Say hello to snow
We all know first impressions count – and nowhere is that more important than on the snowfields. If your child’s first memory of skiing is being wet, cold, lonely and miserable, it could turn them off the sport for life.
According to both experts and Holidays with Kids readers, preparation is the key to a happy first ski experience. Here are some of the major tips provided by our readers; they are great ways to help instil a love of all things snowy in your child’s life.
The first challenge is choosing a resort. Things to consider range from quality of the ski school to the availability of activities off the slopes. A village or alpine town, for example, will often have more to entertain little ones, such as cinemas and snow play.
A reputable ski school programme is a must, taking the age of your child into account. Will they be spending their day in the snow or in the crèche? Or perhaps a mixture of both?
Minimise the distance between the slopes and your accommodation but remember that, for little legs, a long walk is worse than a long drive. Some resorts are great for beginners, such as Charlotte Pass or Selwyn Snowfields,
but may offer less in the way of activities and diversity, such as Perisher, Thredbo, Falls Creek, Hotham or Mt Buller.
It’s imperative that your child is warm – there’s nothing more disheartening than a whinging, frozen child who, understandably, just wants to get back indoors in front of a raging fire. Beg, borrow or buy good-quality clothing that fits properly; some ski gear has a tendency to ride up, leaving gaps for the snow to get in.
For small children, oversized one-piece suites are ideal, plus mittens that are easy to get on and off. Dress them in layers, starting with polypropylene underwear that dries quickly and traps the warmth. A cosy hat is also essential for snow play and don’t forget sunglasses or anti-fog goggles that are comfortable and won’t
fall off – the groovier the better!
Look for specially designed ski socks and pack plenty of spares, along with some rope or string to hang up the family’s wet clothes so they dry overnight.
It’s important that ski gear fits properly and is the right size for your child. Once kids are on skis or snowboards, you’ll need to purchase or hire a snowsports helmet. These are now compulsory in ski schools across the globe. Make sure it fits snugly, eliminating any forehead gap between goggles and the helmet; look for adjustable cranial space because kids cannot simply ‘grow into’ helmets. You can also set a good example for your children by sporting a hard hat yourself. Although the sight of adults in helmets was once laughable, they have become essentials, regardless of age and experience. As a bonus, they also offer warmth.
Generally, the shorter the skis, the easier it will be for their first day (this is true for adults as well); skis definitely should not come up any higher than shoulder level. Ensure bindings are correctly adjusted so that little boots spring free in the case of a fall.
Ski boots need to fit with one pair of socks, and no pants tucked inside the boot. Make sure the gap between the calf and the boot isn’t too wide, and that the pants come down well over the top. For multi-buckle boots, only
do up the walking strap until the kids are in the skis. If you’re hiring, organise all your rentals on the mountain. Boots that feel comfortable in the shop have a mysterious way of becoming too tight or too loose after an hour’s skiing so keep your rental guru within sight.
It helps if you can get your kids into boots at home, to practise walking around and playing in them. This will make them familiar with the strange angle as well as the complicated system of buckles. You can even put them on
the lawn in their skis and pull them around the garden. For older kids, however, rollerblading is ideal for developing balance.
First day on the snow
The best age to introduce kids to the snow is really up to the parents – every child is different, and their needs will vary according to their size, strength and endurance levels.
Most readers recommend acclimatising young children to the cold at an early age, taking them to the snow to play, toboggan or just build snowmen. Fun is the key here – if they love snow, then it makes sense that they’ll
love snow sports too! New to Thredbo this year is a snow play area at the Valley Terminal, the perfect space to introduce kids to all the fun that winter promises. There's tobogganing, snow tubing and all the snow you could desire to build a picture-perfect snowman.
Children with older siblings already up on skis or snowboards may find the transition easier, and be up zooming around the slopes before you know it. Around three or four years is an ideal age to see if they like skis, while
budding snowboarders should probably wait a few years more. Try not to push them into having a go – wait for them to express an interest in trying.
Remember, kids can’t last on the slopes for hours and hours – they get tired and hungry, so plan several breaks throughout the day. Half-day sessions are ideal, whatever the age. Stock everyone’s pockets with the essentials:
tissues, SPF lip balm, sunscreen, muesli bars and chocolates for chairlift pick-me-ups. (Just the sight of a Milky Way chocolate bar takes one of our writers on a nostalgia trip to the Gunbarrel Express chairlift at Thredbo.)
Just like learning to swim, ski lessons are usually best left to professionals. Good instructors are patient, know how to guide young children and can explain the techniques in simple language. So unless you are a saint,
save your sanity by booking your child into a ski school, which will leave you able to enjoy your own time on the slopes.
For young children not yet up to skiing, look for slope-side child care that promises plenty of fun. In Australia, you'll find crèches at Mount Hotham, Mount Buller, Falls Creek, Selwyn Snowfields and Perisher (who will look after littlies as young as six weeks). Thredbo Child Care Centre looks after little ones from six months to six years, with graduates usually going on to the renowned kids' programme at Thredboland. Here kids can ride the Friday Flat Freddy express train, race for the World Cup and illuminate the slopes on an optic flare run.
If you do take your kids out on your own, give them plenty of encouragement and support; building confidence is the key in early stages. Get them balancing as soon as possible – don't allow them to lean on you, as it will become a habit that's hard to break.