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Skiing with Kids: Avoiding Meltdowns on the Mountain

Your kid may be one of those who take to the snow like a baby polar bear, but even the hardiest youngster can have a rough day. You know how it goes—pitching a fit on the bunny hill, sniveling about the cold, and whining to be taken home.

Whether you’re headed to after-school lessons, a weekend getaway, or a family vacation, here are some tips for maximizing the fun and minimizing the pain of a day on the slopes with very young skiers or snowboarders.

Tip #1: Keep them warm … but don’t immobilize them

If your kid stays warm, it’s much more likely that you’ll both enjoy your day on the mountain. Layers are your kid’s friend, in moderation. The key is to strike the right balance between being cold and being overdressed … it’s hard to say which the typical kid hates more. Overheating and frustration with not being able to move is probably just as much a factor in on-hill tantrums as being cold. It may take a little experimentation; just keep in mind that kids’ jackets are usually more heavily insulated than adult jackets and that bib pants offer extra insulation for the upper body, so multiple layers may not be needed. And never, never take a kid out on the mountain wearing more than one pair of socks; all that bulk will just cut off circulation to the toes, making them extra cold. Invest in a pair of decent (but not too thick) wool socks.

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Tip #2: Keep it fun

When teaching your kid to ski, don’t set your expectations too high, and don’t take it too seriously. Remember, the odds are 99.999% (or something like that) against your child growing up to be an Olympic racer. Your kid will have more fun if the pressure’s off, and she sees you laughing and having fun as well. Make everything a game, especially with younger kids. Play I Spy while riding the lift, play Follow the Leader while going down the bunny hill, pretend to be your child’s favorite animal—basically, do whatever it takes to make the day fun for both of you. Don’t worry, nobody else out there will judge you if you’re singing at the top of your lungs as you ski backwards down the slopes. Really.

Tip #3: Give them challenges

In addition to making it fun, make it challenging. As your child gets more comfortable on skis, tell him that if he’s able to do a certain number of runs, he can choose the next run, or choose the next chair lift. Not only does this change things up, but it gives your child a say in how the day goes. If you’re dealing with a mad bomber, count the number of turns in a run and challenge her to make more turns the next one. Once your kid gets a little better, expand your range to different types of runs—of course, ones that they have the skills to manage. Many resorts now have ‘adventure runs’ that let kids play with the terrain a little and give them a taste of what the rest of mountain holds, like trees. Tip #3.1: Don’t lose your kid in the trees.*

Tip #4: Resort to bribery

This is no time to take the high ground. Shamelessly promise hot chocolate and waffles after a certain number of runs, dole out Skittles during chairlift rides—if this kind of stuff is forbidden fare most of the time, all the better. So go ahead, before you head out for a day on the mountain, pack you pockets with candy. Tip #4.1: Be sure to remove any leftover candy before putting your coat in the wash.* Once you’ve established that tradition, you can start stretching the time between lodge breaks and upping the requirements for sweet rewards.

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Tip #5: Put peer pressure to work

When a friend is in the picture, skiing suddenly becomes play, not work. And it just may make your kid think twice before throwing herself onto the snow and refusing to move. So bring along a friend, or, if you’re not feeling that brave, invite along another family for the day or the weekend. And hey, if the kids just end up feeding off each other and it turns into a whine-fest, remember that misery loves company.

Tip #6: Pay Someone Else to Deal with Them

Some youngsters are fine learning to ski with their parents, but in general, most do much better with instructors. Kids can be whiny and clingy around parents, but do fine when someone else is teaching them the basics. Money spent on lessons is generally money well spent: instructors have teaching kids down to a science, and have plenty of tricks up their sleeves for motivating new skiers. Plus, you get the bonus of peer pressure, as discussed above. And need we say … paying someone else to deal with your kid for a couple hours while you take a few runs on your own is never a bad thing. Tip #6.1: Don’t waste this precious free time by stalking the lesson from a distance.* Very often, the skier you get back at the end of the lesson is very often not the same skier that went into it, and you’re now ready to get off the bunny slopes and really start having some fun.

*Been there, done that.

Photos by Re Wikstrom

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