I’ve come by my “ski mom” badge honestly: think 13-plus winters of practice bundling and unbundling children, countless breaths held as tiny bodies scootched forward on chairlifts, and even more countless hours standing at the bottom of frigid bunny hills—and later, race hills—cheering on every “pizza,” “french fry,” “hockey stop,” and “great course line.”
My husband, a longtime instructor, taught our kids to ski quite literally as soon as they could walk. Now, at 14, 8, and 5, they shred the slopes with total confidence and share an unabashed love for winter.
While I have plenty of years left packing snacks and bolting to the bottom for emergency bathroom breaks, we’ve reached a point as a family where I’m less afraid and more awed. Skiing together provides lots of lessons in letting go, but also, I get surprising glimpses of my children in a language of favorite hills and ski styles. One prefers powder found deep in the woods. One lives for the speed and competition of a race course. And our youngest? She just wants to do it all, and do it better than her brothers.
Although I not-so-secretly prefer the hushed, slow glide of cross-country skis across unbroken snow, I’ve come to love the chaos of gear gathering, clumsy struts of children in ski boots. I’ve come to appreciate this gift of togetherness, awareness, sharing the oh-so-alive feeling of being outside in the cold. And when I stand under faded blue skies, following each child’s tracks to the bottom of a hill, I remember my wobble-legged toddlers, and I’m filled with joy for all the runs we’ve yet to share.
So, like the ski mamas (and papas) who came before me—folks who shared meltdown-avoidance tricks, slipped splashes of Baileys in my hot cocoa, and reminded me that screaming “Slow down!” to an in-control child is unnecessary—I’m happy to pass along sanity-saving and skill-building tips from those who know best.
Keep it fun.
If skiing is a family activity full of laughs, food-related breaks, and celebrating all the small victories, you can bet your children will be amped to hop back onto the chairlifts or “magic carpets” (think big conveyor belts on snow at places like Crystal Mountain, Homestead and both Boyne properties).
Always quit while you’re ahead, even if that means just one run down the bunny hill. Leaving each day on a successful note keeps kids hungry for more and spares parents from exhaustive on-hill sobfests.
Whenever possible, don’t pick them up.
Kids are amazingly flexible and agile when it comes to getting up off the snow. Give them time to try to do it on their own. A lot of encouragement and a little patience will go a long way toward creating self-sufficient skiers.
Have something to look forward to (less nicely known as “the bribe”).
It doesn’t have to be sweets (though I will say, glazed doughnuts have saved our family outings many a morning). It can be making snow angels near the lodge, or playing follow the leader down hill. It can also be earning the chance to visit runs geared toward kids like Nub’s Nob’s PandaLand, Boyne Highland’s “Fun Land,” complete with an on-hill fort, or post-skiing tube sessions at places like the Cedar River Tubing Park at Schuss Mountain.
It’s All About Timing
Crystal Mountain’s Ron Shepard tells parents the number one rule of teaching little ones to ski is to make it a “no stress” experience.
“The best thing to do is not make it overwhelming for the kids or the parents,” he says. Usually this means letting a professional do the work.
“Ski lessons are definitely a worthy investment. It’s less pressure for the kids, and they’ll perform differently for instructors,” Shepard advises. Referring back to the no-stress rule, he adds it’s important to remember some children just aren’t ready when they walk in the ski school doors.
“That’s why we created the ‘meltdown free’ lesson—a 45-minute private for the 2- to 4-year-olds with just 30 minutes on the snow—it’s such a brief intro, and we find kids want to come back.”
Crystal’s Cubs Ski and Care for ages 3 to 6 also offers a preschool-like experience, mixing inside childcare time and outside playtime to introduce skiing in a fun and relaxed way, crystalmountain.com.
Sometimes the question isn’t how long to keep kids on the slopes, but when to take them out in the first place. Enter the second annual Kids’ Festival Weekend at Boyne Mountain, happening this year March 7–9, 2014.
Three days of events include everything from inflatable obstacle courses and bounce houses to family dance parties, bonfires with s’mores, movies, crafts and more. Kids have tons of opportunities for fun before, after, and during their time on the hill. Packages for skiing and lodging are available, with kids 8 and under staying, skiing and eating breakfast for free, and juniors ages 9–15 receiving deeply discounted rates, boyne.com.
Read the entire article for more tips on Northern Michigan ski kids and parents in the January 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.