You love to ski.

You shell out money for childcare, call in favors from family, and miss your fair share of powder days because you now dwell in parent land. But now your kid is older, maybe it is time for them to start skiing? Where should we start?

You glance through the ski school page at your local ski hill and sigh. On average it will cost you at least $100 a day, sometimes $200, to teach your little one to ski. While a few days might be possible during the season, certainly you cannot afford every weekend, or even every day you want to ski.

You are faced with a decision. Should you teach your kid to ski yourself?

Skiing with kids

I so get you.

A few years ago we went through the same debate. Having three kids of our own, it was even more unreasonable to shell out money for ski school, not because we don’t believe in the value of the instruction, no. But because it will cost us over $600 a day to put all three kids in ski school! Realistically, this just isn’t something we can do week-in and week-out.

What is realistic? We use those ski school lesson funds on an epic powder day when mom and dad want to play, and spend the bulk of our ski days on the bunny hill with our kids.

Where do we start?

Getting started is not so hard as we might imagine. First, set aside the snow capped peaks and bluebird days and introduce your kids to their ski gear right here… in the middle of the living room floor.

Let them play with the buckles, feel the weight on their feet. Let them learn to walk in their boots (a challenge for some little ones), click into the bindings, fall and get back up, all before you are battling the cold and snow.

Quick tip: Many kids lack the weight or strength to clip into their binding themselves. Rather than push down on their leg (awkward at best), simple pull up on the binding back while they push down.

Next, head out to the front yard or to a local park with a gentle sledding hill. Let your children learn to walk on their skis, step side to side, and even glide slowly down the hill. Forget your own ski equipment, grab those snow boots and hoof it on your own two feet for awhile.

All of these things can be done after school, while watching the football game, or whenever it suits you. You don’t need to be at an official resort.

If you have a local resort like Alta Resort in Utah, that provides free rope tows, this is a great option to start with as well.

Managing rope tows with children isn't super difficult as long as you have everyone's skis pointed the right direction before grabbing the rope.

Managing rope tows with children isn’t super difficult as long as you have everyone’s skis pointed the right direction before grabbing the rope.

When should I consider ski school?

Once your child is comfortable with their gear, standing, walking and even gliding, this might be a great moment for a ski lesson from certified instructors. Often times they have great tricks up their sleeves to get a child wedging to a stop and turning—huge steps in the learning-to-ski process.

If you go this route, make sure to talk with the instructor after class, ask what they need to work on and any vocabulary the teacher uses so that you can remain consistent.

Quick Tip: If you child struggles keeping their skis together this could be due to two reasons: either they lack the strength or they lack the coordination. We’ve had great luck with an Edgie Wedgie, a rubber clip that hooks the ski tips together. I’ve found that once the child gets the feel for wedging and keeping their ski tips together you can remove it.

On easy runs a parent may ski backwards using their ski poles to aid a child in turning and speed control.

On easy runs a parent may ski backwards using their ski poles to aid a child in turning and speed control.

What about getting on a lift with my kid?

Many parents have confided in me that the only reason they don’t ski with their kids is fear of getting on a lift with them. Let’s be honest, getting on a chair lift only becomes more complicated when you have to simultaneously lift a small child on with you.

First, as the parent, ditch your poles. This process is so much easier if you have your hands free the first few times. When we are about to get on I grab the child under their armpits and boost them onto the lift with me.

Quick Tip: We’ve found that a kid’s ski harness (brand suggestions: Lucky Bums or the Lil’ Ripper Gripper) are useful largely for the handle that is positioned in the middle of the child’s back. When it is time to get on the lift, you just reach down, and lift them by the handle onto the seat. Our kids wore them long after we no longer used the leashes, for this reason.

Many ski harnesses have a handle positioned in the middle of the child's back perfect for helping them onto a chair lift easily.

Many ski harnesses have a handle positioned in the middle of the child’s back perfect for helping them onto a chair lift easily.

How do I help my toddler on the bunny hill?

There are so many ways to help your child once you are actually at the resort on your first green run. This will take some experimenting as to what works best, but also will depend on the skill level of the parent.

Here are are the positions we’ve used:

  1. Side-by-side holding hands or onto a ski pole.
  2. Between the legs.
  3. Parent skis backwards with child uphill of them to aid in turning and control.

Skiing side-by-side while holding hands offers security for a timid skier without allowing the child to lean on you.

All these positions as well as a ski harness can be useful additions to a parent’s “bag of tricks” but I still think the best method is the one where the child remains on easy enough terrain that they can ski without the temptation to lean on or rely on the parent. Learning to fall, how to arrange their skis to get up easier, and even carrying their skis at the area are all important skills for your future skier. The quicker they get a feel for the skis in different situations, the better they will be in the long run.

See you on the bunny hill!

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  • Peter Durkee

    I will never forget that day, 24 years ago, coming off the lift at Boreal, when my five year old hit me in the thigh with his ski mitten, looked up at me with a tear filled face, full of angst, and said I HATE YOU DAD!
    Buy the lesson.

  • dmcneice

    @Peter, I hope you hit him BACK! I taught my son. We used ski blades (99cm,non release binding) to be able to assist him easily and turn, etc. It worked very well. We also used a couple of webbing belts crossed over his body to create a harness that we could lift him and attach a rope to easily with a carabiner. We had all of that at home so it worked well and saved us 40 bucks.