How to Turn Your Kid into a Better Skier than You
Let your grom take the lead and you’ll both learn new tricks and become better skiers for it
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
I’ve been skiing for so long, I don’t remember ever not skiing—or what it was like to learn how to ski. I’ve been an expert skier for decades. But a recent outing with my eight-year-old son, Gunnar, brought me to a realization: after all these years, my skiing has become one-dimensional.
Related: How to Start Your Kids Skiing
I know what, how, and where I like to ski. But when you do the same thing over time, you limit your ability to expand your horizons. I have over 40 years of experience skiing and nearly 30 years as a professional ski instructor. And what does all this experience mean to my eight-year-old?
Gunnar has his own definitions of successful skiing and doesn’t really care about my experience. At first I was frustrated by his trail choices, interests, and decisions. I’d say, “No, let’s not ski the bunny lift—you can ski black diamonds!” He’d answer: “Come on, Dad!” He has his reasons, and he rarely leaves dissatisfied or unfulfilled.
Gunnar’s ski habits have led me to another realization: he’s becoming a complete skier in ways that I am not. Here’s how.
He Skis Backwards
This pretty much says it all. It’s so simple, yet so completely foreign to old schoolers. If you want to go back to square one, turn yourself around and put it in reverse. Skiing switch uses the same skills—balancing movements, edging movements, and tipping skis from edge to edge—as going forward. Often, beginner switch skiers (which is me) will use a wedge and advance to parallel. Remember, just like in regular skiing, turn shape equals control.
Peter Novom, eastern-division examiner for the Professional Ski Instructors of America and a member of the PSIA national freestyle task force, explains what feels so backward about skiing backwards.
“If you close your ankle joint, your center of mass ends up behind your base of support,” Novom says. When you’re skiing switch, you want to be in the back seat, because the car is driving in reverse. For me, that means trying to unlearn 40-plus-year-old habits.
But Gunnar knows all this. At this point, he doesn’t ski fast when he’s going backwards. I’m sure that will change, and all I can hope is that I can still keep up in a few years—skiing frontward or backwards.
He Skis Tight Trees
I’ve heard old-school parents sniff at terrain parks and claim, “When we were that age, we skied in the woods!” News flash, parents: your kids ski the trees, too—trees you may consider unskiable. Remember, your kid is on 100-centimeter skis; you’re likely on 150-centimeter-plus planks. Follow your little grom on their tree line and you may find yourself on a tight point-’em-or-die bobsled track. Good luck in there!
If you put your kids in a ski-school lesson, be prepared at lesson’s end for them to show you all the secret stashes. If trees aren’t your bag, talk to your child’s instructor. Twenty-first-century resort operators invest heavily in low-angle glades, glade cutting and trimming, and easily accessible “family zones.” With any luck, your kid will show you one of those zones.
He Practices Tricks
Kids that ski want to learn how to do tricks. Flips and 360’s are on TV and in the movies. Freeskiing is arguably on more screens than World Cup races. My son can’t do a 360—yet. But he will not rest until he lands one. When he’s on a backyard trampoline in summer, he imagines he’s getting big air. And now I’m making sure to get my tramp reps, too, otherwise I’m sure to get left behind. (But who am I fooling? We all know I’m just postponing the inevitable.)
He Studies Terrain
My kid knows the mountain. We used to give him coloring books; now we give him trail maps. After a day on the hill, Gunnar comes home and studies that thing! (If he attacks his schoolwork with the same fervor, we’ll have an Einstein on our hands.) With a Sharpie, he traces the runs he made that day. His goal: to ski every trail at our home resort this season. He also circles patrol shacks, cool jumps, and parks. And any unnamed woods zones are now named—courtesy of him and his sister. At one time, I thought I knew our home mountain. No longer; my local knowledge has been surpassed.
He Pays Attention to His Environment
Gunnar picks up litter while he skis. (Granted, he then usually hands the garbage to me to put in my pocket.) Somewhere along the line he learned that human accountability is the only way to sustain our skiing way of life. I agree with him, but my actions don’t necessarily support that. I have, more often than not, skied past a wrapper or a can on the side of the slope rather than pick it up and return it to a base-area garbage can. Litter bugs, take note: if you don’t already feel guilty about your actions, just know an eight-year-old is picking up after you.
He Eats the Snow
Some parents will say, “Don’t eat that, it’s disgusting!” People learn using all of their senses, so making snowballs, throwing dry powder in the air like confetti, collecting and studying snowflake shapes on mittens, and, yes, eating snow—it’s all data collection. The end result: this kid knows snow.
I’ve been skiing at a high level for decades, but skiing with my eight-year-old has been a wake-up call. I can thank Gunnar for helping me understand when I’m skiing inside my box and for reminding me to ski outside it on occasion. Because, when I follow my son’s lead, I learn new tricks of the trade.