Bringing the whole family downhill skiing for the first time can seem really intimidating and overwhelming. I’ve been there! We’ve recently made the switch from cross-country skiing to downhill skiing and have learned plenty of tips and tricks along the way. Some of these things I wish I had known from the start! So, from our family to yours here are some tips for beginner families hitting the slopes for the first time.
Tip #1: Dress for warmth!
Dressing for a successful day on the hill means loving those layers. From the youngest to the oldest start with a good base layer: long-johns, top and ski (long) socks. Avoid cotton which can hold moisture, and opt for wool or polyester instead. You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy fancy base layers for everyone. If your kids have fleecy PJs, those work really well. I found a Merino long sleeved shirt at a thrift store for next to nothing. Be creative, just avoid cotton. Once you’ve got the base layer figured out then bring on the insulating layer: another pair of long johns or fleece pants and a fleece top or jacket. Then add the snow gear: a warm windproof, waterproof winter coat and snow pants, a balaclava/ski mask/neck gaiter, helmet, goggles and mittens (not gloves!). A proper ski helmet and goggles are a must for parents and kids, don’t skimp out on these things. The key is to dress everyone well enough to stay warm while riding up the lift, but not so warm that you get sweaty riding down the hill. Remember, it’s always easy to remove layers.
Tip #2: Bring spare clothes and mittens.
On our first days at the ski hill our daughter spilled hot chocolate all over herself. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring spare clothes and she had to ski the rest of the day bathed in sticky hot chocolate. How uncomfortable! Now I pack spare clothes for everyone, usually something comfy like pjs. We always have spare mittens for each child too, wet mittens means cold fingers. Not good.
Tip #3: Consider a seasonal gear lease or buying used.
If your family plans on skiing throughout the season consider a seasonal gear lease. Local ski shops will set you and your kids up with everything you need (skis, poles and boots) for a modest fee, far less than buying all new equipment. One benefit to a seasonal gear lease is that if your child grows out of their boots halfway through the season you can exchange them at no additional cost. The other option is getting used ski gear through a ski swap or by scouring the local buy and sell. The downside with buying used is that if you haven’t skied before it can be tricky knowing what to look for. Bonus Gear Tip: For newbie kids or newbie parents helping newbie kid…don’t use poles! They’re just a tripping hazard.
Tip #4: Start on the Magic Carpet.
If you and your kids are new to skiing, or just getting started, head right on over to the Magic Carpet (sometimes called the Bunny Hill). At some ski resort it’s free to use the Magic Carpet (like at Baldy Mountain Ski Resort). Awesome right?! This is the best place to practice moving around on skis. Some kids (and parents) find it thrilling to have skis strapped to their feet, and others find it terrifying. It depends on the age and temperament of the child. Families can easily spend an entire day (or more) at the Magic Carpet before moving on to the lifts.
Tip #5: Talk to the Lifties.
The lifties (lift operators) are really helpful and knowledgeable people. Not sure which run to take your kids down. Ask the lifties for advice. Not sure how to get on the lift with your kids. Let the liftie know you need help. They will slow the lift and guide you through the process. Worried about bailing while getting off the lift. Give a thumbs down to the liftie as you approach the dismounting platform to slow the lift. I sure wish I would have known this last tip during our first few days on the hill. We may have avoided some embarrassing pile-ups.
Tip #6: Pack an energy filled lunch and extra snacks.
After a morning of skiing everyone has ferocious appetites. Energy dense food is a sure way to refuel everyone for an afternoon of skiing. Things like nuts, hard boiled eggs, tuna, fruits and veggies are satisfying and satiating. We also bring a canteen filled with hot chocolate (a special treat) and stash some quality chocolate in our pockets as an emergency energy boost while riding the lifts.
Tip #7: Skiing with little kids? Take shifts.
We have three kids: ages nine, six and four and they have varying levels of skiing stamina. My two older kids could ski the whole day, only breaking for a quick lunch. My youngest enjoys skiing for an hour or two before his little legs get tired. If you’re skiing with young children and happen to have a spouse, partner or friend join you, plan to take shifts throughout the day. For example, you stay with the little kid(s) on the Magic Carpet or in the Lodge while your spouse does a few solo runs and then switch. Good communication is key to make this work well (i.e. cell phones, walkie-talkies), but it’s worth making the effort so everyone feels they had the chance to enjoy the snow.
Tip #8: Sign-up for ski lessons.
Having an experienced instructor teach you and your kids to ski is a sure way towards success and happiness on the ski hill. Most ski hills have a variety of lesson options, take a look to see if there is something that will fits the needs of you and your child. There are usually some very affordable all-inclusive options for beginners. Can’t afford a lessons? Keep a pulse on your local ski hill by liking their Facebook Page. There are usually opportunities for free or discounted lessons during special events like Never Ever Days ($25 for rental equipment, a day lift ticket and a beginner lesson), World Snow Day (January 15th) or Family Day.
Tip #9: Pick a smaller ski resort.
Choosing a smaller ski resort means less crowds, fewer line-ups, cheaper lift tickets, reasonably priced lessons and gentler terrain. All of these are great reasons to pick a smaller ski resort over a big popular resort especially when your learning to ski as a family. In the South Okanagan we love Baldy Mountain Ski Resort for all of these reasons and more.
Tip #10: Join in the fun!
Ski resorts have a lot of fun things happening from week to week apart from skiing (and snowboarding). Keep an eye out for special events (New Year’s Eve, World Snow Day, Family Day), clubs (Alpine Club) and fun activities (skating, sledding, snowshoeing, night skiing). These are great opportunities to meet new people, make new friends, create memories and enjoy the beauty of winter with your family.