Tips for Teaching Kids to Ski
Ski lessons from a professional ski instructor from Sun Valley, Idaho.
Ski vacations are a favorite activity for families. I’ve had many clients tell me that if they could take only a single holiday this year, it would be a ski trip. Teaching kids to ski can be a daunting task for parents going through the process for the first time. It so happens that my brother, Greg Levin, is a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Greg raised his teenaged son on the slopes, and he’s helped many families learn to ski. I interviewed him recently to learn about his top tips for teaching kids to ski.
Amie O’Shaughnessy: What is the best age for kids to learn to ski?
Greg Levin: Age 4 is a good time to start, although when kids reach 5 or 6 it becomes even easier as upper and lower body separation becomes possible. This separation facilitates easier learning and critical skill development as their little legs and upper bodies can begin to work independently of each other.
Many parents are anxious to get their kids started really early. Further, they get them on the mountain with an unreasonable agenda when it’s really all about fun. If you do decide to start kids early, the goal at that point should be to introduce them to the joy of snow sports by simple means: being in the mountain environment, wearing ski equipment, becoming comfortable with the sensation of sliding and making it their “playtime.”
AO: When kids are ready, what is the best way to get started with ski lessons?
GL: I’m a big believer in using the ski school vs. teaching kids to ski on your own. Good, kid-focused ski instructors are trained to connect with the kids to teach them the right core skills within a fun-filled environment while stressing safety. Kids all learn differently: some are visual, others are auditory, while others are kinesthetic and so on. Professional instructors have a big toolbox of techniques to meet all of these specific needs.
Even parents that are great skiers and have skied all of their life, usually don’t have the knowledge to effectively teach the mechanics of skiing. Also, I don’t recommend using a harness with young kids: It is hard on you, and it doesn’t promote accurate skills or safety.
AO: What should parents look for in a ski school program?
GL: If you are looking at a group lesson, a well-organized program, appropriate terrain, and kid-friendly facilities and equipment are essential. To start with, the set-up of the indoor facility should be optimized for kids. A secure, kids-only indoor area with child monitors, plenty of space, and easy access to hot chocolate and snacks is best. All kids participating in a ski school group lesson should be clearly identified so they can be tracked by the instructor and located at all times.
The terrain where instructors take first-time skiers should be a gentle hill with a flat run out at the bottom of the hill so kids can look out on the horizon and not be scared to ski straight (albeit slowly) all the way to a stop. Ideally, there should be a beginners-only hill where there are limited numbers of fast skiers, so kids can take their time and not feel frightened or intimidated.
Optimal is a ski area with a “magic carpet” for the kids to ride up a gentle hill without having to load a lift, and when ready, have available a high speed, detachable lift that allows slow entry and exit. Finally, an onsite rental shop would seal the deal.
AO: As an instructor, what is your advice to parents whose kids are in ski school?
GL: Parents need to let their kids learn with the instructor without hovering: This helps remove the parent/child dynamic and allows the instructor and the child to focus on one another and interact effectively. One thing I’ve noticed is that kids will act dramatically different when their parents are around—a child may be calm and engaged one minute when they are alone with the instructor and then start whining as soon as their parents show up.
Also, it’s tempting, but don’t continually follow your kids down the hill when they are in a lesson—it’s distracting for everyone. Better yet, ski with your child after the lesson so they can “teach you” everything they learned and practice their new-found skills without even thinking about it!
It is also important for kids to have appropriate warm, waterproof clothes and equipment that fit correctly—nothing ruins a ski day faster than clothing and equipment malfunctions. We enjoy the parents that are prompt at both drop-off and pickup, who understand that the objective of the day is to have fun and not be forced babysitting of a child who has no desire to be on the mountain, and who are truly appreciative of a child who ends the day with a smile and can’t wait for their next day on skis!
AO: How do you keep the ski experience positive for kids?
GL: Remember, it has to be an enjoyable experience for the child. If after 20 minutes of skiing your child wants to go into the lodge for the hot chocolate they have been so looking forward to, then that is a good plan. If it is really cold and you need to take frequent breaks to warm up, then the resulting smiles and positive attitude will be well worth it.
Kids are no different than adults: they learn much faster if they are having fun. Also, you might want to leave your own ski agenda behind at the lodge. Most likely it won’t match theirs, and trying to meld the two can very often steer your family away from the ultimate result—which is making sure a family can’t wait to go on their next ski vacation because they had such a blast the last time!
Destinations: Sun Valley