Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Never too young!

Fergus Hudson, aged 3, in Verbier 
Having started skiing myself at the ripe old age of 12, I was determined to get my kids dashing downhill as early as possible. The oldest didn’t really take to it until five but the youngest was desperate to start by three. They are both now accomplished skiers, having gone through the Nancy Greene League racing program at Mt Norquay, followed by Lake Louise’s all-mountain teenage courses.

Louise and Rupert Hudson, aged 3, in
So, at what age should kids really start to ski or snowboard? Nancy Greene Raine, Director of Skiing at Sun Peaks, says while there’s no right age, children can start skiing as soon as they walk confidently. “Our sons' first skiing was down our driveway at age two. And my mother said that she figured I had mastered my skis, probably at age three, when I could come through the back porch, across the kitchen and into the bathroom, go to the toilet, and go back outside again, all without taking off my skis!”

Colin Borrow, Snow Sports Director, Marmot Basin – and father of four - says all children are different. “Three to four years on average is a good age to start skiing. Like skiing, snowboarding depends on the child but in general six years would be a good time to start. Snowboarding requires a little more balance and strength when getting started.” Borrow says on-mountain daycare is vital for when children get tired, cold or hungry.

Young snowboarder at Sunshine Village
Limiting outdoor time is crucial, too. “With a three to five-year-old, one to two hours is as much as the average child can take - with the exception of my second, a skiing machine, who cried when the lifts stopped,” says Borrow. For kids who really feel the cold, the spring is a great time to start them off. 

Marmot Basin
Although parent-led instruction can work well, nothing beats the professional tactics of the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance and Canadian Association of SnowboardInstructors. “We train instructors to not only teach children through demonstration, explanation, and activities/games but also in a team environment. Children can encourage and support each other, they will believe it’s possible if their peers can do it,” Borrow explains. Typical games include ‘red light, green light’ for braking practice and skiing with hands on knees to prevent sitting back.

For those anxious to give two-year-olds the wintersport bug, Lake Louise’s SnowSchool Director, Kevin Eaton has sound advice: “The term ‘skiing’ is loose at this age. Plastic skis on regular snow boots could be their first experience.” Father of two sons himself, Eaton says parents need to keep expectations low and stay positive. “Attention spans are short, mixing up activities and changing the focus will help keep smiles on their faces,” he adds.

Lake Louise has made it easier for kids to start early with its investment in Riglet Parks for youth snowboarding. “Riglet parks are super small terrain features that help facilitate learning quickly and increase the fun factor. Special leashes attach to the boards so you can pull riders standing up and they get the feeling of riding quicker,” Eaton explains. He recommends multi-week courses to learn the intricacies of the sport.

Sunshine's Tiny Tigers - Courtesy of Sunshine Village
Free passes are another inducement to start young. “Lots of ski areas offer free passes to children under 5 or 6 years old,” says Stewart Laver, Director of Snow Sport for Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort. Because of the more onerous balance issues with snowboarding, Sunshine instructors usually start kids on skis first. “It’s a statistical fact that if you learn to ski or snowboard before the age of ten, you’ll likely achieve an advanced skill level in your lifetime and will ski or snowboard at least off and on throughout your life,” says Laver, who explains that adult learners will probably only achieve an intermediate level. His own children started very young, especially his first daughter at around two. “It was usually more about being out with her parents, and getting a treat in the daylodge than it was about becoming a great skier.” He recommends the sport as a fun family activity where the kids can emulate the adults. Before they even hit the slopes, children can have fun at home putting on the boots and walking around them, getting used to the feeling ready for the snow.

Courtesy of Sunshine Village
Once at the ski hill, it’s all a question of planning, says Laver. He maintains that first impressions are important and parents should stay calm to keep it fun. He recommends layer dressing with plenty of pit stops to keep warm. And to reward the kids: “Let’s face it, food and drink are part of the snow sports experience and so you should make sure you have good food and a warm drink to give to a child as a reward for getting out there and sliding around.”

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