Putting in the time to learn to ski or snowboard while children are young pays off down the road. Besides wonderful memories and family vacations, it exposes them to winter sports and activities that have lifelong potential.
Another advantage is that lift tickets are fairly inexpensive for children under 13, and there are many deals for lessons and equipment at Lake Tahoe resorts.
Children pick up most activities quickly; as the kids get more proficient, skiing or boarding is a very family-friendly activity. After a couple of seasons, the kids are as good — if not better — at shushing down the slopes as their parents.
Below are some things to consider when embarking on skiing or boarding with children:
* Ski helmets are a good idea. If your child wears a ski helmet, remember you may have to raise your voice more to get their attention because a helmet may impede their hearing. Make sure the helmet fits correctly. A ski helmet is not an item you buy for your child to grow into. Educate your child about the benefits and limitations of the helmet. Wearing a helmet doesn’t give permission to ski or snowboard faster or recklessly.
* Dress in layers. Layering allows you to accommodate your body’s constantly changing temperature. For example, dress your kids in polypropylene underwear (top and bottoms), which feels good next to the skin, dries quickly, absorbs sweat and keeps you warm. Your kids should also wear a turtleneck, sweater and waterproof jacket.
* Be prepared. Mother Nature has a mind of her own. Kids should wear a hat or headband; 80 percent of heat loss is through the head. Kids also should wear gloves or mittens (mittens are usually better for kids who are susceptible to cold hands).
* Be sure they wear sun protection, even on cloudy days. The sun reflects off the snow and is stronger than you think. A ski vacation with a sunburn is no fun.
* Kids should have sunglasses and goggles with them. Skiing is a lot more fun when you can see. Always wear eye protection.
* When buying skiwear, look for fabric that is water and wind-resistant. Look for wind flaps to shield zippers, snug cuffs at wrists and ankles, collars that can be snuggled up to the chin and deep pockets. Be sure to buy your children quality clothing products.
* When you’ve decided what area to take your ski trip, call the ski resorts in the area and research how each area’s children ski school programs are structured. Ask about the number of kids in the class. What if your child gets cold? What if your child wants to stop skiing after one hour? Does the ski school offer pagers?
* Put your kids in ski school to get them on the right track. Children’s instructors know how to teach kids; it’s their business. Then you’ll enjoy skiing with your kids, and they will be proud to show you their skiing abilities.
An observance from a longtime skier is that when his daughter skied with him, she regressed, as opposed to skiing with her peers in a lesson. “She wanted to ski in between my legs and fell down more often. We had fun with her being silly, but a lesson allowed her to focus on her skiing , and she really excelled.”
* Although it is unlikely that your child would get separated from the instructor, be sure your child has a trail map and is able to remember the instructor’s name.
* Make sure your child knows when to stop skiing — for example, if the clothing layer next to their skin stays wet and they’re chilled, if they’re injured, have a problem with equipment or even if they’re simply worn out. Educate them that it’s OK to stop before the end of the day, and breaks are fun.
* Make a meeting place if you get separated, for example, at the bottom of chairlift #2. The walkie talkies now available are convenient and a big hit on the slopes.
Did you know?
* Nationally, 43 percent of skiers and snowboarders are part of a family with children (living at home), according to the NSAA national demographic study.
* In 2000, when parents were asked what their kids do on the slopes (kids would be 15 years and under), parents say that 66 percent of their children ski only, 30 percent snowboard only, 19 percent do both and 10 percent don’t do either (may be too young), according to the National Skier/Boarder opinion survey.
* Of all the children on the slopes, 13 percent are under age 5, 41 percent are between the ages of 5 and 10, and another 46 percent are between the ages of 11 and 15, according to the National Skier/Boarder opinion survey.
— National Ski Areas Association