Downhill Skiing with Kids

by Liz Dunham

There is a fabulous you-tube video of a father dressed as a drill seargant waking up his kids with a bugle and forcing them to go downhill skiing. His mantra echoes in my head every time I head out for some downhill action at Mission Ridge with my 5 year old – “I’m forcing my kids to ski, by the time they’re ten they’ll be better than me.” They drag themselves along, but by the end the kids are happily enjoying a hot chocolate and talking about how much fun they had. Skiing with children is not for the weak. I mean that literally, you will need muscle strength and stamina. I’m sweating before my kids boots are even buckled at the car. But once you wrestle them into the gear, up the lift, and down the hill it is well worth it. Here’s what I have learned:

1. Keep it fun!

We are lucky to have Mission Ridge here in the valley. My daughter started out at age 3 taking group lessons. We didn’t want to push it and were willing to wait a few more years if it didn’t seem enjoyable for her yet. We had a deal: if she did the ski lesson (or skied with us) she got a kids meal of choice at the lodge. Inevitably all crying and crashing was forgotten the minute the hot chocolate and hot dog showed up! We focused on the positives and were quick to take a break if she was cold, tired, or hungry. We played family games and I kept emergency ‘energy pellets’ in my pocket for slopeside meltdowns (usually candy of some kind). Gone were the days of maximum runs, first chair to last. Now we fair weather ski for a couple hours and break for hot cocoa. One day she hit a wall until Daddy suggested she try some ski jumps. My mommy brain thought this was a terrible idea but it turned out she loves it and it keeps her coming back for more! So far no injuries have occurred. We even found a flamingo on top of Castle during flamingo days last year.

2. Ignore all complaining and whining before you are actually skiing downhill.

Of course nobody wants to get out of a nice warm car, wrestle into ski boots, and carry gear while overdressed uphill to the lift. This is terrible. It’s double terrible when I have to do it for myself AND a little person. But hang in there, don’t give up until you are actively skiing. If there is STILL crying, whining, and misery then reassess. You can stack the odds in your favor by having a good breakfast (avoids hangry), good night’s sleep, relaxed trip up the mountain (forget about first chair), and not freaking out if you have to pay $20 for new gloves at the shop because you forgot to pack one of the 6 pairs of kids ski gloves you have at home.

3. Include friends.

Her skiing and attitude were at their best if she had friends to chase down the hill. We try to meet up with friends that are on the mountain for a run or two. It’s amazing how motivated they suddenly can be once their attention is shifted to their friend. I enjoy skiing with other families, also, as the adults can commiserate and enjoy skiing together. Sometimes I even get to reward myself with an adult beverage while the kids enjoy their hot cocoa.

4. Make it work for your family.

Skiing can be expensive, but for kids it doesn’t have to be. We picked up kids gear one year at a garage sale for $10, and another year we did a full season rental deal at Mission Ridge for $150 or so. You can find affordable gear at local ski swaps, and there is seating and facilities at most ski areas for you to enjoy a picnic from home. Planning ahead and packing the car early to avoid last minute scrambles at the mountain to outfit your kids can help too (like not forgetting their gloves and making sure the helmet fits before your first skiing day).  Many local ski areas have deals for locals and especially local kids, and if you have a season pass it can be fun to try out other mountains that offer reciprocity. Last year we enjoyed discounted or free skiing at Silver Mountain in Idaho, Lookout Pass in Montana, and Snoqualamie Pass near Seattle.  Have fun out there.

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