I was in my mid-thirties before I ever attempted downhill skiing. Up until that point, I was adamant that I had no interest in the sport; after all, I’m not a big thrill seeker, I don’t like falling down and I don’t like getting snow down my neck. I just didn’t see the point.
But when my two older boys took an interest in skiing, I had a change of heart. I realized that skiing could be a fun family activity that we could do together for years to come, and I was willing to give it a shot, so all seven of us grabbed our cold-weather gear and headed to a ski resort.
We are fortunate enough to live near a lot of family-oriented, low-key ski resorts that offer fun hills without the pressure of a rocky mountain cliff (something I may never be ready for.) Over the past few years we’ve visited Crystal Mountain and Shanty Creek in northern Michigan, and last weekend, Grand Geneva in Wisconsin. All three resorts have been a blast, and over the years I’ve picked up some tips for hitting the slopes with the kids as a beginner:
1. Bring along an extra set of hands.
We are fortunate enough to have two teenagers who can lend a much-needed hand to help with skis and poles, or to assist if a little kid or a mom who falls down and can’t get back up on their own steam. But if you don’t and have more than one small child, I really think it’s worthwhile to see if you can bring along an extra adult or a tween or teen relative or family friend, especially if both parents are also beginners.
2. Take advantage of kids’ programs.
Every ski resort we’ve ever been to offers some kind of children’s programming, whether it’s a two-hour lesson or a full-day camp. The last two times we went to a ski resort we enrolled our boys in lessons so they could get the basics down, and last week at Grand Geneva, we put Clara, who’s 3, in child care so that the older kids would all have some time to ski with Mom and Dad. She loved it, and I was happy for the chance to get steady on my skis without having to help a small child.
3. Take a lesson.
My husband is an accomplished skier, so he was able to teach me how to slow down (turn your skis into a V or “slice of pizza” by bringing your toes closer together), stop, and turn. But if not for that, I would have been utterly lost. You might think that you can figure it out on your own without a lesson, but trust me, mid-hurtle down a hill is not the time you want to realize you have no idea how to stop. Equally as important: learning how to remove your skis from a variety of positions. (More on that later.)
4. Keep expectations in check.
If you and your kids are new to skiing, you probably aren’t going to make it down the big hills dozens of times on the first day. First of all, it will probably take a half hour just to get all the forms filled out, pick up the equipment, and get it on your kids. Then you’ll slowly make your way to the ski area, and will need to spend some time on the learner hills getting basic skills down first. Once you’re hitting the “real” hills, it’s likely you or the kids will get stuck or fall a few times. I had to learn to curb my impatience and be satisfied with five or six runs down in several hours’ skiing. As with anything else, when you’re skiing with kids it just takes longer, especially if you’re a beginner.
5. Bundle up.
Wearing the appropriate clothing while skiing can mean the difference between fun and misery. Dress in layers and err on the side of over-bundling. Yes, you’ll be moving a lot, but there is also a lot of waiting in skiing: riding the lift, waiting for a child to get his skis on (or back on), or lying helplessly in the snow after you fall down (who, me?) And the wind really whips at your face when you’re going down the hill. If the temps are below freezing, I’d recommend some kind of face cover in addition to snowpants, waterproof gloves, a hat and a warm coat.
And on that note? Wear helmets. Here’s where I admit that I haven’t made my kids wear them while skiing on small hills. I always assumed that since we were going at such slow speeds, we wouldn’t be able to do much damage to ourselves even if we did hit a tree. But when I looked further into serious ski accidents (which, to be fair, are very rare in the Midwest) I found out that the main causes of injury are collisions with other skiers. It doesn’t really matter that you’re crawling along down the hill if a speed demon comes hurtling along behind you and knocks your kid over, so from now on, we’ll be insisting on helmets for all the kids, on every hill (and I’ll be wearing one myself!)
6. Ask for help.
No one likes to look like a beginner, but trust me: everyone can tell you’re a newbie skier anyway. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or assistance from staff – that’s why they’re there, and I’ve also found that more experienced skiers are often happy to lend a hand when, say, a kid loses a pole halfway down the hill (been there, done that). Another tip: when getting on and off the ski lift, give the lift operator a “thumbs down” signal and he or she will often slow it for you.
7. Keep a sense of humor.
At one point last week I was skiing down a smaller hill with 7-year-old Owen, when he veered off to the side and slid down on the incline near the tree line. It took me about 10 minutes just to make my way over to him skiing uphill and sideways, and when I finally got there and lent him a hand, he pulled me down, too – and I tumbled even further down the incline and got completely stuck under a shrub.
What could I do? While Owen tried to climb up the hill to flag down my husband for help, I laid flat on my back with my skis totally tangled up in the bushes. Finally (after like 5 minutes of writhing helplessly around) I remembered that I should, duh, remove my skis. I was very glad I knew how. And that I was warmly dressed. (See #3 and #4.)
The point is, you will probably have lots of mishaps of your own the first few times you ski with your kids, and everything probably won’t go according to plan. Just try to see the funny side of things: it really is hilarious to watch a grown-up flop around helplessly in the snow.
Then get up, brush yourself off, and try again: the more you do it the better you get, and the better you get, the more fun skiing is for everyone.