By Michael Deeds, Idaho Statesman
Bogus Basin ski school director Jamie Zolber has seen it all before — this past Monday, actually.
The wind was blowing like mad. A family was up on the mountain with a child who was 2, maybe 2-½ years old, on skis.
“The kid was just wailing, crying,” Zolber says. “And they were just dragging him around the flats. … The kid was just not having any of it. They were forcing him.”
“I was (thinking), like, take him inside,” Zolber says. “Make sure he has a good day.”
Even parents with the best intentions sometimes struggle when introducing winter sports to young children.
We’ve all marveled at the impossibly tiny tot flying down a run or hitting a jump. It’s hard (particularly for proud fathers) not to think, man, that is awesome. That could be my kid.
But before you grab your toddler’s binky out of her mouth and strap her onto a snowboard, there are a few important things to consider.
While it’s OK — even beneficial — to have children as young as 18 months play around in snow and even become accustomed to skis, you can’t expect much until they’re 3 years old. That’s the age Bogus Basin begins accepting children for Mogul Mouse group lessons — and only for skiing. Kids need to be 7 before Bogus instructors teach them how to snowboard, part of Mountain Mites group skiing and boarding lessons. They usually aren’t strong enough to manipulate the board until that age, Zolber says.
Still, don’t let that deter you from taking a toddler to the mountain and seeing how they feel about a pair of pint-size skis. (Finding boots to fit them may be a challenge, however.) “I think familiarizing them with the sport, with the snow, at that early of an age — 18 months — is a good idea,” Zolber says. “I think they’ll be more successful when they’re 3. I think your expectations have to be very low at that age, though. If you go up, and it’s 20 minutes and they start melting down, then you know you’ve got to go home. You can’t force it at that age.” Keeping your expectations in check — and your child warm and happy — are keys to a positive early experience.
Even when children get older, they need to be enthused to make skiing or snowboarding lessons productive.
“The kid’s got to want to learn how to ski,” Zolber says. “If you force it, they’re not going to like it, and then you may ruin it for a while. Make it fun and exciting, and as soon as they start to have a bad day, just get them out of there.” What if you’re a snowboarder and want your child to snowboard eventually? Introducing them to skis at an early age is still a good idea, Zolber says.
“It gets them familiar with the environment, with riding the chairlift, with being out there, being excited to be out there with you. And as they get to that stage in their life where they want to be like Dad — I want to snowboard — they can give it a try.”
Do not be this parent
The most dreaded thing involving toddlers that Bogus Basin ski school director Jamie Zolber encounters is the infamous backpacker. This is the parent who thinks it’s safe — possibly even cool — to ski or snowboard with a toddler strapped onto their body.
“I hate to see that,” Zolber says. “Kids on backpacks skiing around the mountain. It does not seem safe to me.” Jamie Zolber, ski school director for Bogus Basin, has these tips for introducing kids to the slopes: Getting them ready — Get your kids excited. Tell them what they’re going to be doing so they will be prepared for the snow and excitement of a ski area.
Have them wear their snow and ski gear in advance. Let them play in the clothes, including mittens and hat or helmet, so it feels familiar.
Make sure the child is well rested and fed a good breakfast. If children start their day tired and hungry, their mood probably isn’t going to improve later.
Clothing —A child’s ski clothes should be as warm as your own, if not warmer. Zolber says he sees too many parents decked out in the latest ski gear dropping their kids off for lessons wearing a snowsuit, a T-shirt and no goggles. “That’s one the things that gets me,” he says. Small bodies lose heat faster than larger bodies, and a child should dress in layers just like you do.
Avoid dressing them in anything made of cotton. Kids and snow mean wet clothing.
Mittens are better than gloves for young kids. Clip mittens to their jacket so they won’t get lost.
On the slopes — Enroll youngsters in a lesson. Instructors have a lot of experience teaching kids as young as 3 years old to ski. Bogus Basin’s ski school offers lessons in which adults can participate and learn how to help children on and off the lifts, which slopes are appropriate for kids and how to help children improve their technique.
It’s not all about skiing. If a young child would rather eat snow, roll in it, or just play around, let them. The point is for them to have fun in the snow. The skiing can come later, don’t force it.
Keep the trips short. Young kids don’t have the stamina to stay on the slopes all day. You might only get a couple hours on the hill before they’re tired and ready to go home.
Take breaks. A trip to the lodge for hot chocolate or snacks will keep their energy and enthusiasm up.
Focus on technique, then terrain. It may take a lot of time skiing on easy terrain for children to develop good skills.
Gear — Buy a helmet that fits the child. Don’t get a larger size so they can grow into it.
Leasing ski equipment is better than buying for young kids who are growing fast.
If you buy used gear or get hand-me-downs, take it to a ski shop and make sure it works properly, especially the boots and bindings.