A couple of winters ago, when my sons were 4 and 6, I took them skiing at a big mountain where we hadn’t skied before. My wife was out of town so it was just the three of us. We warmed up on a couple of green runs before taking the gondola to the mid-mountain station. On the long and winding trail back to the base area, disaster struck. At a fork in the trail, one of my boys went one way and the other went – well, you get the idea.

What seemed like a catastrophe at the time turned out fine, but it taught all three of us a lesson: Have a plan. Be prepared. Anticipate. Communicate. As a ski dad, I have learned these and many more parenting lessons from skiing.

When it comes to skiing with kids, both parents are obviously important, but ski dads have a different role than ski moms do (and it goes beyond being the ski Sherpa). Here are some ideas and tips for aspiring ski dads to get your kids started out and loving to slide on the snow.

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PHOTO: Dave Belin

1. Be prepared

When your kids are young (say, under 7 years old), a critical role that any parent plays – in pretty much every situation – is to be prepared. A day on the slopes is no different. As the ski dad, you must be prepared and anticipate your kid’s potential needs. A good ski dad is ready with snacks, hand warmers, sunscreen, water, and more. “I always have multiple snacks stashed in all my pockets,” says ski dad and southern California resident David Knott. “Trail mix, granola bars (with chocolate chips), little chunks of chocolate, whatever the kids will willingly eat as long as it’s not too junky,” says the father of two girls.

Other ways to be prepared: know where the closest bathroom is, know where the nearest drinking fountain is, and, most importantly, know where to get hot chocolate.

As your children grow older, you can use snowsports to teach them to be responsible for themselves. Have them carry their own snacks, hand warmers, and lip balm. There will even come a time when you feel comfortable letting them ski a run without you (but probably with a sibling or a friend). The freedom of that first solo ski run is both a thrill for them as well as an important developmental step in their independence.

Your author and his family at Breckenridge in 2011. PHOTO: Dave Belin

Your author and his family at Breckenridge in 2011. PHOTO: Dave Belin

2. Be patient

As a weekend ski instructor at Eldora Mountain in Colorado, I interact with a lot of parents. One thing I emphasize, especially with fathers, is to be patient with their kid’s progress on the hill. Don’t push them too far or too fast, and definitely don’t take them down a trail they are not ready to ski (we call this “over-terraining”). Yes, you want to challenge your kids, but be cautious about moving them to a steeper pitch too soon. You don’t want to be this guy.

As a general observation, dads tend to be more concerned than moms are about how quickly their child is progressing. Smart ski dads know when to take it easy, especially the first day out of the season. “Even if your child finished last season skiing black trails, start them out on green runs,” says Jason McGowin, a Boulder, Colorado father of two. “Remember, they haven’t skied in 8 months and kids don’t have quite the same muscle memory as adults do.”

Just because you are getting bored on the green trails doesn’t mean your kid isn’t having a great time. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Be patient with the pace of their improvement and don’t get discouraged too soon.

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Your author and his sons goofing around at Eldora Mountain on St. Patrick’s Day 2013. PHOTO: Dave Belin

3. Be flexible

Little ones do not have the stamina, bladder size, or fine muscle skills that you do. Realize these limitations ahead of time and plan in numerous breaks during your day on the slopes. It’s important to take that break before the point when they melt down. If your kid wants to take another run, great, but realize when they have had enough. Again, it comes down to not letting your agenda override your kid’s enjoyment of the experience.

“Take a break whenever they request it. Don’t listen to the dude in your head that thinks your kids need to man-up for ‘one more run.’ It is bound to be a disaster and will come back to haunt you next time you try to coax them onto the hill,” notes ski dad David Knott.

“It comes down to knowing your kids,” comments McGowin. “My daughter skis cautiously and my son is a daredevil. As a result, I ski with them very differently.”

PHOTO: Corbis/UK Daily Mail

PHOTO: Corbis/UK Daily Mail

4. Be A Rock

When skiing with kids, it’s quite probable that something will go wrong. Actually, it’s guaranteed. As the ski dad, it’s your job not to overreact. Keep things in perspective. Stay calm. Be the adult. Accidents and injuries happen, and your reaction will have a significant contributory role in the ultimate outcome of the mishap.

All the ski dads that your author spoke to for this article mentioned the misadventures they had with their kids on the slopes, and how everything ultimately worked out fine. “Ski dads need to roll with the unexpected and stay calm in the face of potentially traumatic moments,” were sage words of advice from Knott. Indeed, the experience with my kids getting lost (I didn’t use that word when recounting the tale to my wife) was stressful for me and upsetting for my sons. But we were able to shake it off and move on, continuing to enjoy skiing together for the rest of the day.

Bottom line: Good ski dads learn from other good ski dads. To get started, talk to other ski dads who have older kids about their past experiences, their advice, and their tips. Most will inevitably have something that they did wrong and something that they would change if they could go back and do it over again. That’s how the tribe of ski dads passes knowledge down to the next generation of ski dads and, ultimately, to the ski kids in the family.

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  • Doctor Jeff

    Great advice! We had a roll over snowmobile incident with one of my daughters friends on a ski vacation a number of years ago and fortunately despite what initially looked like could be an “issue”, I was able to keep a cooler head even than our paid guide and be that steady “ski dad”! Be understanding and encouraging and eventually your efforts DO pay off. It took over an hour of encouragement and cajoling to get my youngest daughter off the bunny slope the first time with much crying and carrying on and now she is almost 16 years old and a better skier than I am, and we have lots of good dad/daughter ski time together!

  • Kim

    I don’t understand why this is ‘ski dads’ and not ‘ski parents’. Is mom supposed to be at home whipping up dinner, waiting for dad to come home with the kids?

    Good advice in this article, but overshadowed by the sexist viewpoint.

    • Miguel

      It’s not sexist. Only in your head. This is a father writing about tips for dad’s. Let’s face it. If he were writing about tips for mom’s your would be pissed off too.

    • Dave Belin

      I’m glad you liked the advice, Kim. You are correct, this could be tips for all ski parents, but I wanted to write it from a ski dad’s perspective. There are many excellent ski mom blogs out there, but very few sites with advice for ski dads. By no means did I intend to suggest that mom should be home making dinner!
      -Dave

    • Sarah

      Moms can and should play an active role on the slopes too- but as a ski mom, I’ve shared this article with my husband, because he tends to want to push harder, gets more worked up when their are issues, and well- I’m not sure he’s thought about where the closest bathroom is- things that I’ve thought about. So, I do appreciate the focus specifically on dads because I think each gender brings it’s own focus and perspective when it comes to teaching kids to ski. Nice article, Dave!

    • Cary Cadonau

      In answer to your question, yes.

  • Great article, Mr. Belin, with good advice. I “over-terrained” our daughter last winter, and it took a half-day on the beginner slope, and another couple of hours this year on the beginner slope, to get her thinking she was ready for a green trail up on the mountain again. Lesson learned. May I add another bit of advice? No matter how little the progress is that your child is making, every time they show some progress, point it out and offer some praise — so that they know to keep reinforcing that particular skill. Music to my ears on our outing last weekend? “Let’s go this way, Dad. I can handle a blue.”

    • Dave Belin

      Thanks for reading Greg! I appreciate your input. Glad your daughter is back on the hill and enjoying it. Hope you’re all doing well.
      -Dave

  • Ted Kyle

    McGowin skis slower sometimes? I doubt that