A hard wind pelted exposed areas of our faces with tiny pellets of sleet and drove the 16-degree air through any chink in the ski gear covering my 4-year-old son Alex and me. He’d just fallen getting off a ski lift at Utah’s Brighton Ski Resort and I could see the tears welling up through the goggles.
Swift, decisive action was essential.
Minutes later, we were sharing a large hot chocolate, a plate of cheese fries and planning our afternoon away from the mountain. A full belly, time at the hotel pool and a nap rescued my future of skiing with my son from a miserable morning on the mountain.
“Let’s go to Snowbird,” he replied, referring to one of the ski resorts, when I asked if he wanted to ski or go into the city on the third day of our weeklong trip. Music to my ears.
I was determined to share my love of skiing with my son, but wondered if I was pushing it when I put him on the slopes at age 3. And since we live far from snowy mountains, I worried we wouldn’t get out often enough for it to take. But at 4, he showed mastery of the basics, and at 5, he can’t wait to go back.
For other parents out there wondering how to ignite a love of skiing in little ones, here are some tips on what worked for us. With Alex, I made sure to promote a love of snow. The sporadic snowfalls in St. Louis, where we live, always result in snowmen, snow-gorillas and other unrecognizable sculptures in our front yard.
Much like Dad, Alex loves gear. Playing with this helped build excitement for skiing. At age 3, he started wearing ski goggles and a helmet while riding in his car seat during wintertime. Used skis and ski boots off eBay came cheap and meant he could get used to stomping around in the boots before we even left St. Louis.
His very first run came at age 3 at one of those local baby slopes common near many cities — a place called Hidden Valley, just outside St. Louis. Two times up the magic carpet and then sliding down the hill supported by Dad, followed by hot chocolate and even McDonald’s on the way home.
But last winter was the big breakthrough — a trip to California for Disneyland and then four days at Mammoth Mountain.
For this major milestone, I turned to the professionals.
“I’ve watched many a parent try to teach kids to ski and it turns into a frustrating experience. Tears and everything, it can go badly,” said Craig Albright, the managing director of Mammoth’s ski school.
We sent Alex to Mammoth’s ski school for 3- and 4-year-olds. From the get-go, it was about getting the kids to cut loose. As parents kept track of all the loose mittens, goggles, sunscreen and assorted toys, the instructors got the kids having fun, with hot chocolate, drawings and games during registration. Then, it was out to the tiny beginner slope with a magic carpet sheltered from the wind.
“When they are playing with other kids on the snow, they see other kids fall and not quit,” Albright said. “That dynamic of being around their friends gets them going again.”
After that, it was off to Brighton.
Alpine Meadows: Thu powder 11-13 base sm Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat-Sun: 9a-4p
Badger Pass: Plan to open 12/13
Bear Mountain: Thu 9:17 am MG machine groomed 6-12 base 4 of 24 trails 17% open, 2 of 12 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat-Sun: 8a-4p
Boreal: Wed 8:10 am variable 12-21 base 5 of 41 trails, 13% open 2 of 8 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-9p; Sat-Sun: 9a-9p
China Peak: Plan to open 12/7
Heavenly: Thu 5:38 am packed powder machine groomed 20-22 base 5 of 97 trails, 4% open 33 acres, 5 of 29 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat-Sun: 8:30a-4p
Homewood: Plan to open 12/13
June: Plan to open 12/13
Kirkwood: Thu 5:31 am powder machine groomed 12-18 base 2 of 86 trails, 3% open 15 acres, 2 of 15 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat-Sun: 9a-4p
Mammoth: Thu 9:24 am packed powder machine groomed 18-22 base 18 of 150 trails, 12% open 7 of 28 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat-Sun: 8:30a-4p
Mountain High: Thu 7:18 am MG machine groomed 12-12 base 5 of 59 trails 20% open, 2 of 14 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat-Sun: 8:30a-4p
Northstar: Thu 9:20 am packed powder machine groomed 18-18 base 9 of 97 trails, 10% open 71 acres, 6 of 20 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat-Sun: 8:30a-4p
Sierra at Tahoe: Plan to open 12/6
Snow Summit: Reopen 12/6
Soda Springs: Plan to open 12/13
Squaw Valley: Thu 7:33 am packed powder machine groomed 10-12 base 5 of 170 trails 3% open, 7 of 30 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 10a-3p; Sat-Sun: 10a-3p
Sugar Bowl: Plan to open 12/7 sm
Tahoe Donner: Plan to open 12/13
Bear Valley XC: Thu Reopen 12/8 powder 4-4 base Mon-Fri: 9a-4:30p; Sat-Sun: 9a-4:30p
Tamarack Lodge Resort XC: Operating no details Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat-Sun: 8:30a-4p
Diamond Peak: Plan to open 12/12