The minute I knew I was having a little boy, one of the first child development questions I had was, how long after he learned to walk could I put skis on his little feet? When my husband and I were considering baby boy names, we asked, what name could we give to this little guy that could easily be called out from a chair lift? We agreed it should be a name that evokes a sense of strength, friendliness and is courageousness. My adventurous parenting idealism was far ahead of itself.
Now that Zac (aka Big Z) is six, each time I call his name on the mountain, sometimes encouraging and other times reprimanding (don't go in the trees alone on a powder day!): I reflect upon the early questions and aspirations we had for our unborn boy with a smile and inner satisfaction knowing that the reality of being adventurous parents while harder than anticipated, would be so full of immense pride and moments of pure joy.
This winter, a Saturday in January at 8:45 am at the base of Mt. Hood Meadows, I found myself explaining to young Zac, that the folks around us in line were hooting and hollering because they were excited to ride the first chairs up to the mountain on a powder day. That we ALL woke up early, motivated and prepared to be the first people of the day to ski down a mountain of untouched freshly fallen snow and that it is a unique thing to be a part of. Six-year-olds like to be in the front of the line, and "first chair" is a natural fit for their world view. His smile of understanding came with an unsolicited with high five that made my heart swell. The selfie on the ride up = priceless. On our run down, I giggled hearing Big Z just behind me exclaim " Wwwhewwww-hoooooo... This is AWESOME!".
The journey from unborn child to gritty six-year-old intermediate all mountain skier is not an easy one. Let's face it; skiing is expensive. Kids outgrow gear quickly and teaching your child to ski is not a lot of fun. (See my post on family skiing deals and hacks). Add cold fingers, heavy boots, adequate layers, waking up early, long drives, screens, hunger and you have some difficult challenges to overcome. It is an investment in your family and your child.
The key to good ROI on skiing as a family include proper planning, patience, an excellent attitude, physical and mental strength from both the parent(s) and child(ren) and beer at lunch time. Admittedly, some days are more successful than others but like anything worth doing, those moments of struggle are transformed into pride, satisfaction, and memory making fun when it all comes together.
Here are five tips to help kick off your child's ski bum education.
1.) Put skis and boots on little feet as soon as they can walk. Running around on carpet at home or in a flat snowy park desensitizes them to the discomforts ski gear and builds core and leg strength. When their first lesson happens, they will be ready to experience the joy of snow and gravity. See below for my recommend clip in starter ski set for kids under four years old.
2.) Find the nearest ski program for three and four-year-olds, book it in advance (look for sale dates). The youngest ski programs I found in North West (US) is at Mt. Hood Meadows (4 Yrs) and Kirkwood (3 years old). In Canada, you can start them in ski school at three years old www.whistlerblackcomb.com the earlier they start the sooner your kids will join you on that blue bird day. Instructors and peer pressure will get your child carrying their gear, clipping into their skis and skating across the flats far faster than you will. It's an investment that pays big dividends. Here is Zac's progression at 3yrs (level 1), 4yrs (Level 2), 5yrs (Level 3), 6yrs (Level 4) in the Whistler Kids Ski Program. UPDATE: I added seven yrs old first Ski Team GS Race this past season!
3.) Buy solid gear from a shop that has a buy back program for children's boots and skis. After your first year investment (around age 4), you can rotate gear with the same shop which makes it easy to make sure everything fits and is ready to go for the first snow. www.rei.com or www.usoutdoor.com
4.) Make a ski season budget. Saving money for ski season is a part of our annual family budget. We plan on spending money in June for early season pass deals and end of season blow out sales, in September we book the early bird deals on kids ski camps (for vacations). In October, we trade in gear and find clothes at ski swaps. In November, we book any needed local hotel or house rental nights. Early bird gets the worm!
5.) Be the ski bum you wish your child to be in the world. Ski school is not just for kids; it's for adults too! Imagine the positive example you set when you take a group lesson or clinic and make new friends while developing skills and exploring new terrain. Over time, our kids all came to understand that skill development is a kind of family value. After we all have our "lesson day(s)," we reunite and share with one another what we learned by tour guiding one another to our favorite terrain.