Not everybody knows how to get back up.
That's one of the most important lessons in teaching kids to ski, said Lucy Allison, children's program director at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort in Claysburg.
Mirror Moms photos by J.D. Cavrich
Larson, 7, and Logan, 9, Patete try their skis out in the yard of their Hollidaysburg home.
"When they fall down, it's not easy to get back up," Allison said. "When kids fall, they're so anxious to stand back up. That alone could be a huge factor on whether they have a good time or not."
Some kids try to stand up, and they slide down the hill, and other kids might fall out of their skis when they fall. It's all about teaching kids that falling is inevitable and to stay calm when it happens. Then, put their skis across the mountain and do the "monkey walk," said Allison, which means keeping their back end close to their skis, pushing their rear-end in the air, and walking on their hands until their "nose is up to their toes."
It's little tips like this that average skiers might not know when teaching children.
Whether they're avid skiers, beginners or have no interest in skiing, many parents want to teach their children the winter sport, but they don't quite know where, when or how to start. Even when parents are ski pros, it's sometimes best to try ski school first.
Douglas Patete of Hollidaysburg loves to ski and was eager to teach his two sons Logan, 9, and Larson, 7. He started with Logan about three years ago, and he often enrolls the boys in lessons.
"Some days I can't teach Logan and he knows everything, but if you have another adult, then they'll listen," Patete said.
Being apart from parents usually makes lessons go more smoothly, Allison said. Most kids, even those who are hesitant or resistant, do well at ski school and learn to like the sport.
"It really depends on the child, but usually kids to do better if they can be separated from their parents," Allison said.
Eric Jacoby, children's programming manager at the Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md. (about 11/2 hours from Altoona) said it helps if children are athletic, but it's not a necessity to learning to ski. "If they like doing outdoor activities, that also helps," Jacoby said.
At the Wisp, lessons start at 31/2 years old, and Jacoby said young children pick up skiing much easier than adults because they are usually flexible, and falling doesn't hurt as much.
"They usually keep trying things," Jacoby said.
At Blue Knob, group lessons usually start at age 4 or 5, but Allison said the best age to start is probably 5 or 6. At that age children have better control of their bodies, more patience and they are able to understand instructions.
When kids are first learning how to ski, instructors usually first teach them how to put on and take off skis, as well as walking indoors in skis. Once the students have gotten the hang of maneuvering their skis, they head outside.
At the Wisp there is a special children's yard where instructors teach children how to walk in skis, then turn in circles and duck walk up small hills.
"We work on sitting on your side and trying to stand up," Jacoby said.
While some children can start skiing down the mountain in a couple hours, other kids might need more time.
"Some parents go into it with really high expectations. They think in two hours their kid can learn how to ski. It has happened, but it's not a guaranteed thing any time," Allison said. "Some kids need to get really comfortable with everything: balance, endurance and physical muscle."
The most important thing, Allison said, is for children to have a positive first experience. Here are some tips for skiing success:
1. Ski in decent weather. A first ski experience shouldn't involve freezing temperatures and wind chill, or kids will be miserable. Patete said he usually tries to take his sons skiing when the weather is relatively warm. "If you go during a snowstorm, they won't want to go back," Patete said.
2. Dress appropriately. The key to success is comfort. An uncomfortable child is bound to have a bad day. Layers are a great way to dress children for skiing, Allison said. That way they are warm enough, but they can remove layers if they get too sweaty and hot. Helmets and goggles are musts, as well as a face mask or "neckup" to protect from the wind and snow. Because children need to wear helmets, thin hats should be worn instead of thick and bulky knit hats. Gloves should be waterproof, and mittens are the best bet for keeping fingers warm. High ski socks should also be worn so children's feet don't sweat so easily. Making sure skis and boots fit appropriately is also essential to comfort.
3. Be patient and work on the basics. As adults, it's sometimes easy to forget what it was like the first time we were introduced to a sport or activity, like skiing. Just putting on skis, or learning to walk in skis is difficult on the first try. "You need to understand they're just kids and they're frustrated and they really want to learn," Patete said.
They need to learn to walk in skis, stop, turn and slide down a small slope by putting their skis in a wedge, before they are ready for the lift or skiing on their own. Once they are ready for the slopes, Blue Knob instructors often ski down the hill backward in front of the child so they aren't afraid. Kids should understand that falling will happen, and it's OK.
4. Hot chocolate works wonders. Regardless of their age or ability, all kids will need a break from skiing during the day, Allison said. Parents should pay attention to signs that the kids are tired, distressed or in need of food or water. And, hot chocolate almost always perks up a cranky kid. "Hot chocolate helps," Allison said.
5. Make fun a priority. Enjoyment should be the No. 1 motivation for learning to ski, not grooming your child for the next Olympics. "Our formula is safety plus fun equals learning," Allison said. Instructors usually teach children through games. The instructors get to know the children and use their other interests and apply that to skiing. "We teach to multiple intelligences and we get children to play games and before they know it they're having fun," Allison said.