March 21, 2012
Skiing With Kids: Dry Land Training
One of the things that occurs to me about skiing with kids is that it's tough. It's tough in so many ways and on so many levels I wouldn't know where to begin to talk about it (and I wouldn't want to scare you off), but thankfully there are ways to turn your kids into great skiers which don't actually involve skiing, and I'm going to group all of them into my not-to-be-overlooked category called Dry Land Training.
Dry Land Training will encompass everything that happens away from those hectic on-snow days at your near or far ski area, and it most definitely includes culture, so if you haven't yet read my Kids: Ski Culture post, start there now. Good? Okay, let's jump right in...
Oh my gosh you've just got your wife or lady friend pregnant, and you're wondering what the heck do I do now? Brother, I'm not even going to try to tell you how much your life is about to change, but I will tell you that good things beyond your wildest imagination are just around the corner. Oh, and also: everything you love is about to be taken away from you. Just kidding. Maybe. Anyhow, congratulations! Now, let's start working on building a skier's brain:
We want that pregnant lady to walk, and we want her to walk a lot. Daily. Not so much for exercise, not so that she gets out of breath, and certainly not up high mountains; just good old fashioned easy walking, around the block style, and lots of it. We want this because her walking creates a rhythmic rocking motion in her pelvis that is astonishingly similar to the sensation a good skier experiences when they are skiing. Coincidence?
Rock that little developing brain, my friends. Do it gently and in good humor, but by all means do it as much as you can. We want motion and that little precious mind to become very, very good friends.
You've Got a Tiny Baby!
First of all, there is nothing cooler in the world than a brand new, teeny-tiny baby. My memories of those first few days in the hospital are simply the most astonishing, most magical, most wonderful moments of my life. If you didn't have to bring them home from the hospital, I'd have a thousand of them. Even knowing what I know, I'm still tempted to have another just so I can hold those itty-bitty fingers in my hand and feel like I'm on the very top of the world.
But what can you do with your teeny-tiny baby? Not so much...other than walking. Walk and carry your baby a lot, doing exactly the same kinds of walks you did while pregnant—and for the same reason. For a carrier, I recommend the Ergo. We tried all of them, and the Ergo was the best. Be smart, be gentle, and take it easy. Just walk. Really. As a minor benefit, you'll notice this also tends to reduce crying...not that we care about that.
It turns out those clever humans have invented a device that perfectly replicates that periodic motion we skiers all love so much, and it's freely available in playgrounds throughout our find land. Yes, it's a swing. Kids love them. I love them too—though it's hard to find one that's big and high enough off the ground so I can go fast and not drag my feet (hint: Santa Monica Pier).
Anyhow, at the appropriate age (neck muscles are well-developed), introduce your young ones to the joys of the Swing. Unfortunately you'll have to push them. Or maybe you can invite Grandma to come along so she can do the pushing.
Certainly you don't want to scare your kids with swings, but there does tend to be a sort of magic height/speed where they just start getting a bit of a thrill. Push them to it, and then back away so the swing slowly comes to a stop. They'll ask for more. Do it again. And again. With my son, I knew I was reaching the right height because he would start to squeal and drool all over himself. Was I creating a tiny thrill seeker who loves to swing? Maybe...
Just to be clear: you're the one who's going to be doing the hiking. Put your kid in your Ergo, and go do a nice short hike in the hills or mountains. Keep it short! Let your child walk where they want to, and as soon as they ask to go back in the carrier, put them back. As an ancillary benefit, if you choose your hike wisely, this can offer a bit of a training benefit for you, especially when your two-year-old crosses over 25 pounds or so...
Here in Southern California, the Phil Leacock Memorial Trail is a great choice. Mount Hollywood would be another fine pick. Don't forget a sun hat.
Walking Up & Down Hills
Find a nice safe grassy berm maybe thirty feet high or so. This will be your hill. Hills and your kid should be friends, so as their walking skills improve (age three?), introduce them. Hold both your child's hands, facing them, and walk them down your little grassy hill in a zig-zag pattern 45° down the fall line. You go backwards, they go forwards.
You hold their hands to keep them from any possibility of falling, and to hold their upper body in a proper ski position, sneakily also introducing them to the concepts of squaring the shoulders downhill and counter-rotation (hips point across the hill; torso points straight down). My kids love this! It's such a brilliant way of introducing myriad ski techniques and concepts in one fell swoop it almost seems like cheating.
Skiing At Home
This one is huge! This is why you most definitely want to own your own ski gear: so your kids can ski the heck out of your home or apartment. Yes, their ski edges will carve your furniture to pieces, but who cares? We're building skiers here, not saving our IKEA chairs for the Smithsonian. So snap those boys and girls into boots and skis and create a little course around the dining room table.
They'll get stuck in the bedroom, and you can start teaching them to rotate (one ski follows the other) so they can turn themselves around. Just watch your feet and don't get too close. If you really want to liven things up, put on your own skis and stomp around the house with them. You'll know you've really hit a home run with this when your kids spontaneously put on their boots, snap into their bindings, and sneak up behind you wearing skis. Good job!
Leave the skis and boots in a readily accessible location, and let your kids ski indoors to their heart's content, summer and winter. Some instructors I've spoken to suggest creating more advanced courses, even laying down cushions or pillows for them ski over. I find that kids take care of most of that on their own: they'll ski over anything that gets in their way, which will be everything.
Spinning & The Wobbly Horsey
Ah, one of my personal favorites. This is just a regular old horsey ride, in which your kid rides your back while you crawl about on hands and knees...only with my special modification, which is that you 'try' to wobble, shake, or otherwise buck them off—without actually knocking them off. I put this into the balance-developing category.
Other good choices would be walking a low balance beam at the park (hold their hands!), and things involving spinning, like office chairs, tires on ropes, etc. Remember, where spinning and shaking are concerned, be extremely careful with young brains at all times.
By cross training I mean anything athletic that isn't actually skiing. Ie, soccer, baseball, basketball. Anything sports related. We're going to assume that getting your child moving and running around and having fun is a worthy endeavor in its own right. And maybe it might offer crossover benefits for skiing as well. From my point of view, the crucial consideration is that all of these activities complement rather than compete with skiing.
Beware of sports that become competitive to the point that everything else gets squeezed out, or, worse, where kids start getting hurt. Unless you have some compelling reason to do otherwise, that would be the point at which I'd start looking for something else. Maybe that concern even includes high-level skiing, such as racing...but that's a discussion for another day...