A couple of winters ago, when my sons were 4 and 6, I took them skiing at a big mountain where we hadn't skied before. My wife was out of town so it was just the three of us. We warmed up on a couple of green runs before taking the gondola to the mid-mountain station. On the long and winding trail back to the base area, disaster struck. At a fork in the trail, one of my boys went one way and the other went - well, you get the idea.
What seemed like a catastrophe at the time turned out fine, but it taught all three of us a lesson: Have a plan. Be prepared. Anticipate. Communicate. As a ski dad, I have learned these and many more parenting lessons from skiing.
When it comes to skiing with kids, both parents are obviously important, but ski dads have a different role than ski moms do (and it goes beyond being the ski Sherpa). Here are some ideas and tips for aspiring ski dads to get your kids started out and loving to slide on the snow.
1. Be prepared
When your kids are young (say, under 7 years old), a critical role that any parent plays - in pretty much every situation - is to be prepared. A day on the slopes is no different. As the ski dad, you must be prepared and anticipate your kid's potential needs. A good ski dad is ready with snacks, hand warmers, sunscreen, water, and more. "I always have multiple snacks stashed in all my pockets," says ski dad and southern California resident David Knott. "Trail mix, granola bars (with chocolate chips), little chunks of chocolate, whatever the kids will willingly eat as long as it's not too junky," says the father of two girls.
Other ways to be prepared: know where the closest bathroom is, know where the nearest drinking fountain is, and, most importantly, know where to get hot chocolate.
As your children grow older, you can use snowsports to teach them to be responsible for themselves. Have them carry their own snacks, hand warmers, and lip balm. There will even come a time when you feel comfortable letting them ski a run without you (but probably with a sibling or a friend). The freedom of that first solo ski run is both a thrill for them as well as an important developmental step in their independence.
2. Be patient
As a weekend ski instructor at Eldora Mountain in Colorado, I interact with a lot of parents. One thing I emphasize, especially with fathers, is to be patient with their kid's progress on the hill. Don't push them too far or too fast, and definitely don't take them down a trail they are not ready to ski (we call this "over-terraining"). Yes, you want to challenge your kids, but be cautious about moving them to a steeper pitch too soon. You don't want to be this guy.
As a general observation, dads tend to be more concerned than moms are about how quickly their child is progressing. Smart ski dads know when to take it easy, especially the first day out of the season. "Even if your child finished last season skiing black trails, start them out on green runs," says Jason McGowin, a Boulder, Colorado father of two. "Remember, they haven't skied in 8 months and kids don't have quite the same muscle memory as adults do."
Just because you are getting bored on the green trails doesn't mean your kid isn't having a great time. Remember, it's not about you, it's about them. Be patient with the pace of their improvement and don't get discouraged too soon.
3. Be flexible
Little ones do not have the stamina, bladder size, or fine muscle skills that you do. Realize these limitations ahead of time and plan in numerous breaks during your day on the slopes. It's important to take that break before the point when they melt down. If your kid wants to take another run, great, but realize when they have had enough. Again, it comes down to not letting your agenda override your kid's enjoyment of the experience.
"Take a break whenever they request it. Don't listen to the dude in your head that thinks your kids need to man-up for 'one more run.' It is bound to be a disaster and will come back to haunt you next time you try to coax them onto the hill," notes ski dad David Knott.
"It comes down to knowing your kids," comments McGowin. "My daughter skis cautiously and my son is a daredevil. As a result, I ski with them very differently."
4. Be A Rock
When skiing with kids, it's quite probable that something will go wrong. Actually, it's guaranteed. As the ski dad, it's your job not to overreact. Keep things in perspective. Stay calm. Be the adult. Accidents and injuries happen, and your reaction will have a significant contributory role in the ultimate outcome of the mishap.
All the ski dads that your author spoke to for this article mentioned the misadventures they had with their kids on the slopes, and how everything ultimately worked out fine. "Ski dads need to roll with the unexpected and stay calm in the face of potentially traumatic moments," were sage words of advice from Knott. Indeed, the experience with my kids getting lost (I didn't use that word when recounting the tale to my wife) was stressful for me and upsetting for my sons. But we were able to shake it off and move on, continuing to enjoy skiing together for the rest of the day.
Bottom line: Good ski dads learn from other good ski dads. To get started, talk to other ski dads who have older kids about their past experiences, their advice, and their tips. Most will inevitably have something that they did wrong and something that they would change if they could go back and do it over again. That's how the tribe of ski dads passes knowledge down to the next generation of ski dads and, ultimately, to the ski kids in the family.