We sat down with Mark Raymond, General Manager of Training and Quality for Vail Ski and Snowboard School, to get his take. As a father of a 5-year-old and an instructor since 1992, Mark is very familiar with what it takes to teach young ones to ski.
While some parents that are avid skiers will take their 1 ½ year-olds along swaddled in baby-backpacks, the rule at Vail Ski and Snowboard School is that a child must be at least 3-years-old and potty-trained to be in a group lesson. These kids are placed into groups based on their ability level with other children ages 3 to 6 years old. From there, instructors will adapt the day’s schedule to the needs of the children in each class.
When teaching kids “you really have to look at their cognitive ability,” says Mark. So instead of telling a four-year-old to turn left – a direction that might confuse them – instructors will use stickers, colors and props to help give children directions in a fun, low-stress atmosphere.
“Ideally everyone would start at age three,” Mark says, “because at that age, kids are fearless”. Their small stature and adaptability makes the sport much easier to learn than for an adult.
For the most part, teaching little ones to ski is about getting them familiar with the equipment and the feeling of gliding on snow. Once they get the feel of gliding down, they can advance to riding the chairlift. And if a child is feeling cold or hungry, instructors can bring them inside where counselors have hot cocoa, snacks and games on hand.
Mark insists that even he doesn’t try to teach his 4-year-old how to ski. “It saves some hurt (feelings)…(and gives your child) the best chance of success.” Ski School classes are set up to allow kids to learn with peers of similar abilities. It also is scheduled so that parents can return in the afternoon to ski with their children, allowing kids the chance to show off what they’ve learned.