Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
In the end, my 3-year-old daughter preferred making snow angels over pizza pies.
And that’s OK. If there’s one thing I learned from the Ski Tots program, it’s to go with the flow. Teaching my daughter Phoebe to ski at Cochran’s Ski Area turned out to be a valuable lesson in parenting, and a memorable experience for both of us. Over four weeks, I learned to keep my expectations in check and just have fun.
Olympic gold medalist Barbara Ann Cochran is the director of Ski Tots, a program established in 1985 that teaches parents how to teach their preschoolers (ages 3-5) to ski. Since the 1960s, local children have been learning to ski at Cochran’s in Richmond — home of the legendary “Skiing Cochrans.”
Siblings Barbara Ann, Bob and Lindy all made the United States ski team and each raced in the Olympics. At the 1972 Winter Games in Japan, Barbara Ann won a gold medal in slalom. We were lucky enough to have Barbara Ann as one of our instructors in the Ski Tots program.
Not only does Barbara Ann know a lot about skiing, she also has a keen sensibility on what really counts when you’re on the slopes with your kids. My daughter Phoebe had her ups and downs in the four-week program, and I eventually realized that’s to be expected.
The process wasn’t a perfectly linear one where she loved skiing more each week. But I began to figure out what worked for her and what didn’t.
Phoebe liked skiing under certain conditions: Barbara Ann needed to be nearby, and Phoebe preferred that I keep a few M&Ms in my pocket for some snacking in between runs. Making snow angles before and after lessons was also key to a successful day.
What did my daughter not like? She wasn’t a fan of the worm device that connected her two skis and helped her make a snowplow (or “little pizza, big pizza,” as instructor Sue Carpenter described it when teaching). The concept of snowplowing was a little tough for Phoebe to grasp as well. She just preferred gliding down at her own pace with myself and an instructor. On most days, we didn’t take more than three runs.
What We Learned Together
It turns out that Phoebe is not preschool-aged skier who is gung-ho and fearless on the slopes. Even though she has a strong sense of adventure and loves the outdoors, she isn’t entirely sold on the concept of skiing. But she learned a lot at Cochran’s, and so did I.
In our first week in Ski Tots, Phoebe could barely remain standing in a pair of skis. In the second week, we struggled to ride the rope-tow together. But by week four, she could easily move in her skis in the lift line, ride the rope-tow comfortably with me, and get herself down part of the bunny hill with confidence and a big smile on her face.
Already, her favorite memory of skiing at Cochran’s is the blue ribbon and two Hershey’s kisses she received after her final run at the end of the program. Anytime someone asks her now about skiing at Cochran’s, she mentions the blue ribbon (now hanging on her bedroom door), the chocolate kisses, and, of course, Barbara Ann.
Now that that we’ve completed the program and reflected on our time skiing, I decided to ask Barbara Ann for some guidance on how best to move forward with skiing. She offered some very helpful advice:
What suggestions do you have for parents to keep their kids interested in skiing?
BAC: I would just look for opportunities to enjoy an outing with them. To me, it’s a lot like going sledding. It’s great playtime and can even be done in the yard, if they have their own equipment. We do see lots of tots come back to Cochran’s, even for just a few runs. To me, when the parent enjoys spending time with their child and plays with them, the child will enjoy it, too. Keep expectations low, dress warmly, ski a few runs, enjoy a snack and hot chocolate. There’s nothing more rewarding for a child than getting some fresh air and exercise while playing with a parent. What memories you’re creating!
Is frequency important for young kids? Should we be putting our kids on skis every week or two so they continue to learn?
BAC: If you’re a family that skis every weekend, your child will progress faster. But it isn’t necessary. Skiing can be a fun, family activity to develop a healthy lifestyle and learn some of life’s lessons, like taking care of your equipment and improving at something with
practice. Skiing every week or so would be very helpful, but it should be something that everyone in the family looks forward to doing.
What if you have a preschooler who enjoyed parts of skiing but wasn’t entirely sold on it. What advice would you give?
BAC: I wouldn’t push it so much that she begins to dig in her heels and resents it. I truly think that if you “play” with her and listen to her when she’s had enough, she’ll enjoy it. What kid wouldn’t want to have a play-date with her parent? I would encourage you to be the parent and set the limits, but then listen to your child when she’s had enough. I encourage parents in our Skit Tots classes to come to all the classes and just explain to the tot, “This is something I’ve paid for, so we are going. If you don’t want to ski, we’ll just watch the others and see what’s going on.”
Do you have examples of children who at first resisted skiing but later embraced it?
BAC: I did have one child whose older sister had gone through the program and loved it. But he didn’t even make it onto the hill. He wanted to play with the toys in the lodge. His mom was great and realized that if she forced him, he may never be ready to ski. She gave him the opportunity to try it, but listened to him. Now he skis all the time and loves it. I find that giving a child choices that you’re okay with empowers the child and lowers resistance. I try all sorts of ways to give them choices and then try really hard to stick to it.
Why do you think it’s so important for parents to be involved in teaching their children how to ski?
BAC: Teaching your child to ski gives the parent and child an opportunity to bond. I loved it when my parents participated with my brother, sisters, and myself. It was so much fun to play with them, whether it was going swimming and having dad toss us into the air, or skiing between my parent’s legs when I was just learning how to ski. Parents who put their kids in programs that don’t involve the parent miss out on so much. Why have kids if you’re not going to enjoy them?
What’s next for us? My husband and I plan to take Phoebe out skiing again this winter at Cochran’s, Bolton Valley, or Bromley. These days, my definition of skiing is pretty loose. All it means is we’ll play in the snow with our ski gear, make some snow angels, and enjoy our precious time together.