We've all seen those parents on the hill: the ones down on their knees, skis off, trying to console and motivate a sobbing child to get up, dust the snow off, and keep moving down the slope. Often, they're also the same poor souls yelling "Stop!" and "Wait!" to the crying child's daredevil sibling still tearing downhill.
It's enough to test the nerves of even the most patient parent. But for ski instructor Laura Berger, getting kids past the on-slope meltdowns and back into the business of learning, via child-friendly (and, often, food-centric) directions like skiing “pizza” and “french fries,” is second nature. Berger, who teaches at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, is a certified level II instructor (via the Professional Ski Instructors Association) and certified children's specialist who focuses on kids aged 4–16. She shares her tips on getting your little ones out on the slopes—and getting the most out of everyone's experience.
How can you tell if your child is ready to ski?
That totally depends on the kid's age, what kind of sports they do, and also the parents' dedication to skiing. Two is probably the youngest a kid can start. It's pretty hard to get two- and three-year-olds out to ski, but if you're just getting them out on the hill, and getting them to make pizza and french fries, even for just an hour, they will progress a little at a time and become better skiers in the long run. It's harder to learn skiing at 10, 11, or 12. A lot of it will come down to the willingness of the child.
What do you like about teaching kids skiing?
Kids are creative and have really great imaginations, so you can teach them in a way that's funny and lighthearted, and they don't freak out too much about the slope. They don't get worried, and they think everything is a big game. I like the imagination I can bring into skiing. With adults, it's much more technical language. But with kids, you can say “squish the grape at the front of your boots” to get them to put pressure on the front of their skis.
What's the best age to get a kid out skiing for the first time?
In my personal opinion, three or four is a pretty good age. At three, they're still wanting to take afternoon naps and not all three-year-olds are potty trained, so it's harder. Four is a really good age. Most of the time, by four, their heads aren't heavier than their bodies, and it's a really good developmental age for a child in terms of learning to ski.
What if your kid doesn't like skiing at first? How can you encourage them?
Definitely look into what it was that triggered him or her to not like skiing. Figure out what the trigger was and find a way to make that trigger positive. For example, if you have a solid green circle skier and somebody takes them on a double blue and they can't figure out how to stop themselves on steeper terrain and fly down the mountain, then you would try to get rid of the association of being scared of blue runs.
Take them back to greens, and have them practice a drill they're comfortable with, whether that's J-turns or hockey stops. Then, apply that tool to harder terrain, so they're doing movements they are very comfortable with, just on something that's different. Coach them that everything's okay, you're there, and you're not going to let them get hurt. That helps kids get over the fear. But you never want to push a kid into skiing if they don't want to. It will be the most miserable experience of their lives and they will hate it.
What's the best way to teach kids to ski?
It depends on the parent. If you're an avid backcountry skier or you know the resort really well where you live, taking them out yourself can be a positive experience. But in the long run, getting a lesson is important. They can get out of the parental environment, meet new kids, and be with an instructor trained to specifically teach skiing. It ends up being a very positive learning environment.
What are the advantages of group versus private lessons?
Both have equal advantages. Group lessons have the great advantage that kids get to meet other kids who are learning the same things. They get to meet new friends who are going through the same experience of learning how to ski. They can bond and build a community together, which is really fun for the children. The benefit of a private lesson is the one-on-one. A kid is going to learn a lot quicker and learn a lot more in the time if he or she has your full attention versus a group lesson where an instructor has to pay attention to 3–10 kids. With a private lesson, your sole attention is on them and no one else. Both types of lessons have advantages and disadvantages.
What is the most important thing you'd like to tell parents about teaching their kids to ski?
I would say the biggest thing is don't push your kid too quickly. The old saying “slow and steady wins the race” applies. Take it slow and steady and make sure your kids are getting the foundation they need and, when they're truly ready to take the next step, then take the next step. With teaching skiing, the key thing is going slower rather than trying to speed things up.