A few things to consider before hitting the slopes with young children SNOW -- and kids in tow

January 09, 1994|By Susan Kaye | Susan Kaye,Contributing Writer

Thinking of a ski vacation that includes your kids? You're not alone -- the phenomenon of family skiing is fueling the industry. In Vail, Colo., for example, families account for 42 percent of all skiers. The percentage is even higher at nearby Beaver Creek.

But before you zip up the snowsuits and head for the rental shop, here's some advice from Dick Oursler, director of the 35,000-square-foot Children's Center at Winter Park, Colo. Eighty-six employees handle the 2,500 or so youngsters that visit the center each winter.

WHEN: More kids are skiing at younger ages than ever before. Most areas accept socially mature, potty-trained 3-year-olds for introductory ski lessons, but at that age much of the day is spent in snow play, reassurance, and, quite frankly, in tears. By age 4, kids are ready to start skiing with no snow-play activities.

Some aspects to consider for a 3-year-old:

* Is your child physically strong and coordinated for his/her age?

* Is your child comfortable in new surroundings and with strangers?

4 * Does your child enjoy learning new activities?

Answer "yes" to all three, and chances are your youngster is ready for skiing.

Self-sufficiency: All the zippers, buckles and buttons associated with ski clothes and boots are a fun part of skiing if parents help kids to think of the outfit as part of the entire experience -- just like suiting-up in a baseball uniform.

"Take time for your children to understand their ski uniform." Mr. Oursler advises. "It's part of learning to enjoy a vigorous winter environment. Self-sufficiency is one of our basic philosophies. It's essential before-skiing skill development."

Who's the teacher? Why fork over $50 a day for your child's lift ticket, lesson and lunch at Winter Park when you could teach him yourself at half the price?

"It's very difficult for parents to teach kids," says Mr. Oursler, "Kids adapt very quickly to the shortcuts and terminology instructors present them with. We start with ski-related movements indoors, working with balancing beams and tumbling nets, and have unique ways of explaining technically complex skills. Plus, there's a big benefit of learning alongside peers."

"I want my mommy!" Remind kids that their time on the mountain won't be with Mom and Dad.

"Ideally, destination skiers will schedule two or three days of lessons for their children before skiing as a family," says Mr. Oursler, "And although parents can observe lessons from the sidelines, kids are easily distracted by them. Mom and Dad should go out and have fun on their own."

Getting dressed: Take waterproof pants and jackets. "We prefer mittens over gloves, hats over headbands, and goggles over sunglasses," say Mr. Oursler, Provide sunscreen and apply it before class.

But can they ski? "Our main goal is that kids have fun and leave happy," says Mr. Oursler. "If they don't learn a pizza [wedge] the first day, but have had a good experience, we've succeeded."

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