Matt Niswonger

Nils, Lukas, and Mia. Three tired kids!

As a father of three, I wish I could say that I have nothing but positive memories skiing with my children. I wish I could say that. Instead, I will reference Dickens: Family ski trips have resulted in the best of times…and also the worst of times. Truth is, as a parent you can do everything right and your little mini-me might still have a huge, public meltdown. Chalk it up to physical exhaustion.

To your dismay, this will make you look like an awful parent. And trust me, people who don’t have kids can be pretty judgmental of us parents when the little ones are freaking out in public. Ignore people like that — they are clueless about how much work it is to teach children how to ski or ride! Instead, try to watch grandma and grandpa. They are the true veterans and kid whisperers.

For actual skills in teaching children the physical components of learning to slide on snow, watch an instructor at your favorite resort work with kids. Typically, these folks are pretty amazing with children. You can learn some invaluable tricks of the trade by shadowing a class and taking notes. What becomes clear is that teaching children to ski is more than just “pizza and French fries.” Step one is to make sure all the basic needs are met—thirst, hunger, restroom, warmth, etc.

Step two is to find an area where the little ones can slide, but not fall too often. Falling is the enemy. Your average six-year-old can only fall a few times before they are completely over it. In this regard, I highly recommend Diamond Peak Ski Resort. Diamond Peak boasts a huge learning area right next to the parking lot with just the right amount of slope.

Also, every resort has a “magic carpet” conveyer belt —plan on spending hours there.

As a rule, the longer the learning hill, the better, as long as it never gets too steep. Try to limit verbal instructions; repetition is the key concept here.

On the other hand, many parents, myself included, find that our kids are better behaved with OTHER adults. If this is the case, consider not teaching them yourself. Classes and lessons are usually worth every penny. You are guaranteed to get a surge of pride (and a lump in your throat) when you see how much progress your children make after a full-day lesson.

By the way, don’t ever feel guilty about putting the little ones in a class. There is so much work involved in just getting your kids to the resort with all their equipment — and a full stomach — that you have already earned your beer just by getting to the lift lines. (Not that you should head straight to the bar after dropping off the little ones!)

Truthfully speaking, the best thing you can do after putting them in a class is to hit the slopes and have a great time yourself! Your kids will pick up on the fact that you love to ski or ride, and that will be your biggest gift to them. Plus, if you are in a good mood, you will keep your sense of humor all day, which is the hallmark of true parental mastery.

On the other hand, if things do go bad, try not to yell at your kids in public. Not looking good! We are supposed to be the grownups.

If you are losing it, consider calling it a day. Sometimes the best snow activity of all is to just make a snowman together. Or you can get a cup of hot chocolate, and watch all the other stressed-out parents try to teach their children how to ski or ride. Good times!

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Tips for Parents
• Keep your sense of humor.
• Organize everything the night before.
• Mittens are better than gloves for kids.
• Mittens, goggles, helmets, special socks, season pass, neck warmer, etc. should all stay with his or her jacket. Zipped in the pockets, clipped on, in a special bag, whatever it takes — everything stays together!
• If staying multiple days at a resort, bring everything inside at night except the boards and skis. Frozen boots are miserable, and frozen goggles will fog up later.
• Have the kids sleep in their base layer if getting a pre-dawn start. That way you can put them in the car while they are still asleep, and get them dressed easier upon arrival.
• Kids need to eat and drink constantly while on the mountain. Put cheese sticks and a bag of apple slices in your pocket and be a snack pusher.
• Boarding is way harder for kids than skiing. This is mainly because of the logistics of getting in and out of bindings all day. If you are boarding with kids, remember this mantra: “Flat terrain should be avoided at all costs.”
• Buy used equipment on the Internet for kids. Start getting the kids’ stuff together in October.
• Keep telling yourself that your offspring will appreciate you someday.

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Quite often, the smaller resorts are the best bet for children. For example, Badger Pass near Yosemite is a very mellow place to take the family. I highly recommend renting cross-country skis and cruising out towards Glacier Point. Any kind of sliding on snow helps steepen the learning curve. Another option is to book a room at the Bear Valley Lodge, which is right next to an epic cross-country area.

Last but not least, check out the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge on Donner Summit for an off-the-beaten path family skiing adventure. Your kids will love the Euro-hostel environment, and you will love the miles of wilderness snow right outside the door.

-Matt Niswonger