If you have young children and are going on your first family skiing holiday, it is often a tricky decision as to whether to put them into ski school or not, especially if they are very young or shy.
Ski school can be daunting to little ones and they can tire very quickly in a weeks-worth of ski lessons.
On our own family skiing holidays, my little boy found his first week in ski school over-whelming – full of strangers in a strange place, he became quite tearful mid week and we had to take him out.
With my daughter, we decided to hold off the first year and just teach her the basics. When she was school age she went into ski school more confident and has since been whizzing through the stages each holiday.
I would always recommend putting children into ski school, (unless you’re an expert skier), but it can be a good idea to spend the first family ski holiday together on the slopes teaching your young child some basic skills before they start ski school.
If children start at ski school after having a week of skiing with their parents then they will be more confident and likely to understand the instructor.
The majority of children start ski school at school age (as a minimum) and this makes sense, they’re accustomed to listening and following instructions.
So if your child is 3 years old or more and you feel they are ready, then having a week with you before formal ski school could be an excellent grounding.
Tips on teaching your child the skiing basics
Remember, the end goal is your children learning to love skiing – so keep it fun and avoid getting frustrated. If they’re not enjoying it, or are struggling one afternoon, stop. Go off together to the top of the mountain, buy a hot chocolate and enjoy the view, make snow angels and forget about teaching till the next time.
It’s wise to avoid days when there is bad weather or it’s very cold – it’s uncomfortable and not fun for anybody.
The key is to talk less and ski more; children are visual learners and will switch off after a few seconds of you over-explaining the snowplough.
Start on a gentle slope, ideally a green run or use the bottom of a blue or slopes around the village on a quiet gently sloping area. You are just trying to get them to balance on the skis, just go up and down a few times.
You can try this with even younger children using plastic toddler skis (2-5yrs). These are great for little ones getting used to having skis on their feet and to balance.
As these are not waxed they do not speed off and are easy to control when they wobble. The children eventually start to ski down little bumps with their skis sitting straight. Toddler skis strap onto normal snow boots so when they get bored it’s easy to take them off and do something else.
Mastering the snowplough
The next stage is teaching how to control speed using the snowplough. This isn’t for plastic skis and you need to be higher up the slope to get some speed up.
Having a ski tip connector or “edgie wedgie” coupled with a ski harness is great to start off with.
Attach to the tips of the skis and then show them what skiing a snowplough looks like and how you hold the position. With a ski harness you can ski behind them, control their speed and just let them get used to holding the snowplough position. Don’t hold the reins too tight; you need some slack and only pull in an emergency to stop them.
Just repeat this over and over again and let them feel for themselves how to go in and out of the snowplough position. Eventually, when they naturally hold the plough position, remove the ski tip connector and carry on practising on lots of different slopes with just the harness.
This will teach them how to control speed on a slope, how to stop and gain confidence. And of course, all while you are still in control and keeping them safe in an emergency. If you just do this in the first week on lots of different slopes, practising chair lifts with them too (most harnesses have a handle to help you lift them onto chairlift) then you have given them the best preparation possible for ski school.
If you whizz through this part or have older children and they can hold the wedge position, you can start practising turning.
I just showed mine how I shifted my weight between the skis. Skiing in front and talking through how you do a plough turn is the easiest – but go back to basic slopes, when starting this or they’ll whizz off!
They very quickly pick up the weight changes by just doing it and following you.
Play games like “follow my leader” are perfect to get your little ones shifting their weight from one ski to the other.
As they pick this up, put the harness back on them for safety’s sake and head up to slightly steeper slopes so they can gain some speed and practise, practise, practise. You can even assist turns by tightening up the slack on the reins if needed.
Remember though, if you need the harness to heavily control your child’s skiing speed and turns, they are not quite yet ready to be on the terrain on which you are skiing – so go back to the easier slopes. The harness should only be a safety measure.
There are some useful books that are helpful in checking that your skiing technique is correct as you don’t want to be teaching your children bad habits and they can be useful for reminding you about the basics.
“The Essentials of Skiing” by Harald Harb is a good place to start and if you are organising your ski holiday; “Where to Ski and snowboard 2013” by Chris Gill is great for checking that your resort is family friendly and has the right pistes for your child’s level of skiing.
There’s also lots more to read on the best family ski resorts here on Ski-buzz.
This post was written by Tess Bradshaw, owner of LittleSkiers.co.uk, the on-line shop for children’s skiwear, accessories and ski training aids.