An expert points the way for your novice snow bunnies, writes Beth J Harpaz.
Ski season is starting, with Ruapehu's Happy Valley already open and the country's other fields due to open this month. For parents, that may mean getting kids on the slopes for the first time. But is there a perfect age to learn to ski?
Nate Gardner, ski and snowboard school training manager at Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont, in the US, says that what's more important than a child's age is his or her readiness. How well does the child handle other physical activities? Does the child separate well from parents so that she or he is comfortable spending a few hours with a ski instructor and other kids on the slopes, away from parents?
"Every child develops at their own rate both physically and emotionally," Gardner says.
"That's going to be a big factor in whether the child is ready to learn to ski."
Here's some other advice from Gardner on everything from planning a family ski trip to tailoring ski instruction to a child's learning style.
PRIVATE VERSUS GROUP LESSONS
"Private lessons are great for one-on-one attention," Gardner says. "The experience gets tailored to you."
But he added that "kids learn a lot from their peers." Children sometimes have more fun and get more out of a group lesson where they can interact with kids their age.
Or do a bit of both: "Maybe a two-hour introduction when they first arrive, then the next lesson is this full day group where they're getting to hang out with other kids."
PIZZA, FRENCH FRIES
You may hear and see ski instructors exhorting kids with the words: "Pizza! French fries!"
Gardner says it's a creative way to help students configure their skis right: angle the tips inward to slow down, like a pizza slice, or straighten them like fries to go a little faster.
"One thing almost all kids know is what a slice of pizza looks like," he says.
How long does it take for kids to learn to ski?
"It has to do entirely with the kids themselves, their age, their developmental level, their emotional readiness, their willingness to learn from a stranger," he says. "Parents need to gauge their expectations based on what they know of their child's previous experiences."
A child's learning style matters too. "Everybody learns a different way," Gardner says.
"Instructors are trained to assess the kids and get the ones who are "doers" into the activity as soon as possible, while talking through the process with kids who are "thinkers and listeners and want some more of the information."
And always make things fun and positive. "If each time is a fun experience, you're going to have a lot more success than you are dragging them to the hill kicking and screaming."
RENT OR BUY?
Gardner says when it comes to equipment — skis, boots, bindings, helmets — you're better off renting. It takes the burden out of lugging gear from where you live to the mountain. It also ensures that you're getting the latest, high-quality gear and that it fits your fast-growing child every time. If you end up doing a lot of skiing, consider a lease programme in which you can trade gear in at the end of the season.
Dress kids in layers so they can peel off midday when the sun is out and bundle up early morning and late afternoon when it's chillier. Don't forget goggles and sunscreen. The snow reflects ultraviolet light with greater intensity than even the beach, Gardner said.
"Goggles are key to keeping that brightness off the eyes and keeping the wind out of the face."