February 19, 2012
Everyone Has Fun, No One Gets Hurt
'Everyone has fun; no one gets hurt' has become my motto when I'm skiing with my kids. As a mission statement it is simple, concise, and appropriately catchy, but before you nod your head in agreement and then move on to something more interesting, let me first take a moment to try to convince you that this little mantra is perhaps more nuanced than it first appears.
No One gets Hurt
Let's start with that second part: no one gets hurt. We've already talked safety, and I'll take this opportunity to stress once more that you should be thinking safety before you walk out the door, but let me point out that 'no one gets hurt' includes you. Spend a day carrying child and gear and hunching constantly over them, and you'll find it very easy to strain a variety of places, most notably your no-doubt already-suspect back.
In this regard, a leash can be a lifesaver, as it permits you to stand upright instead of hunched over while skiing down behind your child. The leash, alas, is a two-edged topic we'll contemplate some other day. For now, at least be sure to bring a harness with a handle on it, which will (somewhat) mitigate the hunching issue while avoiding some of the more problematic aspects of leashed skiing.
Also on point with regard to your own safety is the degree of concentration you're likely to be expending on your child rather than yourself. You'll be ignoring all the things you'd normally be on the lookout for, including other people, which again speaks to the importance of choosing wisely when it comes to when and where you decide to ski with your child. Be sure to remember to take care of yourself as well as your child—on-slope and off.
Everyone Has Fun
As I continued to explore the multifaceted adventure of skiing with kids, I find myself returning to this deceptively-simple concept: everyone has fun. To begin with, let me emphasize that 'everyone' includes you. I strongly suspect your child, whatever their age, is already more than sharp enough to notice if you're frustrated, exasperated, or otherwise miserable.
Associating the sport of skiing with negativity is the last thing you want to do, so mind your own experience—it counts too! Be assured that skiing with a child can and will be an absolutely withering grind, just like every other aspect of parenting. But you can turn to the same trick we all use to survive the day: be open to the magic of the moment, however small.
There will be looks of wonder on your child's face when they feel the sensation of skis sliding for the very first time. There will be the delight they feel riding the chairlift, the awe they feel when they look up at the mountains, the novelty of snow itself. There will be all of these tiny but precious moments, and if you can seize upon them, and hold them inside you, you just might survive the oh-my-god-it's-expensive-I'm-exhausted-I'd-rather-be-skiing-myself-I'm-hungry-back-is-killing-me-this-isn't-working-why-am-I-doing-this-to-myself-anyway onslaught.
And then there is your child.
I find myself naturally tending to focus on techniques when I ski with my son. I want to focus on turns and shapes and accomplishments, and yet when the day is over I always realize that none of these things are particularly important. Technique tends to take care of itself, to be honest. Most of your child's advances happen automatically with age. What really matters, what you must constantly remind yourself of, is what kind of an experience you are helping to create.
Why do we go skiing, anyhow? Do we do it so that some erratically-temperamental giant can continuously circle about us, relentlessly shouting inscrutable moment-by-moment corrections? Or do we go skiing because it's fun? Fun is something your child is already programmed to seek out, if you'll let him or her. Let them tell you what's fun about skiing, and then by god get out of the way.
When he was two my son thought gondolas and magic carpets were the coolest things on Earth. Skiing for him was as much about riding the gondola and carpet up as it was about going downhill. And so, because I'm sneaky, we rode a gondola every chance we got, and I put a picture of him on the magic carpet on my desktop. That was skiing.
Going forward, we will turn to more practical matters, but first let me leave you with a few final thoughts. That everyone has fun trumps skiing a steeper pitch or getting rid of the edgie-wedgie. That our own fun matters, too, and that learning how to have fun while taking on a daunting, open-ended challenge (without getting too banged up in the process) might just have value for both of us, parent and child.
What we are really hoping to do, in the end, is give our children a tiny taste of a great and complex feast, in the hope that they'll ask for another bite. That's skiing. That's life. That's why we do it.