A simple 7-step process. I learned the hard way. You don’t have to.
This was the first year I’ve skied with my daughter Lulu. She’s two and a half, which seems young, but she’s an adventurous kid—head-first down slides, always “higher!” when we’re swinging. So I figured she was ready for an intro to my favorite sport.
We started on the magic carpet and baby hill at Sipapu Ski Area in northern New Mexico. My mom would bring Lulu up and let her go; she’d ski straight into my arms at the bottom of the 50-foot slope. From there we stepped it up a notch, taking Lulu to the bunny hill at Sandia Peak Ski Area near our house in Albuquerque. I fastened her into a chest harness with long straps—like reigns—so I could guide her, for lack of a better example, like a horse. Finally, last month we rode to the top of Sandia to try and make it all the way down the long, flat, mellow hill. I thought she was ready.
Up top Lulu proudly waved hi to onlookers who asked how old she was—she’s small for her age, so people are always surprised to see her on skis—and she smiled as we rolled past ski patrollers who pulled out their phones to take pictures. I was proud, too, as the father of the smallest kid on the ski hill. We stopped at the top of a blue run, gazed down the slope, then started off. That’s when things started falling apart.
We’d only just started skiing when Lulu began to wail. It was the steepest run she’d been on, and she was freaked out. We skied about 30 feet down to a catwalk and stopped, but already something in her had changed. She demanded I pick her up and cradle her like you would with a small baby, so I did. With her head draped over my left arm and her skis dangling over my right, she cried and cried. I tried to get out of view of the patrol shack, ashamed as a father that had pushed his kid too hard.
We sat for a few minutes, gathered ourselves, then proceeded down the mountain with Lulu skiing between my legs as I held her arms for balance. She soon remembered that skiing isn't so bad. At the bottom we threw off our skis and headed in for lunch, not sure if we’d go back out. We’d been on skis for a total of 15 agonizing minutes.
Driving home that day with Lulu snoring in the backseat—we did one more run on the bunny hill then called it quits—I decided to come up with a lesson plan for teaching young kids how to ski. I’d learned the hard way, but maybe other parents don’t have to. Here it is. I call it “How to Teach Your Kid to Become a Ripper by the Time They Start Kindergarten and a Freeride World Tour Contestant by the Time They’re in High School.”
1. A Little Pushing Is Okay
I love skiing because my mom used to haul me along as a kid on the cross-country ski trips. Back then I was probably a lot whinier than Lulu, but my mom always pushed me to go a little farther and struggle through the awkwardness of having skis strapped to my feet. After a couple years I felt totally comfortable in the snow. Back at Sandia with Lulu, it took some convincing to get her going again, but I was glad I pushed her because she left feeling good about skiing, instead of dwelling on our mishap up top. Of course there’s a limit. Kids need some encouragement to do most things outside their comfort zone, but they also know where to draw a line. If Lulu would have refused, even after we took a break, I would have acquiesced. She’s only two and there’s a lot more time to learn.
2. Treats Are Important
Lulu continues to go out with me because she likes sliding on snow. But she also knows that every time we go skiing she gets Skittles and a hot dog. At home, she gets one Skittle after dinner, but on ski days she tears through an entire bag. It’s not something I feel good about as a parent—all that sugar eating at her baby teeth—but if it helps her have a good time once every couple weeks, then I’m fine with it. The same with the hot dog. We could easily pack a lunch at home, but Lulu rarely gets hot dogs either, so it’s something she looks forward to. She’s too young to understand the notion of a ritual, but we’ve created one on ski days and she clearly looks forward to it.
3. Clothing Matters
Lulu has spent most of the season in hand-me-down, no-name ski pants, which are totally fine. Her legs don’t get cold easily. But for her upper body, we wanted to cut down on distractions by carefully choosing something that would kep her warm. This season she’s worn the Big Agnes Ice House Hoody, which has Downtek-treated 650 down. A toddler down jacket might seem like overkill, but it’s not. We got it a couples sizes too big so she can use it for multiple years, and she’s never gotten cold even on days when temps dropped near freezing, which meant we got to keep skiing instead of heading into the lodge. On warmer days, she loves Patagonia’s Baby Down Sweater Vest, which keeps her core warm but vents her arms, cutting down the amount of times we have to change clothes (another unwanted distraction).
4. Don't Be Afraid to Use Tools
You don't want to be overbearing, but you do need some control so your kid doesn't hurt herself. With Lulu I used the Lucky Bums Ski Trainer harness. I’m also considering a harness that attaches to her boots because I’ve been told it’s better for helping kids find their balance. And surprisingly, there’s a lot of ski gear for tiny toddlers. Lulu's in Dalbello’s Yeti 1 ski boots and ripping around on a pair of 70mm Chicas from Volkl. She wears Smith Sidekicks and Bern’s Nina helmet.
5. Peer Pressure Works
Suvi is Lulu’s best friend. They go to school together, take hikes on the weekends, and love to play copycat. When one climbs a hill, the other quickly follows. We just enrolled them both in swimming lessons because our hope is that they’ll motivate each other to overcome a fear of water. Next year, the plan is to get them skiing together, too. I’m sure Lulu will be more motivated to stay out on the hill if Suvi is there shredding alongside.
6. She’ll Eventually Need Real Ski Lessons
This year the plan was to familiarize Lulu with snow and skis, which we’ve done. She’s comfortable walking around in her skis and knows how to ride a lift. Next year she and I will work on snow plowing, but she’s really going to learn how to ski in ski lessons. Ski instructors have better tips and tricks, and they’re not her dad, so she won’t have as much license to say “no.” Plus while she’s in ski lessons, I can go shred. And when she's older, we can shred together.
7. If She Decides She Hates Skiing, That’s Okay, Too
Sometimes before we eat dinner my wife has us say what we’re thankful for. It’s not a religious thing, just another ritual. Lulu usually says she’s thankful for her mom, dad, and brother, but sometimes she’ll say she’s thankful for skiing, then immediately look at me because she knows it makes my day. It seems like she genuinely enjoys going out with me, but if that wears off, and she decides skiing isn’t for her, I’ll be okay with it. Sure, I’ll be a little heartbroken but I’d never push her beyond a certain point. My wife and I know she needs to be involved in lots of different activities and then choose for herself.
Associate Gear Editor Jakob Schiller is a guest contributor to Raising Rippers.