Oh boy… am I really up for this. A guide for beginner skiers.
All 3 of our kids started when they were two. Skiing is a fun way to embrace the winter, learn a new skill and build confidence in your kids (Mom! Look what I did!!). Plus they will just love it. But initially expect some tears and drama. Promise if you push through that phase and stick with it, it will be worth it and the initial tears/apprehension will be long forgotten and they will be so proud of themselves and what they can do.
Skiing is not a cheap pastime. Equipment, clothes, accomodations and lift tickets add up! So we’ve found ways to make it slightly more affordable and get the most out of this otherwise very rewarding family experience. Here are some of the things we’ve learned over the years to make skiing with little ones a little more stress free.
The mornings can be a bit of a hassle – there’s a lot of stuff to keep track of. Having a system is key so you don’t end up dealing with “Mom, where’s my ….” 1 hundred trillion times! (and uh seriously your dad is right there and also understands English – what gives?) The goal is to make everyone as self sufficient as possible in finding their own stuff by always keeping it in the same place so that mom, the default person somehow responsible for it all, doesn’t lose her friggin mind.
Helmets with goggles attached (key!), hats and neck guards are all in the same bag. I use a very large reusable grocery bag or one of those large plastic bags from IKEA to keep things together. You can’t miss it. Boots are in proper heavy duty ski boot bags that zip up and also store snow boots during the day and keep the wet and grime contained. Mittens (including a couple extras) get their own bag with some extra socks. We store everything in its own category – but having individual bags for each person with most of their personal items would work well too. Or go crazy and break out that label maker and put everyone’s name on their own bag! Wow! Do what works for you – but decide on a system before you leave the house and pack up the car and show everyone where their own stuff is. Regular clothes go in several small suitcases that pack well in the car.
Even if you plan to go just twice – rent your equipment for the season. It will save you time and money not to have to rent on the mountain once you get there. Lines are just also hard with youngins. Better to avoid and find a store that will get everyone fitted for boots and skiis, will take back and replace any equipment that malfunctions or isn’t comfortable. You’ll likely get a credit towards next year’s rental too. Because we live in Westchester – we go to Pedigree Ski Shops in White Plains. Tip: register online with your personal info before you go. The service is excellent.
Snow pants, a warm jacket, good gloves (mittens are warmer) a helmet and goggles are a must. In recent years we’ve found good adjustable kid Bolle brand helmets at Costco. We also like Turtle Fur neck warmers, and these combo hat/gaiter that fit comfortably under helmets and reduces the risk of misplacing your hat. They get stored in each helmet at the end of the day as do the gloves.
Base layers and good socks are worth the extra money for good ones. I tend to buy basic black for everyone so they can be handed down to siblings. We like Hot Chilly’s and socks with a wool blend like EuroSocks. Costco has also had good base layer packs (top and bottom). Its no fun being cold. Stay away from bulky sweatshirts that are not warm and instead opt for several thinner layers with wool blends or fleece to stay comfortable and mobile.
The challenges that are inevitable when you try to move a family with a lot of stuff gets easier the more you do it. And being able to ski altogether and have fun was totally worth the early years that required a lot more work than skiing does now.
Ski School is your best friend
We’ve always started them young – putting all 3 kids on skiis when they were 2. Since little legs and little bodies don’t tend to have the stamina to stay out for more than half a day or even a couple of hours – we always looked for mountains that offered half ski schools, or groups lessons for a couple of hours, and had a child care center where we could drop off. Kids get to play indoors while the older kids and parents enjoy the rest of their day on the slopes.
So here’s the thing – once you get everyone’s boots, mittens and helmets on (hard part) and get yourself to the mountain in time for ski school (rushed part) you get to turn over your kids to a slew of instructors who have SEEN. IT. ALL. You find your group, catch the instructors name, give the offspring a high five and you are free to go! This is where the crazy of the morning getting everyone’s gear on pays off and you are officially on vacation – free to roam the mountain and enjoy the setting in peace. HAve lunch in peace. Ride the chair in peace. Truly heavenly.
A note on Straps and wedges
Before the kids could really turn or stop we put a backpack with straps so they would ski in front of us and we could control their speed. My husband and I would take turns going down with the kid on a leash because it is work (feel the burn!). It allowed us to go to the top of the mountain with the kids before they were really ready – but it doesn’t teach them how to ski. In fact they tend to lean back, and that is the opposite of what you want to teach them. The best thing is for little ones to find their ski legs and learn to turn and stop on the bunny hill to really gain that confidence. Once they are stopping, we would take them on the long windy greens and ski in front of them so they could follow our tracks, be forced to turn and control their speed. One parent or older sibling leading, and another parent leading behind we found to be our best configuration when getting a little one skiing on their own.
Where to go
Some of our favorite mountains –
Butternut, Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Butternut is a great family mountain that has it all. Big enough with a sufficient number of trails that adults and older kids don’t get bored, a full fledged and well run ski school with private and group lessons, as well as half day and full day options, and a cozy day care center just on the other end of the parking lot with friendly and responsible staff that will do lunch, naps, bottles, diapers whatever you need. The mountain lodges are decent – we usually leave stuff at the lower lodge but plan for lunch at the upper lodge that has more food options. What’s better than warm french fries and maybe a chocolate waffle after being out all morning. If you don’t want a full ski school but would like to unload your kids for a couple of hours so they can learn and you can enjoy, buy a 5 pack of group ski lessons that will save you some money. They don’t expire from year to year and if no one else shows up to your childs lesson group (based on age and ability level) you got yourself a private lesson for the price of the group. Private lessons are great for really young ones and those feeling very apprehensive about the whole affair. Just gotta get over the hump 🙂
Great Barrington is a great town with lots of restaurants and good shopping. We love the Barrington Brewery and Baba Louie’s for dinner or the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge just up the road, and Marketplace Kitchen Table for breakfast. We’ve stayed at the local chain hotels, there are several (e.g. Days Inn, Holiday Inn Express -indoor pool and across from the Brewery), all well situated as well as rented cottages via VRBO (the Schoolhouse Cottage is right next to the mountain and can sleep 5). Catamount mountain is nearby if you want to change it up or on a rainy day head to nearby Stockbridge to the Norman Rockwell Museum which is really fabulous and large. Kids can do a scavenger hunt while checking out his iconic paintings before heading to the basement for a short film before making their own art work in the large art room. Downtown Great Barrington is great for lunch and shopping (try family friendly Taqueria Azteca and the SoCo Creamery for amazing ice cream) and what’s more fun than and old fashioned candy store – Robin’s Candy.
Killington, Killington, Vermont
This glorious Mecca of Northeast skiing is huge and requires that you refer to the mountain map to ensure you end up where you intend to be – especially at the end of the day to get back to your car. It’s a hike for us at almost a 5 hour drive – but man is it a great mountain. Expect to pay more for a lift ticket – but it’s also the only mountain we’ve come across in our area that has ski school starting at age 2! Most ski schools require kids be 4 and potty trained – but these brave souls at Killington will dress up your squirmy toddler in the snowsuit, get them in their boots and take them to the magic carpet/bunny hill just outside the child care center. The child care center is large and well run with several rooms that looks like a preschool. We’ve always had a good experience there.
With multiple housing option to choose from right near the mountain. We’ve like the Highridge condos which although labeled “luxury” the 1 bedrooms sleeps 4 and the 2 bedrooms sleeps 6 with a pullout sofa. Having a full kitchen means we’ll pack cereal and oatmeal for easy breakfast in our condo before heading out. If your family would go for it – bring along some frozen TJ meals that heat up well for easy dinners in. Lots of places for dinner out along Killington Rd – The Wobbly Barn, Casey Caboose, Domenic’s Pizza and The Garlic just to name a few yummy options.
Wachusett Mountain, Princeton, Massachusetts
North west of Boston – this is a super fun mountain – my kids love the cider donuts Bullock Lodge half way down. There’s a Great Wolf Lodge in town too if you want to break up your vacation and do a night at this made for families indoor water park resort hotel.
Stratton, Londonderry, Vermont
Stratton – what’s not to like – great mountain with its own ski village, ski out housing options, good food and shopping. Can be pricey. We liked the Alpenrose Inn a lot. Lovely owners, clean rooms and really great home cooked meals for breakfast (included in your stay and made to order) and dinner which means you don’t need to drag tired kids out at night after everyone is showered. For rooms try Bear Cub for a family of 4 or Tamarak or the apartment suite for a family of 5. A definite plus. Need a an alternative ski activity – Manchester Center VT is quintessential New England town with a great bookstore and cafe and several designer outlet shops.