Anyone who read my blog knows how passionate I am about encouraging people, especially children, to spend as much time outdoors as possible. A couple years ago, I shared information I learned in school about the essential movement skills children need to learn. Included in Canada’s list of essential skills is skating/skiing. It makes sense when you consider how long our winters are. If we don’t teach our children to love outdoor sports, they’ll stay indoors most of the year!

But what age is it safe to take your kids out to the ski hill? How do ensure they don’t get hurt? There are so many questions and unknowns that keep families off the hill.

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor

I was lucky to pick the brain of Katherine Seleski, Operation Manager and a Level 3 ski instructor at Pass Powderkeg, a family ski hill in Blairmore, Alberta (aka. Crowsnes Pass). And seriously, her advice is pure gold! I was nodding along as I read her answers.

What age can you start teaching your kid to ski? I usually hear 5-7, but I’ve seen friends start their kids at 2! 

Kids are able to start skiing as soon as they can walk! I personally was on snow at the age of 18 months, and have taught kids that young before!

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor

However, if you are thinking of introducing your children to skiing at that age, make sure your expectations are realistic. You want your children to love skiing/snowboarding as much as you do, so a gentle introduction guided by your child’s interest and energy levels is recommended! A couple helpful tips:

  1. Introduce ski boots before you try the skis! Have your child wander around inside on carpet in boots or out in the snow.  Our beginner area is perfect to let children wander around to get the feeling of something new on their feet.
  2. Start them sliding on small skis.   Make sure the skis are adjusted to their boot size, weight, height and age by a proper technician and have them walk around with the skis on.  I use the analogy “Walk Like a Penguin” to give kids the idea.  They love to chase you as well!
  3. Get them in a lesson with a certified instructor. Sometimes, there’s things that are best left to someone else.  A 1 on 1 lesson with an instructor allows them the chance to learn something new from someone with a bit of background and knowledge on the best ways to learn! Most instructor certification programs focus on the best practices for teaching children from 18months and up, along with proper methods to assist with their development as skiers based on their size and stage of life.

What age can you start teaching your kid to snowboard? I always heard they should learn to ski first and not get on a snowboard until 7-10?

Snowboarding doesn’t have an age to begin at! It’s whenever you think they are ready.  I’ve seen kids as young as 1.5 years old on a board! Burton Snowboards makes some great small snowboards that are easy for kids to learn on.  They come with a “riglet” that allows you to tow them around while they learn to balance on the board.  While the progression may not be as quick as on skis, it’s definitely an option worth considering.

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor

If you are hoping to get your child out on a snowboard at a young age, instruction always helps.  Someone who knows the tricks and tips to make the progression easier is worth their weight in gold! As well, some children learn best from others – don’t forget to keep that in mind.

How do you prevent your kid from barreling down out of control? I think that’s every mother’s nightmare. 

 It is absolutely a nightmare to have children out of control on snow! There are definitely a few different ideas behind this but finding a cause really helps.

If your child is going out of control because they’re bored on the bunny hill, it might be time to try something a bit harder, with the caveat that they must do their best to do X turns before the bottom. Games and challenges are also great ways to change that energy into something safe and productive. A great one is trying to see how many turns they can do before the bottom of the run, or get them to learn to ski backwards!

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor

Trying the other discipline is also an option.  Skiers, try snowboarding, and vice versa.  It might slow them down for a bit – long enough to understand that crashing isn’t fun.

If you aren’t having any luck, feel free to ask a staff member from the ski area to assist you. Sometimes that presence from another adult can really show them that their behaviour isn’t safe.  The Alpine Responsibility Code is a great resource for showing kids the “rules” of the mountain.

If your child is having a tough time managing speed control, a lesson is always a good option as well!

How long can little kids typically last? I know it won’t be a whole day, but an hour? 3 hours? 

That’s a tough question! In my experience, kids under the age of 5 last between 20 minutes to 1 hour out skiing before they’re tired, especially if they are beginners. 

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor

I always play it by ear and watch for signs of tiredness, like lagging behind, silence, red cheeks and tears of course! A great hint is to bring a snack with you just in case they’re hungry on the way down. A quick snack usually perks little ones up!

Older kids (8-10) are usually super confident and always bugging their parents to go on harder runs before they are ready. What are some ways you can challenge them on easier runs?

It can definitely be hard to keep older kids engaged on easier runs but there are a couple fun things you can do to slow them down!

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor
  1. Ski on 1 ski down!
  2. Snowboard switch (use your opposite foot first)
  3. Try and spin 360 on snow!
  4. Find little jumps and tree trails in the trees off the sides of the runs. Make sure you look before you come back onto the main run.
  5. Ski/ride on the sides of runs and back down.
    1. If this is too easy, ski up the side of the run then hop and turn your skis back down hill.

Skiing is expensive.  How can I make it affordable?

Skiing can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. 

Lift tickets – Many ski resorts offer deals if you purchase online or in wholesalers like Costco. Many small communities also have ski areas in their towns, so make sure to do a search for smaller ski areas as well – lift tickets are often half the price of the bigger areas! 

Gear – So many options! Some local gear shops like Alpenland will offer used gear at a fraction of the price of new! Knowledgeable staff go a long way to getting you the best gear to get going for any age. 

Seasonal gear rentals are also affordable options. These come from a ski area or shop with a rental service. For one price, you get access to their gear all year long! It’s a great option for kids who are growing too fast or love to ski AND snowboard as you can do either! Our seasonal rentals start at $125 for ages 0-5.

Swap and buy groups can be huge wins! While you have to catch them at the right time, often these groups have some gems! Keep an eye out from October on – you never know when the perfect pair will jump out!

What gear do my kids actually need?

 There are some essentials to skiing/snowboarding that all kids need!

Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor
  • Snowpants that are waterproof and sit a bit above the ground when standing in boots.  If their snowpants aren’t waterproof, or were many years ago, you can buy waterproofing detergents that re-waterproof them! It’ll save money and keep your kids dry – win-win!
  • A jacket! It doesn’t have to be brand new.  A winter coat makes a big difference! Make sure they’ve got enough room to move and add a layer or two in case they get cold.
  • Layers. Kids heat up differently than adults.  Make sure they’ve got a layer or two on that can be left in the lodge or car in case they heat up! The layer next to their skin should be something that wicks sweat. Regardless of how cold it is, they will work up a sweat skiing or snowboarding.
  • Socks.  These truly make or break a day on the slopes.  Have your child wear a long pair of socks that nearly go to their knees.  Pro-tip: socks that are flat (have no ribbing on them) are best! 1 pair is just fine.
  • Helmet.
Photo Credit: Sally Ann Taylor

About Katherine Seleski, Operations Manager Pass Powderkeg

I am one of the lucky who grew up on snow from a year and a half all the way until now. I got my start in the ski industry as a ski instructor and found my passion – the snow sports world.  After a diploma in Ski Resort Operations and Management, and a degree in Management from the University of Lethbridge, I am now following my dream of managing a great ski area in the Crowsnest Pass.

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