she giggled her way up the chairlift at Bridger Bowl, the ski area near our home in Bozeman, Montana.
There was no pressure, and if it wasn’t fun, we left. But this year, I really wanted her to learn to stop her own skis.
“Relax,” my husband said. “She’s not even four.”
I couldn’t though. I was worried she’d hit a tree. We’d started her early because we wanted to share our love of the mountains, but this wasn’t about us. I was no longer a ski bum at Alta, a ski patroller at Moonlight Basin or a weekend backcountry warrior. I was a mom surrounded by tiny groms shredding and biffing it on the bunny hill.
One December day early this winter, after the hundredth floppy noodle ski pretzel, I wondered if, in our excitement to show her the joy of skiing, we might have started our daughter too young. Then, a couple weeks after her fourth birthday, she did it. She stopped. All by herself. Maybe it was the gummy bunny bribe (“two for each stop today!”) or the ski tip connector my mother bought as a gift. Or maybe it’s because a four-year-old kid is just stronger than one who’s two or three.
So, how young is too young to ski, anyway? Should we have taught some basics before whisking our daughter up the magic carpet and floating her down the mountain between our legs? Should we start our son, who was born this past summer, later than we did his older sister?
To learn more, I called Connie Hahn, a family practice physician at Bozeman Health Family Medicine Clinic and a former ski instructor in the Lake Tahoe area who has taught everyone from little kids to professional football players. She told me it’s totally OK to take very young kids out skiing. She even quoted the saying: “If they can stand, they can ski, and if they can sit, they can ride a chairlift.” Then she added, “the most important thing at first is to let them have fun [so] they gain confidence. It’s all about feeling and experiencing as a child. Also, they want to do what you do.”
One physical hurdle, Hahn said, is that until most kids are around five, their hip flexors aren’t really developed. Those muscles allow us to flex and internally rotate our hips, a requirement for snowplowing. Enter the ski tip connector: With it, a child just has to push her feet apart, and she’ll automatically go into a snowplow.
Next I called professional skier Ingrid Backstrom, the ultimate skier-mom. She said for her daughter Betty, having good skis and boots made a big difference. “[When Betty was two], we had rubber boots and an old ski setup, and she didn’t really like it,” Backstrom said. Last year, before she was even three, Betty tried out legit boots and skis, and she loved it.
With a little rope tow five minutes from their home in Leavenworth, Washington, Backstrom and her husband, Jim Delzer, keep their family ski days low-key. “That was a lesson I had to learn—I was trying to get her to lean forward and do it properly, and she just got frustrated,” Backstrom said. “Now [we quit] before she gets frustrated. That way she wants to do it next time.”
Some kids take to skiing naturally, like one-year-old Ethan Averett, who was cruising at Solitude near his home in Heber, Utah while many kids his age were still learning to walk. After watching the YouTube video posted on his family’s ski blog, I had to find out more. Turns out, both of Ethan’s parents are former instructors, and they started all five of their kids at around 18 months. According to his mother, Jessica, it’s all about teaching balance.
“When we’re helping our kids ski, we’re either 100 percent holding on to them, or we’re totally hands-off,” she said. “If [Ethan] feels me pulling on him, or if I hold his hand, his balance goes off. … It’s like, ‘There’s mom. Oh, good, I don’t have to do anything.’” Instead, she’ll ski backwards right in front of him, so he can see her, which boosts his confidence. If this is too much or it’s just not working, Jessica said a lesson can help get a child started out on the right foot.
For many of us, bringing our kids to the mountains is like offering up part of ourselves—the delight, the challenge and the beauty of the mountains makes us who we are.
Or, as pro snowboarder Kimmy Fasani told me, with her 20-month-old son Koa squealing in the background, it’s about making them part of our lives. When a huge storm hit their home in Mammoth Lakes, California in late 2019, Fasani took Koa outside to pull him around on a kid-sized snowboard in the driveway. Soon, she said, he asked to stand up on the board. His response to his first ride down the driveway?