When and How to Start Kids Skiing

What age should kids be when they begin skiing? If the rest of the family skis, a good key is when they seem interested. If skiing is not a regular part of your winter activities, you may want to begin by visiting a ski area so they see other kids skiing. They are ready when they appear excited to learn. Most resorts start at 3 or 4; we chose 4. Go with their interest — if they don’t show any enthusiasm, let it rest. You know your own child — if she is usually reluctant to try something new but likes it once it’s tried, maybe suggest trying it once.

Cramore Mountain Resort, GET lessons, snow boarding, New Hampshire, North Conway

© Stillman Rogers

What if they don’t like skiing? Don’t let them feel guilty for not enjoying it. Find other things for them to do while others in the family ski, and eventually they will decide to try again. It may take a while: Our youngest was 10 before she decided everyone else seemed to be having fun so she should try another lesson. That time she took to it immediately.

Even if you’re a good skier, unless you are a trained instructor (and trained recently), sign kids up for a ski lesson, preferably at a mountain with a full children’s program and instructors specially trained in teaching young kids. Look for dedicated beginner areas, especially those with snow sculpted for learning and “magic carpet” lifts. Above all, don’t load a first-timer onto a lift and try skiing down the mountain with them between your skis. It’s scary for kids, dangerous for you both and doesn’t teach them how to ski.

Mary Rogers, first ski day, Jan 14, 06, Gunstock, Jeffery Thibault instructor

© Stillman Rogers

A certified instructor will not only create a good first experience for a child, but also give you good tips on skiing together after the lesson. We found it was worthwhile to choose a private lesson first instead of group lessons. Along with individual attention, a child can progress at his own speed, and won’t be distracted by other kids or intimidated by fear of not doing as well.

Mary Rogers, first ski day, Jan 14, 06, Gunstock, Jeffery Thibault instructor

© Stillman Rogers

If you opt for a group lesson, ask how many children and instructors are in each group (there should always be two with young kids), how the groups are divided, how children are moved as they progress and how much actual ski time each child gets (as opposed to waiting in line). For very young children, consider a ski-play program that includes skiing part of a day or half-day mixed with playtime.

We opted for private lessons to start, and then a half-day ski-play experience a couple of times, followed by our skiing with them for an hour or so before another private lesson. That combined individual attention with a chance to practice a little bit before moving on. It seemed less intimidating than a series of lessons (and less expensive).

Mary Rogers, first ski day, Jan 14, 06, Gunstock, Jeffery Thibault instructor

© Stillman Rogers

Most learn-to-ski packages include rental equipment (which should also include a helmet — start kids skiing safely so it will be a lifetime habit). Don’t borrow equipment — boots should be properly fitted and skis correctly adjusted. Be sure kids are dressed warmly enough for the day’s weather — there’s no bigger turn-off than being cold.

After the lesson, learn the language before you take them on the mountain yourself. Snowplows are wedges for older kids, pizza slices for preschoolers. Parallel is French fries, and a spider is the best way to get up from a fall. Watch the first lessons, but from a discreet distance, so you’re not in the way, but so you can follow up with what the instructor tells them. Stay on that path — don’t confuse them with “here’s another way to do that” instead of re-enforcing what they learned in the lesson.

Prepare to spend some time skiing really boring terrain and resist the temptation to take beginning skiers onto more difficult trails. It’s not the place to learn: They are likely to be scared and they will be a danger to other skiers. Wait until after a few lessons and the instructor says they are ready for steeper terrain.

Over the years our kids have taken lessons at a number of mountains in the Northeast, and the ones we thought did the best job are Gunstock and Cranmore Mountain in New Hampshire and Okemo, Smugglers Notch and Bromley in Vermont.