As a 20 yr ski coach and father of two of little girls, people ask me all the time when they should start their kids skiing or snowboarding. There is no easy answer here, but I wanted to share a couple key factors that will help you determine when its right for your family.
Its important to offer some context around the 4 key factors I’ll share below. If you’ve been paying attention to big mountain skiing the last couple years, you’ve surely heard of the Sammy Carlson from Mt. Hood and the Collinson siblings out of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.
I met Sammy while coaching his older brother, Zach, on the Tigard High Ski Team. The three Carlson siblings (Zach, Rachel, and Sammy) had been going to the Mt. Hood from a very early early age with their parents, Rich and Judy. Sammy, the youngest was basically raised up there. He didn’t know any better and had been chasing his older siblings from birth. His parents were comfortable dragging him along at a much earlier age than his oldest brother as they all wanted to get their turns. It was up to Sammy to keep up. He never seemed to mind that challenge.
Angel and Johnny Collinson were famously raised in a 5’ x 12’ closet in employee housing at Alta Ski Resort where their father was a ski patroller every winter. Again, raised on the mountain. So they were at it early and often with no regard for the math behind funding a family trip to the mountain for a day, let alone a weekend in some location hours from home. They just walked outside and started sliding around with professional input from their mom and dad. In fact, they summited Mt. Hood at age 4 and 6, respectively. Amazing. Not normal.
So if you’re a ski family before kids, its likely you’ll get your kids involved at a much earlier age than parents trying to become a ski family after kids are born. It comes down to parents’ comfort in getting kids on skis and having realistic expectations once you hit the hill.
There are lots of videos circulating of prodigal babies shredding before most kids are out of diapers. Some of my favorites include:
These videos can serve as inspiration as well as frustration. My kids never shredded like that at such a young age. What’s wrong with them/me? Nothing!
As noted above, these kids likely have very different backgrounds than your kids. Its not a competition, anyway. You simply want them to fall in love with it and be ripping turns next to you… or in front of you… sooner than later.
1) It Starts with the Parents: Ask yourself when and if you’re ready to take on the challenge of introducing your kids to skiing or snowboarding. (Ski school is a great alternative for even the most seasoned and patient of parents.) Then, consider the next 3 filters when determining whether your kids are ready to point ‘em downhill.
2) Coordination: Not every kid has solid coordination at a young age. If your child lacks basic motor skills off skis, there is no reason to believe they should magically find it on a moving surface. Work on these motor skills as often as possible. Skateboarding, waterskiing, riding a bike/tricycle, soccer, etc. Be realistic about their coordination before expecting them to master the pizza, let alone french fries.
3) Endurance: My kids were serious nappers till age 5. There was no way around it. While I had friends with kids that gave up napping at 18 months, there was no way my kids were going to make it through a morning on the hill, let alone an entire day, without a nap or two along the way. If your kids require breaks for rest or sleep, find the optimal window during the day to get them sliding on snow. If you’re lucky, your kids will sleep to and from the mountain. If not, they’ll make you suffer, severely, for not honoring their sleep requirements.
4) Communication: The first rule in teaching kids to ski and snowboard: Keep it simple. A successful turn is complex and dynamic. Little kids aren’t capable of understanding a turn broken down in a complex way. It can help to go out on the bunny slope and watch other instructors teach skiing. What are the skills they teach before every getting on the magic carpet for the first time? How are they keeping it fun once they’re on the hill. How many packages of gummy bears do you need to have in your pocket? Why is everyone yelling PIZZA!! Its important to talk to your child in terms they can understand and apply.
So, what is the magic age where all these factors line up? Its different for everyone. I suggest people get kids on snow around age 4 if not later, unless they are already up at the mountain for some reason. In my experience, with my own kids and others’, this seems to be an age where the three factors above are sufficiently in line to result in a positive experience for all.
Even then, shoot for 4 runs before the first cup of hot chocolate. Take it slow, keep it fun, and if things go the wrong way, don’t be afraid to abort mission and throw snowballs, sled or boost spirits with some sugary snacks or beverages. Its a long process and comes with lots of epic failures. Those small victories are massive and over time can result in that dream scenario of ripping down your favorite line in soft snow with your child pulling away from you as you try to keep up.