This winter I took it upon myself to get the kids outside for a “learn to love winter” experience . With a father who despises cold weather and does not participate in any winter sports, I knew it was up to this Canadian mom to introduce the kids to all the character building and fun activities in the land of ice and snow.
Last year, 2 out of 3 kids took private ski lessons. They had a great time, bonded with cousins and found a sport that they both were pretty good at. With the little guy turning 4 years old, I figured why not try him on skis and see what happens? So I investigated ski schools, nearby hills, whether to purchase a membership or just private lessons. We even hit the ski show and the swap shop to get the girls their own gear. It was with awe when I walked into the local ski/snowboard shop for the first time overwhelmed at the choices for baklava and toques.
By early January (albeit it with little snow at that time) I booked lessons at Chicopee in Kitchener, Ontario about an hour from where live. Sundays became ski day. I packed up the van early Sunday morning with skis, bags, helmets. Threw some snacks into a Ziploc bag and filled the water bottles.
“How are you going to carry all that and get all 3 kids in their gear?” A befuddled Mr. L asked one chilly Sunday morning. I shrugged. He is talking to a mom of three kids. We are pros at being pack animals.
“I’ll figure it out.”
As ski season winds down, here is what I learned:
1) If it takes you an hour to drive to your ski destination, give yourself two hours. Why? Because you can’t account for traffic, parking mayhem at a ski hill, washroom breaks for kids and line-ups for rentals.
2) Rentals. Don’t purchase the gear until you know if your kid is going to like it. Most rentals for little kids are half the price of adult rentals or included in the cost of the private lesson. Ask your ski hill the options. I chose to buy gear this year for the older kids because they had a year of lessons and I knew they enjoyed it. In Jacob’s case, I had no idea so why spend the money?
3) But, if you want to buy any gear for your kids, purchase the helmet and goggles. Rent the rest.
4) Gear can be an incentive. Jacob desperately wanted a pair of his own goggles after the girls got theirs. The deal, two lessons without complaining and give it a real chance and if he liked skiing, he got goggles. Also, if you have mixed gender siblings, try to buy skis, goggles and helmets that are gender neutral colours. Easy to pass down to the next kid.
5) Choose a hill that’s a good fit for your family. Where you go may not be the most popular one or even the closest to you. Do your research or try out a class at the hill, check out the facilities before committing to a batch of lessons. We drive an hour to get to the ski hill of our choice. Why? Because the instructors are experienced but young enough to have fun. The beginner hills are not intimidating. It has a cafeteria, lockers, washroom and chalet all at the base of the hills. Parking is close to the hill. Important factors when you are carrying all the gear trying to watch three little kids in a busy parking lot on your own. In one word: convenience.
6) Get your kids packs for their boots and let them carry their gear! My standard phrase is this: you want to ski? You have to learn to carry the equipment. I’m a five foot two person. I cannot carry 3 sets of skis, 4 helmets (if I’m skiing) and your boots. The kids can help if we teach them in their early years to be responsible for their own equipment.
7) Take snacks and dole them out as you snap on boots and helmets. I’m on my own each weekend with three little kids getting gear on. They have time to wolf down a banana or granola bar while I get another kid dressed. This ensures they aren’t starving and gives them something to do.
8) Adjust your expectations. Unless you are an experienced skier (which I am not!) or have other people to ski with don’t bother taking your own stuff. You won’t have time to hit the hills in between snapping pictures, bouncing between hills to watch each kid come flying down the hill at least once, run to the bathroom (because it’s your only chance alone) and maybe grab a coffee. I know after an hour of lessons, my kids are done. That may change as they get more experienced but an hour of skiing is a lot for young kids.
9) Consider private lessons for new skiers. I found private lessons a great resource. It really helped move the kids along quickly and they benefitted from having one-on-one attention with an instructor. Jacob was really nervous this past Sunday on his second lesson. He was okay with the bunny hill and magic carpet but did not want to go on the chair lift. His instructor knew exactly how to handle him and made him very comfortable. He needed that one-on-one to build up his confidence.
10) Walk away if you’re feeling nervous. Mr. L does not believe his children are on their way to becoming good little skiers. “They’re so young!” He states again and again. (Remember, this is a guy who does not ski.) One lesson he attended, he grimaced watching the girls easily hop onto a chair lift riding to the top of a larger hill without looking back. I told him to walk away and let the instructors do their job. Then I did the same thing last week when Jacob’s instructor cheerily said to my 4 year old, “Let’s go on the chair lift.”
My immediate response, “But he’s only 4 years old, it was a big jump to get him on the bunny hill last week. Do you think he’s ready?” The instructor calmly looked at Jacob and said, “We can try, right?”
With a hesitant shrug and high-five the instructor took his little gloved hand shuffling to the chair lift. I walked away. He was right, I shouldn’t stand in Jacob’s way but let him try and I need to trust the instructor.
Lastly, just a note. Plan something fun afterwards. Hot chocolate. Lunch out. Whatever it is, reward your kids for doing something that a lot of people are afraid to do. Getting outside in winter and actually having fun.