January 16, 2012
Skiing With Kids: Introduction
I am trying to get my 2 1/2 year old daughter to the snow. That's all I want right now: just get her to the snow. We've successfully crossed the parking lot, bought lift tickets, and gotten her ski boots on, but we're bogging down now, because she can't walk in ski boots. She's flopping helplessly in a mud puddle, one glove already lost. Behind us, my overloaded wife is already suggesting we abort the mission.
I realize I've got to pick my girl up and carry her, but I don't have a free hand: I'm carrying three pairs of skis. In that moment I remember I always wore a backpack when we started teaching my son to ski so I could carry his skis plus various other miscellaneous gear (harness, leash, edgie wedgie, shoes, diapers). Forgot about that. My son, now five, is meanwhile starting to get dangerously frustrated with our glacial pace. He's near tilt and so is my wife, and my own ever-buoyant optimism is being fast replaced with that rising sense of panic that every parent knows all too well.
Help comes in a most unexpected form: a nearby grandmother recognizes us. We're supposed to be meeting two of our son's friends, and she's here with them. She offers to help. We give grandma one teeny-tiny pair of skis, freeing one arm, which allows me to lift my daughter out of the mud, and then it's just a long, arm-cramping stretch across the base of a flat beginner ski run before we finally make it to the magic carpet.
Welcome to the wonderful world of skiing with kids, where just getting everyone to the snow can be a huge accomplishment itself. In many ways the actual skiing is the easy part. But even that is a minefield of potential tantrums, out-of-control snowboarders, fights with the wife, the gauntlet of the no-safety-bar chairlift ride, and the ever-present threat (real or imagined) of making that one big fatal mistake that forever sours your child on the great but oh so effort-intensive sport of skiing.
I remember the thrill of seeing my son, then just past two himself, stand up on skis for the first time at Telluride's Meadows. At the time, I had no idea what a two-year-old might be capable of, but there he was, skiing, all by himself! It was a huge thrill...until I realized he was going faster than I was. I was on foot, in ski boots, running as fast as I could to catch him, but I missed that last swipe for his harness, and then he was gone, a little blue streak of ephemeral glory that ended with a big smack right into a red mesh fence.
Fortunately, no tears ensued.
I've learned a lot since then, from very simple tips (use an edgie-wedgie!) to a few core principles (everyone has fun; no one gets hurt) to some deeper philosophical musings (why do we do all this, anyhow?), and through all of it, I've been continually struck by how rewarding it can be, and how challenging it always is. What happens when you put a kid on skis for the very first time? At what age should you try to do it? What's age-appropriate? What skills should I try to teach? What gear do I need? Where's the best place to go (and when)?
I have some answers to those questions, now. I've also learned, at least for me, that the effort is worth it. True, there have been many days where at the end of it all I've wanted to do is collapse in total exhaustion and cry myself to sleep, but ultimately the joy of watching my son and now my daughter grow on skis has more than proved to be worth the cost.
And so, I'm launching a new series of articles on sierradescents, all dedicated to skiing with your kids. Some will be simple, some will be complicated, but all will be designed to help you get out there on snow with your own little ones, whether you want to try to do all the work yourself, or contract most of it out to a ski school program. These articles will be organized under a new category, 'kids', and as time passes I'll try to structure them into a sequence of sorts.
For now, since the season is already underway, I'll try to focus on basics—things that will help you get started as quickly and as smoothly as possible. So: stay tuned...