Ski instructors say children learn best without pressure

December 23, 1990|By Chicago Tribune

No matter how she tried, ski instructor Gracie Goodwin couldn't get her 3-year-old interested in skiing. So she quit trying for awhile. Two years later, her son couldn't get enough of the sport and went on to became an accomplished racer.

"We never force skiing on any child," said Ms. Goodwin, a senior manager at Vail's Children's Ski Center in Colorado. Instead, instructors might tell parents of a reluctant child to wait another season. "What you don't want to do is turn the kids off, for everybody's sake. You want the sport to be fun."

"You don't want it to be a pressured thing," said Victor Gerdin, director of the ski school at Snowmass Ski Area in Colorado. "If you force them, they're not going to like skiing."

If you've skied, but are planning your first ski trip since your kids were born, you know you'll have a great time, but you're worried, too. Will the children have a good time, too?

Relax, say the experts. Virtually every major ski resort offers a program to teach kids to ski. There's day care, too -- even for infants. You can drop them off in the morning and not worry about them until late in the afternoon. Or you may want to let them take lessons part of the day while you hit the expert hills, then reserve part of the day for some family fun.

"The greatest part of skiing is skiing as a family," said Mr. Gerdin. "Everyone can do it together at the same time and have a ball."

But that takes foresight and planning. First, be careful not to start children too young, experts suggest. Most resorts offer lessons for preschoolers starting around age 3. But there's no set rule on what the right time is for your child. It depends on their maturity level and coordination.

"The age you start your child is totally individual," Ms. Goodwin said. "And it's no indication of how well he'll ski as an adult."

Give the children, particularly the younger ones, a chance to adjust to the environment. There may be a time change. The altitude may affect them. For some youngsters, this may be their first experience with mountains and even snow.

Don't expect too much too fast from your young fledgling skiers, experts say. "Of all the peeves about parents we have [one that really bothers me] are the parents who just judge ability by how steep a slope their child can go down," Mr. Gerdin said. "You do the child a disservice. They're constantly in a defensive position. They can't stand tall."

At the same time, they note that ski instructors know that children as young as 5 and 6 can progress much more than anyone imagined in the past.

Still, Mr. Gerdin said, it's better to spend most of your time with children on easy runs where they can gain confidence and practice, rather than worrying about what's in front of them. Then spend a little time on tougher runs for the challenge.

Other parents expect their 3-year-olds to be skiing parallel, with excellent form, he said. "It takes time," Mr. Gerdin said. "We teach them to turn and to stop and if they can do it, they do, and if they can't, they don't. It's not that big a deal. It's a game. It's fun. Make it play."

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