Nobody knows how hard it can be to teach kids to ski or snowboard more than parents. Aside from the logistics of it all, moms and dads are often faced with a bit of moaning and groaning about skiing or riding before they even get to the mountain. Even once you overcome complaints like”I don’t want to” or “it is too cold out there,” the planning can feel overwhelming. How will you know what mountain to choose, which lesson program to pick, or where to rent your kid’s equipment?
That is why we turned to local parents of Burlington, Vermont, who have been there and done that. We asked them to give us their best pearls of wisdom when teaching kids to ski. They weighed in about their favorite ski and ride programs, types of lessons, places to buy or rent equipment, what else to do at ski resorts, and so much more. Hopefully, this will help your kids go from never-ever skiers and riders to lifetimers who can’t wait to get out on the slopes every chance they can. Here is what they told us.
Top Ski and Ride Programs in Northern Vermont
I am a native Vermonter and never skied as a child. My partner is a skier and wanted to get our girls into skiing. I have a seven-year-old that started at age three and a five-year-old that started a two and a half years old. We learned at Smugglers’ Notch and have been very happy there. And by “we,” that means me, too! Smuggs has a great program for adults called the Learner’s Permit program, and that is how I learned to ski along with my kids! I now enjoy skiing on the bigger mountain while my kids have lessons on the smaller one. – Amanda M.
Smuggs has multi-week lessons that are consistent on either Saturday or Sunday and run from January through March. This year a bit different due to Covid–kids need to ride solo (or with a parent or sibling or someone from the same household) up the chairlift during the lesson. There is a Nordic center with trails where you can use snowshoes or Kahtoolies (Yaktrax) or cross country skis. While my husband and boys ski, I go there for winter walking or snowshoeing. My boys have been doing lessons since they were 3 years old. I highly recommend Smuggs. When my oldest was three, I did a cost analysis between several resorts. Smuggs was by far the best deal and gave my husband ample time to ski solo while they were at their lesson, especially when they were younger, as those lessons were from 8:30-3:30. Smuggs provides meals and lots of breaks and made learning to ski super fun for the littles. My boys have loved their mini/mighty mite programs. – Cari P.
I’d check out Cochran’s Ski Area. This is my first year skiing, and after some “lessons” from a well-versed friend and a mini-lesson with a real instructor there, she said I was ready to go into the ski tots program with my 4.5-year-old. Or I could choose to do a private lesson(split into 2-30 min sessions) with him. It’s a small mountain but so perfect for my independent seven and ten-year-olds. They ski the entire mountain independently while I watch my four and a-half-year-old flail around in his ski boots at the bottom of the mighty mite. – Brittany A.
Smuggs has an awesome learn to ride program. I’ve had four kids learn to ride through their programs, and I’m a snowboard instructor (specializing in women). I know quite a bit about their programming and some of the others around. Smuggs is second to none when it comes to families and learning to ski/ride in Vermont and the East Coast. Their Mitey Mites program is awesome for a regular weekly program, but their Learn to Ride program includes rentals, lessons, and a lift ticket. It’s a great deal. And the instructors are amazing with kids of all ages. – Kimberly E.
There’s a first-timer ski program that our son did last year at Smugglers’ Notch, and it’s awesome and totally affordable. Pricing includes rentals, lessons, and lift tickets. This year he wants to try snowboarding, so we may either get a used board or do a seasonal rental from a sports store, which is way more affordable than renting straight from the mountain for a day. Then we’ll try group lessons again either at Smuggs or Bolton Valley Also, as a bonus, kids six and under can ride/ski for free (no cost for lift tix) at Bolton. Additionally, we got him a Burton Riglet for Christmas, which is a board you can practice on in the backyard or sledding hills. It doesn’t have edges, so you can’t use it at the mountain. It was only $100, so we figured he could tool around the yard or on sledding hills this winter if we don’t get to the mountain because of COVID. The Riglet is for kids ages 2-6. I wish we’d known about it sooner! – Keeley P.
Teaching Kids to Ski Yourself
My parents owned a ski school when I was born, so we spend every weekend at the mountain. I got my first pair of plastic skis when I was just three years old. Depending on the child, this may be too young, but since I was surrounded by instructors, it worked out okay. Setting “realistic expectations” is what you need to keep in mind. It is work to get your kids out of bed, dress them in layers, and take them to a snowy mountain. They are going to be tired by the time they walk to the bunny slope. So remember to make it fun! Takes breaks, build a snowman, play tag in just your ski boots. Walking in ski boots is a skill as well. I have been teaching skiing for 21 years and snowboarding for 20 years. My kids are six and nine years old. My son is a parallel skier. My daughter has sensory issues. She doesn’t like wind blowing on her face, so she has been a slower learner. But again, patience. Meet your child where they are. I am pushing her a tiny bit, but if I push too hard, she will never ski again. We bought season passes to Smuggs this year because I didn’t want to teach during COVID. I am homeschooling my kids, so we can ski during the week when the crowds are lighter. If you are not an instructor, I would not recommend teaching your own kids, but it can be done. – Amanda H.
Getting hand-me-down skis and practicing on the hill in our yard is how I taught my two to ski around the age of three. I had them hold onto a rope, and I’d pull them slowly at first, so they learned how to get their balance and their stance, practicing keeping their skis in the right place, etc. Once they had that down, I had them join the town recreation ski program. Such an affordable way to get kids lessons on the mountain. – Ashley H.
Used Equipment and Rental Advice
Just a mom safety PSA for buying used gear. You should check and make sure the ski bindings are working properly, and the DIN is correct. I don’t know if Play it Again does binding checks on their consignment skis. Pinnacle Sports does. Alternatively, you can pay for a test; Alpine Shop ensures the bindings are functioning to their proper DIN. If the DIN is not right, then the ski won’t pop off when it needs to, and you’re little ones can get injured. You always want to make sure the DIN is adjusted on the toe and heel bindings based on the skier’s weight and ability. It’s a little more complex than just adjusting it to fit the boot. – Ali T.
Because the kids are growing, we rented equipment for the season from the Alpine Shop, instead of renting from the mountain every time we want to ski. – Amanda H.
Don’t buy skis. Rent them as kids grow every year. We go to a local place at the beginning of the season and get fitted, and return at the end of the season. It turns out cheaper in the end if you go more than a few times. – Julie B.
Smuggs offers a discount on rentals if the kids participate in the weekly ski lessons. This is a great option because kids are known to grow mid-season, and we have been able to swap into bigger sizes midway through the season at no additional cost! – Amanda M.
Alternatives to Downhill Skiing and Riding
I would consider cross country skiing. You can pick up a used set-up at a fraction of the cost. It’s a good starting point for downhill skiing as you get used to having something on your feet, your balance points, and some of the techniques you’d need to know. You can watch videos or join up with a ski league for help to get started. – Connie G.
Did we miss something? Please leave us a tip on how to teach kids to ski or ride below.
Dana is a freelance journalist and digital influencer living in Vermont. She is the editor behind Dana Freeman Travels. Through her original photography and writing, she provides authentic destination information, reviews, and travel tips. Dana specializes in cruise, luxury, food & wine, and adventure travel. Her work has been featured in CNN Travel, Porthole Magazine, Thrillist, Yankee Magazine, the Forbes Travel Guide, and several other print and digital publications. Dana is also the Founder of FindandGoSeek — a hyperlocal destination for families to discover what to see and do in Vermont.