By Erica Houskeeper
Photographs by Hubert Schriebl
Interested in getting your preschooler out on the mountain to learn how to snowboard or ski? Congratulations! Getting kids on the slopes at an early age is the perfect way to instill a lifelong love for winter and the outdoors. But there can also be a flurry of frustrations along the way if kids are cold, hungry, or tired on the hill. To help young children get the most out of their time on the mountain, the key for parents is to be prepared.
We talked to the experts at the Mountain Sports School at Stratton to find out the best ways for little ones to experience success and enjoy themselves.
Sign Up for Lessons
Ski or snowboard lessons can help tremendously with developing your child’s confidence and skill, and most kids love to ski in groups with other kids. Group lessons are recommended for preschoolers at Stratton, which offers both personalized attention in a small group setting and a playful environment.
“Groups are an amazing opportunity for kids to experience the mountain and socialize with others who are at a similar place in their ability,” says Ian Bruso, director of the the Mountain Sports School at Stratton, a Vermont native who started teaching skiing in 1997. “Kids especially thrive while being with other kids, and the individualized attention at this age is really important.”
Talk to Kids about What to Expect
Help your child envision their time at Stratton by talking about all the incredible things they will learn in lessons and the fun games they will play.
The “pizza” and “French fry” technique is still a popular concept for teaching the basics of snowplowing, parallel skiing, and learning to stop. Instructors also plan plenty of time for a variety of enjoyable games, from red light/green light to tag to duck-duck-goose. Before you can say, “you’re it!” your child will feel excited in no time.
Familiarize Your Child with Stratton
Take your child to Stratton so they can watch a skier or a snowboarder glide down Lower Tamarack or Yodeler, or pull up a video online to show them what skiing or riding is all about. The afternoon before your child’s lesson begins, stop by the Stratton Junior Mountain Sports School building to meet staff, see where they will eat lunch, or where the bathroom is located. To the left of the base area, show your child the two “Cub Lifts”—also known as a magic carpet or surface lifts—which they will ride before graduating to the chair lift later on. “Anything that can be done to familiarize your child beforehand is incredibly helpful,” says Devon Cohen, a junior programs manager at Stratton.
Keep Your Kids Warm
Before your child’s first lesson, be sure he or she has an insulated jacket, snow pants, mittens, as well as a helmet, goggles, boots, skis, or a snowboard. Helping kids stay warm, dry, and comfortable can mean the difference between a good day and not-sogood day on the slopes.
“You can get your child outfitted to be warm, dry, and looking very sharp without having to get them overdressed,” says Bruso. For keeping warm, base layers such as Capilene long underwear by Patagonia is a top choice and can be found at Equipe Sport in the village. Also found there are Volkl Wall Jr. skis that come in gender-neutral colors, can be passed down, have adjustable bindings, and can be leased or bought.
While safety and warmth are important, outfitting kids in stylish clothing can be a plus. Colors that are trending for the upcoming season include orange, green, yellow, and purple, as well as designs with full patterns, Bruso says. For more neutral colors, try black for boys and light gray for girls.
Keep in mind when selecting outerwear that younger skiers and snowboarders ages 3 to 6 will wear purple, green, yellow, or red bibs on the hill during lessons.
Pack the Night Before
To avoid a morning scramble, organize your child’s mittens, head gaiter, neck warmer, goggles, extra socks, and helmet the night before by packing everything into a backpack or ski bag. Make sure ski or snowboard boots are kept indoors to stay warm, and have your child’s skis or snowboard ready to go. Mornings will miraculously feel more manageable.
Find Your Morning Groove
Get up extra early the morning of that first lesson so there’s ample time for breakfast and getting your little one dressed in thermal underwear, snow pants, jacket, and socks before you head out the door. Time yourself and see how long it realistically takes to leave the house to travel to the mountain. With less rushing, the happier and more relaxed everyone will be.
What to Eat
Before dropping your child off for lessons, make sure they eat a healthy breakfast. Hot cereal, pancakes, bagels, smoothies, and yogurt are good bets. Avoid sweet foods like pastries, donuts, and sugary cereals to avoid an energy crash later on. “Diet is a really important contributor to being comfortable out on the hill, especially when it comes to managing winter temperatures,” Bruso says. “The more comfortable we all are, the better we perform and the better our experience usually is.”
Tap into Your Inner Child
Plan on taking your child out for a run after their lesson wraps up? Ski instructor Barb Barber, who learned to ski at age 3 in Germany and has been teaching at Stratton for 14 years, says parents should take a lighthearted approach when skiing or snowboarding with children outside of lessons.
“If the kids were playing super heroes in the lesson, continue to play that game,” Barber says. “Become a kid again and your child will respond to the fun. Building a positive memory puts your child on a path to a lifetime of enjoying the sport.”
Relax and Know Your Child is in Good Hands
Stratton has been offering ski lessons since the mountain first opened 55 years ago, and it was the first ski area to establish a snowboard school in 1982.
Many of Stratton’s instructors have a deep connection to the mountain and learned to ski or snowboard there themselves. It’s that sense of ownership and pride that makes Stratton’s instructors among the best in the industry. Year after year, families return for lessons or seasonal programs and request the same instructor for their kids.
“We are all about having fun because that is really what skiing and snowboarding is all about,” Bruso says. “Everyone involved with the school loves mountain sports and has a tremendous passion for sharing it with others.”
Drop-off and Pick-Up
Drop-off/pick-up for Mini-Cubs starts at 8:30am. An afternoon session is offered from 1–3pm on Saturdays and Sundays only. Drop-off and pick-up for Mini-Cubs is at the Stratton Child Care Center.
How to Sign Up for Lessons
Registration for lessons can be done online at www.stratton.com or by calling 1-800-STRATTON.
Advice for Parents of Ski School Kids
- Tell your child that ski school at Stratton is the ticket to ride the magic carpet!
- A day or two before lessons, encourage your child to dress up in his or her outfit and equipment and take him or her outside to play in the snow. Make it a game. This is a fun way to give kids a preview of how wearing boots, skis, and helmets will feel.
- On the day of lessons, schedule yourself a few minutes alone in the base lodge with a hot cup of coffee. Getting the kids ready is exhausting. Take a breather and regroup.
- Take photos—you will cherish images that capture this special time.
- Create a fun aprés ski tradition with your kids—order nachos, grab some hot cocoa, or warm up by the fire.
- Even if this all feels a bit hectic, focus on the fun your kids will have and the wonderful memories you are helping to create for you and your family.
- Remember that lessons are an incredible gift you are giving your child—a skill they can enjoy for a lifetime.