Imagine you and your grandchild gliding together down a snowy slope sparkling with diamonds of reflected sunlight. A woodpecker is tapping away in the forest, and the air is invigorating and refreshingly scented with pine, spruce and fir. This is just one of the thousands of memorable experiences that you could enjoy when skiing with your grandchildren.
Skiing offers the exhilaration of streaming down wide-open, impeccably groomed slopes and the physical and mental challenges of dashing through shady forest glades. It also provides quiet moments for reflective conversation. Particularly important in recommending it as a perfect activity to share with your grandchildren, skiing is one of the few sports that can be enjoyed by all ages, from 3 to 83, participating together at the same time.
When you can get started. You can ski with even quite young grandchildren. Alison Clayton-Cummings, the program manager of the Junior Ski and Snowboard School at Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont, advises that children usually are able to begin skiing when they are between 3 and 4 years old. She says a good indicator of whether a child is physically ready to start skiing is “if the kid is coordinated enough to kick a soccer ball.”
What you’ll need. The basic equipment required by a child to ski is a good pair of up-to-date skis that are the appropriate length for the child’s weight and height and a good pair of properly fitting ski boots. Clayton-Cummings notes that the new short, shaped skis are “worlds ahead” of equipment from even a few years ago and that the length of a child’s skis should be somewhere between belly button high and chest high.
Dave Holdcraft, one of the managers of the Ski & Ride School at the Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado, adds that it is important that the child’s boots “fit well and be light in weight” and that “they should not be too stiff in the ankle.” Holdcraft cautions against picking up skis and boots at a garage sale or from a neighbor because they are not likely to fit your grandchild properly. Ski boots, in particular, need to be fitted by a professional to ensure your grandchild’s comfort and safety. A good ski shop can help you make the right choices.
Clayton-Cummings strongly recommends helmets for all children who ski. “They warm kids’ heads and keep them dry and are a good safety feature.” Your grandchild’s ski helmet must fit properly: snugly, but not too snugly. Again, a good ski shop can help you with the proper fit.
The experts that I talked with recommend that children dispense with ski poles until they have developed some proficiency in skiing. “Not using poles,” Holdcraft advises, “enables the kid to focus on the movements of his feet and legs, which are the most important parts of skiing.”
Holdcraft also emphasizes that warm, comfortable clothing is an essential part of your grandchild’s ski equipment: “A child going skiing should be wearing waterproof snow pants, a warm jacket, a neck warmer, waterproof gloves or mittens and sun- glasses or goggles.”
In choosing between sunglasses and goggles, keep in mind that ski goggles will protect a larger part of your grandchild’s sensitive face and help more in keeping him warm. The sun reflecting off the snow at high altitudes can be brutal, so make sure your grandchild has goggles or sunglasses with complete UV protection and that his face is protected with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater.
Getting ready. Mary Flinn Ware, manager of the Kids Mountain School at the Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, advises that before hitting the slopes you should “make sure that your grandchild is rested, well fed and well dressed.” In addition, before dropping in on your first run, take the time to do at least a few simple warm-up and stretching exercises with your grandchild.
Cold muscles are less supple and more susceptible to injury if they are overstretched. If you are staying near the slopes, it is a good idea to do your warm-ups before you gear up and go out into the cold. Wherever you do your warm-ups, be careful that they are not so vigorous that your cold-weather clothing becomes damp from perspiration.
If you have never skied, or haven’t skied in a while, you should take a few lessons to brush up on your technique before skiing with your grandchild. The shape of modern ski has mad carving turns easier but requires different techniques from those used with older, straight skis. This means that getting lessons is a particularly good idea if you haven’t skied within the last five years or so.
Your grandchild also should have had a few lessons from a professional instructor before you begin your skiing experiences together. A professional instructor will be familiar with the latest teaching techniques. Nearly all ski resorts have ski schools for children that are very good at getting children off to a good start in the sport.
Hitting the slopes. The experts I spoke with were unanimous in emphasizing safety. Holdcraft says that teaching the National Ski Areas Association Responsibility Code, which lays out actions all skiers need to take to make sure they are safe and that they do not create a safety hazard for others, is a part of the lesson plan for all kids’ ski school classes at Breckenridge; and he recommends that every adult skiing with children emphasize to them the provisions of the code.
The code admonishes all skiers to staying control while skiing and indicates that each skier is responsible for watching out for people below them on the slope.
All the experts observed that choosing terrain that is appropriate to the child’s ability is critical to a pleasurable skiing experience. Holdcraft remarks that adults skiing with children have to realize that in some cases children “do not have a developed sense of 3-D space or of the risks of skiing too fast for their ability.” He also notes that “the feeling of turning is what skiing is all about, not necessarily the difficulty of the terrain.” Because of these factors, it is better to start on gentle slopes. After mastering the techniques of skiing there, your grandchild will be able to safely progress to more difficult terrain.
Ware says she sometimes sees parents and grandparents employing teaching techniques with children that are not particularly safe. For example, she recommends against using a leash to hold your grandchild back on the slopes and strongly recommends against skiing with your grandchild between your legs.
Rest breaks. Engaging in a vigorous sport at high altitudes is dehydrating. So even though you or your grandchild might not feel thirsty, it is important to take frequent drinks of water or sports drinks. Also, children tire easily; and when they get tired, there is a greater chance that they will fall and get hurt. So take frequent rest breaks. Go into one of the on-slope lodges, have a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the beauty of the mountains together. Talk about your experience and about how each of you feels. Then, after you are rested, decide if you want to go for another run or to call it a day.
Ware makes the point that if your grandchild is not enjoying skiing, it is a good idea to go and does something else like tubing or taking a few rides on the gondola. In skiing with your grandchild it is important to be flexible and to adjust your plans to how your grandchild is feeling.
Build a lifetime of memories.
You can be sure that once your grandchild learns to ski, he will want to return again and again for the rest of his life, and that you both will cherish the memories you make skiing together out in the fresh, clean mountain air.
All the experts counseled that the best general advice on skiing with your grandchildren is to be safe but not to take things too seriously; just have fun.
National Ski Areas Association – “Your Responsibility Code”
National Ski Areas Association – “Lids On Kids” Program
National Ski Areas Association Safety Facts and Tips
■ Make sure your grandchild has the proper equipment: skis, boots, ski helmet, ski goggles, ski gloves and warm, winter clothing
■ Don’t forget to apply at least 30 SPF sunscreen to all of your grandchild’s exposed skin
■ Warm up and stretch before you start your ski day
■ Let your grandchild practice getting on and off the ski lift in the beginner area before progressing to the more difficult lifts elsewhere on the mountain
■ Make sure the terrain is appropriate to your grandchild’s skill level. Start out skiing in easy beginner terrain and make sure your grandchild has mastered that before moving on to more difficult terrain
■ Emphasize safety and the importance of always skiing in control
■ Drink plenty of water or sports drinks while skiing
■ Rest frequently
■ Have patience with your grandchild, be attentive to his concerns and make it a fun experience for everyone