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How to Be the Kind of Family Who Skis

Photograph by Twenty20

Taking ski vacations as a family can be a lot of fun, but it can also get pretty frustrating. Teaching kids how to ski or snowboard is nothing like teaching them how to throw a pitch or kick a soccer ball. It is a gear-intensive sport and can have dire consequences if not done properly. So the stakes are high, but the payoff in terms of family fun can be even higher.

Follow this Family Ski Trip 101 Guide to get your kids the best start when you finally make plans to hit the slopes.

1. Snowboarding or skiing?

For the most part, 3- and 4-year-olds don't have the endurance, patience or fine motor skills to truly ski or snowboard. Once they're more independent—around 5 or 6—consider starting with skis. This allows them to get a feel for the gliding motion on snow. The movement translates more easily to a snowboard if they ever decide to make the switch.

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Kids have a lot more freedom to move their bodies while skiing, and the skills required for snowboarding—such as balance—are not fully developed at a young age. However, if your children ride a skateboard or participate in another sport that focuses on balance, such as gymnastics, they may be better prepared to snowboard.

Some experts working in this area recommend waiting until kids are between 6 and 8 before putting them on a snowboard, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Gear has evolved to help little bodies safely stay upright, and some of the best boarders out there started soon after they learned to walk. But you'll most likely get off the bunny hill as a family faster if you opt for skis over snowboards for the smallest ones.

Before you even step outside, make sure your kids have the right gear, or they won't last long on the slopes.

Bottom line is that this isn't about how fast your children learn but how much fun they have. If their enthusiasm is high, and they're having a great time, then that's all that matters. Don't push them past their comfort zone just so you can ski as a family. That will come with time.

2. Gear up

Before you even step outside, make sure your kids have the right gear, or they won't last long on the slopes. Your kids will likely fall as they learn (and snowboarders, in particular, spend a lot of time in contact with the snow), so first and foremost, make sure they'll stay warm and dry.

Spending the day in the snow means lots of layers. Start with a pair of synthetic or merino wool long underwear (no cotton allowed) that isn't too tight or restrictive. On top of this, put your kids in an insulating layer and then an outer layer. Opt for longer waterproof jackets that cover the bum and back, even when the wearer is doubled-over from a fall. Snow pants should be flexible and insulated, designed to keep snow from seeping into the boots.

Socks should be a blend of wool or synthetic fabrics. Top everything off with a neck gaiter or scarf, well-insulated and waterproof gloves or mittens, and a pair of goggles.

As for the skis and snowboard, it is convenient for your kids to own their own. If they do, all you have to do is tumble out of the car and get started. However, if you're brand new to the sport, it makes a lot more sense to rent the skis/snowboard, boots and helmet. Some ski resorts let you rent gear for the season, which can be a good option since your kids will likely grow before the next season.

3. Sign up for lessons

It is not enough to put kids on skis, tell them to snowplow and call it a day. Yes, it's expensive, but age-appropriate ski or snowboard lessons are a necessity. This goes for everyone in the family who is just starting out or needs a refresher course. Instructors don't need you hanging around your kids' lessons, so sign up the little ones and then go to your own lessons—or head off for some alone time on the runs if you're ready.

After the first day of lessons (and even after the first few days of lessons), kids are not going to be whizzing down the slopes with you.

Instructors are highly trained and know how to handle their classes. Look for someone who is excited to teach. A class size with a small student-to-instructor ratio ensures your kids are receiving as much personalized attention as possible, and a one-on-one lesson helps fine tunes skills even faster. But don't be deterred by larger class sizes or those that group by ability over age. Ski lessons are most crowded on weekends and during holiday periods, so plan accordingly.

After the first day of lessons (and even after the first few days of lessons), kids are not going to be whizzing down the slopes with you. Find out from their instructors what they've learned and what you can do to help them get more comfortable with the sport. Invest in more trips to your closest ski resort so kids stay fresh and consider signing them up for a multi-day ski school if you're vacationing somewhere that offers such a thing.

Much like riding a bike, practice makes perfect.

Also, while instructors love what they do, they don't do it for the money. It is appropriate to tip for their services.

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4. Make it social

Skiing and snowboarding can be very isolating sports, and kids can get bored easily if it's just you and them going up and down the hill. Encourage them to meet others in their lessons and let them practice with friends and siblings. If you know other families who enjoy the sport, make it a point to go out in a group a few times each season. Social interaction can be a huge motivator in keeping kids interested.

Once ski and snowboard season is done for the winter, a lot of months go by before kids can get back at it. When you revisit the slopes the following season, it helps to start with a quick refresher course just to get the feel for things again.

Before too long, you'll be back on the mountain making memories as a family.

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