A few years ago the Professional Ski Instructor Association determined that the teaching of children presented challenges so unique that all higher-level instructors would be required to obtain certification as Children Specialists. This was after many years of intense study and debate. They could have simply asked the parents and saved themselves a lot of time. Embracement of skiing by the children is absolutely essential to the perpetuation of the sport, and they cannot be taught in the same manner as adults. Kid’s minds work differently, their bodies work differently, and their learning styles can change dramatically from year to year. That cute and loving five-year-old is on a completely different planet than the fifteen-year-old who seems to be from Mars. Any observant parent can tell you this. What many of the parents do not understand is how to pass on the skills of skiing and a love of the snowy mountains to their own offspring in such a manner as to have a positive experience. This is where the professional instructor comes into your life and yells, “STOP! Never give ski lessons to your own children, or significant other for that matter. Always enroll in a ski school and save your relationship.”
With that being said, this sage advice will be ignored by many. However, some very naïve parents still need guidance.
#1 Come prepared for a day on the mountain with your child. This means they have a helmet on and buckled. They have comfortable goggles, warm gloves, and you both have had a fortifying breakfast: eggs and pancakes for them, Bloody Mary’s for you. One must keep up both energy and attitude. Don’t forget your wallet.
#2 Take the poles away from the little ones. Until the child has control of their legs, the ski poles are an impediment to any progress. Let them whine. Without the poles, they will gain balance and confidence quickly. You can always tow them across the flat areas. It’s great exercise. With poles, they will ski over them or very possibly poke your eye out on the lift. My daughter was eight before she had poles. I told her it was “illegal in the State of Vermont to have poles until the age of eight and all those other children’s parents will soon be going to prison.” Go with that. If they love you, the whining will eventually stop.
#3 Many parents have told me, “My child can’t turn and is out of control.” This is not necessarily true. I quickly see that the child can turn. The child simply does not want to turn. Like you, they have been watching too much of Lindsey Vonn barreling down a mountain. While playing “follow the parent across the hill” is okay for a while, it ultimately becomes boring. Give them objects (soft ones) to ski around. Children will naturally focus on something and then go around it. They have good survival instincts. Use this to your advantage. Cones and gates work well, while trees and snowmobiles do not.
#4 Play games and use your imagination. This cannot be stressed enough. Teach the skills of skiing through play, not drills. Ideas? There are hundreds of them so don’t become stuck in a rut. Use a stuffed animal tucked into a jacket or pocket, and take everyone on an adventure around the mountain. Be prepared to adopt this animal because the child will soon bond with it. Use hoops, held at the belly button, like the steering wheel of cars or boats to help guide little legs into the turn. Remember “red light, green light, yellow light”? Play that, but let the child call out the colors too! Become a kid again and forget the onerous drills.
#5 Stay Real. We all have a vision of what good skiing looks like, that is our ideal, but it is not attainable for many years. Bodies are built differently. Young children move as a unit, like mini-Frankensteins, while teenagers can flop around like Bambi. Just when we think we finally have the movements down as adults, arthritis sets in. Focus on the positive, teach one movement at a time, and let the rest of the performance roll off of your back.
#6 Pacing. This is as much for the parent as it is for the child. Never forget that skiing is supposed to be fun and it is if we keep it in perspective. It is interesting to compare the attitude of the typical American skier who is clocking his vertical feet on a watch to that of the European who is wondering, “Who has the corkscrew?” Kids need time off of the skis and so do their aging parents. Be gentle with yourself and everybody will have a far better time out on the mountain.
Now, in the event that you will reconsider your decision to teach your child yourself, remember that the Quechee Ski School has been in operation by Ken Kramberg for 35 years. He has been instructing there since 1979. The program has a most excellent reputation particularly for the Children’s Ski School which is overseen by the (almost legendary) Paul Sadowski. Now, THIS is where your children need to be while you contemplate such difficult questions such as, “Yeah, where is that corkscrew anyway?”
The small hill of Quechee has plenty to offer for both the beginner and the expert. That’s right, oh “double black diamond skiers.” Practice the five Fundamental Mechanics of Skiing on this hill. Isolate each one before combining them for terrain and snow conditions. If you can do it here, then you can then do it anywhere. Do you need more explanation of that? Book, one of the PSIA-certified instructors at the Quechee Ski School this season and enjoy improvements for the whole family.
See you on the slopes.