Taking your children skiing for the first time is always exciting - a heady mix of anticipation, joy, and fear! That first trip always raises many questions about where to go and what to bring but one I get asked most often as a ski instructor is:
Should you put the kids in ski school or not?
The simple answer is .... it depends.
It depends on a lot of different things like expectations for the trip, the parent's skiing and teaching skills, the child's age, maturity, and nature, and even the time of year. So let's take a look at what factors might help you decide.
One obvious factor is age. As a general rule, the older the child, the more they will enjoy ski school. Some ski schools and resorts offer a ski creche or nursery but most won't accept children until they are at least 3 or 4 years old.
But more important than age is your child's personality. Can they handle being separated from their parents for a half or full day? Does your child enjoy the company of a bunch of other kids and can make new friends easily? Are they happy when you drop them off at (normal) kindergarten or school?
Age is related to maturity but ski school will be easier for a mature 4yo than a 6yo who can't handle being away from mum. Children become more independent with age and will benefit from ski school the older they are as a beginner skier.
An equally important factor is you - your expectations and skills. For some parents, the major benefit of ski school is time off. Dropping the kids of in the morning and picking them up as the lifts close offers the parents a chance to escape and get some quality couple time together. Ski school offers peace of mind that their kids are (probably) happy and learning in safe environment.
For others, a ski holiday is a chance to spend time together as a family. Watching your kids progress from pizza to parallel is an amazing time and something you might miss if you are flying down the blacks or relaxing at a mountain bar. Of course, you could always put them in ski school and watch them learn but please don't do this for too long - give your child (and their instructor) a chance to learn away from your gaze.
Your expectations about your ski holiday wont count for much if they don't match your skills however. Are you a good skier? Do you understand bio-mechanics? Do you known your a-frame from your apres and can you pick your bunny slope from the back country? While you don't need to be a world cup racer to be a good instructor (and most of us weren't), you do need to know the fundamentals of skiing in order to teach it.
Yet even good skiers can make horrible ski teachers. Equally if not more important is the ability to make learning fun and communicate in language children understand. And a dilemma every parent knows all too well is will your child listen to you? Some kids listen better to a teacher when it comes to learning a new skill like this. Other children only want to stay in the comfort of their family.
Where and when
One aspect many parents overlook when making the choice to ski school or not is when and where they are skiing. If you are travelling in high season, expect most ski schools to be booked solid. This means there will be more children per instructor so if you child is younger or less able to deal with separation, ski school wont be as enjoyable for them as in low season. Conversely, for older or more independent kids, high season with a full class of 12 other kids can be even more fun.
High season also means you'll need to make this decision earlier - well before you arrive. At my school in Austria, we are fully booked out over Christmas / New Years and February and there is no room for those decide on ski school once they arrive. If you are travelling at these times, book ski school at the same time you book your accommodation.
Where you ski also determines what languages are available. While many ski instructor qualifications require the ability to speak multiple languages, few ski schools will guarantee your instructor will speak your child's native tongue. I speak 3 languages but it can be a real challenge communication with young Dutch or Russian children when we don't share a common tongue.
The final issue is one of cost. It's true that ski school is not cheap but then again neither is an average week's ski trip. If you are spending all that money on flights, hotels, lift passes, and food, then ski school isn't that much more on top. Skiing can be expensive and for some people, cost is the make or break factor but if you really want that first family ski trip to be enjoyable, the cost of ski school should be your lowest concern.
So whether you would like to teach your child how to ski on your own or leave it to an instructor is up to you to decide. Every family is different so only you can know the right answer. But hopefully this post will make that choice easier.
Have you taught your kids to ski or did you choose ski school? What was best for you? Let me know below.