Navigating ski and snowboard school can be tricky, particularly for first-timers. You might be unsure of how your children will react to being left in the hands of complete strangers for the entire day as well as the newness of the sport. If this is you, fear not! Here is the inside scoop on preparing your children for a successful ski school experience, thanks to two local experts, Mya Frantti, Manager of Children's Programs at Deer Valley Resort, and Mary Flinn Ware, General Manager of Park City Mountain's Children Ski and Snowboard School.
Why ski and snowboard lessons are crucial
If you learned to ski or snowboard on your own, its tempting to think your kids will simply pick it up or that you can give them pointers yourself. Unfortunately, even if you are a fantastic skier or snowboarder, teaching your children to slide gracefully and safely down the hill is a completely different animal. "Every day, I see parents getting frustrated and angry while trying to teach their kids. Or they're terrified by a runaway kid desperately trying to pizza," says Frantti. "My parents would never have thought to put me in ski school, but I can't recommend it enough now that I'm on the other side of it."
The most important part of ski and snowboard school is that children will learn to ski and snowboard safely and in the right way. Children also tend to listen better and learn faster when taking cues from an instructor. Last, but certainly not least, kids typically have more fun on the mountain while socializing with those their own age. That camaraderie goes a long way toward "developing a love of skiing and snowboarding that your family will share together for years to come," according to Ware.
How to set your child up for success at ski and snowboard school
Talk about ski school and what to expect. If your child has never been skiing or snowboarding, take the time to talk about the sport and why it's fun. Ware recommends watching videos online, having the kids put on their ski clothes, helmets, goggles, etc. and explaining the importance of each item.
Visit the drop-off area ahead of time. It's not always possible, but if you have the time the day before your children's lessons start, walk over to the drop-off area. This makes it easier for the kids and prevents rushing around not knowing where to go five minutes ahead of the lesson.
Get the correct equipment for your child! This is an absolutely essential item and the right equipment can make or break a child's comfort and success on the slopes. Have rental staff measure the sizes and pick out equipment. For local kids, Frantti recommends renting equipment through ski-as-you-grow programs, so you can size up when your child hits a growth spurt.
Dress your kids in layers. The weather will change between the time you drop your kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. Dressing them in layers will prevent them from getting too cold or too hot. Frantti also notes that parents need to make sure kids are wearing ski/snowboard socks as regular cotton socks are not appropriate.
Make sure your child is well-fed and rested before the lesson. Skiing and snowboarding can be very demanding. Instructors do their best to adapt lessons to the students' fitness levels, but a tired or hungry child is not going to make a lot of progress or have fun. Make sure your kids eat a proper breakfast and get a full night's sleep before you go. There's no shame in taking a day off the mountain to recuperate.
Pack a snack into their pocket. Even though kids get lunch as part of their lesson, a favorite snack in their pocket can offer comfort and a bit of extra energy during the day.
Don't be a helicopter parent. Once you drop your kids off at ski school, leave. Small children in particular have a hard time concentrating on their lesson if they can see their parents. "Feel free to admire from afar," says Frantti. "But don't interrupt the lesson." Yes, we know it's tempting to pull out the camera, but there will be plenty of time to take a photo of your super-cute toddler in skis later.
Don't put too much pressure on your kids. "I like to remind parents not to put too much pressure on their children to perform, or to “love skiing or snowboarding” immediately," says Ware. "Depending on their age, especially if your child is very young, it may be best to simply wait another year if the first experience does not go well," she says. "Don’t give up if the first experience doesn’t go as well as planned! Depending on how developed your child is, both socially and physically, they may not be ready to start skiing and will have a better experience waiting a while before taking another lesson. Our instructors will make sure they have a great experience on the snow when they are ready."
When is my child ready to ski/snowboard with me?
This is, of course, a highly subjective question. The answer largely depends on your comfort level as a parent, the confidence you have in your child's knowledge of the mountain, safety, and decision making, as well as their ability level. Generally speaking, kids can ski or snowboard with their parents once they can control their speed, maneuver around the mountain, and ride the chair lift safely. To assess this, take note of the end-of-lesson "report card," which both Deer Valley and Park City Mountain instructors offer parents. It's best to trust your child's instructor when it comes to assessing whether or not your child is ready to leave ski school.
Of course, for parents who want their children to continue to progress, staying in ski school is highly recommended as each day will improve their skills, efficiency at skiing/snowboarding, and technical ability. Taking annual lessons can also be useful for brushing up on the sport if you don't have continuous access to a resort. Finally, if your child is pursuing snowboarding and you are a skier (or vice versa), you may even consider taking a lesson or two to help you understand the basic mechanics of their chosen sport.
When you do strike out with kids away from ski school, try to take them to familiar areas (their instructor can tell you which runs they've tackled during lessons). Other great locations include Park City Mountain's new High Meadow Park (Canyons side) where beginners can explore three adventure trails and controlled terrain and Deer Valley's kid-specific areas like Candyland and Bucky's Bumps on the easiest green run (Wide West) as well as Bucky's Frontyard, Bucky's Backyard, Ruby's Tail, and Quincy's Cabin.