Part One: Signing up for lesson and pre-day prep
Ski and snowboard lessons are the single best thing you as a parent can do to set your child up for future success – and fun – on the mountain. But if your child has never had lessons before, you may be wondering how to get started.
Let’s look at some the most common ski and snowboard lesson questions you may have when looking to book lessons.
What type of ski and snowboard lessons are best?
Before you schedule your child’s lesson, take a careful look at the website for the ski area you are planning to visit to see what the options are. They will vary according to the size and type of mountain you are visiting. Larger resorts will often offer ski camps for children that can last a few days or a week. Smaller resorts may not have that option but may have season-long lesson programs that meet every weekend.
Whether the ski area is big or small, they will mostly likely offer the choice between group and private lessons. The type of lesson you choose should be dependent on your child’s age and personality. Private and group lessons can last for a few hours, in the morning or afternoon, or, in the case of ski areas that offer camps, can be all day.
In the case of group lessons, children will usually be grouped by age and ability/experience level. This offers a chance for them to make new friends learn from each other.
“I always recommend that kids do well in group lessons,” Ashley Herrmann, Ski School Coordinator at Magic Mountain Ski Area, “being with their peers makes it more fun.”
Harley Johnson, Director of the Snow Sport University at Smugglers Notch Resort agrees that children, especially younger children, do best in group lessons. She adds that an all-day lesson is best for children if that’s available. “An all-day program is the best option for kids of all ages – they learn more, have more time with instructor, and bond more with kids in their group,” she said.
Private lessons can work well for children who are shy, who need a lot of one-on-one attention, or who already know how to ski but have some specific skills they need to work on. They also might be good for teens who are resistant to the idea of taking a lesson in the first place.
Some resorts also offer family lessons, where parents and kids take classes together. Harley said she thinks this tends to work best with families who already have some experience.
“When a family is all beginners, I recommend that they split up into separate lessons, especially if the kids are spread out in age,” she said. “It can be hard for kids and parents to all start from scratch together and kids will usually progress faster if they are working with other children in the same age group.”
Another option for beginner families that want everyone working with the same teacher is to hire an instructor for an all-day private lesson and split the day up among the different family members.
What do I need to know about the ski and snowboard lesson program?
If you sign your child up for a group ski or snowboard lesson or camp you might call in advance and talk to the staff to find out what the ratio of students to teachers is and how they group the students. Another question to ask is how long the lessons are and whether you can sign up for multi-day programs where your children will have the same instructors. Just like you would with any activity your child signs up for, you want to get a feel for whether the environment is right for your child.
You might also check to see if the instructors at the ski area you will be visiting are PSIA/AASI certified. That means they have been trained to national standards of safety and instruction.
What equipment do you need?
If you are going on vacation once during the winter season, you can rent equipment at the mountain. If you think that you are likely to ski more than once, seasonal rentals from your local ski shop are a great and affordable option for kids.
Every child should wear a helmet to ski or snowboard and most ski areas won’t let your child take a lesson without one. Helmets are available with other rental gear if you don’t want to purchase one. Remember that if you are buying or renting a helmet to try it on with goggles to make sure they fit properly.
When it comes to clothing, you want to make sure your child has a base layer (top and bottom) that is made of wicking material to keep them dry and warm. Ski pants or bibs, a jacket, and warm, waterproof mittens are a must; goggles and neck warmers are a good idea as well. And whether your child will be skiing or snowboarding, both Ashley and Harley said a top consideration should be footwear.
“Make sure your child has the right socks,” Harley said, “Not crew or ankle socks but proper ski/snowboard socks. Personal comfort needs to be taken care of. If children are comfortable and have the right equipment, they can focus on learning.” Check out our favorite socks for the whole family—Darn Tough.
And if you’ll be renting at the mountain, don’t wait until the day of the lesson to get your child’s equipment.
“When it comes to rental equipment, the number one most important and critical thing is to get your rentals ahead of time,” Harley said. “Don’t expect to show up at the mountain and go through the rental experience and then get to the lesson on time. Even if you give yourself an hour, it’s too much to think about. If you can do it the night before that’s ideal.”
“And make sure you know how to put on your child’s equipment in advance, especially their boots,” she added. The staff at the rental shop can show you learn how to do this.
How do you prepare before lesson-day?
If you get your child’s equipment before you head for the mountain, let your child try on his or her ski clothes and boots. Walking around in the gear a little bit helps to get a feel for the equipment.
Spend some time talking about skiing or snowboarding with your child in an age-appropriate way. With younger kids, you might read them books; older children might enjoy watching some videos of skiers or boarders.
And encourage your kids to be active outside. Playing soccer or tag are fun ways to practice changing directions and shifting weight. Ice skating and inline skating are also both great ways to help children get their legs in shape and teach them some of the skills that they’ll need to ski like moving from one foot to another or pushing off.
Read all about day-of lesson prep in Part Two of Achieving Ski and Snowboard Lesson Success.
Want to win a family pack of 4 lift tickets to Smugglers’ Notch or Magic Mountain? Share your favorite learning tips in the comments to enter before midnight on Sunday, January 23! We will choose winners on Monday, January 24.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.