By Amy Suski
Growing up and through my twenties I loved to ski. But the thought of lugging ski gear for a family of five was enough to deter me from skiing with my own kids until we hit a family milestone: the point at which all three kids could be counted on to carry their own stuff. I realize there are plenty of families that manage preschoolers on skis, but I'm just well, LAZY. And parental laziness does have its benefits: by the time we got our school-aged kids skis they were so ready for it that they didn't even need our help. No leashes, harnesses, or other parental assistance was required...they were up and away within on their first run. The rest of my admittedly slacker-like tips for skiing with kids follow:
1. When Being Thrifty Doesn't Pay: Knowing that kids outgrow their equipment quickly, I resolved to scour yard sales and ski swaps for used skis and boots. Being a procrastinator, however, I never got around to it and then suddenly the ski season was upon us. I was bummed about missing the big local sales until I heard a friend complain that none of the used equipment she picked up at the local sale worked out. For safety, the bindings need to be set by a professional according to size of the boot, weight of the child and child's skiing ability. Proper settings ensure the bindings release appropriately during a fall. So, even though my friend found seemingly appropriately sized gear for her kids, the gear still needed to be taken to a pro shop for the proper adjustments. And, because new holes need to be drilled in the skis to accommodate different settings for the bindings (a service that cost her $40 per pair), the bargain gear wasn't such a bargain anymore. If your kids are going to ski just a few times a season its easy enough to rent from the mountain, where the staff will ensure the proper fit and make any necessary adjustments. Plus, the rental cost may be included along with a lift ticket and lesson package. If your kids will be skiing for a week or more, you may be better off renting from a ski shop for the entire season, which saves money and avoids waiting in rental lines at the mountain. Our approach has been to buy gear for the eldest, and rent seasonally for the younger kids, passing down the gear (and paying for professional readjustments each year) until everyone has their own.
2. Got sensory kids? Less is more. One day of skiing was almost ruined because I had foolishly layered my daughter with too much new stuff. Ski shops are full of expensive skiwear that your kids may or not be willing to wear and will likely outgrow after a season. As much as possible, use what you already have. In most cases, the winter jacket and ski pants your child is already familiar with wearing have will be fine for the beginner skier. If added warmth is needed, tread lightly. My daughter was ok with a silky underlayer but was NOT ok with the neck gaitor or fleece vest I tried to get her to wear. Items to insist upon (and splurge on): quality helmet with goggles, mittens and socks -- all of which should last a few seasons. It's key that the helmet be comfortable and warm so pay attention to the straps and lining. Cozy, soft, ear covering linings are best. It's also helpful if the helmet has the option of attaching goggle straps. Even if you child isn't expected to ski in the snow, goggles will protect eyes from the bright sun and keep their faces warm. Cold hands and feet can spoil a day of skiing, so getting the warmest water-resistent mittens you can find is worth the investment. Thin wool socks are also a must for wicking away moisture and keeping feet warm and dry. Double layers or anything too thick will interfere with the fit of the boot and cotton won't do a good enough job at keeping feet warm and dry. Hand and toe warmers can also be added to mittens and boots, but the extra bulk can be annoying to some kids or make hands and feet sweaty.
3. A Little Effort in Advance Avoids A Lot of Lines: What's worse than standing in a long line? Standing in a long line, in the cold, with kids. To avoid ticket and lift lines, as much as possible we (1) buy lift tickets online, (2) arrive early in the morning, and (3) ski on non-holidays, mid-week. Planning a trip well in advance also means we can search for the best deals and packages.
4. Ski Instructors Rule. Leaving your kids with their first ski instructor is a lot like leaving them at preschool for the first time. Everyone is a little anxious but you have to make the break cleanly. After fussing over their zippers and helmet straps for the thousandth time, you need to blow them a kiss, give a reassuring wave and SKI AWAY. If your child is ready and willing to learn, a good instructor will have them engaged and up the hill in no time at all. Best of all, you will have a solid hour or two to get some real skiing in yourself. Sometimes you may want to take a lesson yourself or just enjoy some fast runs down the mountain. No matter how good your kids are, starting the day with a lesson helps to increase everyone's skills and enjoyment. Just make sure you are back in time to watch the end of the lesson. Kids will be proud to show you what they've learned and will be a lot less anxious if they know you are waiting for them at the end.
5. Self-help. As soon as possible, teach your kids to put on and take off their own gear. Buckling the boots is tough at first, but once they get the hang of it life will be easier for everyone. I also like to give each kid a sturdy shoulder bag to lug their gear in. Nothing fancy: just something big enough so that they can carry their own stuff to and from the lodge. We also taught them how to use their pole straps to carry their skis low in one hand, just like luggage (over the shoulder is a bad idea because they end up whacking each other in the face).
6. Pre-loaded pockets. In an ongoing effort to carry as little as possible myself, I also make sure to pre-load the kids' (zippered) pockets with essentials: tissues, chapstick, card with emergency contact info and designated meeting place, granola bar, and $5 for hot cocoa. The kids may never need any of these items, but if they do it is reassuring that they will neither be lost nor hungry for long.
7. The One Bag I'm Willing To Pack: After the cold air and vigorous exercise, kids will scarf down ANYTHING. To take advantage of this rare phenomenon, I pack a simple bag lunch with sandwiches, water bottles (hydration is key), whole fruit, and cookies. Having avoided lodge prices for lunch, when the kids beg for a slopeside waffle or a fireside hot cocoa, we are free to indulge.
8. Keeping Expectations Real: Mishaps are more likely when kids are tired, so its important to know when to take a break and when to quit. I myself appreciate frequent breaks by the fire, so I expect the kids to need at least one break mid-morning, at lunch, and again during the afternoon, probably just before quitting altogether. A half-day of skiing (about 4 hours) is enough for most beginning skiers. If there are members of the family who are a little more intense about their skiing, it's nice to have alternative attractions nearby. Many resorts also offer snow tubing or ice skating, which are nice activities to wind down the day. On a trip to Okemo in Vermont there was even a snowy mountain coaster --- which is impossible to ride without smiling so wide that your smile freezes.
In spite of my initial wariness, as much as I loved skiing before kids, I love it even more now with the kids. In an age of personal electronics, skiing is something that the whole family can do together. It's also thrilling to watch the kids challenge themselves with bigger and bigger hills. Soon enough I'll be challenging myself to keep up with them -- or maybe I'll just enjoy watching them from the lodge. I am pretty lazy after all ; )
Pictured above: waffles and coaster at Okemo Mountain Resort (VT), mountain top skiing at Suicide Six (VT), and lessons at Wachusett Mountain (MA). All rights reserved. Kid Trips 2014.
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