Author: Rachel Coleman
Great tips from professional instructors dedicated to creating, offering and maintaining the "best resort for family fun, anywhere."
Winter offers many opportunities for families to enjoy recreation in the outdoors. Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are all sports that families can enjoy together and pursue as lifelong hobbies. If your children are young, how do you know if they are ready to begin a snowsport? To help parents make that decision, the following tips were collected from snowsports instructors at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, named Best Resort in North America for Family Programs in a poll of SKI Magazine readers for the 14th year.
Parents can also use an early learning opportunity to alert the child to safety considerations, particularly with alpine skiing and snowboarding. Snowboarding program manager Rob Pirog says, “Let them know that things like helmets, snowboard wrist guards, and impact shorts are important. Professionals are wearing all the same stuff. By protecting themselves, kids will be able to try new things and get better at the sport.”
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try things with your children. Pirog advises, “If the kids know that you are invested and interested in what they are doing, they’ll be more likely to want to keep going. Be supportive and encouraging. The more family members that can participate, the better!”
Peter Ingvoldstad is the director of Smugglers’ Snow Sport University, which provides instruction at the Resort. He comments, “Twenty years ago experts in child development were doubtful that three year olds were ready to learn how to ski, yet in the years since, resorts like Smugglers’ have successfully taught thousands of kids that age to ski.” Ability depends on the child, so gauge your child’s athleticism, balance, and interest in new things. One way to do that is to go a ski shop and find boots that fit them, then allow them to clomp around a bit. Are they happy and interested, or cranky and complaining?
In Ingvoldstad’s opinion, safety and fun are important considerations for a young child’s introduction to alpine skiing. He says, “Safety is paramount. The child needs to learn at a pace and in an area appropriate for their beginning skill level. At Smugglers’, we start 2 ½ and young 3 year olds in our Little Rascals on Snow program, based out of TREASURES child care center, which provides a nurturing atmosphere for this age group. We take ‘baby steps,’ playing in the ski boots indoors prior to venturing outdoors, and getting used to sliding on flat terrain before moving on to a low incline conveyor lift.” The child’s equipment should be carefully fitted and instruction should come in short increments to prevent overtiredness. Whether you choose to instruct your child yourself or enroll them in a lesson, Ingvoldstad advises parents to “plan, plan, plan. Think carefully about your child’s capabilities and dedicate yourself to introducing skiing in a safe, fun and relaxed way.”
Rob Pirog, snowboarding program manager at Smugglers’, comments, “As far as knowing when a child is ready for snowboarding, sometimes a signal is that they tell you they want to try it, or they are open to the suggestion of trying it.” With snowboarding, muscle development and balance are important. Can they do hopscotch jumps or balance on one leg? Pirog says that one other thing to keep in mind is the difficulty of finding functional, well fitting boots and bindings for children younger than four years old. Burton is one company that has gear sized for kids approximately four years and older. “I have seen people helping kids experience snowboarding as young as 18 months old. However, that tends to involve the child standing between the adult’s bindings and hanging on to their legs while they slide down an easy incline,” says Pirog. He suggests that parents be prepared to manage their child’s expectations. “Many kids look at Olympic snowboarder Shaun White and think that’s what they’ll be doing as soon as they start their lesson. They’ll need to know that as with any sport, practice is key.”
Zucker has no qualms about introducing young children to snowshoeing. He says, “If the child can walk, they can snowshoe, which makes this a terrific family activity. The odds are that the child will enjoy snowshoeing, because they can do it immediately. There’s no sliding and traction is great going up and down hills.” Snowshoes are available in models appropriate for young children. Zucker recommends that young children not use poles because “they do a lot of pointing with them, and not much else.” Parents may want to reinforce the child’s enthusiasm by getting back out on snowshoes as soon as possible. Zucker adds, “Snowshoeing requires even less of a snow base than skiing and can be done anywhere there’s at least a few inches of snow. Many snowshoeing centers offer special programs for kids, such as Nordic Quest in Vermont, which links snowshoeing with a fun treasure hunt.”
Unlike alpine skiing, where gravity does much of the work, in cross-country skiing the child has to be able to supply the power to move along on level terrain or up a hill. For this reason, Smugglers’ Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Adventure Center director Zeke Zucker recommends that parents not have children younger than seven or eight try cross-country skiing because they are likely to get frustrated with it. “If the child has expressed interest in the sport and is athletically inclined, I would suggest a ‘mom/dad and me’ lesson, where the parent and an instructor work together in a short, positive learning situation with the child,” says Zucker. “The good news is, if the child really takes to cross-country skiing, it is a sport that can be enjoyed in snowy fields or woods near home with inexpensive skis, boots and poles.”
Family Travel Forum would like to thank Smugglers’ Notch for providing this helpul information. For more information on Smugglers’ Notch vacations you can read FTF's additional coverage. To reach Smuggs directly, call 800/451-8752 or visit www.smuggs.com.