Childhood memories of skiing with family are some of their best memories for many skiers and boarders. And for those who fell in love with the snow in later in life, sharing this passion with their children is really exciting. It's very tempting to get the little ones on the snow as soon as possible.
But skiing with kids is very different from the ski holidays before little people joined the family. All night apres with bad euro-pop music, drinking, and dancing in ski boots turns into to early trips home, bath routines, cartoons and quiet evenings.
Kids change fast and do their abilities and needs. Knowing what to expect at each age will make your family ski holiday go much smoother.
Before 2 years old
In our family, our oldest strapped on her first skis at 18 months and our youngest at 2.5 years. Skiing at this very early age is more of just trying to glide on the flat, or skiing between the parents legs on easy blue pistes.
It's really only for fun and letting the kids have a try. Children neither understand a concept of making a snowplow position with the skis, nor have strong enough muscles in their body to manuvere the skis into a snow plov. They will also likely tire after 15 minutes.
Honestly, skiing at this age is just for the parent's sake (Dad's ego). Very young children will probably have more fun walking on snow than they will in skis.
The goal at this age is simply to get them used to ski equipment and the snow. By all means give it a go, and keep up the practice as long as the child is having fun. But it will still require patience - lots of patience.
2 to 3 years old
If you opt for giving it at go at 2 years old, be aware that it most likely will require a full winter to learn. Their muscle strength is increasing and their coordination will be much better than a toddler's but it is still a bit of a struggle. A 2 year old child will in most cases not be able to learn to ski in a week.
Sessions at the beginning of the season will be limited to 15 mins at a time and this might extend 1-2 hours by the end of the season. Be very aware of how tiring skiing can be. It is a good idea to limit skiing to mornings only and make sure that you are back at the lodge well before nap time.
There were a number of times during our youngest's first season where we thought "just one more run" only to have him fall asleep standing up on the T-bar! It's not an easy task to hold a sleeping child while getting off the T-bar let alone riding it with one.
3 to 4 years old
At 3 - 4 years old, some children can definitely learn to ski and ski schools will start accepting them from this age. Some will also be able to progress in just a week. But other children will not be ready for a variety of reasons - there can be a lack of interest, lack of body control, some wear out really quickly and need lots of breaks. Parents really need to accept that at the outcome can be extremely different for each child - different even between siblings.
Learning at this age is done via copying. They really wont understand edging or body separation so just put your hands on your knees and "pizza", and your children should copy. Provided they get a long lunch break and plenty of little play breaks while skiing, kids this age can ski 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. A common problem I see at this age is parents trying to fit too much in - kids this age need plenty of mental as well as physical rest from the piste.
5 to 6 years old.
At 5 - 6 and up, children often learn skiing quite quickly. They have the motor-skills and leg strength to manage a half to a whole day of skiing (depending on how active they are at home). They are skilled enough to understand the instructions and will often figure a lot out on their own initiative and curiosity.
The rest comes down to how keen they are to learn, how much they like to challenge themselves, and how much fun they are having! Some will love it from day one. During a holiday week most will find it tough at first but grow into loving it, and a very minor group will dislike it and not give much effort at all.
All up, most kids under 6 will get bored or exhausted with the activity quite quickly so it best to start out with short days. If you only have a week, and want to make the most of it, it’s better to stop for a long lunch/play/nap or have lots of little breaks.
When you travel with very young skiers, you can also consider bringing a pram for lunch naps! We brought our pram to the top of the mountain the entire winter our youngest was 2.5 and learning to ski, as it's hard work for the child too. A European style wooden sled also makes a cozy nap bench.
It was no problem to get the pram in a 6-8 seater gondola, and the advantage was that we could stack the kids skis + boots in the storage basket under the pram. That way the rest of the family can ski the full day, and just one adult has to stay by the pram sipping a drink in the sun, maybe even bring a book or enjoy the view -- a perfect job for Grandma!
Remember skiing is meant to be a fun experience for everyone. And if you set your expectations correctly, it will be.