Tips for family skiing first timers
Family skiing. An active, bonding activity that everyone can enjoy? Or a complex mogul field of personalities, abilities and levels of skill and stamina? This is what I’m wondering as I stand on the brink of our first winter sports holiday as a family. And is there any way of turning the latter into the former? I ask three parents of pre-teen and teenage children who are regulars on the slopes in winter to give me some advice…
First time family skiing
In a few days time I will be standing on top of a mountain. With my kids. On top of a Pyrenees mountain to be exact, as we are heading off to discover some Spanish snow stories on our #inpyrenees winter sports trip. We won’t just be skiing; we’ll be mushing and snow shoeing and walking in crampons. But we will be trying out the ski facilities of three or four family resorts.
And the skiing will either go one of two ways. We will glide down like a family of swans, in line, in perfect unity. Or Cameron will send himself off kamikaze style down the slope,without pausing to notice the sign for the red run, with Matthew close behind, not bothering to put in any turns because it’s too much effort, and Hannah still getting off the lift and wondering which of her hands is the left one before she can even think about a snow plough turn.
I think, in all honesty, it’s likely to be something in between. But from where I stand right now, taking three strong personalities, two of them convinced they will live forever and seeking rollercoaster highs, and the third, cautious and underconfident, is a little nerve racking. It helps that Stuart has years of experience and that I can get down just about any run, but still..
Ask the family
So I thought it might be prudent to ask a few family skiers for tips. I talk to three mothers who have experience of taking kids skiing. They offer plenty of advice. They also offer salopettes, thermals and goggles, which I gratefully accept…
Preparations in advance
My first question, although it’s probably too late, is about how to prepare for taking to the slopes,
“Get as fit as you can with ski specific exercise – it’s agony on the thighs otherwise.” says Jenny Fenhalls, who skis in France with her two children aged 11 and 9. Val Still, who has teenage children aged 16 and 14, offers the same advice. “Try and get a tiny bit fitter.”
Fiona Steggles, who skis with her two children aged 7 and 11, says it’s important to skill up the kids, “If you can afford it I would always suggest getting them lessons at home before they go for the first time, either at a dry ski slope or better still at a snow dome. The first few days of learning to ski can be a bit boring; lots of hanging around, falling over, side stepping. It doesn’t take long. Within three or four days they will be getting the thrill of skimming down the nursery slopes and probably loving it…but you’ve got to get them to that place. Better to do it before you go and then make the most of your holiday.” She recommends doing this far in advance to avoid paying a fortune,“If you’ve booked your holiday for next February, don’t try and get lessons in January at a snow dome; it’ll cost you a fortune. Do it in July or August instead. No one else wants to ski then so there are good offers on.”
Getting kitted out
Do these mothers recommend investing in a specific piece of equipment or clothing? They do, and they all agree it’s all about keeping warm. Fiona suggests cladding the children in thermals, inner gloves and balaclavas, whatever their age. “A cold kid is a miserable kid. Keep them warm, make sure everything is tucked in and they’ll enjoy it more.” Jenny advises warm, waterproof gloves and thin layers you can take off and stuff in a rucksack. Also a helmet and decent goggles.
“Thermals, as it’s freezing” agrees Val. She makes me smile with her next piece of advice; “I don’t like the idea of other people’s heads, nits, and greasy hair -so take your own helmet. The same can be said for taking your own boots but it’s obviously other folks feet.”
My next question is about how to stay together and not lose anyone. “Always remember the offside rule – kids have to stay behind the lead parent unless they have express permission to go ahead,” advises Jenny. “We have friends at school whose over confident 8 year old son rushed off ahead and misunderstood his dad’s directions to take the next left, and took the next right. He was so far ahead they didn’t spot him and he ended up going to the bottom of the next valley while the rest of the family turned left down into their valley. No mobile phone on the boy – the panic stricken parents caught up with him about two hours later. Thankfully he remembered the name of the hotel where they were staying and a kind stranger took him there. That story made a big impression on us and I have always put my mobile number in their pockets ever since!”
Fiona agrees with sticking to a formation but suggests that we’re better off keeping the children ahead of us, “Always ski behind them so you can see what they are doing and rescue them. And keep it fun. While you might want to go to the top of the mountain and do exciting things, they might want to spend that first week going up and down the nursery slopes.”
Val advises seeking help from the professionals; at least for part of each day. “Put the kids into ski school so that they can learn at their own pace, and don’t fall out with you for telling them what to do.”
Why ski as a family?
All three mothers believe that skiing is a fun things to do together and strengthens family bonds. “As my two boys get older the list of things we don’t all enjoy, Minecraft, DS Games etc, gets bigger. Skiing is one of those activities that we all love and we all get an adrenaline rush from. We can spend all day on the slopes and then spend all evening talking about it without one request to go on You Tube. I think that will last through the teenage years,” Fiona tells me. “It’s just really good fun and it’s great to share different experiences at the end of the day and have a laugh,” says Val.
Jenny says it’s one of the few sports her whole family can enjoy at the same level and an activity which everyone finds equally thrilling. “We all love it. The kids learnt the basics quickly and within a couple of years were keeping up with us so well that we could abandon ski school and take long family day trips to distant valleys. Now, of course if given the chance, they can both leave me far behind…”
Finally, Fiona advises me to put away my memories and expectations of skiing before kids, to accept that it’s all different now, and value the experience for what it is. “If you’re a skier yourself there is nothing better than watching your kids skimming down a slope Gangnam style with a huge grin on their faces.”
So will we be taking their advice? Well, Fiona was right about the snowdome; we’d have had to take out a mortgage to pay for lessons there. So we joined our local ski club and tried a few taster sessions which didn’t break the bank and equipped the children with skills and confidence. (In the case of Matthew and Cameron, maybe not enough skills and too much confidence!) Jenny will be pleased to know we have packed enough thermals for a month in the North Pole. We have snowboots, and goggles and balaclavas and gloves. I’m ‘a tiny bit fitter’ to borrow a quote from Val. Meanwhile the kids are all like Tigger; poised for snow action. There’ll be no lack of bounce in their snow boots.
Over to you
Thanks to Jenny, Fiona and Val for their valuable tips and encouragement. Have you got any tips of your own to share? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below.