kids skiing for the first time

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My husband and I love to ski, so we wanted to share our favorite winter sport with the kiddos. But hitting the slopes with little ones is daunting! For one thing, we live in the Los Angeles area so we own zero winter clothes. For another, our kids are pretty young. We were confident the 7-year-old could get up on skis, but wondered if we were pushing it with the 3-year-old.

I’m happy to report that after a week at Mammoth Mountain, I now have one real deal skier (older kid) and one snow enthusiast (younger kid) which is a start, right? Here’s what I learned about taking kids skiing for the first time:

Beg, Borrow and Rent – Skiing requires a ton of gear, which kids are just going to outgrow every year, so it only makes financial sense to borrow and rent as much as you can. Make sure to acquire: Waterproof ski pants, ski jacket, neckwarmer, long johns, at least 2 pairs of ski socks (they get wet!), goggles, mittens (fingers stay warmer than gloves), sweaters and snow boots for wearing to/from the mountain. You can rent ski boots, skis and usually helmets, which are quite warm and take the place of a ski hat. Hot tip: When borrowing, take a photo of the haul before you travel so you’ll know what to return later. Ski gear all looks kind of the same and you may forget whose black mittens are whose.

Choose a Beginner-Friendly Mountain – Long chairlift rides are ambitious for first-timers, especially shorties. Your ideal ski resort has a short bunny hill accessed by a magic carpet conveyor belt (super easy for kids), poma lift or rope tow. And of course packed powder is a lot friendlier to learn on than ice, so a mountain that makes its own snow to supplement natural snowfall is helpful. Also, ski school is a big plus – especially one that divides kids into narrow age ranges. I loved that our 3-year-old was grouped with other preschoolers–she would not have held her own with 10-year-olds!

Keep Kids Warm – Stock up on hand and toe warmers and use liberally. They make a huge difference! Also, dress kids in lots of layers–they can always strip down later and leave clothes in a locker. Just make sure to ask if they have to pee BEFORE you finish snapping and zipping.

Lube Up – Protect their baby skin from the elements with sunscreen (sun exposure at high altitude is no joke, even if it’s just their noses showing), SPF lip balm, and lotion. Nobody likes that dry and itchy feeling. It’s always a good idea to stay hydrated from the inside by drinking lots of water, too.

Take Lessons – Group ski school is an excellent way to teach kids the basics of “pizza” (snowplow wedge) and “french fries” (parallel skis).  If your child is too young or unwilling to participate in ski school, consider a private family lesson. The instructor can focus on the kids while throwing a few tips your way too. If you’re planning to teach kids yourselves, you might want to buy or borrow a ski harness, which is kind of like a leash, allowing you to stay tethered.

Have a Plan B – While my 7-year-old was happy to stay in ski school from 9 am to 3 pm, my preschooler tapped out much earlier. We were lucky to have the grandparents traveling with us, so we had a lot of flexibility in terms of childcare. Another option would be daycare (offered at some mountains) or a sitter so that mom and dad can still do some skiing.

Throw Money at Convenience – Even single adults find it challenging schlepping all their ski gear. Now add small children who might want to be carried and, well, good luck. On our trip, the resort allowed us to store our skis and poles at the ski shop each night. As for the boots, we rented a $10/day locker so we could keep them at the lodge. That just left the two little people to get from point A to point B each morning.

Take Breaks – I’m used to trying to wring every second of enjoyment out of that $100 lift ticket. But with kids, you have to be flexible and patient. Hot cocoa breaks can be the difference between sticking with skiing and giving up. We also took a mid-week break, spending a fun and low-pressure day just sledding. After taking a day off, the kids were eager to get back to skiing.