PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There comes a time in the life of skiing parents that they decide it’s time for the sprouts to hit the slopes. Sounds easy, right? Not so much. There are decisions to be made about equipment, clothing, lessons, costs, lodging, sports or recreation – and hidden items like tolerance that enter the picture . Over years of “Dads and Daughters” trips, family ski jaunts, school outings and ski vacations, here’s a look at my compilation of ways to ease the journey from snow-plow beginnings to black-diamond parent jitters.
When to start can range between ages 2 and 5. It has more to do with mom and dad’s comfort level than the child’s. Remember they’ve been playing in the snow, at home since they were tots. We started Kathryn at nearby Doe Mountain (now, Bear Creek). She was about 2 and wore “Street Skis”, we bought at a toy department. The idea was to get her accustomed to the idea of standing and shuffling on the snow. Then there was cross-country (Using the same skis). She took her first professional downhill lessons at age 5. I’ve found that’s the point most parents and instructors prefer. By then youngsters have gained some experience in kindergarten groups and are able to follow instruction.
If nothing else, remember this. Unless you are a professionally certified instructor, do not try to teach your own children to ski or snowboard. Bad habits are easily transmitted from one generation to the next and they can last a lifetime. Patience wears thin and kids will resist a parent’s coaching and coaxing, but not a uniformed instructor’s. Every ski resort has as variety of children’s programs.
I like the 4 week program at nearby Spring Mountain for kids as young as 3 and up to 5. The central Montgomery County location makes it an easy day trip and the 4 days of learning the basics over 4 weeks provides consistency. The cost including lift tickets and equipment is $90.
Shawnee Mountain in the Poconos has featured the national children’s “SkiWee” program for over 40 years. It features a learning method used in “SkiWee” lessons across the country. So wherever your ski vacation takes you, your child can pick up right where she left off. A report card tells the next instructor of the child’s progress level.
In the 1970’s a Stroudsburg teacher pioneered a children’s introduction to skiing at Camelback Mountain based on the idea that it’s not so much a “school” as a playground. It was more about fun than learning. As a result the kids enjoyed both. Today Camelback offers a range of lessons from private to half-day for kids at all ability levels. Most are available in packages that include lift tickets and equipment. Camelback also offers a nursery for non-skiing youngsters from 1 to 6.
Check your own favorite mountain for programs and costs.
Growing kids who are also progressing in ability on the slopes will require new equipment each year. Rather than investing in gear that will have to be replaced annually, many parents prefer a seasonal lease or rental. Children are professionally fitted and they have the equipment for the entire season. We’ve used the leasing plan from Salter’s Ski Shop in Eagleville. For children who will only be skiing a few weekends, daily rentals at the mountains are still the best bet, but arrive early to avoid lines and disappointment.
SPORT OR RECREATION
Racing teams are time consuming and demand absolute commitment. They are highly competitive, require intense training and travel. If you’re looking for relaxing family fun, keep it recreational. If your child seeks challenge and aspires to a northern college team, go for it. To get started, I like the Junior Racing experience at Jack Frost Mountain.
If youngsters aren’t warm, dry and comfortable, life on the slopes will be miserable and you’ll lose them as skiing or riding enthusiasts. Boots should fit well or the foot pain can be intolerable. Leasing programs will have them custom fitted. Mountain rentals can be changed if they become uncomfortable. Dress the kids in layers with waterproof pants and jackets. Gloves for temperatures above 30 degrees should be high quality. If temps dip below 30, go for good quality mittens. You’ll want warm and over the calf socks. Buy 2 quality ski hats. It’s a safe bet that one will be lost. The hats should be thin for use with helmets or go for ear bands. I also like turtleneck shirts and neck warmers. Do not use long scarves that could be snagged on a lift, fence or pole. Consider ski shop consignment sales for lightly used and outgrown ski duds.
ODDS N’ ENDS
Kids love to have friends along. That means a car with sufficient space for not only extra youngsters, but all their gear. For mountain weekend outings, rent a condo home or apartment at or near the slopes, rather than hotel rooms. It will save a ton of cash on both lodging and food. It also lets you keep an eye on them without being too obvious.
Know their tolerance and ability levels. If they look cold, get them inside. Do not push them to ski trails they feel are out of reach or allow them to ski trails that youthful confidence fails to match. As children’s book author and poet Shel Silverstein taught us, “If the track is tough and the hill is rough, THINKING you can just ain’t enough!”