Kelly Bastone: Wise Advice on Teaching Skiing
December 1, 2014
Steamboat Springs — My daughter Simone is three, and this is her third season on skis, which makes her a typical Steamboat kid. "That's so Steamboat!" someone exclaimed when they saw her at Howelsen last year, sucking on a pacifier as she shuffled along on her little strap-on skis.
But in fact, most mountain-town kids start skiing at a young age, and how to get them started is a big topic of conversation among mountain parents. That's why, over the years, magazines have assigned me quite a few articles on how kids learn best. I jumped at those opportunities to quiz influential ski instructors and collect experts' opinions on how to start kids on skis. After all, I thought, I can turn all that story research into helpful hints for nurturing my own child's skills and love for the sport.
The advice I gleaned has definitely shaped our approach with Simone, so I thought I'd share it here. And if you've got a good tip that other parents might benefit from, please share it with a comment below!
Skip the snowplow.
These days, "pizza" is out of vogue. Top schools teach kids to make parallel turns right from the start, which reinforces the skills they'll need to become experts (relying on wedge turns only ingrains bad habits that they'll need to un-learn later on).
Leash the boots.
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Most top schools discourage the use of chest harnesses, which pull kids' weight back, not forward (which is what you want to encourage). Look for poles or tethers that attach to kids' boots. Those restraints help an adult guide the young skier without yanking her into the backseat.
Insist on easy terrain.
Most parents are eager to see their kids progress. We're also eager for more variety than the same old boring bunny hill provides. So most of us are guilty of rushing kids into harder terrain before they're really ready. Experts call it "over-terraining" kids, and you know you're doing it if you see the kid sitting back on their tails or making survival snowplow turns. Flat, wide slopes let learners pressure the fronts of their boots and play with parallel turns. When they can replicate those turns on steeper terrain, then they're ready—not before.
Put him in a pack.
Olympic skier Jonny Moseley is a big fan of group instruction for kids. Sure, he knows a thing or two about ski skills and certainly has what it takes to teach his sons Jack (7) and Tommy (4). Instead, he's enrolled them in Mighty Mites, a Squaw Valley program that lets groups of kids ski with a regular coach. He feels that's how kids learn best: Challenging and inspiring one another in a spirit of play—not obeying dad. His example makes me excited to sign Simone up for the U6 program offered through our own Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
More pack mentality.
Winter Park Resort offers a neat program called "Just Because I'm Three." It's a group lesson designed especially for preschoolers, taught by teachers who excel with this age group. Some of the instruction takes place indoors, on play equipment that simulates a ski run. The rest unfolds on snow, at a dedicated on-mountain learning area that's traffic-free (and easy-access, since snowmobiles pull trailers full of kids to the learners' zone).
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