What to Look for in a Ski School for Little Ones

Catherine Parker Avatar
West Virginia Ski Resorts include Winterplace, a great place for new skiers to learn (two children dressed for skiing)
Winterplace is a great place for new skiers to learn. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Taking the kids skiing for the first time is daunting. I know, I’ve been there. When I started skiing in my 20s, it was easy. I picked out the perfect outfit, rented some skis, took a lesson from the cute ski instructor then drank a cocktail. My glamorous ski days started late and ended early.

Then I had kids and everything got more complicated. My kids started on the slopes when the youngest hit 2 and the oldest was 7n.

So where do you start if you have never skied before as a family? These are the tips I learned long the way.

Finding a Family-Friendly Ski Resort

Before I look at the lessons, I find a family-friendly ski resort. The kind that truly likes and caters to families, with fireside s’mores and tubing. (This is our list of the best family ski resorts.)

Next I check out the snow cams to see how much snow is on the ground. This is especially helpful for ski resorts in the Midwest and some East Coast resorts.

I prefer to drive so I don’t have to limit the luggage. I have an all-wheel drive SUV if it starts to snow. If we fly, I check the gear. That’s expensive and a hassle.

Some skiers prefer ski-in, ski-out resorts; they look luxurious. What I didn’t realize is I parked miles away and lugged my gear the whole trip. Unless the resort offers to haul your gear or a mute husband gets invented, this is a fight waiting to happen.

I also check out the location of the ski resort’s parking lot if we are skiing for the day. Shuttles are a hassle for families. I would prefer to park in front of the resort. Ski resort gondolas that take me to its ski area tend to annoy me. I never grab everything I need in one trip so I always have to trek back to the SUV.

I prefer to stay in a condo or equipped resort residence. It’s a necessity to have a dryer to warm up clothes or dry wet gloves. Having a kitchen for the kids saves time and money on meals.

Covered conveyor belt type lifts are best for little kids and beginners. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Take a Look at the Ski Resort’s Trail Map

I look at the ski resort’s trail map located on the resort’s website and count how many green runs they have. This information is usually listed as a percentage of the runs based on color–green, blue, and black.

  • Green – The easiest and great for Mom and the kids.
  • Blue– Dad will head here no matter what.
  • Black – DANGER! The people strapped to a Ski Patrol stretcher started their day on a black run.

Next, look for beginner ski lifts. They should be labeled. Getting on-and-off an elevated ski lift is where most falls happen. And kids do fall off elevated ski lifts.

I prefer resorts that use conveyor-belt-type lifts for beginners. Conveyor or Magic Carpet lifts will keep the kids on the ground and not dangling from a wire like a trapeze.

I make sure the beginner area is available to all skiers and not restricted to the ski school students. This is an excellent area to practice with the kids after their lessons. My kids love to race Mom down the beginner runs.

Does Green Mean Go?

Next I look at the quality of the green runs. Are they all wide open areas at the bottom of more difficult terrain? I have found that more advanced skiers fly through the slow areas on their way to the lift line.

If all of the green runs seem similar and lack different routes, the skiing gets boring. I prefer resorts that have green skiing areas with both wide open spaces and narrow runs through the trees. My kids like to ride a run a couple of times then try another route.

The last thing on my list is the ski resort elevation. I have a kid who gets elevation sickness over 9,000 feet. Kids can be more sensitive and get headaches or worse. We ski at resorts at lower elevations or he gets sick.

When to Start the Kids Skiing?

I started my three kids skiing at different ages and I don’t think it really matters. They all seem to pick it up quickly with lessons.

If all your kids are under 3, I might wait a few years to try skiing as a family. Ski resorts are not stroller-friendly – too many stairs and icy patches. And finding a ski resort that offers lessons to kids under 3 is a challenge.

There are 4 West Virginia Ski Resorts (skis on racks)
Photo credit: Candi Hurst

How to Pick a Ski & Snowboard School

Ski School is a must for kids under 8, unless you’re a pro. Even then, most parents can’t teach their kids. All the ski slope meltdowns happen when parents try to teach their kids.

The ski instructors I’ve met through the years are great with kids. They pace the program according to the ability of their students. They’re patient with missing gloves and potty breaks.

I prefer a ski and snowboard school in a separate fenced-off area with its own conveyor-belt or magic carpet lift. I want my younger kids in an area away from the older kids with different needs and skills.

If the ski school offers equipment rental, use it. The instructor will fit the kids and they’re pros at getting little feet into ski boots, which is more challenging than it sounds. And then I don’t have to lug more gear.

Program Details

The all-day programs start around 8 or 9 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. Most programs offer lunch (usually pizza or pasta) and snacks sprinkled during the day.

Many ski schools offer a morning lesson with practice, then lunch followed by an afternoon lesson and practice. I like to stop by and look in on my kids while they practice. If the ski school frowns on this, it’s probably not the best fit.

At the end of the day, I take the opportunity to practice with my kids. And sometimes they let Mom win when we race down the beginner runs.

Babies? Some resorts offer on-site day care, a nice amenity for parents who want to ski with a baby in tow.

best ski schools
Ski school with areas just for beginners are best. Photo Credit: Pixabay

What to Expect from Preschool Ski School

For the youngest skiers, ski lessons emphasize fun. If kids start to cry, they go inside and play where it’s warm.

Preschoolers will learn the basics, like stopping and maybe some turns. Ski instructors jog beside them yelling “Pizza!” and “French Fries!” Pizza for stopping and French fries for keeping the skis parallel.

Most schools keep the preschoolers (ages 3 to 5 or 6) corralled in a separate area. I like this and again, look for the magic carpet lifts.

Don’t expect your preschooler to race down the mountain after one lesson. Skiing takes time to learn and years to develop. The biggest challenge is to keep it fun and safe so your family can continue your own ski trip tradition.

Preschool Snowboarding

Finding snowboard lessons for kids under seven can be difficult. Most resorts want to start kids with skiing first. A few resorts do offer it, so research ahead of time if you prefer snowboarding.

Vail Resorts offers snowboard lessons starting at four. Some resorts even offer tiny terrain features.

SheBuysTravel Tip: My family is blended. Mom and two kids ski and Dad and the oldest boy snowboard. Typically, I ride the lifts with my skiers and Dad heads up with the snowboarder. Mixing skiers and boarders gets complicated on the lifts when disembarking.

Lessons for Older Kids

For the older kids (ages 7 or 8 and up), skip the all-day ski school and sign them up for beginner group lessons. Older kids enjoy the group lesson environment and pick up snow sports quickly.

And the earlier the class the better. Then kids can hit the slopes and practice after their lesson.

Snowsports for Teens

And for teens wanting to take the next level, or move up the mountain, lessons help. For snowboarders, look for a ride school, like the Burton Academy at Northstar Ski Resort in California.

Lessons for Women 

Skiing after childbirth can be a challenge. And finding time to work on the fundamentals seems impossible when toting kids and equipment around a ski resort.

Some resorts offer lessons fit for moms. With a mid-day time slot, mom can get the kids settled in at ski school before heading to a small group environment catering to women.

Private Lessons

If you want to learn to ski or snowboard as a family, then look at private lessons. Ski resorts assign the most seasoned instructors to the private lessons.

Though it’s my experience kids learn faster than adults.

How to Save Money on Ski Trips

Skiing and snowboarding is expensive. But with some advance planning, you can spend less. Start with the dates of your trip.

Don’t plan a trip over school holidays. And the Christmas/ New Year break is the most expensive, and crowded, time to ski.

Buy your lift tickets in advance to save some money. Some resorts offer online one-day passes with or without holiday blackouts, months in advance, like the Epic Pass that can be used at all Vail Resorts, like Colorado’s Beaver Creek or Keystone. Look for ways that kids can ski free. A season pass is expensive, but if you use it enough, you save money.

Another way to save money, sign up for the resort updates or corporate info for email offers and text alerts. Learn about the specials and discounts first. Resorts will also send out snow alerts for new snow or lift closures.

Look for lesson packages, or special offers, when reserving ski lift tickets online. Find discounts on rental equipment when reserving lessons. And take advantage of multi-day discounts. We like GetSkiTickets.com. They offer discounts on tickets, rentals and lodging.

SheBuysTravel Tips

  • Reservations are required during Holiday Break. Ski Schools often sell out.
  • Kids should be required to wear helmets. If not, turn around, as this resort doesn’t put safety first.
  • Remember beginner runs are not the same as GREEN runs. Just because it’s labeled green doesn’t mean your kids are ready to cruise down it after one lesson.
  • Some ski schools offer half-day programs but not during school holidays. The ski resorts prefer full-day programs over holiday breaks.
  • Kids learn to ski and snowboard faster than adults.
  • Remember to sunscreen everyone’s face and lip balm in the pocket.
  • Pack some high energy snacks, like dried fruit, nuts, protein bars.
  • Remember to hydrate, put a bottle of water in jacket pockets and toast the mountain before every run.
  • Grab your giant blue IKEA bag, if you have one, to lug gear. Can’t be beat for ski boots and helmets.
  • Give yourself lots of time in the morning. Skiing requires early morning wake-up times to avoid lines.
Catherine Parker has a passion for travel with only one state left in her quest of seeing all 50. As a former flight attendant, she’s landed in nearly every major North American airport at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting national parks, historic sites and cultural icons. She’s a freelance writer and journalist based out of Central Texas, dividing her time between writing and restoring a 95-year-old house. She shares her life with her three kids, her husband, yardful of cats, a dog and three backyard chickens.
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