7 tips for skiing with kids in tow

skifamWBy Lisa Snowden McCray

The Grimes family from Calvert County is big on skiing. At one point, mom Leslie used a harness to keep her younger son close by. Now she gives her 9- and 12-year-old boys each a walkie-talkie and doesn't see them again until the end of the day.

Skiing is a great winter family activity, and Marylanders are fortunate to have numerous resorts less than two hours away. How to get started? Local experts such as the Grimes share the ups and downs of hitting the slopes with the family in tow. Some have decades of experience — so heed their advice!


Tips for skiing with kids

1. Dress for success

It's important to keep kids warm and comfortable for them to have fun on the slopes. Every child must have the following basics: a waterproof, insulated jacket; ski or snow pants; a hat; long underwear; socks; goggles; and snow mittens.

Resist the urge to bundle kids in just one or two heavy layers, says Dr. Benjamin Petre, an Annapolis-based orthopedic surgeon and one of the official physicians for the U.S. Ski Team. It's better to dress them in a few thinner layers. Kids will overheat and sweat in heavy clothes, but can peel off thinner layers and stash them in a backpack or locker.

2. Get the right equipment

Necessary equipment for a day on the slopes includes skis or a snowboard, ski boots and a helmet.

Petre suggests parents take time at the store or rental shop to ensure a proper fit. This is one time where hand-me-downs might not be the best option, since skis and ski boots need to be the right size and fit for each child, Petre says.

Grimes recommends the Baltimore Ski Warehouse for equipment because it sells new and gently used equipment and buys back old equipment. Also look for ski swaps at local ski stores, she says.

"If you are going more than once in a season, it's often cheaper than renting each time," she said of buying used.

As for the helmet, it should be non-negotiable for young kids. "I used to tell my boys no helmet, no lift ticket," she says. Petre's children also never step on the slopes without wearing one, he says. Grimes says that you can rent one for $10 at most resorts.

3. Splurge for lessons

Pay for a lesson rather than try to teach your children to ski yourself, the experts agree. Most resorts offer a "learn to ski or snowboard" package that comes with a lesson, lift ticket and rentals, Grimes says.

"It does cost some bucks, but they have to have the right training," says Bruce Hagelgans, chairman of Club Crabtowne, a ski club based in Annapolis and dad to two grown children. If your kids don't learn the right way, they could be overly dependent on you or, worse, they could be seriously injured, he says.

Half- and full-day ski and board snow camps are offered daily at most resorts.

"They are amazing!" Grimes says. "They are not cheap, but it gives Mom and Dad a break to ski on their own, and little ones learn better from others."

Before heading to the slopes, check online to find out how classes are run, says Annapolis native and former ski instructor Janet Jefferson. Find out what ages they teach, the kind of classes they offer and the instructor-to-student ratio.

"It can be really scary going into it for the first time," Jefferson says. But knowing the details can help soothe a child's fears, she explains.

When the lesson is over, be sure to check in with your child's instructor, Jefferson says. Find out exactly what your child did in the lesson, things he or she needs to work on, and things to do to move on to the next level.

4. Don't ski tired

Once your kids are out of class and on the slopes, make sure they don't overdo it. Take breaks throughout the day, so your body and mind can stay alert and active. Grimes suggest purchasing a four-hour flex pass and allow for breaks in between.

"I can't tell you how many people come to the ER saying they just wanted to get that last run of the day," Petre says. "It's a terrible idea."

5. Start slowly

Hagelgans suggests starting off slowly so kids don't get overwhelmed. Begin with just a day trip, then a weekend, then possibly a weeklong trip. "You don't want to spend that much money on a week with your kids if they don't like skiing," he says.

You might also want to go during the week when the crowds will be lighter, Grimes adds. Kids will have more space to learn and less risk of crashing into other more experienced skiers, which can be dangerous.

"Don't go on a holiday," she adds. "That just makes it a frustrating experience."

6. Go local

Starting with a slope that is close to home has many benefits. Hagelgans says a trip to a ski resort in Pennsylvania, western Maryland or West Virginia can be much less expensive than a resort in Colorado or Utah. By going local, you won't have to factor airfare or lodging into your budget.

Grimes says parents should become familiar with local resorts to see what kinds of specials they offer. Weekday rates may be lower, or packages could include rentals, lessons and lift tickets. There are also specials such as the 4th/5th grade free Pennsylvania ski pass, which offers a free lift ticket to kids in fourth and fifth grades.

7. Provide encouragement

What if you love skiing, but your kids don't? Hagelgans suggests getting to the resort early enough that your kids can check it out and get used to the idea. He also suggests buying them a treat — like hot chocolate — as an incentive. If your kids still aren't ski fans, don't worry. Many resorts have other activities, like ice skating or snowboarding, your kids might like better.

Jefferson warns that younger kids might not be happy about being left in a class in such a new situation, but it's worth it. As hard is it might be, she suggests that parents drop their child off and leave as soon as they can.

"I can't even count the number of times there were screaming children," she says of the classes she has taught. "I know it's hard for a mom to walk away from her screaming baby, but it will get better."

Ski schools will let parents know right away if there is a real problem, Jefferson says. Also, once parents are gone and the separation anxiety has passed, kids usually relax and enjoy the lesson.

Hagelgans says that when his kids were young, he had to resist the urge to check on them during a class. Parents may be curious, but they can also be a big distraction, he says. Once a child sees his parent, he or she may not want to continue with the lesson.

For older children, it might help to bring a friend to take the class with them, Jefferson says. She says it was a bit frustrating learning to ski at the age of 9, when some of her friends had been skiing almost since they could walk, but friends helped make the process easier.

"In the beginning, when it was kind of hard, I wasn't sold on it yet," she says. "But I still wanted to go because all my friends were doing it."

** Enter our giveaway for a chance to win a family ski package and snow tubing passes at Ski Liberty. Don't wait! Deadline to enter is noon Jan. 27, 2016. **

Click Next for more tips for a succesful day skiing

More tips for successful ski day

  • When getting on the lift with little ones, Grimes recommends asking the lift operator for help. She says you can also ask them to slow down the lift when getting on, so don't hesitate to do so.
  • A ski harness can be useful when taking preschoolers on the slopes. Grimes used the leash-like rope with her younger son to give him a sense of independence, but out of harm's way, she says.
  • Use walkie-talkies to keep in touch. Walkie-talkies work better than cellphones because you don't have to dial and you can easily operate them even with thick gloves on, Grimes says.
  • Resorts often have lockers you can use to stash extra clothing and bags, but take plenty of quarters. You need to pay each time you open a locker.
  • Pack snacks you can fit in your pocket such as granola bars, crackers and raisins. Take a lunch and head to the car for breaks. Avoid the cafeteria, which can get expensive.

Don't forget to enter our giveaway for a chance to win a family ski package and snow tubing passes at Ski Liberty. Don't wait! Deadline to enter is noon Jan. 27, 2016.